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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

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

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.
https://www.hagerty.com/media/news/this-mercury-comets-brake-failure-can-be-a-lesson-for-us-all/
117 REPLIES 117
SuperDeLuxe
Advanced Driver

In Colorado we had a semi-truck driver burn up his brakes and kill 4 innocent people. He went to prison. This is likewise a case of criminal negligence, with jail being an appropriate outcome for those involved. Risk your own life, have fun doing it, but don't put others in harm's way. Seems like common sense, apparently it isn't.
drhino
Technician

Idiot.

Nothing more to say.
spark123
Advanced Driver

No, 2 Idiots!
capngrog
Pit Crew

I watched the entire video, and the narrator/passenger is still clueless. He talks about brakes and harnesses, a lot, but the real problem in this incident is that the the driver DID NOT SHUT DOWN THE ENGINE! The driver had ample time to shut it down, but panicked. Choosing to continue driving a powerful car with a "sticky" throttle was also not properly addressed in the video.

It also would have been nice to know the status of the folks who were in the van.
Autocar
Intermediate Driver

Wonder if the engine is still good and if so, for sale.
GRP_Photo
Technician

I had a friend long ago who totalled a '55 Chevy at speed when a tie-rod end broke. Mt father picked him up hitchhiking back from the crash. He told Papa that you couldn't pay him enough to run any part of that engine again. Too much chance of stress fractures.
Waterboy1KHY80
Detailer

Not to be "Mr. Obvious" but I have said for years - "All the GO in the world dont mean S*%T if you cant stop".
ALTurkeyBum
Intermediate Driver

Um, put it in neutral (or push in the clutch) and TURN THE DAMN KEY OFF! Idiots, both of them.

As an aside, we are always complaining that new cars are so expensive partly because of all the safety BS the Government requires to make them idiot proof (see my comment above). Airbags and shoulder belts would have eliminated most of the injuries to the idiots in the Merc (not too sure about the minivan). Not to mention forward collision warning/braking.

But when all else fails, there's a key, on/off switch, kill switch, whatever. USE IT.
BurdsGarage
New Driver

I still can't believe how many people skip common sense brake maintenance in their rides. I change the brake fluid in all my vehicles annually and inspect the brakes. I see so many cars at shows including 100k+ builds with black brake fluid. I'm not saying that was a factor here but something to consider.
87GN98VET1
Pit Crew

Lots of armchair quarterbacking here, how many of you have been in a panic situation like this and knew exactly what to do? I'll bet most of you have never experienced a brake fade / failure issue. If your first instinct was to shut the engine off then I sure hope that wouldn't be your first instinct driving any car built within the last 40 years with a column lock mechanism.

While the brakes are undersized, they should be sufficient for public road speeds. However in this case continuously riding them to maintain speed is an obvious issue that points to a bigger problem. Driver was no doubt negligent about addressing the core problem.

Hagerty Fan
Not applicable

"Lots of armchair quarterbacking here, how many of you have been in a panic situation like this and knew exactly what to do? I'll bet most of you have never experienced a brake fade / failure issue."
I've experienced it...11 times when I wasn't trying to initiate it, if I'm doing my math correctly. For whatever stupid reason, however, in other instances, I was bored and was curious as to what I could do to stop a car without any brakes. I've heard the 'throw it into reverse' bit several times under somewhat-controlled conditions, and have gotten a bizarre list of reactions from vehicles I've tried it with, anywhere from the engine simply stalling, breaking the diff in another car, doing an awesome reverse rear-wheel peel from about 40mph down to zero in one truck, but it took a bit to get it to stop, to a similar truck wheelhopping when I tried to repeat the process, to a manual car never going into reverse, and another one going into reverse after I simply forced it in...so I've tried any number of things when I was younger and more curious about these sorts of things. I should also note that I did all of this with my own machinery, and it was usually stuff that was close to scrapping condition, so I wasn't destroying nice machinery.

