MAX Update No. 40: Is MAX Safe? Is MAX Safe Enough?

| 2/2/2010 1:27:02 PM

Awhile back, MOTHER EARTH NEWS got a terrific letter from a man in Michigan with 20 years experience as a powertrain engineer at one of the major automakers. He pointed out that MAX, as it stands now, could not be sold in the United States as a production car, and he sure is right. One reason is safety.

If homebuilt and experimental cars had to pass the same standards as mass production cars, the MAX project would’ve never left the drawing board. Of course that’s true of Detroit’s projects as well — the big guys typically have test “mules” on the road before they’ve done their crash testing for that model.

With MAX, well, I’ve already done more crash testing that I’ve wanted to. And although MAX squeaked by with a D-, and although MAX has been improved since then, and although other improvements are in the works, I doubt I’ll ever call MAX a “safe” car.

Colin Chapman, who designed the Lotus Seven (which was the structural inspiration for MAX), called it a “four wheeled motorcycle” and I think that’s just about right. And yet 50 years of racing experience have shown this style of car to be reasonably safe on the racetrack, where high-speed, multi-car accidents are commonplace. Check out the video below of a Caterham 7 (the successor to the Lotus) leaping and tumbling in a race at Castle Combe (“the prettiest village in England”).

Okay, that’s a racing accident, and nothing MAX is likely to experience. Racecars have full roll cages and are considerably more robust on top than street cars, and the driver might not have survived the final topside-first impact with the wall without that roll cage. As it was, he got a broken arm out of the deal. The point is, these cars are pretty strong, and I would rather go through a crash like that in MAX than in many mass-produced, federally approved automobiles — like the Cadillac XLR Roadster, for example.

The Cadillac XLR, like MAX, is a two-seat sports car, but the XLR has 10 times more power is three times heavier (with only 19 mpg). There is one situation in which the XLR has a safety advantage over MAX: If MAX and an XLR crashed into each other, the Cadillac would probably win.

6/27/2011 2:25:19 AM

what states has the max been sucessfully regristered in so far ?

2/24/2010 12:19:04 PM

UncleRice, The deer infested potholed path you traverse is not the path most people drive so, manufacturers are not going to design all their vehicles to thrive in such an environment. Max was not designed to excel in such an environment. He was designed to meet or exceed 100 mpg. There are vehicles that do meet your requirements for frontal animal impacts along with poor surface road worthiness. You just have to realize such a vehicle will not be as fuel thrifty as max. My son is looking for an old Land Rover to convert to Mercedes turbo diesel power - to be run on veg oil. He wants a rough and tumble vehicle that is cheap and easy to fix and is economical on fuel (he runs 70% veggie oil with some diesel to meet the road tax issues). Maybe you should look into this type of vehicle instead of bemoaning the lack of Military Grade Minivans on the general market.

2/22/2010 7:48:51 AM

< RustyLugNut > In all due fairness, when it comes to the survival of the occupants of the car during a wreck, the new cars do well. The problem is that most cars seem to be designed to look pretty and bath you in surround sound while driving on a perfect road surface where deer, darkness, rain, and fog never intrude and where repairs take place in a garage equipped with tool costing more than the car. For those of use who face 50 miles of kamikaze deer and potholes every time we turn the ignition key, these inexpensive cars are putting us in the poorhouse. While 100mpg is certainly useful, I believe the ultimate value of a MAX variant would be in it's durability and serviceability. You could build it with the ability to shake off deer impacts, to take the beating of pot holes, and to be fixed inside a couple hours with a box of hand tools. Of course an infrared camera and an LED display above the steering wheel so I could see that deer or pedestrian in fashionable black in the foggy rainy night when I have high beams in my face would be nice too, but that's just my extravagant side talking.

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