The MGA With An Attitude
HOW SAFE is the MGA? - CF-111

At 12:56 PM 3/15/06, Steven Loe wrote:
"Thinking about a Bad Thing. Auto accidents. .... I've read most of your site (including the Brit Run accident pages). You're a smart guy. How do you think about (rationalize?) this?"

My best guess is that the guy went to sleep while driving. If you are contemplating doing that, and you expect the vehicle to protect you in the process, maybe you should be thinking of driving something relatively new with built in protection for front, rear, side impact and rollover protection as well as several air bags.

There may be a point in one's life when it suddenly dawns on them that maybe it's not cost effective to equip every car on the road in that manner. If you believe that human life is worth protecting at any cost, you will soon be faced with the idea of spending every penny of your available resources for personal protection, and will have no money left for personal enjoyment in life, and would likely not enjoy driving such a car.

If you have any thoughts at all of driving a vintage car which is lacking many of the safety devices common in many new cars, you must already be making some value judgments on this subject. By the simple act of directing this question to me (of all people), you seem to be soliciting for some predetermined assurance that it could be an acceptable thing to do. Otherwise you would be asking the wrong guy if you're looking for an unbiased opinion.

As for myself, if my MGA was run over by a semi today with me in it, I would be satisfied that I have lived a suitably long and enjoyable life, and be looking forward to the after life.

I deem it suitably important to be a conscientious driver and look after my own welfare on the roadways. Beyond that there is very little you can do about fate and the possibility that some drunk might run a red light to T-bone your car or might catch you head on while he was driving the wrong way on an expressway, or that some large truck might suffer total brake failure and run completely over your car from behind. If such a thing were to happen, you might be just as dead if driving something much larger or newer.

The implied "security" which may be provided by all the safety devices in newer cars is no reason to get inattentive and allow an accident which you might otherwise be able to avoid. If you do exercise due caution on the roadways, your probability of being involved in a critical injury producing accident is quite small. When you pay for things like impact protection and air bags you may (on average) have to pay to equip hundreds of cars with these devices in order to have a positive effect for one single "incident". If you think about $3000 per car for 500 cars you might spend 1.5 million dollars to avert one incident of serious injury or death. Anyone knows that the same 1.5 million dollars can buy one hell of a lot of life insurance (or simply a nice retirement plan). So the real question is, are you willing to part with a relatively large amount of money, and change the character of your car accordingly, for the small increment of gain in safety?

If you were concerned about doing things which might enhance you chances of survival on the road, the first thing is attentive driving. The next thing just as important is good preventative maintenance for your vehicle. If you keep your braking system always in top condition, then there is very little advantage to installing a dual line braking system. You might better spend the same money to install side impact guard beams in the doors, or maybe a rollover bar.

As a matter of personal survival the modern 5 or 10 mph front and rear bumpers have virtually no value whatsoever. Those things are intended to minimize economic damage to the vehicle in event of a low speed impact (benefit to the insurance companies), but the collective cost of equipping every vehicle most likely exceeds the total reduction in property loss without the bumpers (not economically justified). At the same time it would have virtually nothing to do with averting serious personal injury or death. That task is more appropriately achieved by allowing front and rear crumple zones in the car body to absorb energy of impact with minimal intrusion into the passenger compartment.

MGs are particularly good at that task anyway. I once T-boned a Plymouth Fury at 40 MPH. The front of my MGA was crushed up to the front wheels, but not a dimple in the passenger cabin. Another time one of my MGA (while parked) was hit in the rear by a Mercury Monterey at 30 mph. This mashed the rear bumper and tail lights and the rear 6 inches of the body shell, but did not disturb the boot latch. All in all the MG can take a hell of a wallop on either end with minimal impact to the passengers. About the only thing you might do to help the situation could be to install air bags, and I've never heard of anyone even remotely thinking about doing that with any MGA or MGB.

The results of a severe side impact on the MGA could be much different. The MGA doors are composed of a minimal sheet steel skeleton with a thin aluminum skin weighing only about 6 pounds without the decorative trim. If you ever get hit in the side you had best hope that the impact is taken on the hinge and latch pillars and not just in the center of the door panel. The side frame of the MGA is obviously too low to stop[ a normal height bumper on a newer car.

As a matter of personal comfort and confidence, I have been driving MGA in traffic for about 220,000 miles since the late 1960's. I have no particular fear of driving the center lane of an expressway in between two semi trucks. I am more concerned about some idiot soccer mom in an SUV chatting on a cell phone while wandering across multiple lane markers. For that you have to keep your eyes open, but it's still no reason to sell the MG.

All of this is largely a matter of personal perception. If you are constantly paranoid about the possibility of being run over, and you convince yourself that it must happen some day, and you are horribly concerned about the consequences when it does happen, then you might never get into any small car, MG or modern issue. On the flip side, when you have confidence in your driving skills and the reliability of the car and you become one with the car, you might expect to live out a normal life span without any serious personal injury, and most of the safety gadgets available are a total waste of money.

"Does the fragile structure of the MGA give you concerns about using it as a daily driver?"


As far as I'm concerned the only things fragile about the MGA is side impact and rollover protection. When driven sensibly the probability of rollover in the MGA is just about nil. I have done a lot of serious autocrossing in the MGA with what can only be described as continuous emergency style maneuvers with reckless abandon, and have never lifted two wheels off the pavement at the same time. To roll it over you would probably have to slide it sideways at high speed and hit some fixed obstacle with a wheel (which is incidentally exactly what happened to the MGB GT in Alaska).

I am not without appreciation for the possibility of something odd happening with no predictability. In November 1997 I managed to tip my RX7 upside down in a ditch (at low speed) during a winter rally in Minnesota when the roads happen to be particularly icy. The windscreen and front of the roof was crinkled, and I came out without a scratch, having been using lap belt and shoulder harness.

If the same thing was to happen in the MGA I suppose it may result in personal injury, possibly severe, or possibly death. Then again, I don't make a habit of driving the MGA unnecessarily on hilly back roads in the midst of a winter ice storm, but snow covered expressways don't seem to bother me much more in the MGA than they would in most any other car. The MGA actually handles fairly well on a slick road. Again I'm more concerned about some negligent idiot in an SUV sliding into my MG, but you just have to pay attention to what goes on around you and try to avoid such things.

One key ingredient to minimize the consequences of a traffic accident is to always minimize the speed differential between your vehicle and others around you. That means you don't blow past a car in the adjacent lane doing 50 mph faster, don't drive too close to parked cars, and don't crowd the center line on a two way highway with oncoming traffic. Most expressways are relatively safe in this regard when all vehicles are traveling in the same direction at close to the same speed. If you happen to get side swiped by an SUV doing 80 mph on the expressway, you end up with some body damage but probably no personal injury.

So far I'm not terribly paranoid about getting run over by a semi, so I think I will keep on driving, and it doesn't make much difference whether it's my MGA or any other vehicle. For most people the larger concern is the possibility of any kind of an accident which would put a dent in their beautiful MG, but not so much concern for personal safety. In that regard the good handling MGA may be particularly well suited to avoiding an accident, so you might even feel safer in the MGA than you might in a large cumbersome SUV. If nothing else, the MGA may keep you constantly humble in traffic so you don't have any tendency to take unnecessary chances or to pick an argument with another car on the road.

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