Are Retro Rods Unsafe?

Kevin Hart's smashed '70 Barracuda. Photo from CarBuzz

In the wake of the crash of Kevin Hart's 1970 Barracuda there has been speculation that builders of retro rods may have to start building in safety features that will make the cars even more expensive or even impossible to build. There's also been speculation that maybe many cars are just too powerful.

There is no doubt in my mind that some modified cars have more power than the steering, suspension, and brakes are capable of handling. Looking back at my own misspent youth I realize I paid more attention to speed than anything else. Now I realize the error of my way.

I've read speculation that roll cages might be required in modified cars. That wouldn't be a bad idea but how would it be enforced? Is some government agency going to inspect every modified vehicle and determine which ones should have roll cages? 

Looking at pictures of Hart's 720 hp Barracuda I saw massive brake rotors with Baer calipers. Obviously, as long as the brakes were working properly, the car should have been able to stop on the proverbial dime. Brakes do not appear to have been the cause of the crash.

Massive front brake rotor with multi-piston caliper. Photo from Motor Trend

I do question the need for all the ultra-high horsepower vehicles being offered today. But I don't blame the cars when they crash. I think far too many of these high-performance cars are in the hands of idiots.

I've driven more than a few high performance cars. I believe I'm a decent driver; better than average but by no means great. Many of the performance cars on the market today and in the past have speeds and handling limits that are above my capabilities. Put a rank amateur behind the wheel and you have the makings of a disaster.

Many years ago I went to an event put on by a tire company. They'd set up a skid pad and a small slalom course in a parking lot. One of the cars was a second generation RX-7 Turbo. Today the RX-7's horsepower would be considered puny but back then it was pretty potent and the car could be tail-happy. I lost it in the RX-7 as it over-steered and swung wildly from side to side. It was a safe environment and other than a few dead cones and my ego there was no harm.

Today anyone with $40,000 or good credit can buy a car with well over 400 hp. Multiple cars can be bought with over 700 hp. You tell me how many people can handle that power. I'd venture a guess that the number is pretty low.

So maybe the answer isn't to make modified cars safer but to restrict drivers to those who have proven their abilities.

It galls me that Kevin Hart may sue the builder of his Barracuda. I find that insane. Hart was not driving at the time of the accident, a friend was. From what I've read the friend drove off the road. Unless the CHP, who is analyzing the car, finds a mechanical reason why the car ran through a fence and down an embankment maybe Hart should sue his friend. 

I belong to many Facebook car groups and it amazes me how many people want the absolute highest horsepower in their modified car. I'm not talking about race cars but cars that are only going to be driven in good weather and on special occasions. Bragging rights are one thing but building a car that is well beyond your level of expertise just doesn't make sense. 

In a perfect world we'd all be licensed for vehicles that match our capability. But this is an imperfect world so idiots, primarily testosterone fueled young males, will continue to buy the fastest cars they can afford. The good news is that this will lead to a large selection of performance cars in the wrecking yards. All you'll have to do is ignore the blood and guts smeared around the interior.

Back in the early '70s emissions and the insurance industry killed the muscle cars. Emissions are not a problem anymore but what about the insurance industry? At some point the cost of insurance may tamp down the sales of high-performance cars. Time will tell.


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