Russ Stover put 23 years and over $200,000 worth of work into his 1964 Mercury Comet. That involved custom body work, a lowered suspension, and lots of other one-off goodies. More importantly, a 632-cubic-inch, supercharged big-block Chevy engine that produces 1,300 horsepower. However, the last time he upgraded the brakes was 17 years ago. So when he took Shawn Davis, from the AutotopiaLA YouTube channel out for a cruise to snag some footage, things went about as well as you could have expected: they crashed into the back of an innocent minivan.
At one point during their drive, Stover turned to Davis and said that the engine was idling a bit high, around 2,200 rpm. In a Honda Civic with 150 horsepower, idling at 2,200 rpm is probably pretty dangerous and it should probably be taken off the road. In a 1,300-horsepower monster, idling at 2,200 rpm is a big problem. They should have pulled over and shut it off on the spot—especially after the duo discussed the smell of burning brakes. Davis' suspicions were correct, as Stover said he'd been riding the brakes just to keep it at a reasonable pace while in traffic.
It doesn’t take a degree in engineering to understand why riding nearly two-decade old, undersized brakes over several miles to constantly slow a 1,300 horsepower car is bad. Brake fluid, especially old brake fluid that’s been sitting in equally old brake lines, can boil. And when it does, you lose your brakes. This is what happened to Stover and Davis, as the Comet lost its brakes at around 45-50 mph. Worse of all, it happened as they approached other cars stopped at a red light.
Just watching the video made me clench.
After losing your brakes, the first instinct is usually to reach for the hand brake. Except Stover’s Mercury didn’t have one. Instead, he had to put it in neutral and try to find an outlet, without hitting anyone else. Except every lane was blocked. Eventually, they braced for impact and rear-ended a Honda Odyssey.
The damage was pretty shocking. Despite the Mercury having four-point harnesses, both driver and passenger had opted to wear lap belts instead, which led to Davis hitting his face on the metal dashboard and Stover breaking his elbow. Unfortunately, the video doesn’t say what happened to the passengers of the Odyssey. Thankfully, it seems like everyone was mostly okay, with no life-threatening injuries. Both are reportedly healing up well and likely won’t suffer any long-term effects.
However, let this crash be a lesson in prioritizing brakes and safety gear. When you have a car with Bugatti Veyron-levels of power, you cannot have old brakes and fluid. Also, put in a mechanical handbrake, even if it doesn’t look cool. The ability to yank a handbrake when things go wrong could be a lifesaver.