Here’s What Happens When A 1975 Plymouth Valiant Gets T-Boned By A 2011 Chevrolet Traverse (It’s Bad)

Valiant Wreck

“We go over the bump, and right after that, in the corner of my eye, I saw a gray Chevy Traverse and BAM… the car got thrown down the road about 50 feet,” said Gabe Iannone, a student at a technical institute who has been driving home to New Jersey from school in Pennsylvania pretty much every weekend to wrench with friends on his 1975 Plymouth Valiant. Recently, he got the vehicle dialed in and running great, but then this past Saturday evening, disaster struck.

Iannone posted some photos to the Plymouth Valiant Fans Facebook page, where I spotted them last night and shuddered in horror. Obviously, my first concern was for the safety of those in the Valiant; the thing looks hammered. My second thought was how sad it was for the world to lose such a beautiful classic machine. Iannone replied to my message that asked about him and his car, and he gave me the full story of how he and his two friends were injured, and how his prized 1975 Valiant met its demise.

The Universal Technical Institute student bought the Valiant from a MOPAR-collecting friend in June, and though the 47,000 mile, 225 slant-six powered cruiser was running, it wasn’t smooth and it was pulling fuel from a jerry can. Last week, he did some tuning. “I got a gas tank for it, hooked everything up,” he said. He’d rebuilt a Holly 1920 single-barrel carb, and after figuring out that he’d forgotten to hook up the distributor vacuum advance, he got it running “A-OK.”

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As he described his car, which had an automatic transmission and functioning air conditioning, I said “nice,” complimenting the machine. “Yeah, it’s not nice anymore,” Iannone quickly retorted, before continuing his story, clearly still reeling from the freshness of his dearly departed machine. “I live on this road called Corsons Tavern Road,” the 20 year-old continued. Referring to his 19 year old friends Ed and Christian, he went on: “We were going to the Walmart to buy some buffing compound to buff the hood, see how the paint would look,” he went on, “[We took the Valiant] because everybody likes the Valiant. It’s a comfortable car…[a] great car.”

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They drove through an intersection, slowing down for a rather tall mound that everyone in town knew required hitting the brakes for. “Everybody knows to slow down even if the light’s green, to 30 mph. So I slowed down…we go over the bump, and right after that, in the corner of my eye,” he said, “I saw a gray chevy traverse and BAM… the car got thrown down the road about 50 feet.”

“I went through the light, she hit me going 55 because she said she wasn’t paying attention and didn’t see the light,” Iannone went on, admitting that he wasn’t sure how she’d missed that obvious red light.

“My windshield was somebody’s welcome mat,” he said. Referring to a house near the crash scene, which itself was within a mile of Iannone’s house, the student told me: “When [the house occupants] opened their door, they stepped onto their first stoop, and the windshield was over their welcome mat. All they heard was ‘crunch crunch.””

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The driver in the other car was an older woman. “She was in her 60s…She didn’t get out of her car; she was so scared — didn’t know what happened,” Iannone described, saying he wasn’t sure how to respond at first. “I just hugged her,” he said, saying we all make mistakes, and that he’d “let the [officials] do their stuff.. I’m not gonna yell at [the other driver].” He figured it was a bad situation, and everyone felt like crap anyway; no need to make things worse by yelling. “I just let people do their investigation,” he told me over the phone, saying he was the least injured of the trio in the Valiant.

Ed, a heavier guy, was sitting on the right side of the front bench. “[The three-point belt] saved Ed’s life and it also saved mine,” Iannone reckons, saying Ed would have been thrown into him had it not been for that belt. “He took the brunt of the impact,” referring to his friend, who — like Christian — he’d known from high school (he worked with them in shop class, among other places). “[Ed’s] ribs were bruised really bad. And the doorframe and the windshield frame hit and smashed into his head. He has eight staples in his forehead.” In addition, he bit his tongue, which is now swollen.

Christian didn’t fare well, either. “Christian…wasn’t so lucky. He had a lap belt on. He ate his kneecap… when we hit…he broke his two front teeth off. He needs oral surgery. His teeth went through his bottom lip… it was 30 stitches.”

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As for Iannone: “I have a swollen leg…and I almost lost my earlobe,” he told me, saying: “the column came down and smashed my leg.”

The young car-nut, whose dad and grampa had always had old cars, started his automotive journey with a Jaguar X-Type, but then quickly moved on to three Mercury Grand Marquis, all of which have been killed in accidents. It seems Iannone has lousy luck. “That’s all I drive. I buy these old fashion grandpa cars: Body on frame V8s,” he said, telling me he replaced his 1975 Valiant with a 2006 Lincoln Towncar that he picked up from a friend.

