FIAT FreakOut at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Smashing stuff is one of those things that excites my inner child. When I found out that the FIAT FreakOut had arranged for us to tour the IIHS Vehicle Research Center (VRC) near Charlottesville, Virginia I just had to sign us up. We really didn’t know what we would see but automotive safety engineering is a fascinating subject so it couldn’t be that bad, right?


The Vehicle Research Center is very impressive! The highly educational program that they provide on the tour was definitely not what we expected. They walked us through all the improvements in automotive safety that they helped to develop over the years. They further explained how they do the actual testing of both individual components and the vehicles. Examples of different crashes from the past as well the current test vehicles are on display in their immaculate display hall.


Of course since we were here with the FIAT group we had to checkout the smashed FIAT 500 that was on display. It is a comforting feeling to know that the 2012 FIAT 500 scored a “Top Safety Pick”. We were also told that it originally did not but FIAT redesigned it slightly to make the top rating.


I had bit of a sad moment walking into the display area for the first time. The first display is the 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air that the Institute crashed with a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu for IIHS’s 50th anniversary. The test was to show how much safety had improved in those 50 years. The ‘59 Bel Air dummy died.  Sadly, so did the Bel Air.

We actually were able to witness a "small-overlap frontal crash" test in the Crash Hall! This is a new IIHS test that crashes a vehicle head-on at 25% of its total width. The test happened on one of the two 600-foot runways used to crash into an offset wall. The propulsion system they used to propel the 2012 Hyundai Sonata to 40 mph is powered by compressed nitrogen that turns a hydraulic motor. Cables tow the vehicle to the impact zone. Even though you know it’s going to happen you still aren’t prepared for the violent impact!

What a fantastic start for an equally fantastic event. Thanks Fiat Lancia Unlimited (FLU) and Fiat FreakOut for making this all possible.