By on March 12, 2009

Obviously, I don’t have an statistical data on Ferrari crashes. Neither, I suspect, does the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA); they don’t tend to compile stats on marques that sell in the hundreds. But as someone who spends his days floating through the autoblogosphere, I’ve noticed a number of halved Ferraris. We have the famous Enzo crash on the PCH, and now this, a fatal accident involving the mixed martial artist/TapOut clothing designer artist known as “The Mask.” So I clicked on over to wreckedexotics.com to search for more anecdotal evidence. While there are a number of Ferraris with fire-vaporized back ends (that’s where the engine is), I didn’t find a trove of demi-Ferraris. To defend my access to all those Ferrari press junkets (as if), I’ll posit that ANY car would break in two if it happened to hit something immovable side-on at a high rate of speed. In fact, it could very well be a good thing, providing you’re ahead of the fissure, as the cleaving process dissipates lethal energy. The question is, is that true?

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46 Comments on “Ask the Best and Brightest: Why Do Ferraris Break into Two?...”


  • avatar
    Ingvar

    Doesn’t it have to do with how carbonfibre reacts to sudden impacts, above its breaking point? Steel is a tensile material, while carbonfibre is more brittle, like glass? If a steel car hits a lamppost sideways, it will literally bend itself around it. Carbonfibre should more or less explode and vaporize in a cloud of dust? At least in the troubled areas. But I really don’t have a clue, I’m only speculating.

  • avatar
    William C Montgomery

    I think the passenger compartment must be designed to break off in an emergency like an escape pod.

  • avatar
    the duke

    Not halving done any computer aided stress analyses on Ferrari’s, my guess would be that the location of the engine and a near 50:50 weight distribution play a critical role.

    If the cars in question were not hit side on as you mention, I would be willing to bet the cars that split in half had rolled, and as Ingvar mentions they are made to be light weight with CF, the resulting end impacts from a end over rolls might expose a weak point in the chassis.

    Although, if you’ve rolled your Ferrari, whether it splits in half is beside the point; there is no way it won’t be a total.

  • avatar
    TomJones

    At least in the case of the famous Enzo crash,

    http://jalopnik.com/assets/images/gallery/12/2007/01/medium_368100343_655b3ab029_o.jpg

    the passenger cell is made of a very strong carbon fibre structure, with the front and rear engine structures bolted-on:

    http://www.carbodydesign.com/vehicles/ferrari/2003-enzo/Enzo-Chassis-2.jpg

    The rear section more-or-less just sheared off in the impact at the joining location. It may be that this was the case in the other “halved” Ferraris – their structures may have separated at the joining locations.

    Concerning the Ferrari engine fires – Ferrari did not do a very good job in thermally insulating the composite materials near hot engine components – poor engine bay cooling airflow and the subsequent heat buildup led to the flameouts.

  • avatar
    Evan is a Robot

    Ingvar pretty much hit the nail on the head: carbon fiber doesn’t tend to fare well in an impact. Combine this with the assumption that a great many Ferrari crashes occur at recklessly high speeds compared to other makes, and I think we can call this case closed.

  • avatar
    no_slushbox

    Ferraris notoriously split in two. Right where the driver sits. In every recent picture I’ve seen.

    My guess is that the carbon fiber reinforced plastic in the expensive ones and the riveted, bonded aluminum in the cheap ones simply can’t touch good old welded steel.

    That’s why F1 cars have steel safety cages built into the carbon fiber monoque to protect the driver.

    I Googled carbon fiber and steel and found that, in on of the top links, TTAC has addressed this somewhat.

    https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/carbon-fiber-so-good-it-hurts/

  • avatar
    TomJones

    The carbon fibre will explode in a cloud of dust and pieces at high speed impact – makes for a terrible mess but it does indeed absorb a significant amount of the crash energy.

  • avatar
    superbadd75

    It just hurts me to see a Ferrari in such condition. Also makes me wonder what happened to whatever he hit. They always show the Ferrari and not the other car/object.