He reminisced about his gorgeous Valiant, into which he’d just thrown new belts, and a new radiator. He’d kept the AC compressor he had to remove to fit his oversized radiator, in case he wanted to restore the car back to original shape. “I put 1000 miles on it in 2 weeks,” he said. “[The car was] at 48,210 miles when it met its demise last night”

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“I came home every weekend in college,” he said. “[I] busted my ass off with my friends.” He told me he understands that the Valiant wasn’t a traditionally “cool” car, and that it’s just one of those cars that leads old-timers to tell you: “You know, my mom had one of those.” Plus, the thing wasn’t in that great of shape, even if it looks nice in these photos. “You could see my torsion bar through the passenger side floor,” he told me. Still, the low-mileage car last inspected in 1996 had only cost him $1,000, and he loved it.

“What brings me joy is my cars,” he told me over the phone. “When I got this valiant, although it wasn’t perfect, it was my first gateway into the classic car community.”

“I worked at a tire chain, and I daily drove that car…for a couple months,” he said, telling me he is even renting a garage space for the car for $100 a month.

As for his plans, Iannone just wants to have another cool car, and to be properly compensated. “I don’t want anything else besides what I’m owed,” he said. “She had airbags and she was in a little bubble…and I was in a playing-card castle.” Indeed, he was in a fragile contraption compared to that big Traverse. Just look at the damage to his car and compare it to hers shown above:
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“The Traverse..it looks more savable than the Valiant…The Valiant just got creamed,” Iannone told me. “It just looked like a piece of tinfoil. It’s not savable.”
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Iannone said he does plan to pull the motor and transmission. Maybe he’ll use them in another cool car later down the line. He’ll just have to wait and see.
All Images: Gabe Iannone
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80 Responses

  1. Not sure how I missed this article yesterday.

    This is one of those gray areas. The book value of that car is somewhere between $500-2000, tops. And yet to actually replace it with something in similar condition would probably be $4500 or more. Vintage/classic cars are in that gray area where their value carries more of a market intangibility that can leave folks like Gabe on the short end of the stick. The medical expenses are a different matter. Those are going to be what they’re going to be, regardless.

    A couple weeks ago we witnessed a collision at the intersection by our family business. An older lady (I’m estimating she was in her 60s) completely rolled through the stop sign on the West-East bound road and the individual driving North-South had no stop and had right of way. Anyway, when the officer arrived on the scene we came out to tell him we had footage from our security cameras and offered it to help with the reporting process. He was grateful, as was the person who had been hit. They even came in to thank us before they left the scene.

    A week or two after that, the old lady came in, somewhat irate, and incredulous, that she was responsible and borderline demanded to see the footage. We showed it to her and she was just in a state of shock, she said, “Oh, I can’t believe that, I never do that!” and things of that nature. Well, you obviously did this time. She was actually driving a Kia Soul, not that it matters, but I’ve found from personal experience that people who drive Equinoxes and Traverses are some of the more aggressive and inattentive drivers out there on the road. I think a lot of this really sucks for Gabe and his friends and he has my profound respect for being such a good human through the ordeal. I’m not sure I could do the same, at least to that degree.

    1. I had a similar experience with my Corvette a couple of years ago. Hit a deer and the insurance company wanted to total it for some paltry amount. It eventually worked out in my favor, but I asked about getting agreed value so if it ever happened again there would be no argument about the payout. With my company it wasn’t eligible until it was 25 years old, but for something this old it’s worth looking into.

    2. I played that game with insurance companies before. Their offer was ridiculous. So I told them to find me the same model car I had in similar condition for that price. Took about a week after that, I got a check for an amount that would fairly replace my car.

      1. Good to know a person can still get fair compensation. The point of insurance is to make you whole, or as close to that as possible. A lowball replacement payment doesn’t accomplish that.

  2. As a motorcycle rider I have quite a bit of experience with almost getting killed on a daily basis, and even when I have to gather myself off the asphalt after someone crashes into me I never yell at the dumbass, or make a scene.

    At the same time, most of those people who “couldn’t see” a green Kawasaki with a guy in a neon yellow jacket and bright red helmet in the middle of a clear summer day, are olds. As in ‘older than 60’.

    Past a certain age you should have to take a driving test every year (or at least a couple of years) to keep your license, just like they had in Germany when I lived there. This is not “age-ism”, pass you test – keep driving till you’re 200, but if your reflexes, senses, coordination are gone you won’t get to kill a bunch of kids on your way to bingo.

