Five decades of Driving Change, making many significant contributions to the automotive industry, without which the cars we drive would not be as safe, secure and repairable as they are today.

The next five years will bring more change than there has been over the past 50, with the advent of alternative fuelled and connected vehicles, and ever-increasing levels of Automation and driver support technology. But here we are taking the opportunity to look back, and celebrate our history while reflecting on our influence across the decades.

The Cars

1973 Ford Cortina mk3

The car used in early Thatcham Research impact testing. Known as ‘The Bullet’ we had three Ford Cortinas for front, rear and side impacts. Each was subsequently repaired for further testing by Thatcham Research engineers. It also informed much of our original repair research, which saw the widespread adoption of ‘door skins’ by carmakers, stopping the need for a whole new door each time accident damage occurred. The mission to encourage carmakers to prioritise repairability and produce sub-parts continues today.

1980 Chrysler Calspan

Sent to Thatcham Research from the US in 1980 for research into collision damage repair cost, along with impact testing to understand changes in bumper stability between the UK and US models. This work improved bumper performance, resulting in a global standard for bumper design while improving bumper impact compatibility between US and UK cars, helping to open up the market for European carmakers.

1993 Peugeot 205 GTI 1.9

One of the most frequently stolen vehicles during the car crime epidemic of the early 1990s. It informed the template for our New Vehicle Security Assessment programme, which saw the widespread introduction of alarms and double-locking doors, and played a key role in bringing car crime down more than 80% from its 1992 peak.

2001 Saab 93

The Saab 93 and Volvo 850 represented a benchmark in anti-whiplash seats. The International Insurance Whiplash Prevention Working Group and subsequent Euro NCAP whiplash tests saw Thatcham Research joining Euro NCAP by invitation. The Saab 93’s seats drove lower claims due to their specific anti-whiplash design.

2012 Volvo XC60

The first production car with Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), at the time a simple LIDAR system. It set the standard and laid the foundation for all future Advanced Driver Assistance Systems. Today AEB can reduce front to rear collisions by 38%, and is available on most new cars, with 10.7% of the car parc having standard-fit AEB.

2020+ Automated Driving

The cars we drive will change more in the next five years than they have over the past 50. They may still have four wheels, but alternative fuelled and connected vehicles, with ever-increasing levels of Automation and driver support technology, represent new opportunities and challenges for safety, security, repair and training.

Archive Photography

Citroen Visa side impact test from 1979
Tested car impacted by our ‘Bullet car’, one of three Ford Cortinas owned by Thatcham Research which would subsequently be repaired in the workshop for future testing
The upgraded crash testing set-up, introducing an electric motor and phasar unit to enable more scientific and repeatable impacts
Shot taken from old water tower circa 1986
Under-sealing a vehicle, late 1990s
Thatcham Research engineers conducting a wing repair in the late 1980s
The old Thatcham Research repair workshop, circa 1989
An engineer works on a Nissan, stripping the vehicle following its low speed damageability impact test
Thames Television filming in the repair workshop in the late 1980s
The first Thatcham Research Training Centre – purpose built in 1989 and subsequently opened by HRH Prince Michael of Kent
Body repair training on a Rover 200 (1989)
Our second media suite for editing impact test footage from the late 1980s
The old repair workshop as it was in the early 1990s
Early attack testing, which formed the basis of the New Vehicle Security Assessment programme. Brute force attack conducted in 1993 to assess effectiveness of laminated glazing as a security measure
A roof was added to the Safety Lab in the early 1990s
This enabled Thatcham Research to conduct impact testing in all weathers. The position of barriers and impact testing block remained the same as the outdoors set up. Before then, the team used umbrellas!
A Stalex High Speed 16mm camera. At the time a significant investment for the impact testing operation made circa 1990, enabling far more detailed footage than the previous standard video
1995 - high speed lights for one of the first high speed (50 kph), full frontal crash tests Thatcham Research conducted - to test windscreen glazing
1994 – the first full scale airbag impact test conducted with Rover
Dummies loaned from the RAF at Farnborough
Body repair training session from the late 1990s
1999 – preparation for an Audi TT damageability impact test
Vehicles were painted matt blue to prevent reflections from the high-speed lights
The paint cracking also made creases in the bodywork easier to identify, while ‘shut tape’ stickers helped identify deformation in the door shuts
The Safety Lab as we know it today, freshly surfaced and ready for official Euro NCAP impact testing in 2012
Thatcham Research track engineers working on an inflatable Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) testing target in 2008
HRH Prince Michael of Kent visits on our 40th anniversary. Here a Thatcham Research security technician demonstrates an attack test (2009)
Electronic Stability Control testing on Grand Jeep Cherokee in 2011 at the Thatcham Research proving ground
Early Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) testing, developing pedestrian AEB protocols
The Volvo V60 was also the first car Thatcham Research conducted ADAS calibration on
More early AEB testing using a rig built by Continental
Automotive Academy tutor Kieron Woolgar shows an Auto Express writer how to spray paint panels (2016)
Ex Thatcham Research apprentice and World Skills 2017 finalist Daryl Head trains in the Automotive Academy
The Rover Metro vs. Honda Jazz ‘Time Travel Crash Test’ conducted to demonstrate improvements in car safety on Euro NCAP’s 20th Anniversary in 2017
The Volvo XC90, arguably the safest car ever made, in a full frontal impact test 2017
Drone shot of a Tesla Model S in an assisted steering test at the Thatcham Research proving ground 2018
Chief Technical Officer Richard Billyeald demonstrates the keyless vulnerability on Crimewatch Roadshow, on the day we launched our first consumer-focused car security ratings (2019)
Thatcham Research drove development and international adoption of the Global Vehicle Target for active safety system testing
Credit: Ben Summerell-Youde 2019

Stats and Facts

£4,500,000

…cost of vehicles crashed for Euro NCAP since we joined in 2012

16,950

…days of apprentice training since the Automotive Academy opened in 1995

4,552,308

…air miles travelled by the security department since 1992, visiting carmakers for security assessments

3.64

…terabytes of track testing video and images on file

33

….cars tested for Euro NCAP in the Safety Lab and on track since 2012

300

…runs required on average to complete a Euro NCAP active safety test

27,000,000

...vehicles currently on the road in the UK covered by Thatcham Research repair Methods

18

…panels purchased for the average repair research project