Often after catastrophic car crashes hit the news, skeptics question the fortitude of the vehicles involved.
In the case of the death of Fast and the Furious franchise actor Paul Walker, he was riding in a 2005 Porsche Carrera GT when it was involved in a fiery, high-speed solo-car collision Saturday, L.A. County Sheriff's Department officials said.
A witness is heard in video of the wreck's fiery aftermath saying, “The car is in half.”
It's not clear if the two-seat sports car was indeed split in half, although that wouldn't be unusual. Other high-speed street wrecks involving exotic rides, namely Ferraris, have ended with the vehicles in pieces.
When he road tested the Carrera GT in 2004, Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson called it “a phenomenon — mind blowingly good.”
Clarkson concluded it was “one of the most beautiful, exciting and fastest drives of his life,” according to Top Gear's summary.
But he also said, “Make a mistake — it bites your head off.” He continued:
You need to be awake to drive this fast. It really isn't an easy car to control … The clutch is brutal, the power is savage and the handling — you really are on a knife edge.
This isn't unusual for cars of the GT's ilk, including the Ferrari F430, 458 Italia and Enzo. Comedian Eddie Griffin crashed an Enzo in a controlled environment — on-track — doing what appears to be a relatively mellow speed.
Jay Leno was involved in a stomach-churning spin-out in a Carrera GT a few years ago. He was also on-track, but he was doing more than 180 miles per hour.
The cars are well constructed, a result of their racing heritage. The Porsche is the stepchild of a Le Mans racing program that never was, and a Formula 1 motor that suffered the same fate.
As byproducts of racing programs, these cars are built like track stars. The Carrera, named for the famed Mexican road race that put Porsche on the map in the 1950s, has an exotic carbon fiber monocoque surrounding the driver.
Roll hoops are integrated into the design to protect the riders' heads in case the car flips.
— Kitty Alva (@HeyKitty) December 1, 2013
The Carrera's 5.7 liter V-10 motor helps propel the car to 60 miles per hour in less than 4 seconds. Its top speed is said to be 205 miles per hour, but Porsche is notoriously conservative with its official factory numbers.
About 1,279 were made between late 2003 and May 2006, according to Porsche. They cost about $440,000 stateside and still fetch more than $350,000 used due to their rarity. (Most we've seen have ridiculously low miles, often fewer than 5,000.)
The driver in Saturday's crash, a business partner of Walker's named Roger Rodas, is a sometime racer and full-time sports car enthusiast who apparently shared an interest in a performance shop with the actor, so experience didn't seem to be an issue.
The friends didn't appear to be wearing helmets, fire suits or Hans devices, gear that can help save lives on track. But sometimes no degree of safety engineering and gear can save someone from a freak, high-speed accident in one of these street rockets.
Walker will join James Dean in the annals of notables whose lives ended in a Porsche.