    1. Former Bicyclist here.
      I cant say I have had your restraint. I had a guy in a Cadillac convertible ( top down, lane next to mine ) drive past me, then turn right *just* in front of me. He didnt see me. He wasnt looking. No awareness of anything other than himself. He wasnt old, I dont think. Either completely clueless or a deliberate act. I ended up on the curb.
      I also had a taxi driver push my bike ( rear tire ) with his bumper. That was a deliberate act.
      Had a guy chase me all over the place once.
      And all for having the nerve to ride my bike exactly as legally allowed.

      I agree with your assessment that past a certain age ( and I am approaching that age myself ) some kind of vision and comprehension test should be required. Every n years, where n gets less as the person gets older.

    2. I have days when I think I shouldn’t drive that day- just bad days for coordination, and reflexes, this am I didn’t see a grey suv at a 4 way stop- it was foggy and icy in my pathetic defense, I did stop in time but reminds me that we all have bad days for driving but I think a regular test is a good idea, if you can get a do-over if you had a bad day

    3. I certainly understand this regarding older drivers. My mother (82 yo) caused a severe crash 2 months ago and both she and other driver survived fairly well after hospitalizations. She is no longer driving at all, we insisted this time. Here’s the deal, no test can pick up drivers’ impairments well.

      She “passed” an intensive 4 hour driver’s evaluation from a certified medical rehab center less than 10 months prior to the accident. Her vision and reaction times, etc. were all fine. Her problem was mostly mild dementia and other cognitive issues which progressed. The family insisted she not drive any more for the year prior, even taking her keys away for 6 months. But she lived alone in a small town and had the security of passing the test. It meant she wanted to keep driving. The driver’s test evaluator even told us that she looks good at this point in time but cannot guarantee in the future. People can and do drive with various impairments all the time.

      From personal experience, I’ve known more accidents/deaths caused by young impaired drivers (drunk, stoned, etc) than just plain older drivers. That’s really the danger on the roads. I don’t really have a solution for this. I’m just glad that we are making all cars much safer than a generation ago.

  3. I am glad that everyone survived this with only relatively minor injuries. They are fortunate that the other driver was driving a newer vehicle, because this would have almost certainly been worse for everyone if the other vehicle was as old as the Valiant. I love the way old cars look, but this is exactly why I don’t own one.

    You can be the safest driver on the road, but you can do nothing about what other drivers are doing. If you drive long enough it is a virtual certainty that you will be in an accident, so it makes sense to take advantage of the safety benefits newer cars have.

    1. Those injuries don’t sound that minor. True, no one died and it does sound like everyone is walking and talking, but the force of the crash was clearly significant and their brains were bouncing off the insides of their skulls as a result. That’s not even touching on orthopedic injuries that may exist and be longer term. Since they’re younger and still physically maturing, they may recoup better than others, but the forces on their bodies can’t be understated.

      +1 on the safety. I don’t fault anyone for driving a classic car and would love to own one, too, but if it were my kid, I’m not letting her anywhere near a car older than a decade unless it’s going to be going down a parade route.

    2. Yep, I say to people that my MGB just a step above motorcycle in safety, and I treat it that way. I’ve added a very bright red LED strip on my roll bar as a Center High Mount Stop Light. I have 4 point harnesses to try to keep my head from slamming into things if I’m in a crash. I rarely take it on roads that are above 45 mph limits. I drive very defensively. I’ve had very few close calls and nothing that was my fault. One of my kids (18 years old) wants to learn to drive stick, and I want to teach them, but I just feel like they need more experience driving first, before they hop in something that small and low to the ground. I hope by sticking to slower roads, if something does happen, I have a good chance of walking away.

  4. I hope that when the young man says he wants to be properly compensated, he means that he and his friends will be compensated for their very significant injuries. What the car owner is owed has nothing to do with the car. He was injured and his friends were injured. It’s more important that he and his friends get repaired than an old lump of iron. Better call Saul !

    The car, meh. They made a million of them and it will be melted down into a new one. Or a toaster.

    I’m just glad they got the gas tank hooked up properly. Otherwise those broken teeth and cracked ribs might have been toasted.

    Don’t get me wrong. I like old cars just fine. But steel can be recycled. People can’t.

  5. Glad everyone made it out ok, but I’m impressed that the valiant took that hit and doesn’t look worse. Everyone gripes about old car safety but they have their merits. I’ll never drive as a daily anything newer than my 62 Lincoln…unless it’s my 64 Lincoln.

    1. If the Valiant had taken the hit better, it would look worse. Newer vehicles are designed to absorb the energy of an impact and keep it away from the passenger compartment. A modern vehicle in this accident the passenger compartment would barely be deformed, the rest of the car would look worse.

      1. True but also not true.

        Newer cars are indeed designed to absorb the impact, but when it comes to side impacts, the less deformation there is, the better. There is no room whatsoever between the outer side of the door and you, so a modern car receiving a side impact must look relatively unscathed afterwards.

