Widowmakers: 5 of the Most Dangerous Cars Ever Made

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Widowmakers: 5 of the Most Dangerous Cars Ever Made

As the saying goes, it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye… or until someone overcorrects and slams into a guardrail.

Here are five dangerous cars that appear to be designed to ensure a fool and his money are soon parted.

Dodge Viper

Dodge_Viper-01

The Dodge Viper was the last car to be made without traction control or electronic stability control, two nifty computerized gadgets that can prevent one from crashing due to an accidental over-application of power — which is frightfully easy to do in the V10-powered Viper. No surprise that the attrition rate among these cars is huge….

But don’t listen to us. Shop for your Dodge Viper here.


AC-Shelby 427 Cobra

Shelby_Cobra-01

The 427 Cobra is dangerous for the same reason as the Viper: An excess of power and a shortage of electronic safety nets. But the Cobra ups the danger ante with primitive brakes, insufficient seat belts and open body work. There isn’t even an airbag to give you a fighting chance. Replicas may have somewhat more modern hardware, but a badly handled Cobra is still a tricky beast.

But it won’t happen to you, right? Find your Shelby Cobra here.


Old Porsche 911s

Porsche_911-01

The 911’s design, with the engine behind the rear wheels, is a fundamentally bad idea: Once the rear end breaks loose, it swings around like a pendulum. Porsche spent years trying to mitigate the 911’s dangerous tenancies, but it wasn’t until 1998 with the introduction of electronic stability control (Porsche Stability Management, or PSM) that the problem was largely nullified. (Of course, you can still turn PSM off.) 911s have lots of grip, but drive them too fast and they can quickly result in an untimely demise. While the original Turbo (930) is perhaps best known for its snap-oversteer tendencies, even later generation GT2s were so powerful that it took a fair measure of skill just to keep them between the lines and pointed the right way.

But you can handle it … right? Find your classic Porsche 911 here.


Any muscle car of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s

Chevelle_muscle_car-1

Detroit developed powerful engines long before they developed competent suspensions or adequate brakes. Most fire-breathing muscle cars have soggy springs that all but eliminate the option of high-speed directional changes, along with drum brakes that are barely useful to begin with and purely decorative after a few hard stops. Once up to speed, they are more like unguided missiles than cars.

But they sure do look and sound good! Find your classic muscle car here.


Volkswagen Beetle

VW_Beetle_2-01

“What?” you say. “The innocent-looking Beetle wouldn’t hurt a fly!”

Indeed, while flies may be safe in the confines of the Beetle, humans are not. Older Bugs have the same swing-axle suspension that flipped the Corvair on its roof, along with seats seemingly designed to launch occupants out the rear window if the car is rear ended. After his attack on the Corvair, Ralph Nader went after the Beetle (read Small on Safety: The Designed-In Dangers of the Volkswagen). People liked VW more than GM so they didn’t pay attention, but you should.

But it can’t be dangerous … it’s so cute! Find your VW Beetle here.


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  • smartacus

    when i wuz a kid, my older brother and i used to go skiing with his Beetle.
    And the ski resort was located on Breakneck Rd.
    How we lived to tell, i dunno…but it wasn’t because of the superiority of bias-ply tirez!

  • disqus_z9UgGzmdKU

    I drove beetles for years in my youth and never had roll scare and I drove them pretty hard, but I agree that they are not at all crash worthy as any car of that era. In Mexico you can still see a lot of them and they are not usually found in deadly crashes, much more so is the outdated sentra mk3 that is sold under the “tsuru” badge that has every safety system missing except for the seatbelt.

  • TheBelltower

    What about the 2nd generation MR2? Those things were sublime, until the rear broke loose.

  • bit blazers

    no pinto. list is a joke.

  • Fred Rodgers

    As to muscle cars. What critical safety system does the 1965, 340HP 3900 lb, Chevelle SS396 have in common with the 95HP 2600 lb 1965 Corvair 500 cpe? Answer; the standard brakes. Right down to the part numbers.

