This Mercury Comet’s brake failure can be a lesson for us all

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AutotopiaLA

The most dangerous part of a car is the nut holding the wheel. There is no shortage of things that can—and will—fail on a car, but the driver and how he or she deals with the situation when things don’t feel right is the single most critical thing in a car. The latest example of this is a video posted by AutotopiaLA (consider this a graphic content warning as the video linked here does show the crash in detail from multiple angles) of a custom 1964 Mercury Comet crashing into an innocent Honda minivan. We can all learn from this sad situation.

 

On the surface, this accident is caused by brake failure. In reality, this accident was almost certainly caused by an unsafe driver. The video highlights and discusses factors that led up to the crash. The owner mentions that the brakes are undersized due to the availability of brake kits when the build was first started over two decades ago. Then, while out driving in traffic, the throttle on the 1300-horsepower supercharged engine sticks and the driver elects to drag the brakes to keep the speed down. The passenger mentions a heavy smell of overheating brakes and the driver shrugs it off. Of course, that builds heat in the already undersized brakes to the point that they fail right after the driver makes a quick stab at the throttle and accelerates past the camera truck they are driving with.

The driver does take some evasive action, but it all falls short to rein in the downward-spiraling situation. It looks like he attempts to put the transmission into park, but the park pawl sheers almost immediately. The next action is an attempt to find a clear lane to run the red light the car is quickly approaching, but no clear lane exists so the drivers steers into the rear bumper of a Honda minivan.

From the moment the driver experienced the sticking throttle he should have stopped and shut off the car. Same with the smell of hot brakes. Yes, the pressure of having a film crew around is a thing, and thatcan cloud a lot of decisions, but even if only for the safety of the passenger in the car with him it would have been prudent for the driver to safely address an obvious problem.

No one wants to admit that the consequence of their actions caused injury to others, which is probably why the video documenting the incident doesn’t explicitly outline those consequences. And I know there must already be someone firing up the comments section declaring me an idiot armchair quarterback, but the fact is I have been in a very similar situation. Last fall I was racing my Honda XR250R motorcycle at GingerMan Raceway here in Michigan. Between rounds I noticed a little oil present in the catch pan under the engine and traced it to a very small leak behind the countershaft sprocket. I could have band-aid patched the seal and gone out for another session and one of two things would have happened:

A. Nothing. The bike would be fine.

Or, B. The seal would puke oil all over my rear tire and the track, likely causing both myself and other riders to crash.

With those options, it’s my responsibility to avoid the worst, pack it up, and go home. It is not my place to put other people at a risk they do not even know they are taking. The driver of this Comet chose option A and paid the price. Unfortunately, so did the minivan driver the Mercury hit.

Accidents happen. That’s why they are called accidents. Based on what we are seeing here, however this looks to have been a preventable crash. Once the driver continued on with a sticking throttle, he was operating an out-of-control vehicle. Actions like this leave a mark on the reputation of vintage and classic cars, not to mention their owners. Proponents of removing aging vehicles from the road via legislation don’t need more ammunition. It’s up to each and every owner of an old car to behave like a responsible adult and keep the image of our beloved vehicles on the positive side of the ledger. We all want to enjoy driving our cars on the road, so let’s treat that privilege with the respect it deserves.

 

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