        The Valiant actually looks like it had reinforced doors. I concur with SYKO above that I expected it to look like a curled shrimp and it didn’t.

        1. I think it is because of where it was hit – that wasn’t a full on impact to the passenger cell, it looks like the center point of the hit was the firewall based on the damage going so far towards the front of the car. I bet if it had it dead center on the B pillar between the doors it would have looked much worse.

  6. Gentle but firm reminder – they’re crashes, not accidents. Language matters. What happened to Mr. Ianonne was not an accident – it was a result of carelessness by the other driver, and was entirely preventable. I’m sorry for the loss of his Valiant, but most of all I’m sorry for his and his friends’ injuries. I’m glad they weren’t worse.

  7. This is why some years ago, on another auto fan web site, the question was asked “if you could have any classic car, what would you drive”, and I basically said “none, because I have young children and old cars just do not have the crash worthiness of newer cars. I am not willing to risk my kids safety to drive an old car”
    One guy spent the next few days telling me I am dumb, because “if your driving a classic, you will drive more carefully and not take risks”. I tried to reason with him, explaining “I can’t control everyone on the road, there are lots of bad drivers out there”. While I accepted his stance, its his choice to make, he couldn’t accept that I would make a different decision, and degraded to something along the lines of “you’re a scared dummy head”.
    Dealing with people online is fun…

    1. I can imagine the website and that username with little effort.
      Yep, old people still believe that big old steel cars are safer than modern cars. Often they are now driving 1-ton trucks with a daily driven payload of 1 cup of coffee.

  8. My initial impression from the title was that David was making another “I finally got rid of a vehicle” post. The Valiant even has almost the right color, at a glance.

    Until I looked a bit closer at the grille…

  9. I still enjoy hitting the road and haven’t had an accident in 40 years, but I agree with routine testing for older drivers…..and I am one.

    My mom’s skills were just fine as she got close to 80, but she was the classic “turned left out of the grocery store in Kansas and wound up in Florida” driver. She got lost a block from her house. Unfortunately this was in the early 90’s and a Garmin was $3K, so we had to take her keys and sell her Lexus before she did wind up 10 states away.

    This is one of the problems with our society today – generations of family no longer live anywhere near each other let alone together. I live in Kansas and my kids are on either coast…..so there’s no one around to help anymore if you need it.

    I think the guy in the article has a great attitude – people make mistakes – when you watch YouTube vids of all the horrible/road raged/bro truck/armed idiots on the road today, it really makes you cautious.

    I drive a classic Mini BTW, talk about your rolling tin can!!!

    1. “I think the guy in the article has a great attitude – people make mistakes – when you watch YouTube vids of all the horrible/road raged/bro truck/armed idiots on the road today, it really makes you cautious.”

      The worst people are the families of the people who are involved. I was in a fender bender about five years ago. A man who was around 60 blew the stop sign near our homes and I hit him. Both vehicles could drive away, and we didn’t have any injuries. It was a 5-7mph impact. Well, 5 minutes after we hit, his family came running down the street harassing me and accusing me of all these different things related to the accident despite not witnessing it themselves. They threatened to have me arrested and ticketed, going as far as calling emergency services and waiting for an officer to show up. All because they couldn’t believe that their patriarch blew a stop sign.

      My first car was totaled in 2011. The lady I hit pulled out of a parking lot right into traffic. She didn’t even look before doing so and she immediately admitted that it was her fault. I was in college at the time, and I happened to be in an ASE certification program that her son was in. While he didn’t know who I was, I knew who he was. He hated me, blamed me for the whole thing and was furious his mother admitted to causing the incident. Of course, he had no idea he was telling the person who hit his mom these things, but I found it amusing. Double so, since he brought her wrecked car into the class garage to try to fix it himself.

  10. Those Lambda platform SUV’s are built like tanks, and weight to match. That Valiant fared better than I thought after reading the intro.

    These guys lucked out big time.

    1. They really are. I’ve been rear-ended in a Traverse and an Enclave, both probably above 30 mph, and I walked away fine from both, and both were drivable after. In one case, the hatch even still opened and closed properly. The one that was on the freeway was a 4 car chain reaction and had some very injured people and a few vehicles that were certainly totaled. My wife has also run into another car with her Enclave and, while there was a decent amount of damage to the other car, the Enclave had a small ding smaller than a penny. I had to look so hard to even find any damage.

  11. This is why they dont build them like they used to. They wouldve been fine if they had been in a modern car. I love older cars but its always a gamble driving around with so many inattentive people in newer stronger cars around you.

  12. I hope the other driver gets some serious penalties.Make sure it happens!
    You are prepared to forgive and forget? Fine but this isnt your choice anymore sunshine. You owe it to other road users!

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