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Death Traps: These Cars Are Unsafe At Any Speed

Vukasin Herbez December 15, 2023

The relentless quest for automotive safety and improving the characteristics of the vehicles has been around since the dawn of the motoring age. It is widely known that cars are dangerous contraptions that can even become outright death traps if not engineered and fixed correctly.

So manufacturers often try to make them safer and more stable for the sake of their customers. Unfortunately, despite all of those efforts, there are examples of brands completely failing to do so. Unfortunately, they introduced unsafe and even downright dangerous models for their drivers. Whether for their performance, lack of safety features, or bad engineering, these cars are unsafe at any speed. Find out which models are dangerous here and approach them with the utmost caution.

Reliant Robin - Car
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Reliant Robin

Mostly unknown to the automotive public outside the United Kingdom, Reliant has been producing cars since the 1930s and three-wheel vehicles since the early ’50s. In those days, owning a car in the UK was a big deal. Prices for new vehicles and insurance were out of reach for many potential customers. It sounded reasonable but was less popular than Reliant hoped. The reason was simple: a three-wheeled car needed to be bigger and faster. But it was terrible. So as the economy recovered and people were finally able to buy a proper car, Reliant’s proposition was simply obsolete (via History Press).

Photo Credit: The Sun

However, since the car was very compact and cheap, it had its customers. This was especially true when the company introduced a van version, which proved very practical in city traffic. In 1973, Reliant introduced the Robin just before the oil crisis, which immensely helped sales. With its 850cc engine and around 50 hp, Reliant Robin weighed just under 500 kilos, which made it surprisingly agile and fuel efficient. However, the three-wheel configuration was a disaster in tight turns. The Robin was known to flip over if the driver took the curve too fast. Reliant Robin was presented to the global audience in an episode of the popular motoring show “Top Gear,” where presenters made fun of its ill-handling and capabilities.

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Porsche 930 Turbo

In the ’70s, Porsche introduced a new generation called 930, which featured the same basic layout, a new design, and bigger engines. But the real news was the 1975 930 Turbo. Faced with government-imposed restrictions, Porsche needed something to boost power and performance while retaining normal displacement. Turbocharging proved the perfect solution (via Porsche).

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The 930 Turbo boosted 260 hp from its 3.0-liter flat-six engine. Along with signature air cooling, a big rear wing, and a wider rear track. It was notorious for its ill-handling capabilities. But it had an exhilarating performance at a time when performance cars were almost nonexistent. It started a legendary breed of lightning-fast Porsches. As a testament to its danger, the 930 Turbo had a nickname that perfectly describes its violent nature – The Widow Maker.

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Ariel Atom

This is perhaps the craziest car on sale today on which you can put license plates. The Ariel Atom 500 V8 weighs 1200 pounds and has 500 horsepower from a V8 engine directly behind the driver. The car is a Go-Kart with a spoiler, space for two people, no trunk, body panels, and no fenders. Just a naked chassis, a screaming V8 behind you, 500 angry horses, a seven-speed sequential gearbox, and four tires (via ArielNA).

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If this description doesn’t scare you, its performance will. The Ariel Atom 500 V8 can jump to 60 mph in 2.3 seconds, beating the Bugatti Veyron, the world’s fastest accelerating passenger car at one point. We can only imagine how it feels to do 60 mph in 2.3 seconds in a car with no body or roof, and the engine is just inches away from your head. It must be fantastic but deadly.

Photo Credit: Car Gurus

Audi 5000

Today, Audi is one of the leading luxury brands in the American market. But in the late ’80s, the company was almost gone from US shores due to the news of unintended acceleration and numerous crashes as a reason for that. In 1986, a popular CBS TV show, “60 Minutes,” ran a feature about Audi’s unintended acceleration on the popular 5000 model (via TAC).

Photo Credit: Audi

After the show was aired, the car community buzzed and Audi’s reputation was severely damaged. Audi responded by publishing numerous tests and videos showing that the only possible way something like this could happen is if the driver’s foot slips from the brake to the accelerator pedal. Still, it didn’t help and sales hit rock bottom. It took the company two decades to recover.

Photo Credit: Silodrome

Bond Bug

As a groovy Kei Car with three wheels from the early ’70s, the Bond Bug is a pretty unique vehicle. Not only does it have a strange wheel configuration, but the top of the body lifts to allow access inside. In front, just above the front wheel, there is a small 700 cc four-cylinder engine made of light alloy capable of producing 29 hp. You may think that 29 hp is not that much. And you are right. But as Bond Bug weighs less than 400 kg, its performance is pretty vivid (via Auto Express).