 

And on top of that, I have had brakes go out, but I've never had an outright failure to that degree without the vehicle first signaling that something had gone awry, as I usually tap brakes the moment I see something far ahead to verify they're working. I've used E-brakes most of the time, with one instance of a customer car not having functioning E-brakes, so I immediately took stock of what was around me to try to stop the car, and spotting some guardrail section, I simply eased to the right until the fender began to touch, and I eventually scrubbed off speed with the sheetmetal until it came to a stop.

For me, I typically don't let my own cars go that long without some form of maintenance, or I can at least spot when something has gone so awry that the car simply needs to be pulled over and towed home...which is what didn't happen here.

"If your first instinct was to shut the engine off then I sure hope that wouldn't be your first instinct driving any car built within the last 40 years with a column lock mechanism."
I'm recalling a nitwit 31 years ago with a 1970 SS454 4-speed Chevelle who hadn't really checked his car out after it had been sitting for a while in a body shop, and I was dumb enough to take a ride with the guy while he was trying to impress me with how quick it was.
(Never again, btw. If I want to see how fast something goes, I drive it. Sorry.).

The throttle hung wide open at the top of 2nd gear...and the speedo approaching 80.

On a 4-lane street with a 35mph speed limit. At 4:30 pm. On a weekday.

 

The idiot's response? He tried turning the key off. All the way off. And then the steering locked. And then he couldn't steer it, so then he tried turning it forward to the notch between ignition and lock. He went too far again, and the engine fired right back up and pegged the tach. And then he went back to 'lock'. And then back to 'on'. And then 'off' and steering lock. And then back on again, but by this time, the carb linkage had unstuck itself.

 

It was all quite entertaining to watch as we were approaching stopped cars at an intersection with a red light in our direction.

 

"While the brakes are undersized, they should be sufficient for public road speeds. However in this case continuously riding them to maintain speed is an obvious issue that points to a bigger problem. Driver was no doubt negligent about addressing the core problem."
Yes, in that I'm thinking he had too low of a stall speed in the convertor, and it was simply pulling through the brakes...at 40 or so mph. In essence, the core problem is that everything was mismatched, and it hadn't received any shakedown/sorting out time by a competent mechanic/builder...and a minivan paid the price. That Comet wasn't anything more than a static show car in its current (before collision) condition...and then he thought it would be a brilliant idea to drive it.

I think I began to really appreciate comedian/actor/car dude Tim Allen when he mentioned in an interview that all custom-built cars are garbage, due to none of us...aftermarket part manufacturers included...being able to afford the hundreds of millions of dollars that OEM's spend on R&D for new hot rods, and this story is quite possibly one of the more startling examples of what Allen was trying to say, in that this car reeeally shouldn't have ever been driven on a public road with other cars around, at least until it was sorted a hell of a lot better.

BMD4800
Engineer

I had a car that after a rebuild with more compression and a slightly bigger cam it would surge at lights. Put a 2400 rpm converter in it, that extra slip made it much better at low speeds.
Hagerty Fan
Not applicable

I'm recalling an old British road test of one of the two dual-Paxton-supercharged Shelby A/C Cobras. During the 1/4 mile test, I seem to recall that the car ran eleven-flat, but that the runs had to be started from idle, as any attempt to power-brake with the Lincoln C6 automatic in the slightest (and bump up RPM before the run) simply pulled it right through the brakes...and at best, that Cobra had maybe half the power of this Comet.

BMD4800
Engineer

1300 HP is a lot.  Especially on the street.   Heat soak and drivability, this car was way past the ragged edge.   
my 700+ HP car isn’t some cream-puff GM crate motor, it’s done the hard way, less reliable, more ratty, but still WAY more controlled than the motor in that comet.  

I had a stone cold stock GM 350 TBI motor (controls and everything) in the car before and it was so nice.  I’d let my wife drive it anywhere.   But it was SLOW….  

