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Crumple Zone: 1955

Oakland, California, circa 1955. "Wrecked Buick." A 1953 Super convertible. Long before airbags, there were collapsible steering columns and dished steering wheels. And before that, there was this. 4x5 acetate negative. View full size.

Oakland, California, circa 1955. "Wrecked Buick." A 1953 Super convertible. Long before airbags, there were collapsible steering columns and dished steering wheels. And before that, there was this. 4x5 acetate negative. View full size.


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I believe the woman is actually sitting in the passenger seat. The seemingly superfluous hands must belong to the driver who is slumped against the side behind the rear edge of the door opening, concealed by the gendarme.

[As pointed out earlier, there are two officers in the shot, one behind the other; the extra cap, as well as hand, belong to the one behind. -tterrace]

Bring on the Accident Photos, Dave!

Knowing what we have in today's automobiles in terms of safety equipment and features, it astounds me as to how I survived as a kid in the 1950's, riding untethered in the front seat of mile-long 1940 and 1957 Dodge automobiles. Getting into low speed fender-benders meant going to the doctor to get stitches in your forehead. Happened to me twice! Mom throwing her arm across my body did absolutely nothing to keep me from kissing the unpadded dashboard.

"Unsafe at Any Speed"?

The 1953 Buick was one of the case studies that Ralph Nader discussed in "Unsafe at Any Speed." The power brake systems on the '53 Buicks had a tendency to fail completely due to faulty o-rings in the master cylinder. GM did not issue a recall, but had dealers fix people's brakes as they came into the shop. I wonder if that may have been the culprit here.

Signal 30 Fan

Certainly more riveting than dressed-up kittens.

Posts: An American Menace

It's the 1950s. We live in an era of unimaginable technological advancement and widespread prosperity. But we have yet to address the greatest threat to the American way: roadside posts. Every year, roadside posts (apparently) kill thousands of our countrymen.

Super Duper Iron Horse

This was the beginning of Buick V-8s. The vestigial straight-8 would remain only on the '53 Buick Special and would be history come 1954.

So that's how they crash

I used to own a car exactly like that, but a hardtop, not the convertible. I sometimes wondered what it would look like in a crash. Now I know. I'm glad I found out from a photo, not in person.


There's something nasty on her face. One can only dread what's out of view. And her closed eyes indicate unconsciousness, pain, or worse.

Who Ya Gonna Call?

Because of a failure to avert gaze I'd like to know if they called a doctor or the morgue.

The Round Buick Grille Medallion

in the center of the cross-bar between the parking light surrounds is the most vulnerable part on the front of the '53 Buicks--this was Buick's 50th anniversary and it was supposed to be the image of an '03 Buick but was discovered the be an '04 after production began, and is always the first part of the front end to be damaged. We had a '53 Roadmaster bought by my Buick dealer dad and after about the 3rd replacement (they are model specific), he finally gave up. On this car, it is virtually the only part to come out unscathed!

Me too

As a longtime, devoted fan of your site, I want to respectfully agree with Horace Walter. These pictures seem a little grim. Not your usual aesthetic.

Starting off on the Right Foot

I remember the first time I tried to start a Buick of this vintage. No starter button on the dash or floor, no start position when you turned the key. With the ignition on you press down slightly on the gas pedal and bingo, it starts.

Sound sleepers

Not one person turned on house lights or were peeking out of the windows to see what all the noise and lights were about.

Way too handy.

That extra hand there is really a puzzle. I can't see any way there could be another person hidden behind the officer nor is there any way one could be a reflection. I'm just a bit baffled.

[Note that there are two officers wearing caps. The feet of the second officer are behind the curb of the median the first officer is standing on. -tterrace]


Did this Buick hit that light pole? That's an awful lot of damage and not a scratch or dent on the pole. I also think it would have stayed wrapped around the pole and not bounced back. So the extra hand is a back seat passenger(?). My father in law used to always say "they don't make um like they used too" And I'd always follow up with "Thank God" Even with their size and girth these old cars are not as safe as say a Camry these days. There's a great video on the web of GM offset crashing a 1958 Impala (first year) with a 2008 Impala. The crash test people in the '58 suffered life ending injuries with the amount of cabin intrusion the car had. The 2008, to quote a current Subaru commercial "they lived", actually with minor injury.

[Actually a 1959 Bel Air. - Dave]

That woman was very lucky to have survived.

Usually the driver would have been speared through the chest by the steering wheel.

Road trip

This somewhat grim series of photos gives me the feeling Weegee took a trip out west for a busman's holiday.

How Handy

How many times have you said that you could've used an extra hand? Apparently Mr. Law & Order never said that, since he comes fully equipped.

Very interesting

I love the old crash photos. Keep them coming. Although a bit morbid they are fascinating.

Looks like the windshield wash fluid is still all foamy from the wreck. I'm thinking this wreck happened not long before the picture was shot and definitely before the ambulance arrived. The girl appears to possibly out cold or maybe even deceased. If not she blinked as the picture was taken.

Not Me

If I should ever develop a time machine, I know enough now to not drive in Oakland during this era.

Glass Half Full

Good thing they didn't scuff the whitewalls.

That's going to leave a mark

The displaced steering wheel kept her out of the windshield but, OUCH!

Ventiport Envy

In that time period, Bob Hope used to comment, "I have to go home and drill holes in the fenders of my Chevy, so everyone will think I'm driving a Buick."

Circa 1955, not 1958

The crumpled front license plate is a style used from 1951 through 1955, 14" wide, with black background and yellow numbers. From 1956 through 1962 the plate was 2" less wide (same size as today) and was yellow with black numbers.

[Right you are. - Dave]

Signal 30

Interesting picture. I hope this sort of thing will not become a trend, here on this site.

[Avert your gaze and walk this way to the fainting couch. - Dave]

I am a combat veteran, 1st Battalion 1st Marines Delta Co. RVN 67-68. After that, I became an embalmer. I've seen it all, Dave

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