7 of the worst automotive myths, according to you
The automotive world is full of information, but not all of it is fact. From urban legends to outright lies, myths of the car world have long lives. We asked Hagerty Forums readers to tell us about the myths they wish would just go away, and we pulled the top seven responses. Then we put them under a microscope to potentially dispel them. Next time you hear one of these popular anecdotes while walking your local car show, be sure to spread the truth.
The high-MPG carburetor
This supposed efficiency miracle can be traced to Canada in the late 1920s. An inventor named Charles Nelson Pogue submitted patents regarding a carburetor that vaporized fuel before introducing it to the engine’s intake. Critics and contemporary engineers evaluated the design, which in the end constituted of no new technology beyond standard carburetor science of the time.
Somehow, the hype around the miracle invention eventually dried up. But the story lingers in the air. The names sometimes change, the twists of the story sometimes sound exaggerated, but we can assure you if a 200-mpg carburetor were possible, it would already be out there. It’s literally vapor-ware, people!
All Model Ts were black
When people talk about the Ford Model T, one of the most popular cars of all time, a favorite anecdote to add to the story is Henry Ford declaring that all Model T’s would be black in an effort to speed production. There is some truth to this tale; According to the Model T Ford Club of America, from late 1914 to mid-1925, black was the only available color. In 1912, all Ford Model T’s were painted midnight blue, with the fenders painted black. That leaves 1908–1911 and mid-1925–27 as years where buyers could purchase their T in a choice of roughly six colors.
The explosive Pinto
The 1977 court case of Robert Grimshaw v. Ford Motor Co. put the design of the economical Pinto on trial. The case centered on whether the design of the Pinto allowed the gas tank to be pushed forward, which would cause the gas tank to rupture, potentially causing the car to catch fire. The design was, in fact, found to be faulty during testing. A rear end collision at moderate speed would force the tank forward into the rear axle, which could mean, but not necessarily guarantee, a puncture in the gas tank. The court awarded Grimshaw $127.8 million in damages, and the Pinto got its reputation scorched as a result.
Soon, the urban legend that the cars just straight-up exploded was born, though no Pintos have been documented as blowing up in this way. The risk of fire in a collision is present when considering many vehicle designs (including the Beetle, where the fuel tank is up front), yet the Pinto is the butt of this explosive myth.
1980s GM diesels were converted gas engines
The 1980s were a time of rapid experimentation for many branches within General Motors. Mercedes had a diesel engine in its luxury line, and in an attempt to compete and keep the attention of U.S. buyers, Oldsmobile decided to enter the oil-burner arena. Sadly, the 350-cubic-inch diesel that was born in 1978 was far from what Oldsmobile needed.
The myth of this engine centers on the fact that the bore and stroke of the diesel version are the same as the gas design. While some of the architecture is similar, the diesel engine was not exactly a gas engine with the compression turned up to 22:1. Virtually all of the parts from the block on up were new. Unfortunately, some aspects of the design were rushed, including short main bolts and unbalanced crankshafts.
Lucas electrics being unreliable
The “prince of darkness” jokes never end, but the simple fact is, Lucas electrics were not all bad. Sure, the jokes are funny, and your friend who had an Austin once could never get the headlight to work in the rain. But the truth is that the Lucas electrics work great when everything is set up correctly—which can be easier said than done.
Lucas had a knack for designing circuits that were easily interrupted by corrosion or wear, and repair efforts often focused on the wrong places, butchering up the wire harness in the process. Ensure clean grounds and good connections throughout, and your Lucas system will work for a long time.
Tin foil in the hubcaps
Apparently the tin foil hat club thinks tin foil in hub caps can effectively trip up law enforcement speed sensors. I actually hadn’t heard this one prior to reading these responses, but the fact that anyone believed this myth enough to spread is enough to make me laugh. It must have stemmed from the early days of radar speed detection and enforcement, because even a basic understanding of how radar speed detectors work says that a mass of foil stashed in your car’s wheels is going to do nothing in regard to blocking or jamming the radar signal telling the officer how fast your car is traveling.
Corvairs are prone to rolling over
The Corvair was a product of Chevrolet fighting to keep buyers from migrating towards the light and fun imports flooding U.S. shores in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The only true rear-engine design to come from GM, the 1960-64 Corvair featured a swing-axle rear suspension that caused the wheel camber to change as the suspension loaded and unloaded.
Ralph Nader grabbed hold of this Corvair rumor (though multiple other makes utilized the design to much success—Porsche and Volkswagen, to name two) and rigged a test to show the Corvair rolling over due to the wheel camber change during hard cornering. Our own Larry Webster took this myth to test, and didn’t have to call a tow truck (or an ambulance). Myth busted.
This list was composed from the feedback of Hagerty readers, and if you want to have you voice heard, be sure to chime in on our weekly Question of the Week each Monday on the Hagerty Forums.