By on September 16, 2009

Look familiar? (

We had a brief word with the IIHS’s Russ Raider, who was quite cagey on the origins and condition of the 1959 Bel Air that was destroyed for the Institute’s 50th birthday. What we were able to get out of him was that the ’59 Bel Air was in “good” condition, with only a little engine rust, leaky hood/trunk seals and non-original upholstery in the negative column. We also learned that the car was procured in Indiana, and with this information we went looking for Bel Airs on the internet. And you’ll never guess what we found . . .

But did the IIHS pay $10,500?? (

We quickly found our prime suspect at, an Indiana-based site devoted to the magical 1959 model year. Three photos of a 1959 Bel Air in the exact same colors and equipped with a straight six (no way the car in the video was rocking a V8) can be found there, described as being from “35 miles from Jim.” In other words, in Indiana. Adding to our suspicions is the photo in which a $10,500 price is written in the window. And we’ll be damned if it doesn’t look like it has non-original upholstery. UPDATE: We’ve contacted Jim Snell of, and he confirms that this is indeed the car destroyed by the IIHS. The Bel Air had 60k miles when he helped his friend sell it online for $8,500. Mr Snell had this to say over at Chevytalk:

If I would have had the space to keep it and the extra money, I would have bought that car myself. At the time, it didn’t make much sense to have my spiffy Impala and also a similar BelAir…. My buddy’s car was so nice! Original interior was incredible, and almost zero rust…. grrrrrrrrr………… What a waste.

Non-original upholstery? (

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53 Comments on “This Is the Bel Air the IIHS Destroyed...”

  • avatar

    Any 50′s car in a 4 door in my opinion, is just a parts car.

    And yes, the upholstery is not original

  • avatar

    The car in the above photos has rear wheel skirts.
    The one in the IIHS crash video does not.

  • avatar

    I’d say this is no big loss to the automotive universe…

  • avatar

    I’d say it was a shame. It’s not a pristine example, but looks very driveable. Obviously they have too much money to spend.

  • avatar

    Judging by your evidence. I woudn’t send I guy to jail. I would,however say its a dam good chance its the same car. A two door would be worth least 50% more,so they saved a buck.

    As a kid in the early sixties,we would watch the cars go by and shout out the make and year. Even the kids that wer’nt into cars could identify a 59 chevy. I suppose there the same people that buy Toyotas today.

    Anyway I still think its a shame to kill a fifty year old car,to prove a point.

  • avatar

    The fender skirts could have easily been removed during the prep work.

    Funny that there is no mention of this on the IIHS website.

  • avatar

    Just a parts car?
    Excuse me but…… As the values of two door hardtops and convertibles continue to soar, the four door sedans, hardtops, and wagons have gained in popularity. The reasons are many for this phenomenon. Most believe that the primary reasons are the retiring baby-boomers with their 401K type money, and empty-nesters buying back their youth. With the recent problems with large corporate bankruptcies and accounting fraud, many investors are turning to investments that they control directly. Investments that can be touched, felt, and enjoyed. Not just money on a report, or stashed in a mutual fund. These and many other reasons drive these increases in value. There is no question, at this time, a rare and desirable vintage auto is a good investment. Resulting in the astronomical prices these collector cars are bringing at televised auctions and on-line. With most muscle-cars, two door hardtop, and convertible models now in the hands of serious investment collectors, they have increased in value to a point that most are almost too valuable to drive.

    Because of this increase in value and collector car hysteria sweeping the nation, many main-stream vintage auto enthusiasts have been pushed out of the hobby. In response, many of these enthusiasts have turned to the fast growing collector segment of antique autos with four doors. (Oddly, the European market for antique American automobiles seems not as affected by the need for two door and convertible models. Collectors in the Netherlands, Nordic, and Western European countries are buying-up four door and wagon models and exporting them to their home countries. A growing number of Enthusiasts in Australia and New Zealand are also buying and exporting vintage four door autos from the USA.)

    Simple common sense and sales numbers tell us that actually these types of cars were much more common than the two door models so sought after by the collectors. A fine example of a wagon or sedan is a unique car-show item and represents the real cars of yesteryear. Many persons have memories of the wagon or the sedan they rode in as a child. The one grandma had, or that mom drove when she took the kids to school, or the car that the family used when they crossed the continent on summer vacation. As millions of these autos were produced, they exist today in far greater numbers, spare parts are more readily available and they can be driven and enjoyed. Fortunately, many fine examples of vintage American sedans and wagons continue to be found and can be purchased for reasonable prices. However, we have seen in the past few years, that sedans and wagons in good condition are rapidly increasing in value. (For example, 1959 and 1960 Impala four door hardtop and wagons are now fetching prices well above $10,000.00 U.S. Dollars. Just two or three years ago, these cars were selling for $5,000.00 to $7,000.00.)