Krippel
Intermediate Driver

What a geek. Put himself into a crisis situation and was woefully incapable of dealing with it. Lucky he didn’t kill anybody
AG1962
Instructor

A build like this, that completely replaces the drivetrain, should be subject to a safety inspection before it can be registered. Too many jurisdictions in North America allow Red Light Larries like this dude to build whatever they want and then drive it on the street. This is a failure of regulation and of legitimate official oversight. And, of course, a failure of common sense to boot.

Hagerty Fan
Not applicable

Apologies, but I'm a Green Light Larry.

denali94
Intermediate Driver

Not disagreeing but let's be practical; these jurisdictions and the police who enforce the laws cannot be bothered with simple things like bumper heights on jacked up trucks (or slammed ones for that matter), headlight aiming, drivers turning right from the left lane with no turn signals or the 'street racers' doing 90 mph in a 55 on the interstates in any major city. There will never be any public outcry to stop idiots until enough folks get killed by their actions.
Thomas2
New Driver

I can not believe the victims conditions were NOT mentioned first !! Unbelievable ! Really poor judgement . Was the car fully insured ? Who paid for all the injuries ?
KeninFL
Intermediate Driver

This has self-serving stink all over it. Effusive descriptions of driver & passenger injuries and self-congratulatory assurances that they both will be just fine BUT not a word about the person/people in the van. Others commented on much else.
Dollars to lug nuts his and/or driver's lawyer ordered an "educational" video be made. Looks responsible to a judge.
ALTurkeyBum
Intermediate Driver

I've never before watched anything on the "Autotopia" channel, and I never will again. The best, most responsible thing all of us in the classic car community could do is to boycott the Autotopia channel, and the owner/builder/shop who built that thing. No clicks = no money = good riddance.
Kyle
Moderator

I really debated even writing about it, since it already was the channel's biggest video before we put our (modest) spotlight on it. No way to tell if it is monetized or not also. I would hate to see a channel bringing in money with this. There was another brake failure video that got viral attention recently that we chose not to talk about because the rest of the things that channel did were even worse. AutotopiaLA seemed to create decent videos. I wouldn't be so quick to write it off, but I do think I would only watch occasionally, at best, when something very interesting pops up. 

Hagerty Fan
Not applicable

AutotopiaWho?

ALTurkeyBum
Intermediate Driver

That channel is "monitized", trust me. Otherwise it wouldn't exist in the first place.

"If something on the internet is free, YOU are the product."
Figgy308
Intermediate Driver

Fair props to them for sharing the video. It could easily have been buried and, although they are coping it on the internet, perhaps some people might learn from it.

An old racecar driver Kevin Bartlett had a column in a magazine I remember from the 80's that stuck with me. He said 'I've seen plenty of cars that are over-powered, but I've never seen a car that was over-braked.'
Kyle
Moderator

That's a fun quote. I'm going to remember that for a long time. 

NicholasDanger
New Driver

I watched the video. The self centered host of the video uses the word genuinely how many times and appreciation for all the support and all the other BS yah deed yah. 23 years, $100’s of K’s worth spent blah blah blah. He’s recovered, and the driver is recovering nicely, and he may well rebuild the car.
Where’s the Genuine concern for the innocent people in the Minivan? Where’s the appreciation or support for the fact that this video shoot disrupted innocent people’s lives in the Minivan.
All I see is Genuinely selfish arrogant lack of regard or concern. It’s all about getting a good video. Glad he was able to scramble and put together some filler for the space this video was going to fill. What about the people?
I do watch and support youT videos but will never watch another from this guy. I take that back, I would watch a video story that genuinely covered and gave a full accounting of how this affected the innocent people and how they dealt with this unfortunate situation. Sorry if I sound like a liberal, definitely not. Redneck car guy all the way!!
DUB6
Racer

@NicholasDanger - I don't consider taking sensible positions and showing concern for innocent victims as being "anti-Redneck car guy-ism".  (not that there's anything wrong with a little liberalism here and there anyway)  😀

hyperv6
Collector

The innocent person could have a pending lawsuit going and at this point they may have been instructed to remain silent. 

 

Or the person that was hit may have asked for privacy. 