Photo Credit: Silodrome

It was a fun car, a kind of a Go Kart for adults. With its wedge design and swanky ’70s graphics, it soon became quite popular. Of course, it could have been more stable since it had a single wheel at the front, but it could provide swift acceleration. This was good enough for most customers. Its small dimensions and lightness gave the exaggerated feel of speed, making you think you were traveling much faster than you were. On the other hand, stability and crash protection were minimal. And the Bond Bug was a dangerous car. It stayed in production for four years from 1970 to 1974 and precisely 2,270 examples left the factory.

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Yenko Nova 427

In the late ’60s, Yenko became known for a lineup of high-performance Camaros, Chevelles, and Novas, which featured 427 V8 engines unavailable from the factory. Also, all Yenko’s cars were dressed up with a unique stripe on the hood and on the sides and lettering “sYc,” which stood for “Yenko Super Cars .”

Chevrolet Chevy II / Nova - Yenko Camaro
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Amongst those fire-breathing machines, the Yenko Nova was the rarest and produced in just a handful of examples. It was introduced in 1970 and Don Yenko put the most powerful Chevrolet engine into the lightest body he could find. However, after initial testing, he stopped production after realizing that the Yenko Nova 427 was practically lethal (via Motor Trend).

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Renault 5 Turbo

The 1980s started with a bang in the hot hatch world when Renault introduced the crazy R5 Turbo. First, it only looked like a regular Renault 5 compact city car. Second, it was a serious performance machine. This was the first time a car company presented an outrageous hot hatch that had the performance of a supercar and the technology of one (via Top Gear).

Photo Credit: Fav Cars

The essence of an R5 Turbo was a mid-mounted 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that delivered 160 horsepower. The whole car was redesigned and reengineered to move the engine from the front hood to the space behind the driver. The rear track was much wider, and side scoops were added for better engine cooling. Of course, such extreme cars lost practicality, one of the main hot hatch characteristics. This was because it was a pure racing car built for homologation purposes. However, it deserves an important place in hot hatch history as one of the craziest hot hatches produced. Also, it was one of the deadliest compacts and one of the coolest cars of the ’80s.

Photo Credit: GM

Chevrolet Corvette Z06

One of the most legendary American sports cars, the Chevrolet Corvette is in its seventh generation. With one of the best chassis in the business, powerful V8 engines, and loaded with technology, the Corvette C7 is more than capable of beating European competitors. These include the Porsche 911, Mercedes AMG GT, or the Jaguar F-Type. While most users find the base 430 hp Corvette powerful enough, there is the mighty Corvette Z06 version for those who want more (via Road and Track).

Photo Credit: Wheelz Me

Equipped with a supercharged 6.2-liter V8 with 635 horsepower, a comprehensive body kit, an active aerodynamics package, and a host of other performance modifications, the Z06 is a proper sports car beast. The specifications of the Z06 are equally impressive. The top speed is close to 200 mph and the 0 to 60 mph sprint takes about 3.3 seconds. However, behind those stellar numbers and perfect sports car design lies the beast’s heart, and the Z06 is a hard car to control. Enormous power and torque, lightweight chassis, and brutal power delivery make the Corvette Z06 a nervous machine. To fully extract every bit of performance from this model, you need to be an experienced race driver or a magician.

Photo Credit: Toyota

Toyota Camry

Toyota was always known as a manufacturer that paid attention to the quality of its products. When, in 2012, it made a deal with the US government to pay $1.2 billion to avoid criminal prosecution, the car community realized that even Toyota was covering something up. The thing that Toyota desperately wanted to hide was unintended acceleration on various Toyota and Lexus models due to a faulty part (via ABC News).

Photo Credit: Toyota

In fact, for several years, the company hid documents that showed that they knew about the problem but decided to do nothing about it. However, when the case was brought to light, Toyota paid all expenses, settled out of court, and recalled 9.3 million cars in one of the most prominent recall cases in history.

Photo Credit: Dodge

Dodge Challenger Hellcat

Everybody went crazy when Dodge announced the Hellcat Charger and Challenger models. After all, the reaction was expected since the 6.2-liter supercharged V8 with 707 horsepower is a proper muscle car monster that shouldn’t be released on the streets. But Dodge did just that, allowing the general public to buy one of the fastest and most powerful muscle cars ever built (via Dodge).