  • Lealand Young

    Mid-engine cars are inherently unstable. Its the price a driver pays for better polar moment of inertia which allows the car to change direction quicker. like Porsche said when Roger Rodas bounced off a pole and promptly roasted Paul Walker its a feature not a defect.

  • TheBelltower

    100% right. Today its all controllable by using a ton of computing power that help keep a porsches shiny side up. But in a 90s MR2, people got freaked. And then insurance rates became prohibitive for those types of cars.

  • Depends on the muscle car. Some were better than others.

  • Dave C

    Go to Wrecked Exotics, and you will see examples of wrecked powerful cars every week. As with these cars, in most cases, too much car, not enough driving skills. Yes the muscle cars handled like crap. Yes early 911s had snap oversteer. Early Corvettes were nose heavy pigs that understeer ed. All were controllable by a good driver, and uncontrollable by an incompetent one.

  • TK4

    My sister had a very early Beetle – gas tank in front of the passenger compartment ! Good idea – NOT !!!

  • John M

    So cute how they keep pushing electronic crap. the VW Beetle is still the safest car ever created not to mention the only car to get 80 miles per gallon. You do not need traction control since it ruins the transmission it is like riding a clutch. So many gullible folks are liking and commenting that have never driven a 1950’s to 80’s vehicle. If you know how to drive properly you can handle any car or truck.

  • Doug

    As far as electronic systems that were not available at the time of manufacturing if the driver knew how to drive properly and handle a vehicle he wouldn’t need them today they keep taking the driver out of the driving

  • On the other hand, technology can make it about driving than managing stuff that detracts from driving. Even the race cars and motorcycles of today have a ton of tech on them. It’s like bemoaning the loss of the bow and drill to make a fire. So what.

  • Graylin Dyer

    As far as muscle cars, learn to drive before getting behind the wheel of one. If you can’t control it, don’t try to drive it.

  • Keith Feeney

    …technology can make it about “driving”… or totally detract from a raw driving experience; ie racing. Not everyone needs to drive like the Stig, and if you can’t, stick to the passenger seat or the bleachers. Zen and the Art of Driving like You’ve Got a Pair.

  • I grew up before any of the modern driving conveniences and I have owned vehicles with power nothing and manual everything. The one thing I wouldn’t get rid of is ABS. There are too many variables on the street to put faith in reliable braking. It doesn’t take much to get out of shape, even for the very good. The other stuff I can do without.

  • McAllister Bryant

    Does the author of this article even drive?

  • Car Lover 53

    What about the Ford Pinto with the exploding gas tank !

  • SirJamesSC

    The comment on the Corvair is bogus. Nader’s book was proved completely wrong. And mid engine cars are the best handling because of the balance. I own one. Real drivers prefer them.

  • Meh. Cars have too many wheels.

  • A car guy didn’t write this. The wussification of the world continues.

  • 80mpg may be a little far fetched, but they were and still are great cars. I owned 2.

  • Rick Sokol

    I agree with Steve page. So I car has to have all the nannies in order to be considered enjoyable? Most people have never driven a vintage car and don’t appreciate the engineering of it’s time. I’ve driven all the cars on the list and can say they are the most pure driving experiences you can have. If you screw up, momma is not there to wipe your ass for you. Probably a mellinial writing the add.

  • Born in the 313

    Well… for the time, the Cobra and some of the Muscle Cars were highly regarded for their cornering and stopping ability. The idea of a black box lunatic control was … crazy. You get into one of the high performance cars, you step over the line of what a laywer friend calls “assumption of risk.” On the other hand, an early Corvair driven past its relatively low limits would kill in a heartbeat (and did to many children of GM execs.) The Ford Falcon Club Wagon van was a close second, tippy underpowered with a ridiculously high Cg.