 

In todays world just saying you are sorry could cost you millions in a lawsuit. 

 

Best not to judge unless you have all the facts or understand that there may be more involved. 

 

Like when you have an accident you are not to say you are sorry or admit any guilt as it can and will be used against you. It is sad that the way society is that you can not even be a decent  person as it will be used against you. 

Hagerty Fan
Not applicable

"The innocent person could have a pending lawsuit going and at this point they may have been instructed to remain silent."

Yeah, this.

Having been involved indirectly with a few similar lawsuits, in every instance the plaintiff has been ordered to shut up by their attorney(s)...and in some cases, you don't even find out afterward that anything occurred, especially if a settlement is reached.

SJ
Technician

No wonder, a Chevy Engine in a Ford, what do you expect!
Hagerty Fan
Not applicable

Agreed, it's akin to vehicular terrorism.

 

Although to be entirely honest with you, I'd love to swap a 1996 Corvette Grand Sport LT4 and 6-speed into a Ford Thunderbird that I own...just to be irritating.

csnyder
Detailer

You don't have to add insane power to make brakes unadequate. I just put 16 inch rims and taller tires in place of the 14 inchers on my 4 liter Ranger and the stopping power decreased significantly, prompting an upgrade to larger rotors.

Also, even new cars with locking steering columns can be shut down without locking the steering and all late model cars can be put into neutral at full throttle for a short time without blowing the engine due to rev limiters being mandated with OBD2. The mad max engine in that Comet??? Nope - instant grenade.

The saying hot rods are never finished??? Perhaps THIS one IS. Having scrutineered at several CSRA and NHRA and other functions, and having worked as a mechanic for several decades, I have seen pretty much everything you can imagine - including steering linkage made up of cheap "dollar store" socket extensions and flex joints - - -

DeanH
Intermediate Driver

Maybe I missed it but I saw no mention of what happened to the driver they hit into. Seems they were more concerned about themselves and the car than their collateral damage.
hyperv6
Collector

That may be hands off as there could be pending legal action yet in play. Or the person just wanted their privacy. 

 

Silence is not always that you don't care anymore. 

Hagerty Fan
Not applicable

"No, that's okay, you've done quite enough! Thaaaaaaanks! No, really! Nobody else has had quite the same...impact on our lives!"

Tinkerah
Engineer

This may be among the most thoroughly documented accidents with injuries ever recorded. I see a parallel with aircraft crashes: there's never a single cause but a chain of failures.
Hagerty Fan
Not applicable

In this case, it began with the marriage failure behind the wheel?

DUB6
Racer

Kyle - you're an idiot armchair quarterback!  But then again, we ALL are.  However, in this particular case (as in most others) you are 100% correct in your comments.  Most of us who've been around hot rods and car shows have seen this sort of behavior more than once, and we tend to do a cluck-cluck and shake our heads at the numbskull driver, but the truth is that lives are at stake.  I'm totally okay with fast/loud/powerful cars (see?  I'm an idiot, too! 😋), but there is obviously a time and place for them, and there are obviously things that should be RED FLAGS to anyone who drives one to park the dang thing (sticky throttle?  just keep going? really?).

   As with all things that are potentially dangerous, it's the dummies who ignore the dangers who give the rest of us the huge black eyes that incidents like this one does.

Kyle
Moderator

Thanks for saying it! My armchair is quite comfortable. 

Hagerty Fan
Not applicable

"Unfortunately, in the role of quarterback that I play in this armchair, typically the only passes I make are when I 'pass' on getting up from that chair to let the dog go outside or come back in."

DUB6
Racer

I'm pretty good at following instructions... 😋

hyperv6
Collector

I am reading how many are mad about no comments on the other people in the crash. 

I get it but with the legal implications today it is not recommended to speak of things that could or may have pending legal action.  

 

I expect that the other driver was also injured and odds are good there is a pending law suit so at this point they most likely were told not to comment on the other people. 

 

There also is a possibility that the other driver did not give permission to be included in the video too. 