Photo Credit: Car And Driver

Despite being overpowered in every aspect, the Dodge Charger and Challenger Hellcat are surprisingly good to drive. They can even be docile at low speeds. Only when you press the throttle and unleash the fury of 707 supercharged horses can you feel the brutality of the Hellcat package. Turn off the stability control systems and try to drive this car aggressively. Not only will you find yourself in a massive cloud of tire smoke in seconds. But the Hellcat will also skid uncontrollably. The fastest recipe for disaster is just that: turning everything off and hitting the gas. You will not be able to control it. It will quite possibly try to kill you by pushing the car into the nearest wall or ditch.

Photo Credit: Hagerty

Chevrolet Corvair

In the late ’50s, Chevrolet presented the Corvair, a revolutionary compact car with a rear-mounted, air-cooled, flat-six engine. This was a big step for Chevrolet since the Corvair sat opposite other vehicles from the company and featured different concepts, technology, and design. However, for a couple of years, it looked like everything was okay with the Corvair, and sales were good. That was, until a book called “Unsafe at Any Speed” hit bookstores across the country and caused significant problems for GM (via Auto Week).

Photo Credit: Hagerty

The book’s author Ralph Nader was a consumer advocate who came in possession of classified documents showing that the Corvair was the reason for many accidents, some with fatal outcomes. The engine in the back of the car caused Corvair to have problematic handling. Chevrolet knew that but wanted to avoid investing money in additional stabilizer bars and suspension modifications. Soon, the book gained publicity, and the public demanded the answers while more and more people reported crashes with the Corvair. Chevrolet was even involved in government hearings, admitting that its executives knew something about the matter, paying the settlement, and promising to invest money in safety research. Ultimately, Corvair sales were slashed and the model was discontinued in 1969.

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Dodge Viper

This legendary sports muscle car was born in 1992 and immediately became an American icon. The monster of a V10 engine in the front, sleek and aggressive body style, and a rear-wheel drive. There also wasn’t much to protect you from being killed by this car’s sheer power and wild nature (via Car and Driver).

Photo Credit: Auto WP

Even so, the Viper became a favorite with driving fans for its uncompromised character and attitude. Over three generations, Chrysler made over 100,000 examples, but the basic layout was the same. It had a V10 in the front, power sent to the rear wheels, and a manual transmission in between. Until the end, this was the only transmission choice, which purists highly appreciated. Even if the Viper didn’t have a fancy and advanced automatic transmission with dual clutch system and lightning-fast shifts, it was still brutally fast and capable of beating much more expensive European exotics. The 8.2-liter, 645 hp V10 engine was responsible for 3.8-second 0 to 60 mph times.

Photo Credit: USA Today

Ford Pinto

In the 1970s, domestic car manufacturers answered the changing market climate and the rising popularity of compact cars with several homegrown models. One of those cars was the Ford Pinto. Introduced in the early ’70s, the Pinto was very popular due to its low price, reasonable design, and long list of options. It had economical four and six-cylinder engines, and the car’s overall quality was decent. So what was the problem (via Time Magazine)?

Photo Credit: History Garage

While engineering the car, Ford somehow left out protection for its rear-mounted fuel tank. The fuel tank was below the trunk and behind the rear bumper. On most cars, there is a potent cross member that protects the fuel tank in case of a crash. However, the Pinto lacked this feature. It became apparent when people started dying in fiery crashes caused by leaking fuel tanks. Families of people killed or hurt in such incidents sued Ford. Eventually, the company spent millions settling the court cases. Pinto went into history books as the “car of death.”

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Jaguar XJ220

The story of the XJ220 is a strange one. Conceived in the late ’80s as Jaguar’s first road-going supercar, it looked very promising. The concept car and the prototypes had Jaguar’s V12 engine tuned to produce high output. However, halfway into development, it was decided that a new 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 unit with 542 hp should be installed. The car’s design was fantastic, with flowing lines and a wide stance that emphasized its performance and speed (via AutoCar).

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When it was new, the XJ220 was the world’s fastest road-going model and commanded an enormous price. Despite the hype and wealthy customers waiting to buy this model, several delays in production and the lack of V12 ruined the appeal. Eventually, less than 300 left the factory. The XJ220 was called that since it could top 220 mph and was never officially sold in the USA. However, this Jaguar supercar was tricky to drive and very dangerous in inexperienced hands. First, there was the turbo engine, which had a significant turbo lag and a sudden surge of power which could produce skidding and loss of control. Second, the car had the dimensions of an ocean liner and poor visibility.