  • Truthbug

    Oh yes,Steve P., Rick S., McAllister B., and Born…313…Grownups know what to appreciate and when. I’m 80 and enjoy those things that make my life better, just not all at the same time!

  • GuyLaFarge

    I had TWO Corvairs when I was a young driver, and…guess what? I’m still here! (One was even a Corsa CONVERTIBLE!). And I’ve had three street motorcycles, none of which had or have any of that electronic nonsense such as ABS, DTSC, or Speed Mode. Just like with a high-performance car, if you have to have electronic aids, then clearly you’re not competent to operate the vehicle!

  • Truthbug

    Delivered lots of heavy copy paper to Pasadena and SF Valley 4500# plus at a time in Econoline van (with 250 ci engine…not that puny little four main-bearing one) at a rapid rate with no problems. Pasadena weight limit was 4k for commercial vehicles, but they never noticed us. Those were absolutely comfortable to sit in and drive. It took some skill, but was lots of fun. Real drivers adjust skill to circumstances.

  • Truthbug

    Choose what you like and use it where it works and you exercise the skills you want to exercise. There is no real need to fight eleven guys to get a pointy ended ball down the field and over a line or fight five guys to put a round one through a round hoop, but some like to do that. Live and let live. Also AMEN to Keith Feeney..

  • Truthbug

    I like having the driver in the driving. Some like other skills in the matching activities. Let all choose the circumstances and features they prefer.

  • Truthbug

    Sure glad I was not there for the event!

  • Truthbug

    You give me a Cobra (big or small) and I’m gonna drive it! Probably faster when I get more familiar with it.

  • squirl033

    I had a 60’s muscle car. Yeah, the brakes were an afterthought, and the suspension sucked lemons, but it was still a blast to drive, and I drove it for 17 years and lived to tell about it!

  • squirl033

    I had a 1957 Beetle… small rear window, roller gas pedal, no gas gauge, a generator instead of an alternator, and 36 screamin’ Shetland ponies under the hood. Gas tank and spare up front, and you had to open the trunk lid to put gas in it…

  • Richard Marier

    you forgot any GM made before the bankruptcy, they all have defective steering lock that slips in lock while driving… LOL now THATS a danger!

  • randall

    had the 175 HP turbo corsa convert…faster than a 250 vette……great car!

  • guest

    My 1969 “sports” Muscle car takes 1 foot longer to stop from 60mph than my 2004 Sports car. (which was one of the quickest stopping cars built that year.) It also handles very well too. The people who write this drivel know very little about real cars.

  • BirdArvid

    ..and after 6 or 10 of those stops in quick succession?

  • guest

    I don’t know about how you drive, but personally, I don’t ever have to make 6 or 10 emergency stops in a row. One is usually enough to tell me I’m driving too fast, or not paying attention. But to answer your question, road tests from back in the day said the brakes showed little fade even after repeated high speed stops on the track. That was on skinny E70x14″ Polyglass tires, with disc/drum brakes. My 69 was also one of the quickest stopping “American” cars back then.

  • Mark N Jackson

    I have a 1968 Corvette, and it scares the crap out of me, with the gas tank directly behind the seats, simple lap belts, of course no airbag. I drive very defensively.

  • JagBro9

    The same would hold true of any performance car, muscle car or high end sports car. Too many people don’t realize how much difference there is between a conventional car and a performance car so they get in trouble when they get into the performance car; they don’t know how much more is expected of them

  • Paul Edward

    Modern Cobra replicas typically have racing safety systems and a modernized chassis, like a space frame or a backbone chassis, that very drastically improves handling and crash safety. However, any powerful, light, and neutral balanced car without electronic nannies requires a cool head and firm understanding of high performance driving to drive at the limits.

  • Paul Edward

    What are the cars? In my head I’m imagining a Daytona Coupé vs. Audi A8. Lol

  • Jim

    IOW, yu are g8inger on the applicatin of muscle, to your muscle car. THAT, isnt what the article is addressing.

