28 March 2013

April Fool’s Day: The best classic car hoaxes and scams

  1. The Dale: In the depths of the Energy Crisis, a very tall and very brash woman named Liz Carmichael emerged with the “prototype” of a three-wheeled car — the Dale — that would allegedly get more than 80 mpg and be as safe as a conventional car. Claiming to be the widow of the NASA engineer who designed the car, Carmichael solicited “investments” in 20th Century Motors, the parent company of the Dale. When investors inquired further, they found that Carmichael had disappeared, and that she was actually the former Jerry Dean Michael. Carmichael/Michael was arrested after an episode of “Unsolved Mysteries,” discovered working at a flower shop. You can’t make this stuff up.
  2. Portuguese Barn Find: In summer 2007, a series of photos showed up on the Internet depicting a virtual Aladdin’s cave of classic European cars in all of their dusty glory. The story went that a couple from New York had purchased a vacation home in Portugal and found a locked metal building on the property. When they opened the lock and entered the building they were met by the horde of more than 100 dusty but complete cars. In reality, the building was simply overflow storage for a Portuguese classic car dealer.

    Click here to watch our latest video when Wayne Carini takes us into his attic.
  3. The 100-mpg Carburetor: This one seems to have been around since the dawn of the automobile. “A simple replacement carburetor that the oil companies are petrified of” is how most of the ads went — a $100 part that was supposed to be capable of increasing fuel economy by 500 percent. Claims for the carburetor violated nearly every known law of thermodynamics and the only thing it appeared to be capable of was making cars run poorly. 
  4. Lord Brockett Scam: Lord Charles Brockett was an English nobleman and as everyone who has ever watched “Downton Abbey” can attest, even British aristocracy can fall on hard times. Fortunately, the character Lord Grantham’s plan for saving his ancestral home never involved cutting up valuable vintage Ferraris, burying them and collecting insurance money. Brockett was convicted of insurance fraud and served a prison sentence. He was last seen hosting a reality show in the UK.

15 Reader Comments

  • 1
    David A. Newnan, Ga April 10, 2013 at 16:12
    Great Stories! Think I'll be sticking with my stock 1969 Mustang Fastback :-)
  • 2
    JEFF SE Kansas April 10, 2013 at 18:53
    The Dale...If I remember correctly 20th Century Motors was the name of the static motor company in Atlas Shrugged!! At least she was a crook with a sense of humour!
  • 3
    Edward Gault S.C. April 10, 2013 at 19:07
    100 MPG carburettor! What a joke. everyone knows it was good for over 200 MPG. Geez people!
  • 4
    Gary North East Ohio April 10, 2013 at 21:13
    In the early 1990's I was respoonsible for the projects my employer had with the Ford Motor Company. During a general cars discussion with a few design engineers the chat turned to outlandish claims. I brought up the 80 mpg carburetor ( that was what the claims were when I was in high school in the late 60's), and asked the guys if big oil really bought and burried the design. The one department manager explained that the top companies would run away with sales if they could solidly get 1 to 2 more mpg than the competitors equivelent model. It would turn the automotive business upside down and Ford would own it all. "So really" he said, " If such an invention existed in the 1970's and 80's, don't you think we would at least know about it?"
  • 5
    Steve Hedke Santa Clarita, CA April 10, 2013 at 21:20
    My uncle told be about the Fish (or Fisch) carburetor back in the late '50's. Claimed that not only did Detroit buy it to make sure it was never made (for what reason I'm still not sure, since the Mobilgas Economy Run used stock cars), but also said that Tuckers were built without a reverse gear. He completely believed these stories: he was a Harley mechanic. Not that the two are related...
  • 6
    Al P. Brooten Mn April 10, 2013 at 22:05
    In the seventies I owned a car dealership. We would buy cars at the auction every week. We sold a lot of 4wd pickups. If you are familiar with early to mid seventies Chevy 4wd pickups, they were known as the smog trucks and were horrible on gas. People were just used to the fact that they got 8-12 miles per gallon. We were about 160 miles from the auction and drove almost all our cars home from the auction. We noticed one 1975 Chev 4wd pickup that was getting unusually good gas mileage. It was shocking! When we got it back to the dealership, we filled the tank and checked the mileage. It got 34 mpg! We used the truck for our business and checked the mileage every time we filled it. It always got 34 mpg. When I sold it to a neighbor, I told him what it got for mileage. He thought I was joking. A week later he stopped in and said; you wont believe what that truck gets for mileage! I told him; I tried to tell you......I never saw one get that before and never again. Hard to explain.....???
  • 7
    Frank Wichita, Ks April 10, 2013 at 12:26
    Hey, my Genious brother (and I mean the 'genious' term in all sincerety - he was extremely intelligent) fell for that Carburetor scam lock, stock and barrell. I, on the other hand, not being nearly as educated as he was could see right through the fradulent claims and warned him about it. Just goes to show ya "All dat book learnin ain't never made nobody as smart as a 'street educated' gear head.
  • 8
    Phil Skinner Southern California April 10, 2013 at 12:34
    Regarding the Dale, a mock-up was produced that is today in the Petersen Automotive Museum collection, and a "kind-of" running prototype was built. During a demonstration for the media of the prototype, the rear portion of the frame collapsed! What is interesting is when Ms/Mr. Carmichael was taken into custody, the flower show she/he was operating was in Dale, Texas!
  • 9
    Allan Flagstaff, AZ April 11, 2013 at 02:31
    Now that carburetors have faded into history, the new scam buzzword is "HHO". Allegedly you can run a 12 V. current through water in a small underhood container and the resulting miniscule amount of hydrogen and oxygen will magically give you up 80 or more MPG!
  • 10
    Bill A Kingston, OK April 11, 2013 at 03:59
    I am surprised that no one has come out about the ridiculous story about a Pebble Beach winning Bricklin (one of the 10 worst cars on the planet) selling at auction for 42 Million Dollars! Another hoax on car dummies.
  • 11
    Bob Gregg Paisley, Florida April 11, 2013 at 07:41
    Portuguese Barn Find: "In reality, the building was simply overflow storage for Portuguese classic car dealer." So, what's the deal, were there "in reality" 110 dusty but complete cars in the barn? Is this Barn Find real? Who wound up owning the cars? Does anyone have the complete "in reality" story on this alleged Barn Find?
  • 12
    Dave Pfaff DeWitt, MI April 12, 2013 at 10:19
    A general comment. Whom ever puts together this newsletter does a terrific job. I know it's not easy to consistently come up with new articles of interest. Thanks for the good work.
  • 13
    Tomas NM April 13, 2013 at 23:05
    I remember reading about the Dale scam in Car and Driver when I was in high school. Unsolved Mysteries must have hit the airwaves 20 years after that story. Amazing stuff!
  • 14
    RoboDude Denver, CO April 13, 2013 at 11:43
    A buddy of mine got in on a deal to purchase one of the final production Mexican Volkswagon Beetles from a gray-market importer in 2003. This turned out to be a scam, but, fortunately, his wife is a lawyer and got a good part of his money back. He later acquired one of the modified Mexican VW bodies fitted to an original floorpan, which is questionably-legal in the U.S.
  • 15
    dillon sparks scottsdale AZ May 13, 2014 at 12:50
    I met the Lord on a road rallye in AZ. He was charming, hospitable, and funny to the point of tears. Easily forgetting his transgressions.

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