In 1959, Congress passed the first legislation pertaining to the use of safety belts in the U.S. Before then, safety gear was rare at best. In a drive down hazardous memory lane, Popular Mechanics profiles some of the most dangerous automotive interiors ever.
1905 Darracq 200HP: In the hot seat
The automotive industry was in its infancy at the time, but the 1905 Darracq 200HP appears to have issued an unintentional invitation to disaster. The car basically consisted of chairs on a chassis, sans seat belts. One safety-conscious innovation was that the passenger, whose bucket seat was slightly behind the driver, could grab the driver’s shoulders in order to save themselves from being flung from the car in the middle of a turn.
1908 Ford Model T: Cuts deep
Break-away glass – aka “safety glass” – was not used in Fords until the late 1930s, when a British company provided Ford with windshields made from laminated “Indestructo Glass.” The 1908 Ford Model T and every other car of the period featured flat glass windscreens that would cut human projectiles to ribbons in the event of an accident.
1930 Model J Duesenberg: Skewered
The 1930 Model J Duesenberg was an example of a vehicle that was dangerously far ahead of its time. The A-pillar body construction was considered a safety feature at the time because it afforded greater peripheral vision. However, in the event of a rollover, the thin pillars would collapse directly into the auto interior and pose an impalement or decapitation risk. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration didn’t mandate safer roof construction until the 1970s.
1953 Mercury Monterey: Get the point
Mercedes pioneered a collapsible steering column in the late 1950s, but that didn’t save some unfortunate early 1950s drivers from rigid columns that provided no give in the event of a collision. Like many cars of the period, the 1953 Mercury Monterey had a dashboard and steering column covered with pointed metal embellishments. While the steering wheel would absorb some of the impact in the event of a crash, hurled drivers couldn’t avoid the 1950s aircraft-style levers entirely.
1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing: The flying suitcase
Mercedes-Benz produced luxury vehicles before headrests became standard after the National Highway Transportation Safety Association passed legislation in 1969. A large leather suitcase that sat on the rear deck lid was available as an option. If it was manually secured with the provided leather straps and metal buckles, it wouldn’t fly forward and strike the driver and passenger during a quick stop.
1956 Dodge Custom Royal: Highway Hi-Fi
It is unknown how many drivers were done in by the distraction of an optional retracting in-dash record player. If the road was smooth, the music would reportedly sound lovely.
1958 Porsche 356: Splintered history
Like many cars before it, this Porsche had a wooden steering wheel. In the event of impact, the wheel could splinter and penetrate the driver’s hands, chest or face.
1985 Yugo: Fall to pieces and burn
This dirt cheap car reportedly would rattle to pieces while driving. Electrical trouble also caused fires in the cockpit.