Which Car Wore It Best: “Safety” Bumpers From The ’70s
Michael recently asked, “Which Classic Car Looks Best Without Its Bumpers?”—The answer is: any Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint GT scalino model, in case you were curious. Nothing drastically changes a vintage sports car so quickly like removing those shiny but-often-back-then-worthless bumpers. Generally, eliminating the heavy brightwork turns a classic car’s look from pretty to race ready in just a handful of hardware.
I quite like the bumper-less look, but it got me thinking: which nostalgic autos dealt with the often-heinous low-speed crash bumpers that started ruining cars imported into the United States in the early 1970s? There were several revisions of the bumper regulation initially enacted in 1971—and for a long time, they only made things worse!
In 1971, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard “Standard No. 215,” also known as FMVSS 215. FMVSS 215 was effective starting September 1, 1972 and required new automobiles to sustain a 5 mph front end or 2.5 mph rear end collision without causing damage to the lighting equipment or fuel delivery system. This almost entirely dissuaded automakers from integrating lights into bumpers.
In a procrastination-induced last-minute scramble (they’d been lobbying against the changes as long as possible) to meet the safety regulation, manufacturers added chunky “low-collision-damage-proof” bumpers on all vehicles sold in the United States market. In an attempt to help consumers, in 1972, Congress issued the Motor Vehicle Information and Cost Savings Act, which required the new bumpers to, “maximum feasible reduction of costs to the public, taking into account the cost and benefits of implementation, the standard’s effect on insurance costs and legal fees, savings in consumer time and inconvenience, and health and safety considerations.”
Though perhaps with a new and honest intent for motorists’ convenience and safety, the new bumper regulations certainly didn’t help a car’s elegance. Many otherwise beautiful cars became an instant abomination in vehicle design—especially European imports. Some of the more infamous examples include any BMW sold from 1974 to 1982, and the Lamborghini Countach—as if the Countach wasn’t folded-paper-ugly enough, the U.S. spec models were fitted with a nosepiece reminiscent of a color-matched railroad tie. (Sorry, the Countach is a popular classic that just doesn’t do it for me.)
Obviously, it’s not the end of the world. Plenty of enthusiasts have ditched their diving boards in favor of slim-fitting Euro-spec units. Today, it’s relatively easy to swap out the ugly FMVSS 215 equipment for some more aesthetically pleasing pieces, but what cars don’t look all that bad with their U.S. mandated bumpers?
I think the Mercedes Benz W123 and the ’74-’89 Porsche “Impact Bumper” 911 are two great examples of making the best of a bad regulation. The W123 bumpers were fairly slim compared to its Munich rival’s. The 911 of that era featured love-it-or-hate-it accordion bumpers that, I think, look pretty nifty depending on the car’s color. Perhaps due to the 911’s laughable market in recent years, I wonder if Impact Bumper models have become more acceptable out of desperation?
What do you think? There are surely more U.S. market vehicles from the oil crisis period that get the enthusiast “OK!” What other cars made from ’74-’82 managed to stay sharp despite FMVSS 215?