Definitively narrowing down the world's most deadly vehicles is a virtually impossible task. Some cars—like the Model T and Volkswagen Beetle—were produced in truly massive quantities, and in an era that predates most automotive fatality records, meaning there's no way to know just how many people actually died behind the wheel of these ubiquitous cars.
The best data publicly available is via the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which has been keeping excellent records of fatalities for every car sold in the US dating back to the 1980s. What you see here are some of the deadliest cars of the IIHS era and historical examples of individual vehicles responsible for a shockingly high number of deaths.
1. Chevrolet Corvette
Number of deaths: ~5.2 per 10,000 vehicles registered
Deaths in Corvettes tends to make for an interesting social study. Historically, it’s had one of the highest death rates of any car, but it’s not due to some glaring engineering fault. It’s hardly a coincidence that in the 1980s, fully 85 percent of everyone that died in a Corvette was male, and nearly a third of those were under the age of 30.
2. Shelby Charger
Number of deaths: 4.5 per 10,000 vehicles registered
The Dodge Charger of the 1980s was nothing like its muscle car predecessor or its Hellcat-topped descendants. The front wheel drive, four-cylinder hatchback was a mostly tame car that’s largely forgotten in the history books. And then there’s the Shelby variant: It was faster and, especially in GLH trim (GLH = Goes Like Hell, really), more powerful. The result? Buy one, and you were nearly 50 percent more likely to die.
3. GEO Tracker
Number of deaths: 3.2 per 10,000 vehicles registered
There was a time when the single most lethal vehicle you could buy in the US was the Tracker. Why? It was an inexpensive and fun vehicle bought by younger males, and it was also a relatively tall vehicle, compared to its short wheelbase. Get out of shape in a Tracker, and you need that much more skill to reign it back in.
4. The Golden Eagle
Number of deaths: between 14 and 46 (according to lore)
Golden Eagle is a 1964 Dodge Coronet 330 Limited Edition that was originally bought as a police car in Maine. There’s likely more urban legend surrounding this car than any other on the planet, from multiple officers dying in murder-suicides, to myriad vandals meeting their fate at the business end of a tractor trailer, to still more vandals dying by freak lightning strikes. Accounts range from *merely* a dozen deaths to well over 40. Is it true? It’s urban legend, so it has to be, right?
5. 1977 Ford B700 School Bus
Number of deaths: 27
In 1988, a school bus full of 67 people—mostly teenagers on a Church excursion—was struck head-on by an intoxicated driver. The bus’s door jammed shut in the collision, and the fuel tank ruptured, leading to a fire with most trapped inside. In all, 27 people didn’t make it out in time, and many of those that did were badly burned. The mothers of two of the deceased went on to leadership positions within MADD.
6. Pierre Levegh’s 1955 Mercedes 300 SLR
Number of deaths: 83 officially (though some accounts put the total closer to 130)
A combination of historically unfortunate circumstances and an ill-thought out engineering decision resulted in over 80 fatalities (though some sources indicate the total was quite a bit higher) in the 1955 running of the 24 Hours of LeMans. Levegh hit the rear of a competitor’s car at just the right angle to launch him into the air and straight into the crowd at around 150 mph. Much of the car broke apart on impact, doing things far too graphic to recount here.
Making matters worse, the car’s skin was made largely of magnesium, which promptly caught fire and continued sparking for hours. As a direct result of the tragedy, Mercedes pulled out of factory-sponsored racing for decades, and Switzerland banned motorsport. To date, this is the single worst incident in motorsport history.
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