  • avatar

    Any 50’s car in a 4 door in my opinion, is just a parts car.

    If there’s one thing I’m glad to see gone, it’s the two-door with eight-foot doors that were popular in this era. I hate two-door, two-row cars with a passion, having had to climb in and out of one too many.

  • avatar

    Whoa! Great sleuthing guys, this is why I wish more of the web was like TTAC.

    I liked the video but now seeing how nice the car was I feel sad. I had assumed it was a junker.

  • avatar

    You can see the front of the ’59 Chevy at the link above. It looks like both cars have aftermarket chrome headlight cover thingies…they forgot to remove those when they ditched the wheel covers and fender skirts.

    And both cars seem to have great paint, the crash car even looked good where the passenger fender separated from the body.

    Nice bit of sleuthing, Ed. You probably found your suspect.

    EDIT: you already knew that. Never mind!

  • avatar

    A few years ago someone – perhaps the IIHS – crashed a late 20′s early 30′s car against a brick wall to show how far car safety has advanced. Not too sure which car exactly, as they all look the same possibly a model T or Model A.
    Upon impact it predictably exploded into millions of pieces so it’s not the first time an old car was crash tested.
    But it did make me think about the people who kept it going for 70 years, were they aware this was going to happen?
    And yes it’s too bad the Bel Air managed to survive 50 years only to go out this way… but I mean just look at it.
    A four door every mans land yacht with far less collectible value,except for those nostalgic to drive what Grandpa or their Great Aunt would’ve had. I always wondered what the love affair was with most cars from the 50′s, poorly built, ponderous handling, scrap within ten years due to rust, falling apart etc, etc.
    Besides isn’t the Bel Air second from the bottom in trim levels, just above the Biscayne, or did that not start until the 60′s?
    Bit of a shame yes, but not a big loss to the automotive world.
    BTW – If anybody can find the crash test video I mentioned please post it, I assume it’s on You Tube.

  • avatar

    I own a 2dr 64 Impala.
    This 59 would not be my choice, but someone loved it enough to put it in this condition, so it is a shame to destroy it.

    psarhjinian : It’s a hobby, practicality has nothing to do with it. At the time 2 drs were in and 4 drs were dorky. Just the way it was.

  • avatar

    Personally I loath the American cars of this era (’53 stude sliner and 55 chev and 56-7 vette excepted), crush away!


  • avatar

    Sick. Your insurance premiums hard at work here.
    I hate this organization [lobbying group] even more than I did before.

    What a bloody waste.

  • avatar

    You know, we would’ve believed them if they just told us 50 year old cars were crap in a head on.
    Didnt really need to sacrifice one to make the point. It’s not like the local day care is looking for these to transport our kids, although god knows I spent enough thousands of miles in these things.

    Its kind of like a redwood living for a thousand years then being cut down for a better view from the Barcalounger.

    End of soapbox, return to your life.

  • avatar

    @ bunter I was just thinking how much I would like to take that old Chevy for a cruise. I think it a three on the tree with an in line blue flame.
    armstrong steering maybe?

    Nice fall day with your arm out the window,you don’t know what your missing dude.

  • avatar

    The destruction of a car that has made it through the past 50 years in good condition is a waste. It served no purpose, as already pointed out, anybody with two brain cells to rub together knows a ’59 anything won’t fair too well in a crash. While it was their money to do with as they pleased, I wish they had spent it on a huge Prius shaped cake or something.

    It woudl take a lot of money to make me part with my ’58 Chevy, if I knew it was going to be destroyed like this. As a matter of fact, I don’t know if any amount could get me to do it, given that I am not desperate for money. Combined with the report of destroying a car from the 20′s or 30′s, and it sounds like a bunch of overgrown children destroying stuff with firecrackers, just on a much larger and more expensive scale.

  • avatar

    When I was a kid, one of the moms in the school carpool had a 59 wagon, same color combo.

    That said, and although I am not much of a Chevy guy, I hate to see a nice old original car get destroyed for a puff piece for the IHSA.

    However, it was only one car. What about the movie industry. How many 57 Plymouth hardtops were destroyed to make Christine? Or even worse, there were a couple of nice looking old 30s cars that met their demise in Johnny Depp’s Dillinger movie, IIRC.

