Bumpers, as discrete objects, clearly separated from the rest of a car’s body, are as extinct as a dodo that smokes four packs a day. But that doesn’t mean we can’t look at these chromed fossils and wonder, grandly, “what the hell are those, exactly?”

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By “those,” I’m referring to tubular structures bolted to the upper side of a car’s main bumper blade. These appeared on many cars, almost exclusively European and Japanese, and were most common between the 1950s and 1960s, though they continued to exist, especially as options for Japanese cars, into the 1980s.

I’d always referred to them as “overriders,” though I’ve learned that many people use that term to refer to the things that I always called “bumper guards.” Bumper guards are those vertically-oriented objects that are mounted to a bumper, and are designed to absorb an impact before the bumper blade itself. Often they’re faced with rubber, but not always. We’ve all seen them.

But those metal tubes, the overriders—if they’re actually called that—what, exactly, were they designed to do? I mean, I’m sure the original intention was to help provide extra protection to the car, somehow.

If we look at one of the most common examples of these, the Beetle, we see that these towel racks (that’s not pejorative, I love crap like this) first appeared in 1956, and were only standard on export models, especially the ones destined for the US. Porsche added similar bumper overriders around the same time to the 356.

If you think about the massive battering ram bumpers of most American cars of the era, it seems like the hope was that these loopy tubes would help even the odds when your Beetle came face-to-face with a Bel Air or something.

That makes some sense, and I suspect that was the thinking behind most of the overriders of the era, like the ones seen on Volvos and Citroëns and other cars. Still, if you’ve ever seen a car with these in an accident, usually all they seem to do is bend and dent the body with part of your own car instead of the other car. I guess that’s the honorable way?

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But how do we explain this?

That’s an early Honda Civic, with an optional bumper overrider. Similar overriders were available for lots of Japanese cars, often without a set of bumper guards. Just these relatively small little bits of extra tubular fencing on the bumper.

Look at these things; they don’t seem to be in a position or are substantial enough to actually be of any use in an accident, so why were people buying these? Was it aesthetics? I mean, I sort of love seeing an old 240Z with a set of overriders, but, you know, I’m kind of an idiot.

I welcome any insight here, either about the nomenclature or the function of these things.


Contact the author at jason@jalopnik.com.