  • avatar
    Bimmer

    I’d have to disagree with comments regarding CF chassis. Just look at Formula 1: they’re build from Carbon Fiber too and could withstand much more severe impacts at higher rate of speed. I’m aware that around driver F1 cars have safety cell, but I don’t see any body parts (other then bolt on parts such as front and rear wings) break off in impact.
    Also, why would anyone in right mind buy Ferrari or a Lamborghini (other then for track use or to show off), since it has only two years warranty and I have not heard of one lasting over 100,000 miles?

  • avatar
    Jeff Puthuff

    Wouldn’t most vehicles split if they hit a light pole (or whatever that aluminum thing is in the background) at such a velocity that it’s sheared off its anchor and crumpled?

    Plus, the carbon fiber thing. There’s no deformity in fiber; it shatters at high impact force. The first 787 or A380 that strikes (or is struck by) a fuel or catering truck is going to be in for a very expensive repair.

  • avatar
    Lokki

    Why do Ferraris split in two?

    To get you to the other side…..

    Thank you very much, and good night!

  • avatar
    no_slushbox

    superbadd75:

    In this case the Ferrari hit a steel Porsche. The driver and passenger in the Porsche survived, actually well enough to run from the scene. The Ferrari driver, as mentioned, is dead; the passenger flew out of the car and is in critical condition.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    Bimmer: But how much of an F1 is structural carbon fiber? As I get it, the engine block is bolted right on to the safety cell?

  • avatar
    Jared

    Hit a tree or telephone pole sideways while driving fast enough, and most any car will split in two. The first time I saw the aftermath of such an incident was in 1976 — the result of a combination of a 16-year-old boy, too much alcohol, and too much speed in a Camaro. Neither the Camaro nor the 16-year-old survived the encounter with an oak tree.

  • avatar
    tony-e30

    I’m certain that Dietrich knows why they break in half, but I don’t know where he went. If anyone finds him, let me know.

    -Stephan

  • avatar
    John Horner

    ” … why would anyone in right mind buy Ferrari or a Lamborghini (other then for track use or to show off) … ”

    Sometimes the answer is right there in the question. By any rational standards, Ferraris are not very good cars. Poor reliability, poor durability, outrageous maintenance costs, poor ergonomics and so on.

  • avatar
    Evan is a Robot

    Bimmer:
    This probably has a lot to do with the relative weight of the cars, with an F1 car not generating as much force in an impact. The Ferrari is not only heavier, but was also probably going faster down the straight highway than the F1 car was through a corner. It’s also quite possible that the F1 car is just more sturdily built. If you’re clever enough, you can make even carbon to be extraordinarily resilient.

  • avatar
    segfault

    @ no_slushbox:

    In that case, didn’t the Ferrari hit an immovable object after hitting the steel Porsche?

  • avatar
    timjz

    FYI, the car in the pic looks like a 360 Challenge Stradale, which is made entirely out of aluminum. The only carbon fiber in this car is decorative, such as door panels, trim, seats. I think all rear engine Ferraris are designed to separate like this, carbon or not. It separates the driver from a potential engine fire, plus removes extra weight hurdling the car around in a crash.

  • avatar
    no_slushbox

    Bimmer:

    Alex Zanardi horribly lost his legs because of a CF F1 car busting up:

    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/64965/alex_zanardi_crash_slow_motion/

    I think that was before the steel safety cages, and possibly what inspired them.

    In almost any bad F1 crash the F1 monoque breaks to hell, but the driver lives because of the safety cage.

    It is actually good that F1 cars have some give, the old Nascar cars, which were designed like tanks for “rubbin’ is racin\'”, were dangerous because they were too strong. The lack of impact absorbing ability is what killed “The Intimidator” (which is, by the way, a way less stupid name than “The Mask”).

    Also, someone with the username “Bimmer” really shouldn’t be criticizing people for buying show-off cars that flame out quickly with no reliability.

    timjz:

    As I mentioned, neither the CF in the expensive Ferraris or the bonded, riveted aluminum in the cheap ones can touch steel. So far it looks like Ferrari has only perfected getting half the driver away from the engine compartment.

