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Hagerty Employee

Carini: The Upside-Down Club

Depending on whom you ask, a rollover crash is either a great big stunt to be planned and executed to perfection, or it is a terrifying mishap that more often than not leaves a car's occupants shaken and dazed. Now, I was always taught to "keep the shiny side up" when driving.

Rule number one. Keep the tires on the ground.

Rule number two. If you get upside down use care in releasing the belt. Gravity takes over and while you may roll with no pain you may unbelt in great pain.
Intermediate Driver

As one famous driver once said in a documentary about him while rolling his race car, "Yep I'm flying thru the air, this is not good..."

SE WI, mid-sixties, upscale community with a river road that meandered as you imagine. Four high schoolers driving foolishly in an old VW. Without intended provocation, the Bug is off the road and spinning slowly upside down. The occupants are piled like clothing in an overturned laundry basket. "Dave, you OK"? "Yeah". "Reed, you OK"? "Yeah". "Rick, you OK"? "Yeah".
"Ha, ha. Ha, ha, ha. HA HA HA"!
Three guys and a little slope can turn a VW onto it's wheels.

Running my rally car too fast with too much light in too much snow, I managed to get it on it's roof. Weeks later I received an anonymous gift in the mail - a tee-shirt with an inverted car pictured, and the caption "Rats.!" And yes, hand on the roof before popping the belts!

I'm a reluctant member. April 2nd 1989 we were hit from behind by a skidding semi. No airbags, no belts but the girl I was seeing at the time and I crawled out and were walking and talking before services got to the scene. Miraculous. Pic of my greasy side up partially crushed car and truck on its side in the background on the front page of the next morning's paper.

See, I did it the other way around. I rolled my first car, then the "regular" crashes came later. It was also a Beetle, but a '66 and I did it on asphalt. I later educated myself on the perils of the combination of bias-ply tires, swingaxle suspension, under inflated tires, decreasing radius turns and using the brakes after coming in too hot. My current '66 Beetle (!) has gas shocks, radial tires, and a period-correct Camber Compensator. It handles much, much better and 40 years later I've learned a thing or two about driving.
Advanced Driver

Swerving to miss an errant driver caused me to enter the "Rollover Club". My Charger ended up sitting on the wheels w/ the driver's side of the top crushed below the steering wheel. I woke up in the hospital w/ no memory of what had happened. A concussion, a few cuts, and some chipped teeth were the extent of my injuries. Fortuitously, my seatbelt kept me from being ejected, as I ALWAYS wear them!! 🙂

I rolled a 1966 Econoline pickup three times and landed on the flat tires. Most of the glass was out or broken. I tried to start it to get out of sight but the battery had a big hole in it. Oops! Then the Suzuki Samurai went on it's side in a blizzard so i drove home after getting help to put it back on it's wheels and drove home with no windshield. Also do not ever try to power slide a 1966 Bronco. I had that up on two wheels a couple of times before I decided that was not a good idea.
New Driver

Rollover story. I was on the very last few miles of my first road trip. Concord NH to Wichita Falls TX in Sep 1961 in a '53 Hudson. It was after midnight when I departed Lawton OK on US 277 South. After a few miles, I came upon an inverted sedan full of drunks. The car was in the ditch parallel to my travel, upside down with the wheels still turning and the headlights streaming southward. They were laughing and no one seemed in need of medical attention so I kept on trucking.
Pit Crew

In the summer of 1965 while a junior at good ole Houlton High School in Maine, my father trusted me to buy and own a 1956 Ford 2-Door Victoria with that great big V-8 with Thunderbird badging on the valve covers. A few days after I owned it some friends and I took it over to Canada, 12 miles away. We picked up 3 more guys and had a total of six young punks in the car. Time to take it out onto the new 2 lane Trans Canada Highway and see what she would do. At 110 mph I came upon a slower moving car and went to pass it. There was another car coming and I did not trust that he would pull over into the breakdown lane so being an idiot, I nailed the breaks. The car spun around twice going down backwards into the ledgy ditch. Lots of dust and a flat tire. We changed it and were on our way. I called dad and told him a whopper. He wanted to use the car to go to Bocabec and being a mechanic put it on the lift to check it out. I was at the dinner table when he came home and through the door. He pointed one of his massive fingers at me and said, "come out side, we need to talk." He said that there were rocks between the rubber bead of 3 tires and the rim. The whole undercarriage was scratched. I knew I had to come clean. I often wonder why we didn't roll over that dusky summer evening. Just luck of the draw, I guess. There was lots of physics at work. Thanks dad for not reaming me out too bad. He was a pretty understanding dad, I miss him. Bocabec and I are still here. I learned a lesson.
New Driver