    The IHSA piece at least has some educational value and is a one-time deal (hopefully).

  • avatar

    Someone put a lot of love into maintaining that car only to have it wantonly destroyed for a PR stunt. Sick.

  • avatar

    Well, at least no one dumped a salt solution in the engine then ran it till it died.

    As JP said, movies tend to destroy a lot more cars. Which used to really upset me…now I just don’t think about it.

    Ever seen a movie that said “no cars were harmed in the making of this film”?

  • avatar

    Could not disagree more with the destruction of four door sedans from the past.These are the cars our parents drove and the look is still unique on a modern road- four doors or two doors. 1959 Chevies are a very striking link with an automotive era that will always be a part of the iconic look of the late 50s.

  • avatar

    These guys aren’t the worst offenders, just look at the various collectibles Hollywood has destroyed for the sake of some very, very bad movies. Best not to look actually.

  • avatar

    It’s an important point that needs to be illustrated though. There are so many older folks out there who truly believe that cars from the 50s and 60s were safer because they were bulkier.

  • avatar

    Why all of the hate for an old four-door car?

    Not everyone can afford a pristine 2-door 1957 Bel Air. This idiotic display of the obvious by the IIHS just took another old car off the market. This car and many like it make a lot of owners happy. They’re not practical by any stretch of the imagination, but who cares?

    And of course the 50s cars weren’t reliable. Neither are 60s-80s cars, compared to today’s cars.

  • avatar

    Did you guys even watch the video?

    OMFG!! The ’59 vs. the ’09? The ’09 totally obliterated the Bel Air. The ’09 weighs 3415lbs the ’59 3615lbs – the the lighter Malibu is still going nearly full speed, and fully intact, through the back seat of the Bel Air.

    So much for bigger heavier cars being safer…

  • avatar

    Funny the episode of Mad Men when Don Draper brings his new baby home from the hospital in his ’62 Cadillac – no car seat, no seat belt, and the kid is in his moms arms in the front.

    No wonder the automotive death rate was 4x (or is it 8x higher) back then.

  • avatar

    The car my Dad owned when we crossed the country was a ’61 Ford Fairlane (i.e., bottom trim level with mats instead of carpet) 6 cyl, 3 on the tree, only options being R&H as the ads used to say. I’m damned if I’m going to be nostalgic for that. If IIHS wants to do another demo in ’11 with that car against a Fusion or Taurus, I’d applaud as the ’61 explodes (and shudder as I recall we covered 6,000 miles on mostly 2-lane roads from NJ to CA in that thing).

    On the other hand, I wouldn’t mind having my first car back. Or at least a look-alike. A ’66 Impala convertible was cool, but the combination of 283 2 bbl and Powerglide was pretty bad…

  • avatar
    cRacK hEaD aLLeY

    It’s all relative.

    On September 16 2459 somebody is going to pass by a 2009 Malibu on the exhibit “United States: Late Republic – Collapse of the Western Empire (1943–2014)” and the comments will go something like this:

    - Dude, read this! The interior had cow’s skin! Can you imagine that? They used real animal skin man! How gross was that?

    - Dude, that’s nothing! Check that pipe in the back and the polyvinyl chloride all over the place! And a tank for liquid carbohydrate! Dude! 16 gallons of carbohydrates in the back! hahahaha! They were breathing and touching that shit man! Can you believe they did that?

    - Woooow… look at this…look…average mechanical efficiency of 25 to 30% with 70 to 75% wasted as heat. Duuuuuude! No wonder that shit happened to them!

    -Man, look: Here’s a movie of one of these things crashing into another model, looks like a model maybe a 2 or 3 years older than this one here on display. Look at what happens man! Hahahah! Those guys were morons! Look at that! Can you imagine having your flesh cut by all that glass and steel? And what about those popping baloons?! hahahaha! Argh! Dude! Look at all that toxic smoke and dust. And no one cared man! It was just a fact of life!

    - Ok, let’s move on. The next exhibit is about their experiment with storage of electricity on these things. Look at that! They needed 400 lbs to store 600 volts! Hahahahahaha! How crazy was that!

  • avatar

    Poor Bel Air

    Get in the front seat

    “I can’t”


    “The Engine’s in the front seat”

    Well get in the back seat!

    “no can do!”


    “The front seat is in the back seat”

    (and the back seat is in the trunk, etc)

  • avatar

    It’s Russ Rader, not “Raider.”