  • avatar
    HEATHROI

    There is no steel space frame in a formula one tub. possibly aluminum. no steel.

    the monocoque most of the time stays intact zarnardi’s indycar was hit by another car who monocoque was undamaged. if you stick with the metacafe it will give you another zanardi crash at spa and the monocoque stays perfectly intact

    Noslushbox

    what killed earnhardt was he wasn’t wearing a HANS device which would prevented his head being semi ripped of his shoulders.

    I’m with TOMJONES. two separate parts ‘bolted’ together, blowing apart under extreme forces

  • avatar
    Evan is a Robot

    timjz:
    Then why did the driver compartment stay with the engine? Or did this Ferrari break in three?

    It’s a new record!

  • avatar
    timjz

    Check out this link, the engine did split from the driver compartment.

    http://cbs2.com/slideshows/Ferrari.Crash.Ferrari.20.956793.html

  • avatar
    Evan is a Robot

    Ouch.

  • avatar
    RetardedSparks

    I think they split between the two “r”s! That’s the weak point. (We will have to check how Saabs and Nissans break to confirm)

    Actually, I think it’s probably due to the fact the poorly-piloted Ferraris are more likely to be going sideways when they hit something at high speed , rather than head on, as that is the predominant mode of showing off. Similar phenomenon to most Porsche 911’s going off cliffs / through guardrails backwards…

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    It’s been answered: the mid-engine Ferrari’s are not a typical “unibody” like most cars. The front half is bolted to the back/engine sub frame. It creates the weakest link. Regardless if its made of aluminum, steel, or CF.

  • avatar
    Accords

    A very simple answer…

    …Because an Asshat was driving.

  • avatar
    wsn

    Several years back, there was a very popular image circulated around Chinese forums. It show a Honda Accord was split into two halves after hitting a concrete divider sideways at high speed (trying to avoid hitting a dog). Three died at the backseats; the two at front seats survived.

    According to the forums, it became a “proof” that Japanese cars are unsafe and that Japanese people still hate Chinese (and thus sell them only crap).

  • avatar
    Bimmer

    no_slushbox,
    a friend of mine has older 5-Series with 400,000km with no real issues. Also I’ve read about a guy from UK who had two E32 735i that he used to tow with and he put 400,000 miles on it! Find me a Ferrari with the same millage!

  • avatar
    chuckR

    As a carbon based life form with low tolerance for impact forces and a high cost to repair, I’m all in favor of the energy dissipation features of CF (even if this particular car may not have any in it). But my bank account isn’t in favor. There is no repairing the stuff. There was a Carrera GT on ebay a while ago that had frame damage and they were still looking for large bux for a car that needed a replacement tub. Nice ductile steel please, with well designed crumple zones. My job not to go too stupid fast.
    On my last flight, my seat neighbor related he once crewed on a Newport-Bermuda racer that lost its 60′ CF mast. The owner commented, after they cut it away and let it sink, something like, “there goes $160K…” And that is just a very fancy stick.
    The economics make no sense.

  • avatar
    montgomery burns

    Thanks HEATHROI : Was just about to say that. Everything and i mean everything on a F1 car that can be made of CF is made of CF. The tub with rollover structure, side impact area and nose impact area is all CF. The tub on a typical F1 car almost never fails. One that comes to mind though was Panis’ crash years ago at Montreal where the side of the tub was penetrated resulting in broken legs. Similar to Zanardi’s ChampCar crash but Zanardi’s was at a much higher speed of course.

    As for the comment about repairing 787’s, Boeing has done quite a bit of research into damage caused by ramp equipment and has concluded that the typical repair should be not much more complicated or expensive than a conventional aircraft. That remains to be seen though. I think they tapped into the techniques used in repairing CF racing cars, one of the very few times race car tech has seen usage outside the sport.

  • avatar
    Johnny Canada

    what killed Earnhardt was he wasn’t wearing a HANS device which would prevented his head being semi ripped of his shoulders.

    Sorry, but not even close.

    Sorry to thread jack, but as far as Dale Earnhardt, he was killed when his seat belts failed. Pretty well every rule by Nascar concerning safety belts was ignored by the RCR team. I could go into all the details, but trust me when I say procedures were not followed at the shop.