 

Exclusion anymore is not so much for uncaring but due to legal issues web and lawsuit. 

 

No different than at the scene of an accident you are told to make no comments or admission of guilt. You are told to let the police and insurance handle it. 

 

As they say anything you say can be used against you in a court of law. Yes that applies here. 

 

I really don't think this exclusion was due to that they don't care but more due to lawyers telling them not to make public comments till the case is settled. 

 

Sadly with the way things are today just being a good person and saying you are sorry can be used against you. 

 

Thank a lawyer. 

 

 

Jr1
Detailer

This same E-Mail has an article about a 909 HP Dodge. Sure it has excellent brakes and handling, but there is no situation in this country where you can use 909 HP. You are just asking for trouble driving that on a public highway.
Hagerty Fan
Not applicable

"You are just asking for trouble driving that on a public highway."

 

And Dodge will still sell every one of them anyway, as it's a 'guy' thing. I know that you'll never need more than 350hp in a car on the highway (My 'ideal' car is a 2008-2009 Mustang Bullitt at...315hp), as even that much will get you a dizzying array of felony charges in most any state in the Union. 

 

909? I'm not even going to acknowledge that the car exists.

hyperv6
Collector

There is nothing wrong with 909HP.  The car only knows what input is given. 

 

The problem is the human who has or does not have the common sense to know how or where to use it. 

 

Like most things the weak link is not the machine or  weapon but the human connected to it. 

 

To be honest most of these machines are not that hard to drive if set up properly. The trouble is someone not using good judgment.  Say like the C&C burn out guys. 

 

You can do just as much damage with 180 HP as 900 HP if you have bad judgment or poorly maintained or engineered car. 

benjamachine
New Driver

Wait, wait, wait... You mean you're not going to say ANYTHING about the other people's lives you endangered by driving around in an underprepared 1,300-hp car?! What happened to the driver and passengers of the Honda? Do they not exist?

Look, I'm not saying that the message to get your car sorted before taking it out isn't a good one, but there should be something in here other than me, me, me. There are a lot of other people out on the road. Some of them don't drive classic cars. But they deserve your consideration, too. I doubt that whoever was driving the minivan ever imagined he'd get rear ended at high speed by a souped-up Mercury.
OHUQTU
Pit Crew

We have a local "club" called the Grand Rapids Street Racers. How is that for a stupid car club name?

I used to regularly see them gather and cruise. I can't say that they actually do any street racing.

I have seen a Pontiac (LeMans?) in their group with ladder bars, a parachute, and a supercharger sticking out of the hood. The supercharger and scoop obstructs the driver's view, making it illegal to drive on the street.

How these type of people get by without being cited for violations is beyong me.
hyperv6
Collector

I ran a tunnel Ram and scoop on a street car for years. If you don’t drive around like an idiot they leave you alone. 

Most police are car guys and often they know you if you have a special car and you know them. Just not acting a fool and showing respect on the street they leave you alone. 

Technically they could get you for obstructed vision but they know you can see over it..

 

I had a fake injector hat on mine at hood level and it was never an issue. 

Yes I had my moments but often it was away from the crowds in open places no one was. 

I was quick but others were faster so I was not looking to start anything. 

My buddies plain unassuming Duster was nearly stick looking but would run almost into the 9 second range but was fully legal. 

He could easily drive it daily. 

The trick was the suspension as the car hooked up and had nearly no tire spin. 

He taught me losers even with more power spin tires. Every revolution they spun he moved ahead. 

Note too even back then the racing was in isolated areas, not like today where idiots will do it with people standing around. 

It was a different time. 

F-62Pegasus
Pit Crew

One reason all my built motors are in my hydroplanes. I have all my fun on the water, so I can keep my classics stock in the motor department.

I personally don’t know much about transmissions, but the original Mythbusters did an episode about stopping cars by throwing the car into park. Needless to say, it didn’t work. Next they tried throwing into reverse. All that did was stall the motor and failed to provide any stopping power.