  • Paul Edward

    I’ve pushed 2nd gen Camaros and Fox platform Mustangs hard. Not good, not by even 1980s standards. Still fun though! Either of those cars, properly sorted (serious chassis stiffening and suspension replacement) can and do handle very well and take home wins.

  • Paul Edward

    I think things regarding chassis and brake systems are worthy criticisms, but they’re old cars… that shouldn’t be a shock. Technology has had 40+ years to improve in that realm, and the improvements are regularly applied to those cars.

  • MisterWIzard

    What fucking idiot wrote this?

  • MisterWIzard

    Seriously? Where the hell do you get your information? Ridiculous.

  • joboro

    Geez, the Cobra doesn’t have electronic controls, airbags, and has open body work?! Sounds like a motorcycle…or even a sports car! I suggest the wuss who wrote this article put on their funky bicycle helmet, get back in their Prius, and leave K2 to us.

  • joboro

    I’ll take the Daytona Coupe, sell it, buy another Ford GT to suck the doors off your A8, buy an A8 to use as an outhouse, update my Beech Baron, and buy a vacation home in Switzerland. Lol!

  • Paul Edward

    Haha well I certainly hope you beat the A8, it’s a gigantic sedan! Audis are great cars though.

    Which GT are you talking about? 1st, 2nd, or 3rd? I’d love any :p A Daytona Coupé, or at least the modern replicas, have fantastic handling characteristics. So long as the builder doesn’t half ass the suspension of course. Even looking at it today, it’s a very solid chassis design.

  • Paul Edward

    I don’t know about that, but GM V6s of that era are basically racist against gaskets. And their own heads.

  • Paul Edward

    What car is it? I almost bought a 73 Corvette a few years back and kick myself for not. Such a beautiful and sensual car. I can overlook the compromised rear suspension, even with the jacking problems. I did have a 74 Camaro that stopped well and was very stable cornering, but that stability probably came from the 325 out back with the 245 up front :p

    If it has disc brakes I don’t doubt it stops well if a driver knows how to threshold the brakes. The issue is that under load from direction changes, bad suspension geometry and chassis and suspension component deflection caused a great loss in contact patch (not a problem unique to old cars unfortunately). Those cars didn’t handle that well, but I also think their bad handling is a bit overstated. A good driver can milk a little something from any car 😉

  • Paul Edward

    I should also add that while those old Porsches are an adjustment, as long as you keep your steering inputs smooth, and make your application and lift off of throttle and brakes smooth entering and exiting corners, you’ll be fine. This is race driving 101. Unfortunately most people lack the desire to learn how to not be shitty drivers, even after buying excellent machines.

  • Richard Marier
  • Rodger Victor

    How about all of those toyotas that accelerate for no reason at all. More dangerous than anything on this list.

  • Ryan Yantzer

    I’m going to politely ask you for proof to back up your statement, because I don’t know of a single American street car built in 1969 that has braking capabilities comparable to a modern car (or even your 2004 German car).

  • guest

    Perfectly legitimate question Ryan. My1969 AMX performs, handles, and stops very much like my 2004 Crossfire. Handling is little better in the Crossfire thanks to IRS, and larger tires, but not by as much as you would think. Radial tires weren’t a factory option in 1969, but they were standard on all Australian 69 AMX’s. I’ve owned both cars since they were brand new, and have accumulated over 165000 combined miles on them so I’m very familiar with their individual handling characters. The Crossfire will go thru a slalom course faster than a Ford GT, (according to Road & Track magazine) and I know the AMX would be slower. But again, if the same size tires were on both cars the difference would be marginal.

