Road Test

Road Tests

Why one ruined Metro made your car safer

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NORMALLY saving lives involves noble things like vaccinations, charity fundraising and the Heimlich Manouvere. But you wouldn’t think deliberately destroying a Metro would have the same effect.

20 years ago that’s exactly what happened, when some chaps with clipboards and clever cameras gave one (well, a Rover 100 if we’re being picky) a 30mph introduction to a concrete block. Not for a laugh, but in the interests of scientific research. What they discovered sent shockwaves through the car industry.

The car wreckers in question belonged to an organisation called Euro NCAP, which has just celebrated its 20th birthday. Their mission was to mark as many new cars as possible with independent safety ratings, and they gave the poor Metro a miserable one star out of five. The resultant drop in sales meant Rover dropped it altogether a few months later, and ever since Euro NCAP’s findings have been taken very seriously indeed.

The results kept coming. 1990s Volvos weren’t as indestructible as pub wisdom had long dictated. The original Ford Focus wasn’t as good at protecting pedestrians as the Escort that preceded it. The old Chrysler Voyager was a deathtrap, and the G-Wiz electric car might have as well have been made out of cardboard after its appalling crash test performance. Even today Euro NCAP is still unafraid of ruffling the car industry’s feathers, giving Ford’s latest Mustang a dismal two stars when five is increasingly the norm.

But your car’s almost certainly safer as a result. Ever since Renault picked up the first five star rating for its Laguna back in 2001 – and paraded it on every TV, magazine and newspaper ad it could as a result – manufacturers have engaged in a sort of safety arms race to ensure they’re top dog. 

Multiple airbags, ABS, autonomous braking, whiplash-responsive headrests and cleverly designed crumple zones are no longer novel additions to car brochures. They’re everyday motoring addenda, and anyone who doesn’t offer them is shown up in the test results as cheapskates who aren’t that bothered about customer safety.

It’s impossible to calculate how many lives Euro NCAP’s boffins have saved by forcing car companies to smarten up to avoid embarrassing crash test results, but it’s fair to say you stand a much better chance of surviving a 30mph shunt in a new Clio (a five star car) than you would in its 1997 equivalent (just two stars).

So it’s worth thinking about Euro NCAP’s experts next time you go out for a spin. They’ve genuinely moved motoring on – and all it took was one utterly ruined Metro.

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The Trough of Bowland – Lancashire’s bit of petrolhead perfection

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MY Modern Classics article on taking a TVR Chimaera to the Trough of Bowland – where the car was originally developed by the company’s test drivers – has prompted an interesting question.

Where is the best place to take your own car in this wonderful corner of Lancashire?

Craig Toone got in touch to ask about where to take his own car – a MINI Cooper John Cooper Works – in the Trough of Bowland, a wonderful stretch of exposed moorland not far from Clitheroe. There’s a good reason why TVR’s engineers used it to hone cars like the Griffith and Chimaera there a quarter of a century ago – it has a wonderful mix of different corners, cambers and gradients to really get the best out of a car, and (provided you stick to the speed limits and drive carefully) it’s great fun.

Normally I head north from Clitheroe, through Dunsop Bridge and out towards the M6 pas Quernmore, but there is a great circular route, which I’ve tried in my Minis, MX-5s and MGB in the past:

So if you’re in the North West, have a few hours to kill and revel in a good road I’d definitely suggest giving it a shot. It’s the sort of place that reminds you why we love cars in the first place.

David’s article on driving the TVR Chimaera can be found in the February 2017 issue of Modern Classics magazine.