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1966 Pontiac-brakes and steering

I’m writing a novel and need to kill somebody off. Here’s the set-up: He’s driving a Hertz rental, 1966 Pontiac. He accelerates to get up a hill, knows the deadly curve is at the bottom of the hill, and slows down on the descent so he won’t be going too fast around the curve. I thought his brake line was cut, but a witness claims he wasn’t speeding–he just went over the ravine. So now I’m thinking steering. The car was sabotaged about an hour before the accident. What did the bad guy do to my character’s car? (Simple terms, please! I’m a writer, not a mechanic, Jim.)

The killer removed the nuts from the idler arm bolts. The bolts eventually came out, resulting in a loss of steering.

The killer poked a hole in the power steering high pressure line. The fluid leaked out. The victim, used to the one-finger ease of turning the wheel when the power steering was working, was unprepared when the power steering was no longer working, and was unable to compensate ro prevent driving over the edge.

That’s it! Exactly what I needed! Thanks, NYBo-- you’re a life saver. Just not for my character. :wink:

Cut brake lines (or partially cut rubber brake HOSES) should work very well as a criminal action to dispatch someone. Its a classic. Take a slice through the hose to greatly weaken it, your driver sees the curve and tries to slow the car and “pop” the hose fails and bye-bye driver.

In 1966, there was only a single brake system so, leak = no brakes. 1967 and on, dual systems became the norm so only half the brakes would be lost.

And “not speeding” doesn’t mean he could negotiate the curve. You often see yellow speed advisory signs preceding a curve that are not limits, just suggested speed for the curve. Travelling downhill builds speed quickly so your witness wouldn’t be a good judge, especially at the moment when the curve exceeds the traction of the tires.

Making the steering stop working at the exact right time is pretty tricky, mechanically, and lots of steering happens just backing out of a parking space while very little brake is used until something dangerous is in view. Then heavy braking is needed.

Good luck with your story!

You can get away with almost anything in a work of fiction…But in the real world, cut brake lines and sabotaged steering which manifest themselves at the exact critical moment causing a fatal accident, that’s a real long shot…Besides, accident investigators, even back then, would spot such things very quickly…

Wrong forum. You need to write to the writers’ forum.
Perhaps if you wrote about something you know about?

Why don’t you just have the person shot by a hitman? I hate to see a,1966 Pontiac destroyed!

Thanks, everyone - I appreciate the input and suggestions. At least I know I was on the right track here. The details will help.

If you’re sending someone off a cliff to their doom do it on the Pacific Coast Highway. It’s a beautiful place to end it all and even a momentary lapse in attention is all that’s needed to straighten out some deadly curves into the surf 100 feet below.

As for the details of any sabotage I agree that the vast majority of the public is quite clueless re all things automotive. Earl Stanley Garner wrote some great story lines that can’t stand a close technical review but were quite entertaining. Those cut hoses always seemed to fail at the opportune time… Imagine that.

How about this;

As he descends the hill the truck following him loses it’s brakes. He gets rear ended by the truck and his rental 1966 corvair bursts into flames just as he enters the curve.


It’s unlikely that a sabotaged car could be made to fail at just the right moment. If your story isn’t worried about evidence of the sabotage, have the character run a hose from the tailpipe of the car through the floorboard and into the cabin. The driver will develop a dull headache, get sleepy and then disoriented to the point he will miss the curve…

Will there be an autographed copy of UNSAFE AT ANY SPEED on the seat of that Corvair @Yosemite?

You got it @Rodknox.

Also were not the WWII (Early) Sherman Tanks, nicknamed “Ronsons” by their crews, because of their operating on Gasoline instead of Diesel.


FYI, the most likely Pontiac rental car would be either the Catalina (full size) or Lemans (midsize). I like the exhaust idea but simply loosening the exhaust pipe from the exhaust manifold on the passenger side (Catalina only as it has a V8) would allow a lot of exhaust into the cabin as it is near the outside air intake. Same for Lemans but it is an inline 6 so there is only one exhaust pipe.

He could remove the pipe and doughnut (gasket) and put the pipe back. The only drawback as the exhaust leak here will be noisy.

One more thing, the 66 Pontiac Catalina tended to oversteer easily, that is it would “spin out” easy. It was an easy car to drift for that reason. So pouring some oil on the rear tires would make it super easy to spin out on a curve, but he would go off the cliff backwards. The killer would have to oil up the tires just before he started up the incline and before hitting any curves or this would not work.

BTW, I used to own a 66 Catalina.

The murderer takes the car for a joy ride and overheats the brakes. Since they are drum brakes, they fail going down the hill and the excessive speed puts the driver into the ravine. The police can’t find a reason for the death and suppose that the driver was just going too fast for the road.

I would have just put a stuffed buffalo in the road and off he went when he tried to avoid it, then the perp took the buffalo away leaving no evidence.

Yosemite: I had never heard of the Pontiac “Corvair” so I did a search. The Pontiac “Polaris” was a parallel design study to Chevrolet’s first generation 1960-1964 Corvair. Pontiac ended up producing the 1961-1963 Tempest for the growing compact car market. The Polaris study was resurrected when Chevrolet was gearing up for their second generation 1965-1969 Corvair. The Polaris study was cancelled with no indication of even a model being built.

Wondering about cutting the power steering belt enough to have it fail under stress, but more than likely it was a power assist, and in an adrenaline driven moment turning would still be functional, though more difficult.

Back in those days, power steering was not all that common even on a big car like a Catalina. Would be rare on a 6 cylinder retatal LeMans or Tempest. The drum brakes were standard and ab-so-lute-ly terrible for fade. I had a 6 cylinder '64 Tempest, I’ve scared myself with those tiny little drum brakes.