  • avatar
    LXbuilder

    I just wonder why people with the coin to have a Ferrari don’t learn to drive?

    I mean seriously take some advanced driving lessons or something.

  • avatar
    AllStingNoBling

    Assuming that Ferrari uses a a semi-monoqoque design with a carbon-fiber passenger compartment bolted to the section with the engine, that makes much sense. More than likely, the body is designed to split.

    In the defense industry, we call that frangibility. By having a design like that, you a) keep the weight down, b) have a lightweight design, which dissipates energy upon impact.

    Think about gravel traps on race courses. When your vehicle hits the gravel (though the B&B are too skilled to find themselves in that situation), it transfers its energy into the gravel, displacing it.

    It’s the same idea in a frangible design, allow the vehicle to break apart, thereby reducing the energy experienced by the little cherries in the can.

    Of course, if you look at the picture, you will clearly see the poll that the d-bag hit. That’s a hell of a way to prove that composites are brittle.

  • avatar
    Kurt.

    Zanardi lost his legs in the CHAMP car, but he also had a horrific crash in an F1 car early in his career that he wasn’t supposed to survive either.

    In addition to the tub and body work being all cf, all the suspension pieces (minus the shocks, torcion bars etc.), brakes, transmission, half shafts… the list goes on and on.

    Tub failures are pretty rare in a modern open wheeler. Some of the few examples are when Shumi broke his leg at Silverstone (99?) and Stan Fox at Indy in ’95 (probably the most horrific crash in history!).

  • avatar
    NickR

    I would think that it might be somewhat related to being mid-engined. With the engine hanging out front, or out back in Porsche’s case, if you hit something in the middle the weight bias might cause the car to pivot around the point of impact, whereas in a mid-engine car the weight of the engine is ‘pushing’ the car right into the pole/post. I took first year physics, don’t argue with me.

  • avatar
    dilbert

    A policeman with hands in his pockets. A picture is worth a thousand words.

  • avatar
    Ferrygeist

    “More than likely, the body is designed to split…By having a design like that, you a) keep the weight down, b) have a lightweight design, which dissipates energy upon impact.”

    Right.

    F1 cars are designed to do just that. Those cars seeming to shatter into millions of pieces in crashes is by design. Those wings and nose cones, diffusers, bargeboards, struts et al, besides being designed to perform their mechanical/aero functions, are designed to absorb energy when in a crash situation so that the safety cell containing the driver remains intact. There are a few crash videos out there where the safety cell can be seen as almost the only remaining intact structure left, as the rest of the car dissintegrates around it. Robert Kubica’s 150 mph crash in Montreal last year illustrates this. He didn’t exactly get up and walk away, but he was racing the next week. No internal injuries.

    http://en.sevenload.com/videos/6QfiArI-Kubicas-huge-F1-crash-in-Montreal-2007-Live

    To ask why someone would buy a car as “unreliable” and ‘useless’ as a street Ferrari 355 or 360 or whatever misses the point of the cars entirely. Seeing them on a continuum that starts somewhere near a Toyota Camry and ends with a McLaren MP4-23, they’re well above any current street BMW you care to compare it to. Apples, oranges, etc. Nobody buys an F430 expecting BMW reliability, and they cost what they cost because it’s about as close as you can get to an all-out racing car that still preserves at least a slight modicum of street ability, whereas an F1 car has absolutely zero function other than going as fast as a car can possibly go through turns. That F430s and Enzos et al happen to coincide with owners who need to show off is an unfortunate coincidence of otherwise unrelated factors.

    Bias on: this is why Porsche is still the real ultimate driving machine. The only factory car capable of still beating the F430 GT cars, a prototype so dominant in LMP2 that it was even routinely beating LMP1 cars in ALMS, and building street cars that compete with the F430 on the street, and for much less money, far greater reliabilty, more durability, infinitely greater repairability (in case of body damage), far more economical maintenance, and, relative to most of the other Italian supercars anyway, less bling (although I admit the turbos are a bit aesthetically loud, and all cabs should be shot and put out of their misery!).

  • avatar
    creamy

    because it’s really really hard to break them into three pieces.

