By OLIVIA MUNOZ, Associated Press Writer Tue Aug 2, 3:52 PM ET
DETROIT - At a time when thousands of Americans were standing in bread lines, the luxury automobile of the day, the Duesenberg, sold for more than $15,000. The car — miles ahead of the typical $500 family car of the day — weighed more than three tons and was bigger than a modern Suburban.
But like many pre-World War II cars, Duesenbergs were made without one of the basic safety features mandatory on modern cars: seat belts.
And that might have contributed to the deaths over the weekend of a mother, father and their 8-year-old son. Police say a 2001 Volvo ran a stop sign near Ann Arbor and struck their newly restored 1929 Duesenberg while they were out for a drive near their home.
The family of five was thrown from the car, and the two other children were injured. The driver of the Volvo was not injured and could face charges.
The Duesenberg, like many vintage cars, is nearly impossible to bring up to current crash safety standards. And many classic-car owners believe that trying to do so would spoil a vehicle's authenticity.
Federal law holds cars only to the standards that were in effect at the time of the vehicle's manufacture. But many states have come up with their own regulations for classic cars, and often prohibit their use for routine transportation.
"When you're driving to a show, the guy in the modern car thinks you can start, stop and maneuver just the same as he can. But if you have an open car and it flips over, you're in big trouble," said Chuck Conrad, president of the Des Plaines, Ill.-based Classic Car Club of America.
Crashes — especially fatal ones — involving classic cars are rare because the owners are so cautious with them, said Matt Short, executive vice president of the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum in Auburn, Ind.
Owners do most of their driving to and from classic-car shows, conventions and parades. The typical mileage for collector cars is usually less than 1,000 a year, according to McKeel Hagerty, chief executive of Hagerty Collector Car & Boat Insurance in Traverse City. His company is one of the biggest classic-car insurers in the country, with 300,000 clients.
Hagerty said he cannot remember a fatal crash in a vintage car in the 22 years he has been in business. Only 0.2 percent of his customers in any given year file claims over collisions with other cars, he said.
Seat belts were introduced on cars in the early 1960s. In 1968, the federal government made them mandatory. But there is no federal requirement to add them to cars that did not come with them.
And with vehicles built before the 1930s, "you just can't retrofit many of these cars. They will never meet any modern crash test criteria for safety," said Eron Shosteck, spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.
After all, Conrad said, "Bolting yourself down to a 70-year-old piece of wood isn't really going to stop anything."
Most states, including Michigan, New York and California, let classic car owners register their vehicles with a "vintage" license, but with restrictions.
In Virginia, a classic-car owner can obtain a standard registration that allows the vehicle to be used like any other model as long as it meets current safety standards for such things as brakes, headlights, turn signals, tires and seat belts. Or, the owner can obtain a vintage license that limits its use to car club events, parades and exhibits as well as occasional pleasure driving no more than 250 miles from home.
In New York, cars registered as historic vehicles are prohibited from day-to-day use, such as commuting to work. In Maryland, registrants must attest that they will not transport people in the cars on highways. And in Alabama, classic car owners can be fined and stripped of their vintage-vehicle registrations for driving their classic cars other than for a show or a parade.
Crash involving 1929 Duesenberg leaves 3 dead near Ann Arbor
August 1, 2005, 1:32 AM
SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) -- A driver apparently ran a stop sign at an intersection near Ann Arbor and collided with a classic car carrying a family of five, killing two parents and a child, authorities say.
The other two children in the 1929 Duesenberg convertible were injured in crash, which happened about 8:10 p.m. EDT Saturday in Superior Township, the Washtenaw County sheriff's office said in a statement Sunday.
The driver of the Duesenberg recently had finished three years of work, along with father, restoring it for its owner, a Bloomfield Hills resident, the Detroit Free Press said. The car was worth an estimated $1.5 million.
All five from the Superior Township family were thrown from the vehicle, which did not have seat belts. The two children who survived were taken to the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital at the University of Michigan.
"The accident probably wouldn't have turned out like this (if they) wore seat belts," sheriff's Cmdr. David Egeler told The Detroit News.
Dead at the scene of the crash were driver Bradley M. Patton, 35; his wife, Kristin Patton, 35; and their son, Nathan, 8, the sheriff's department said; injured were Emily, 7; and Taylor, 9.
Emily and Taylor originally were listed in serious condition. Later Sunday, Emily was upgraded to fair condition and Taylor to good condition.
A 2001 Volvo was turning southbound when it collided with the Duesenberg, which was headed eastbound. The Duesenberg rolled several times. Video of the crash scene showed the car resting upright, with debris strewn along the roadway.
A 25-year-old Ann Arbor man who was driving the Volvo was unhurt in the crash. He was arrested and taken to the Washtenaw County jail, where he was released pending possible charges from prosecutors.
Egeler said the man could face negligent homicide charges, but that determination would be made by the Washtenaw County prosecutor's office after the sheriff's department completes its investigation.