    No the IIHS didn’t crash a Model A Ford, ever. And yes, think of all the cars destroyed in just the 007 movies over the decades. Maybe even more were destroyed in “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World,” including a nice blue ’61 Impala convertible.

  • avatar

    You guys are all up in arms. Yes, it’s a rare car these days (the rest have rotted away). Yes, it was in good shape (but it’s still a 50 year old hunk of metal – it isn’t going to crash quite as well as it would have in ’59).

    Some thoughts…
    -This was entirely pointless. We all know car safety has improved since 1959. Hell, look at the IIHS crash tests of ’95 model cars and consider that tons of them are still on the road. My ’95 G20 would bite it hard compared to a new ‘Bu. And they could have just snagged a 2002 Chevy Astro off the C4C section of a dealer lot and proved that GM still built death traps well into this century.

    -Some of you have raised questions about possible waste of insurance premiums on this test. Do you know how many cars are crashed to meet automakers’ own safety test quotas? Hundreds. And how do you think the IIHS paid for the $24,000 ’09 Malibu 3LT V6? The Bel Air only cost $8500…

    -As far as crying over the loss of a classic, I say this: that Bel Air will live on somewhere in the IIHS headquarters, free from any further rust, road debris, careless parking lot dings, other cars crashing into it and sending it to the recycling yard (to be made into 2012 Malibus), etc., so it’s actually got a more certain fate than 99% of other ’59 Bel Airs still running around out there, even if it isn’t exactly driveable.

  • avatar

    So GM was building death traps well onto this century? OK so Toyota and Honda VW and the rest of the non domestic’s,everyone one of them are all building perfect and 100% safe vehicles?

    And the perception gap is a myth eh?

  • avatar

    mikey :
    September 16th, 2009 at 9:53 pm

    So GM was building death traps well onto this century? OK so Toyota and Honda VW and the rest of the non domestic’s,everyone one of them are all building perfect and 100% safe vehicles?

    And the perception gap is a myth eh?

    I mean, if I could post the videos for the 1989-2005 Astro/Safari or 1997-2005 U-Body minivans I would, but I don’t know how.

    You’re the one that mentioned all the other brand names. I didn’t. The fact is GM made those cars (and yes, they were deathtraps) until a whopping four years ago.

  • avatar

    Show me a 2005 model Toyota, Honda, or VW that graded a “poor” rating in IIHS offset frontal crash tests. And the U-Body earned its “poor” in 1997, when the testing metrics were far less stringent than in 2005!

  • avatar

    KalapanaBlack, the Civic was once a death trap in the early 1990s in this test-crash against a Mitsubishi Montero

    However, I saw a French article from 2006 about the European Civic having a 4-star from Euro-NCAP

  • avatar

    Good piece of detective work. This is almost surely the same car used in the IIHS test. The convincer for me is the brown fuzzy dice hanging from the mirror. They’re there in these photos and they’re there during the IIHS test.

  • avatar

    And the U-Body earned its “poor” in 1997, when the testing metrics were far less stringent than in 2005!

    Most minivans around the late 90′s were rated as death traps. Not making excuses for GM, but they had a lot of company at the time.

    The ’91-’97 Toyota Previa received an IIHS rating of “poor”.

    The ’96-’98 Nissan Quest received an IIHS rating of “marginal”. The ’99-’02 Nissan Quest received an IIHS rating of “poor”.

    The ’96-’99 Isuzu Oasis and Honda Odyssey received an IIHS rating of “marginal”.

    The ’92-’97 Ford Aerostar received an IIHS rating of “poor”.

    The ’96-’00 Plymouth Grand Voyager received an IIHS rating of “marginal”.

  • avatar

    I have little respect for the IIHS, but I did find this crash test video educational. From just a size and mass standpoint one might have expected the ’59 to fare better. That giant windshield just flew off. The A pillar was useless and looks like few of the welds held together. I seem to remember a (GM?) frontal crash test of a ’61 Chevy with similar results. We have come a long way.

  • avatar

    stephdumas :
    September 16th, 2009 at 10:37 pm

    KalapanaBlack, the Civic was once a death trap in the early 1990s in this test-crash against a Mitsubishi Montero

    That speaks for itself.

    Crash a ’92 Cavalier and see how well it does. Particularly against a vehicle that weighs nearly twice as much.

  • avatar

    ajla :
    September 16th, 2009 at 10:43 pm

    And the U-Body earned its “poor” in 1997, when the testing metrics were far less stringent than in 2005!

