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The toughest cars ever made

Forget safety ratings, the only way of truly testing a car's toughness is to put it through its paces on a banger racing circuit, writes motoring journalist Rob Griffin.

Everyone wants to feel confident that their vehicle could protect them in a crash.

This is why manufacturers spend hours in specialist test facilities in the pursuit of coveted star ratings for safety.

But how would your vehicle cope with extreme forms of punishment?

Strength and durability

TV show Top Gear famously tried everything to destroy a 1988 Toyota Hilux, including slamming it into a tree, hitting it with a wrecking ball, submerging it in water, and setting it alight.

They even strapped it to the top of a 23-storey tower block that was subsequently demolished.

But it managed to survive every attempt on its life and was still able to be driven away.

This may be a tad over the top but one place where strength and durability can be really tested is in the world of banger racing – especially destruction derbies where the last car running is the winner.

Over the past 40 years i'’s hard to think of a car that hasn't been taken to its limits in this uncompromising sport where minimal strengthening is allowed.

Fords hard to beat

Everything from Ford Fiestas, Vauxhall Astra Estates, Kia Prides, and MGB GTs, to Jaguar XJs, Rover P5s, Ford Granadas, Nissan Bluebirds, and Rolls Royces have all been used at some stage.

Of the modern day cars, however, Fords are proving pretty hard to beat, according to long-time racer Steve Anscombe, a star of the forthcoming "Banger Boys" series on the History Channel.

The former champion says: "The Ford Cougar, Ford Mondeo and Ford Scorpio Ultima are by far the strongest. The amount of rigorous crash testing that goes on has made them very tough."

In fact, the big Fords have proved to be so resilient that they are actually banned from many meetings across the country for being too strong for rival marques.

'Nigh on indestructible'

"Ford Mondeos (pictured right) are nigh on indestructible," says Steve.

"You've almost got to smash the wheels off to kill them.

"Cougars are even stronger at the back end and tend to stay together a lot better."

Other vehicles that are regularly raced include the Vauxhall Vectra and Lexus LS400.

"A lot of drivers like the Lexus but although the chassis is strong I feel the bodywork tears off too easily," Anscombe adds.

Safety performance

Steve's experiences with Fords are backed up by data from Euro NCAP, which provides independent assessments of the safety performance of some of the most popular cars sold in Europe.

It recently named the Ford Kuga, Ford B-Max, and Ford Transit Custom among its best in class winners for safety in 2012.

The others honoured were the Renault Clio, Volvo V40, BMW 3 Series, Fiat 500 L, and the Hyundai Sante Fe.

Class winners were praised for performing highly in four marking criteria: adult occupant protection, child occupant protection, pedestrian protection and safety assist systems.

Car strength will 'only get better'

Among the most recent market releases, Euro NCAP has given maximum five star ratings to four vehicles: the Renault Zoe, Skoda Octavia, Toyota Auris, and the Toyota RAV4.

The developments in safety witnessed in recent years have been welcomed – both for the drivers on the roads and those indulging their gladiatorial passions on the track, such as Steve Anscombe.

"The cars we were racing in the late 1980s and 1990s were incredibly weak and really suffered with rot," he says.

"The old MK 111 and MK IV Ford Escorts were pathetically soft and fell to bits if you hit things but that's changed with all the testing that takes place now and this will only get better."

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Rob Griffin

Rob Griffin

Rob Griffin is a freelance journalist who regularly appears in national publications, including The Independent and Daily Express. He covers motoring, business, and personal finance issues.

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