    Seating Capacity______________2___________________2________________

    Wheel Base__________________97″_________________94.5″_____________

    FR.Track____________________59.7″________________58.3″_____________

    R.Track_____________________57.0″________________58.2″_____________

    Length______________________177.2″_______________159.8″____________

    Height______________________51.7″________________51.4″_____________

    Ground Clearance____________5.29″________________4.9″______________

    Curb Weight________________3035 lbs._____________3084 lbs.__________

    Weight Distribution F/R,%_____57/43________________54/46_____________

    Trunk Space cu.ft.____________9.6__________________7.6______________

    Turns Lock to Lock____________3.8__________________3.1______________

    Turning Circle________________33.5’_________________32.9_____________

    Engine Compression Ratio______10.2:1________________10.0:1__________

    SAE. H.P.____________________225__________________215_____________

    Frontal Area sq.ft.____________20.6__________________20.6____________

    Final Drive Ratio_____________3.15:1________________3.27:1___________

    Body Construction____________Unitized_______________Unitized_________

    Steering___________________recirculating ball________recirculating ball___

    Braking 60-0 m.p.h.__________115’__________________114’_____________

    Automatic Trans. Performance__Motor Trend____________Motor Trend_____

    30 m.p.h.___________________2.9 sec.________________2.5 sec.________

    60 m.p.h.___________________6.9 sec.________________7.1 sec.________

    1/4 mile time & speed_______15.2 sec. 92 mph._____ 15.18 sec. 96 mph._

    Manual Trans. Performance____Car & Driver____________Car & Driver_____

    30 m.p.h.___________________1.9 sec.________________2.1 sec.________

    40 m.p.h.___________________3.1 sec.________________3.5 sec.________

    50 m.p.h.___________________4.5 sec.________________4.7 sec.________

    60 m.p.h.___________________6.6 sec.________________6.5 sec.________

    70 m.p.h.___________________8.5 sec.________________8.2 sec.________

    80 m.p.h.___________________10.7 sec._______________10.2 sec._______

    90 m.p.h.___________________13.5 sec._______________13.1 sec._______

    100 m.p.h.__________________16.3 sec._______________16.1 sec._______

    1/4 mile time & speed_______14.8 sec. 95 mph._________14.8 sec. 96 mph_

    Modified AMX vs SRT-6_____13.18 sec. 107 mph.______13.3 sec. 107.5 mph___

  • Ted R. Collier

    Ummm……. You know….. Stating ALL muscle cars doesn’t exactly equal 5…… 😉

  • Ted R. Collier

    I have to ask, though, how many times in succession can you brake before serious fade happens? Then, the same question with the modern car. I imagine that putting them into a 2 to 3 hour race will produce some very different lap tunes by the end.