  • avatar
    Martin B

    I don’t know about carbon fibre sports cars, but years ago I came upon a glass fibre-bodied Lotus that had been in a high-speed crash.

    The body basically disappeared. The road was strewn with long swathes of glass fibre cloth, ending at a chassis which was just four wheels and a floor pan.

    The driver and passenger were killed. After that, I’m happy to be in a steel-bodied car, even if there is a weight penalty (and I watch F1, so I know how safe carbon fibre vehicles can be).

  • avatar

    Note to self: Must get CNC-machined, Billet-Titanium car.
    Preferably Pacer or Gremlin.

  • avatar

    The drivers of said cars have nowhere near the ability to control such 99th percentile rides. (no, not all of you)

    There is a reason that mass market cars all understeer at the limit, and its not incompetent engineering. Knowing you have NO control over who buys your product and sues you later makes you cautious.

    I call this the BMW syndrome. Most of the folks who buy them are buying an Automotive Rolex. They know it is good, but will never use most of the ability. The hardcores who buy it for the performance are a different group with different wants and needs. (this is why BMW can make the M cars and the x6 with a straight face)

    When the poseur gets into a car with a 200 mph top speed, tires and brakes far beyond anything he’s ever seen, he thinks anything is possible. The experienced know it is all limited by contact patches, no matter how kewl the car making them.

    When said Ferrari wrecks at speeds far beyond those safe for conditions, breaking in two is not a great surprise. If you could somehow get a normal family sedan up to 130 and toss that, it would probably break too.

  • avatar
    grifonik

    Its obvious! A better example mechanical breakup due to circumstances similar to those of quasiperiodic orbits near Jovian resonances.

    See!? The acceleration in one part of the Ferrari overcomes the mass integrity factor of the time delayed material mass change delta in the latter half of the car. Even Einstein is laughing at such ammusing delimas of feeble construction expected to overcome physics. Seriously?! Oh, what comedy!

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Hit a tree or telephone pole sideways while driving fast enough, and most any car will split in two. The first time I saw the aftermath of such an incident was in 1976 — the result of a combination of a 16-year-old boy, too much alcohol, and too much speed in a Camaro. Neither the Camaro nor the 16-year-old survived the encounter with an oak tree…

    I saw something very similar in college. A late 70’s Camaro driven by a drunk kid lost control and went sideways at a serious speed on ice. The driver’s door impacted a steel pole so hard that the pole was now located where the console was. You could put a semi circle in the door’s imprint and it would fit perfectly. Every window was shattered, except the passenger door window. The car bent around the pole so much that the passenger door latch and strike was separated by a 10 inch gap. Blood was “spurted” sideways on the seat. This left quite an impression on me. If Mr Ferrari hit poles with velocity like this, there is no doubt that the CF intensive structure would snap in two.

  • avatar
    Areitu

    What’s the dark stain on the pole? I hope that’s not what I think it is…

    AllStingNoBling :
    March 12th, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    Assuming that Ferrari uses a a semi-monoqoque design with a carbon-fiber passenger compartment bolted to the section with the engine, that makes much sense. More than likely, the body is designed to split.

    In the defense industry, we call that frangibility. By having a design like that, you a) keep the weight down, b) have a lightweight design, which dissipates energy upon impact.

    Think about gravel traps on race courses. When your vehicle hits the gravel (though the B&B are too skilled to find themselves in that situation), it transfers its energy into the gravel, displacing it.

    It’s the same idea in a frangible design, allow the vehicle to break apart, thereby reducing the energy experienced by the little cherries in the can.

    Of course, if you look at the picture, you will clearly see the poll that the d-bag hit. That’s a hell of a way to prove that composites are brittle.

    In this case, I think you’re right, and the car ended up splitting where the semi joins the monocoque.

    In case of the Italian and Malibu Enzo crashes, the car looks like it split into two because the front and rear CF sections are joined. The rear section carries the engine/suspension subframe sheared on impact from the passenger section. This makes sense to me since the drivetrain is heavy and carries the subframe and the section it’s attached to, somewhere else in case of a crash.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    One less rich idiot to mess up traffic

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