    Most minivans around the late 90’s were rated as death traps. Not making excuses for GM, but they had a lot of company at the time.

    The ‘91-’97 Toyota Previa received an IIHS rating of “poor”.

    The ‘96-’98 Nissan Quest received an IIHS rating of “marginal”. The ‘99-’02 Nissan Quest received an IIHS rating of “poor”.

    The ‘96-’99 Isuzu Oasis and Honda Odyssey received an IIHS rating of “marginal”.

    The ‘92-’97 Ford Aerostar received an IIHS rating of “poor”.

    The ‘96-’00 Plymouth Grand Voyager received an IIHS rating of “marginal”.

    My point stands. How many of those were sold in their original forms in 2005?

  • avatar

    Those who lament the sacrifice of this priceless treasure of an automobile by the meanies at IIHS should note that the Bel Air was purchased for $8500. Carmax’s current inventory lists dozens of Chevy Aveos, of which just three are priced at under $8500. Perhaps this 50-year old family sedan was a thing of rare and precious beauty, but that’s not what the automotive market says.

    Anyway, I think the video is a marvelous illustration of how much cars have improved. The A-pillar on that old Chevy sheared like it was made from compressed tortilla chips. The A-pillars on the 2009 looked pristine, and the windshield was still intact. Remarkable.

  • avatar

    It could be worse. This Holden Commodore folds like an accordion paper airplane, it’s downright scary. 62 mph, and it’s an 80′s car.

  • avatar

    Migawd, let’s cut to the important thing! Did the hula girl on the dash survive the crash?????

  • avatar

    I checked these old tests
    Honda Accord vs Fit, Toyota Camry vs Yaris

    and vintage test-crash of the Citroen 2CV
    one of the Citroen tests was done at 10 km/h (approximately 6 mph)

  • avatar

    Ingvar :
    September 17th, 2009 at 2:17 am

    It could be worse. This Holden Commodore folds like an accordion paper airplane, it’s downright scary. 62 mph, and it’s an 80’s car.

    Yes, but, as has been noted everytime someone posts that video, that was a test of the testing equipment, not the car. That car was structurally unsound and had a massive amount of weight loaded into the trunk. A regular production vehicle equivalent to the one in that test without the modifications would have performed better.

    Also, 62 mph into a concrete wall the size of a house isn’t exactly a common crash circumstance. Offset head-on crashes at 35-40 mph, such as the IIHS tests simulate, are actually common in the real world.

  • avatar

    Stewart, don’t worry, the hula girl is safe!

    Hoss, please don’t tell the seller about this if he doesn’t already know!

  • avatar

    This whole to crash or not to crash debate is quite interesting, and I enjoyed reading about it, but a funny thing happened on the way home yesterday.
    Sitting in front of me – and I haven’t seen one in years – was a vintage Bel Air.
    Four door, two tone turquoise, appeared not to be restored and a very rich smell of hydrocarbons every time he stepped on the gas.
    Okay it was a 1960, not a 59, so the taillights were different, but close enough.
    But to me it didn’t say “classic”, it just said “old car”
    The glass and roof looked like a canopy with massive ridges along the body and the guy in the car looked so small.
    Cars have changed for the better, albeit a bit more generic.

  • avatar

    That’s my mom’s car!…from 1966, her first car, bought used in ’66 for $600…seemed like a lot to me. As a kid, I hated it, because it smelled bad and rattled very, very badly when driven and was the ultimate ugly ‘brown’ car although the other kids did not use the word ‘brown’ to describe the colour or the smell.

  • avatar

    What a shame, poor Bel Air. However, I suppose they couldn’t give much of a test with a Bel Air in poor condition.

  • avatar

    New Video:

    Definitely the same car, they kept the fuzzy dice in it.

  • avatar

    At least the ’59 didn’t take anyone else with it when it died.

    Too bad the ’59 didn’t qualify for CFC; the owner could have purchased an ’09 Malibu with it while the straight-6 drank liquid sand.

  • avatar

    The IIHS are a bunch of goofs….LOADS of interest for ’59 Chevys as in repopped parts….not for the OTHER makes….and yes…..4 doors….

    They are just as sick as the industry….

  • avatar

    Why don’t we just go and sink a supertanker to prove it pollutes more when it isn’t afloat, or, or… I know! Get a shovel and hit someone in the face with it to prove that it hurts more than hitting someone in the face with a teddy bear. Honestly what a f*cking stupid waste of money and a classic car.

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