Do Classic Cars Have Airbags? Can You Install Them?

Outdated safety standards are one of the few truly strong arguments that can be mentioned against the joy of owning a classic car. But what if it was possible to work around that?

Do Classic Cars Have Airbags?

Classic cars do have airbags, but it applies only to the ones manufactured after the early 1970s when safety was getting more advanced. Good examples of classic cars with airbags are Porsche 944 Turbo, or Oldsmobile Toronado.

Is it Possible to Install Airbags in a Classic Car?

Yes, if you perform all the necessary operations for that.

In a collision, the car’s crash sensors send information of the event to the electronic controller unit (ECU). Depending on the type, angle, speed, and severity of the crash, the ECU considers that it is, indeed, necessary to deploy the airbags and activates a series of electrical circuits to trigger only the correspondent ones (in case the car has multiple bags).

Installing airbags in a classic car is possible, but it implies installing that entire system. In older models, it would be necessary to plan the whole electronic layout from the beginning, increase the electric layout’s capacity in order to support the new demand, then use it to install an airbag system.

That is all possible, of course, but such a complex operation would require the best specialists of many fields to make the system work in an effective and safe way. It is possible to install airbags in a classic car model, but doing it well is complex, expensive, and risky enough not to make it recommendable.

Also read: 10 Cars Under $20K that Look Like They’re for $50K+

Which Classic Cars Have Airbags?

Airbags have been gradually adopted by all cars since the early 1970s.

General Motors was one of the first automakers to offer airbags in passenger cars in 1973. While the system proved effective, it faced moderate approval in the first years because of high cost, eventual fatalities, and lack of customer interest.

Nevertheless, continuous investment has made airbags increasingly safer and more effective, so both the public and the industry changed their opinion. Airbags quickly became common in urban cars, then in sporty and utilitarian cars over the following years. Nowadays, their presence in a car is required by law in many countries.

It is safe to say that almost all car models released and/or updated after the early 1970s eventually received airbags throughout their lifespan. The Oldsmobile Toronado, for example, was the first urban car in the USA to offer a front airbag for the driver.

Also read: 11 Real Reasons Why Older Cars are Better than New Cars

What Other Safety Features Do Classic Cars Lack?

In short, all the ones released after each car model went into production.

The automotive industry continuously researches new technologies and new applications for them, so new safety items are released all the time.

Airbags in different positions, external cameras, and sensors, more capable materials for brake systems, and more complex mechanical profile for the cabin’s structure are only some examples of that.

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While it is highly desirable to update every car model currently in production as soon as a new safety item is released, automakers have to consider the implied cost. Most of them require extra hardware, updating the existing software or both, and applying that would increase the car’s price to a level that would make most customers lose interest in the purchase.

Besides that, government regulation is usually some steps behind the industry. Low-cost cars, for example, are usually updated only when the local laws make it mandatory for them to add a given safety item such as front airbags or ABS brakes.

As a result, the most precise one can be in this topic is that any given car model can only have any of the safety features which went into production earlier than its own release.

Also read: 15 Cars that NEVER Rust (100% Galvanised)

When Did Safety Become Standard in Cars?

Protecting people has been a concern ever since the first cars went into production.

Even though there were few cars on the streets in the 1910s and 1920s, let alone dangerously fast ones, most of them were luxury models. Their manufacturers already invested in safety back then simply because they wanted to offer the best automobile they could produce.

In this topic, it is more relevant to analyze how has safety been applied to cars. The technology and knowledge available decades ago made the industry only think of active protection, that is, making the car resist as much as possible to a collision. Some of the most popular solutions were adopting stronger structures and, sometimes, giving them a more mechanically favorable design.

Over the years, as more and more safety items were released and mass-produced, society began to follow a pattern: a new item is presented after extensive testing, used in all the car models released by its developer in the following years, and eventually gradually copied by competitors. Only then, after years of empiric experience, governments begin to make it mandatory in all cars sold locally.

Having that in mind, it is necessary to analyze each individual item and each country’s laws to discover when did it become standard. For example, Chrysler was the first North-American manufacturer to make driver front airbags standard, starting with six models in 1988.

How to Make an Old Car Safe?

The most reasonable solution is to restore it to its original condition.

In theory, it is possible to install any of the latest safety items in any car. However, the implications are numerous and complex: it would be necessary to update the electronic installation or create one from the beginning, update the electric installation to comply with its demands, and inspect the physical structure to see if there is enough space and resistance to safely install the new parts.

It is easy to imagine that such a solution would bring countless sources of problems even if it was executed by the best specialists.

In practice, the best way to make an old car safe is by repairing any problems it may have in the beginning, and restoring it as much as possible to the condition it had when it left the production lines. A very important part of this process is to eliminate any cases of rust because it is common in old cars and can degrade the entire affected component.

Now, it is necessary to say that, even after the old car is completely restored, it will only be as safe as it was when new – therefore, much less safe than any new car. That, unfortunately, is a natural consequence of owning an old car: it was designed to comply with the market and government standards of its time.