Photo Credit: Edmunds

Shelby Cobra 427

With a 0-60 mph time of just 4.3 seconds, the Shelby Cobra 427 was the fastest production car in America in the ’60s. The biggest Ford’s V8 engine in the lightest roadster body was equally extreme then as it is today. But there’s one thing you must know. The Shelby Cobra 427 has a 7.0-liter V8 with around 400 horsepower. In a tiny roadster body that weighs about 2000 pounds. So, with about 400 horsepower sent to rear wheels in a body that is so light, the Cobra 427 spelled trouble from the moment it was introduced (via Shelby American).

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There are numerous reports of fatal accidents and owners crashing their cars. You have to remember that this car doesn’t have any stability control or electronic aids. Just 400 horses and four tires make it one of the deadliest cars ever produced.

Photo Credit: Ferrari

Ferrari 599 GTO

When the Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano was introduced, the car community praised its power, handling, and precision. It was one of the best Ferraris ever, with V12 in the front. However, Ferrari knew the 599 GTB had more potential and introduced two crazy versions, 599 FXX and 599 GTO. The GTO was a road-going version of the track-oriented FXX, featuring a highly tuned V12 engine with 670 horsepower (via Ferrari).

Photo Credit: Reddit

The car could get from 0 to 60 mph in 3.3 seconds, topping 208 mph. The secret of brutal performance was a lightweight body that removed all but the essentials from the interior and revised suspension to achieve even better handling. However, that made the car even more nervous and hard to drive. If you were not concentrated and know precisely what you are doing, you could lose control instantly and go sideways in a smoky drift. Also, because of the high-performance nature of the 599 GTO, driving on wet roads was an adventure. Even at low speeds.

Photo Credit: Ford

Ford Explorer

As one of the first top-rated SUV models, the Explorer from the early ’90s was a typical example of the concept. Big, powerful, luxurious, and capable, it could easily carry its passengers over any terrain. At least, it looked like it could. Despite the popularity, the alarming reports of instability and tendencies to roll over plagued the market and the car public (via Wiki).

Photo Credit: Fav Cars

The Explorer wasn’t stable during sharp turns and high speeds, causing numerous crashes, deaths, and injuries. Slowly, the story unfolded and Ford admitted that it had concerns regarding stability and road holding. Still, tire manufacturer Firestone ensured Ford’s engineers that the problems would be solved by deflating the tires below the recommended limit. Ford did that but the situation worsened, becoming a major scandal with Ford and Firestone as the main culprits. The aftermath of this scandal was a massive recall of Ford Explorers. There was also a sharp decline in the stock prices of both companies. It resulted in significant penalties and lawsuits and a loss of reputation. Interestingly, you didn’t need to drive fast for the Explorer to try to kill you. It could attempt to do it at low speeds if you tried to turn.

Photo Credit: GM

Pontiac G5

GM was again in the public spotlight in 2007. Not just because of its bankruptcy and government bailout, but also because of one of the worst cases of cover-ups in recent years. The problem was a faulty ignition switch in many GM models such as the Chevrolet Cobalt or Pontiac G5. In some cases, during the drive, the car would shut down completely, causing the driver to lose control and eventually crash (via JD Power).

Photo Credit: The Car Connection

But this wasn’t the worst part. When the ignition switch shuts down the engine, it also shuts down safety systems like airbags or ABS brakes. This made the crash even worse since the passengers had no protection. GM tried to cover things up by replacing the problematic part with the upgraded one and giving it the same part number. Then the reports of deaths and injuries started coming in. The court cases are still active and the death toll has risen to 90. But GM is still trying to fight the case. Their main argument is that the faulty ignition switch is a part of “old GM” after the restructuring and government bailout and not the same company.

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All Cars With Takata Exploding Airbags

The Takata case is still open and is the most significant recall case in the history of the car industry. From 2000 to 2008, Japanese company Takata produced at least 17 million airbags installed in millions of cars. Takata supplied 10 of the most prominent car companies in the world, which made things even worse (via NHTSA).

Photo Credit: PBS

The problem with the airbags was that under some specific circumstances. Like moisture or heat, airbags could deploy without cause, causing a small explosion inside the car. Since the airbag is in a metal container, pieces could injure or even kill passengers when something like this happens. All 10 of the world’s biggest car makers are working together to resolve the issue. However, experts say that over 30 million cars the faulty airbags.

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