Rolled my first car 3 days after getting my drivers license. It was 1968 and the car was my dad's 1963 Nova SS convertible. Man I wish I had that car today.
Intermediate Driver

Another tale...Was driving from NJ to South Bend, IN after a school break. '67 Shelby GT 350 on the PA Turnpike in '68. I drove the first stretch and needed gas so we filled up at a service area and my buddy took over driving. I-80 hadn't been built yet and the tunnels on the pike had jes 2 lanes with traffic going in each direction! Shortly after exiting the tunnel and going downhill about 70 MPH, there was a loud "noise', which was the right front wheel leaving the car and the right front suspension grinding into the road. I told him to keep going straight, but the car went over the shoulder, since there were no guardrails, flipped onto the roof and slid about 100 feet down an embankment landing in a swampy area. The car had a factory roll bar as many know with inertia reel shoulder harnesses. Thank Shelby for that!!! So we stopped upside down. The first thing I said to my buddy was "Shut it off before she blows!"...thinking of all those old movies. We got ourselves out completely unscathed and were climbing back up the bank. A trucker had pulled over after seeing the whole thing and said "**bleep** I thought you guys were dead!" The topper to that was the PA State Trooper who walked down to the car with us 2 "long hairs". He sez "something smells funny down here"...prolly assuming that we were stoned? I said "excuse me officer, but we're sitting in a swamp?". If we had lost the wheel in the tunnel, I wouldn't be writing this now. Anyway...the insurance company fixed the car, but it was never right surprise there! Traded her in for a '69 GT 500, but the GT 350 was definitely the better car! Far as I know, she lives in MA now. Wish I had kept that car!!!
Intermediate Driver

Funny...a guy from my high school in the late 60s was known for rolling his Beetle a number of times, on purpose. He was never seriously injured. My brother and his friend rolled my BMW 1600 into a corn field (not on purpose). No injuries but the car suffered a dented roof and popped out rear window.
I wonder if the low curb weight of these cars limited the collapse of the roof despite the extensive greenhouse.

I've been in 2 rollovers and not a scratch either time.As my old boss used to say, I'd rather be lucky than good.

Sounds real familiar! Late one night, we (my girlfriend, now wife of 42 years), her brother and his friend were riding in his VW Bug. It was a warm Fall night, and it started raining. We got off the highway exit ramp, and headed up a minor divided road. This road was in a valley with cliffs on either side. Suddenly, the rain beating down on the windshield froze solid, and there was an inch or more of ice on it. The road instantly took on an inch or so of black ice. The car was going through a very gentle curve, and slid sideways into the gravel at the side of the road. The wheels caught in the gravel, and before we knew what was happening, that Bug flipped 1 1/4 times like a giant beach ball, and we ended up on the passenger side. None of us were wearing seatbelts, being dumb teenagers, so my future brother-in-law (the driver) and I (in the back seat) ended up piled on top of the two on the passenger side. We all crawled out of the driver's door. The only injury was to my girlfriend, who'd slammed the side of her head into the rear passenger window. We stood there in a daze, wondering what we were going to do. As we stood there, cars came down the opposite side of the road at the normal 45-50 mph, and hit that black ice, and instantly turned into an automotive pinball alley. We four pushed the Bug back onto all fours, and to our surprise, it started right up. We drove it up the side of the road in the gravel at about 2-4 mph, wobbling as it went. We walked several miles to my girlfriend's house. Later, my future brother-in-law sold me the Bug for $50. A friend had a Baja bug that needed an engine, and we made an agreement that I would put my Bug's engine in it, and sell the Baja, then we'd split the proceeds. Will never forget rolling that Bug!