  • guest

    Seating Capacity______________2___________________2________________

    Wheel Base__________________97″_________________94.5″_____________

    FR.Track____________________59.7″________________58.3″_____________

    R.Track_____________________57.0″________________58.2″_____________

    Length______________________177.2″_______________159.8″____________

    Height______________________51.7″________________51.4″_____________

    Ground Clearance____________5.29″________________4.9″______________

    Curb Weight________________3035 lbs._____________3084 lbs.__________

    Weight Distribution F/R,%_____57/43________________54/46_____________

    Trunk Space cu.ft.____________9.6__________________7.6______________

    Turns Lock to Lock____________3.8__________________3.1______________

    Turning Circle________________33.5’_________________32.9_____________

    Engine Compression Ratio______10.2:1________________10.0:1__________

    SAE. H.P.____________________225__________________215_____________

    Frontal Area sq.ft.____________20.6__________________20.6____________

    Final Drive Ratio_____________3.15:1________________3.27:1___________

    Body Construction____________Unitized_______________Unitized_________

    Steering___________________recirculating ball________recirculating ball___

    Braking 60-0 m.p.h.__________115’__________________114’_____________

    Automatic Trans. Performance__Motor Trend____________Motor Trend_____

    30 m.p.h.___________________2.9 sec.________________2.5 sec.________

    60 m.p.h.___________________6.9 sec.________________7.1 sec.________

    1/4 mile time & speed_______15.2 sec. 92 mph._____ 15.18 sec. 96 mph._

    Manual Trans. Performance____Car & Driver____________Car & Driver_____

    30 m.p.h.___________________1.9 sec.________________2.1 sec.________

    40 m.p.h.___________________3.1 sec.________________3.5 sec.________

    50 m.p.h.___________________4.5 sec.________________4.7 sec.________

    60 m.p.h.___________________6.6 sec.________________6.5 sec.________

    70 m.p.h.___________________8.5 sec.________________8.2 sec.________

    80 m.p.h.___________________10.7 sec._______________10.2 sec._______

    90 m.p.h.___________________13.5 sec._______________13.1 sec._______

    100 m.p.h.__________________16.3 sec._______________16.1 sec._______

    1/4 mile time & speed_______14.8 sec. 95 mph._________14.8 sec. 96 mph_

    Modified AMX vs SRT-6_____13.18 sec. 107 mph.______13.3 sec. 107.5 mph___

    Ryan my comparison was based on the 1969 AMX vs the 2004 Crossfire. I purchased both cars brand new and accumulated a combined total of over 165000 miles traveled. So I’m pretty familiar with their individual handling characteristics. Even though their acceleration and braking are nearly identical, the Crossfire handles better because of it’s larger tires, IRS, and absence of leaf springs. That being said, the difference between the two cars (built 35 years apart) is marginal.

  • guest

    Ted, I was only comparing the two cars braking performance in a daily driving capacity. Of course brake fade is going to occure sooner in a racing scenario using 1969 brake technology. But that was never the point of this article.

  • Ted Collier

    Maybe. To me, that is relevant. You see, there will always be someone
    who will push the limits, whether legally or not. And I would rather
    they drive a car that can handle the punishment long term.

    But, I do agree that MOST driving does not cause break fade. 😉

  • guest

    I see your point.

  • Nearly Over

    Yeah, not being able to recognize which foot is on which pedal is pretty dangerous.

  • Titus213

    A man’s got to know his limitations…

  • Børre Børresen

    steering locks that went on when you drove? sounds like some Renault Alpine A310 and A410’s there 😛

    you also got Dodge that imported and re-branded the Mitsubishi 3000GT but got scared that the DOHC V6 engine would look to technical for Dodge mechanics and buyers so they converted it to a SOHC and made the engine totally unreliable in the Dodge Stealth until they got some better ideas…

  • Rodger Victor

    Sure. The CHP in the lexota, that was driving his family that were killed are probably the worst, and most untalented drivers out there….Right?

  • Rodger Victor

    So the CHP and his family that died in a lexota, didn’t have enough driving experience then?

  • TMS 007

    Too simplistic. Disregards aggresivity crash results in many cases here. I would much prefer my chances in a
    head on against a Pickup truck in a Viper vs The same crash in a Smart car. Which would you prefer?

  • partsmike

    Just another slap in the face of those of us that know how to control whatever they are driving. Those that drive should keep away from distractions. I question the “CHP” officer driving the Lexus that killed he and his family, was either trying to do just that or he never should have been issued a driver’s license if he was so stupid that he didn’t know you can shift to neutral.
    Our wonderful government (NHTSA) caused us all to never two foot any car with an automatic transmission built after 2013, it is known as the Toyota rule (brake override).

  • pocchr

    ANYTHING Ralph Nader said should be taken with a lot more than a Grain of Salt. He had an agenda as most Progressives have. It was to ruin the Automotive Industry. He partially succeeded.

  • ABT

    I have to agree; how hard is it to turn off a car’s engine or put the transmission in neutral? I work at a a car dealership and I often have some poor fool tell me; “I can’t buy a RWD car- because I need something that I can drive in the rain.”
    Unbelievable.

  • ABT

    He should probably just put on his fire-resistant pajamas and hide under the bed.