Tatra was ahead of their time, had a Czech engine light decades before any other make.

That was not exactly on this topic.
I had the other rollover article from HDC 69 in mind ("on a roll").
New Driver

I rolled two. One a friends 300C when he asked me to drive so he could
make out in the back seat - summer at a NH camp. No injuries but the
car totaled when it caught fire being towed next morning.
The second in a '62 Thunderbird I was hired by an agency to take to
Florida for the owner. I posted 'looking for riders' on the college
bulletin board and had one response - from the (I later found out) the crazy
who I was advised Not to let drive. But I did and sure enough he rolled it
three times until it broke a rotten utility pole - now upside down in a very muddy
field in GA. I got the windshield replaced and got the car to FL but literally every
body panel was damaged. Owner unhappy but still gave me the $50 bonus for actually
getting it to him. The biggest problem was many months later when my father received
a bill in the mail for a broken utility pole - clearly showing a date when I was supposed
to be attending classes at MIT. An extremely difficult explanation. Have not rolled since.
New Driver

I joined back in the mid 60s while racing a Austin Healey Sprite . Turn 9 Gratten Raceway Gratten Michigan , I went upside down after flipping 3 X`s into a swamp landing top side down hearing gas leaking . Thanks to several corner workers , they saved me from a nasty finish.
Pit Crew

On a twisty road bordering a forest preserve in Chicago with 2 passengers in my modified 1948 Crosley sedan. Newly poured pavement and the shoulder was about 8 inches lower. Took a curve too fast and dropped the wheels off the shoulder, rolling the car and it slid into a tree on its top. A woman across the street was watering her lawn and she watched in horror as the car went over. I saw her throw her hose into the air. When we got out of the car she was in her house calling the police. We tipped the car back on its wheels lifted it back on the road (1200 pounds), added a quart of oil to replace what leaked out, got back in the car and drove back the way we had come. A few blocks later an ambulance passed us at high speed with lights flashing. I often wonder what that woman said when it arrived at the site of the terrible accident and there was no sign of one except for some bark missing off a small tree.
Pit Crew

I've never had the misfortune of going shiny side down on anything with a roof, but I've rolled my fair share of ATVs and sleds over the years. At least you tend to be thrown from the danger in those situations.
Pit Crew

My first crash was a rollover. It was about 1974, after picking up a friend on the way to school. I learned a few things that day. Slow down for a 90 degree corner. Gravel is slick. Do not brake when spinning out. VWs are easy to roll, but also easy to roll back on their feet. Good times, indeed!
Intermediate Driver

According to one of your best former writers, PJ O'Rourke, getting sideways and slamming on the brakes is the best way to roll a car. Where is PJ anyway? Did someone read his stuff from the 70's and get upset?
For solid driving advice, you should read "How to drive fast on drugs while getting your wing wang squeezed and not spill your drink" by PJ O'Rourke.

PJ was one of my favorite writers! I think hestarted with National Lampoon in the 70's, eventually ended up at Car and Driver, then I lost track of him. He did do some articles in newer C/D's. I have his book Driving Like Crazy, and its hilarious!

Luckily, I never landed on my roof. Had a close call tho. I had a 64 Corvair convert when I was 17 or so. Was going down Kennedy Expy in Chicago,going about 60 mph. Saw some friends, so I floored it up next to him and started see-sawing on the wheel, intending to just wag the tail a bit. Before I knew it, I was completely sideways in the middle lane of the expressway. I thought for sure I was going over, and since the top was down, I really had no protection. Seat belts? NOBODY used seat belts then. I saved it, eventually, and motored at a sedate pace back home. Had the Corvair been a 60-63, without the improvements of 64, it may well have rolled, just like ol Ralphie said they did. Went home and changed underwear, and never did something so stupid again! (Do not confuse that with stopping doing stupid things, just the whipping the wheel at higher speeds.