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

carburetor patent
United States patent office

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

driving a 1908 Model T
1908 Model T Ford

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

Oldsmobile diesel engine

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

Ground point
Rob Siegel

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

There’s nothing to distinguish Fairchild’s Grenadier Red ’64 GTO from any other on the road. That’s just how Jim Wangers wanted it.
Evan Klein

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.




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    I can tell you that I had a 1981 Cadillac eldorado with a diesel in it and when it failed I replaced it with a 350 Oldsmobile gas motor and a bolted right in I never had any problems with it.

    Re: Lucas, the only electrical issues I had with my ’69 Midget were related to the little wire coupling sleeves that received the bullet connectors. The phosphor bronze inner sleeves would crack with age and by the shrinking of the rubber outer sleeve. Removing wires would ruin the couplers. Cure is to get a dozen new ones and have them at the ready.
    The other nagging problem I had with the midget I cured with a Datsun A15 and 60A five speed. 🙂

    Was the owner of a 1971 Midget. Great car. Only had two items that I ever had to replace. The starter and the turn signal switch. People either did not take care of their cars properly or they simply liked to tell the stories – true or untrue – of owning a car with electrical problems. People are like that.

    I suspect the tin foil in the hubcaps was evolved from the WWII chaffe idea. There was also an idea that that a ground strap on your car would prevent radar tracking

    No mention of the “dead guy’s Corvette”? That story would go around my high school at least twice a year about a new Corvette for sale for $1000. The car was always found in a remote area of a town with an extremely ripe body in it. The car was always just too far away to make it easy to go look at the car

    Speaking of Corvettes… there was a rumor that some Corvettes (C3?) were not detectable by radar since their front was fiberglass and the radiator, which was not “upright” but somewhat slanted back towards the rear, would presumably reflect the radar signal upward, and not back to the waiting “Smokey”. I think I personally disproved that rumor. ☹

    Those attributes affect LIDAR, not radar. LIDAR works best against a shiny vertical metallic surface, the more reflective the better. License plates and headlights are the suggested targets.
    Car and Driver did a test on that when LIDAR started getting popular. I can’t find the article in their archives, though.

    I thought it odd that the Corvair in the video was supposedly Nader’s car. He never had a driver’s license. Turns out he had it in a law museum.

    The one I most despise is the some version of “my friends buddy’s dad had a 60’s muscle whatever and he would put a $100 dollar bill on the dash and if you could grab it before he got to 100mph it was yours!” “And NO ONE ever got that hundred!” Yeah, right, since the average muscle car could barely keep up with a current Odyssey minivan, in real life no driver would have ever made that bet a second time. The good ole days of speed are now! Oh, and any owner of a Plaid, Ludicrous, Turbo Super whatever that wants to make that offer to me, well I’m gonna be a $100 richer is what, these cars may be stupid fast but you can easily reach forward to the dash in any of them.

    My brother had a 69 nova with 427/425hp 4 speed.NO ONE ever got his $100 dollar bill off the dash .Every time you reached for it he would hit another gear .Oh yeh 4.10 gears

    Not sure if true or not, but I have my doubts even though I heard it a lot.

    In the mid 80’s Ford started using a UV film on Taurus and Sable as well as other models that was rumored to not reflect radar from police using radar guns. Meaning the speed could not be detected if you drove a vehicle with UV coated windshields. I even saw an ad where a tint company used this as an incentive to have your windshield UV coated.

    Later I had a friend that worked in law enforcement and he stated that unlike laser, the radar actually would be picking up anything from the front bumper to the hood to the windshield. So even if somehow the windshield repelled the radar, the car would still give a reading.

    IMHO you missed the ultimate automotive urban myth of all time:
    The $100 Corvette with 20 miles on it. “The owner crashed in a remote area and wasn’t found for over a year. You can never get the smell of decayed flesh out of the car!
    Classic Urban Myth!

    I agree. This is a ridiculous myth. For one thing, “Nova” is different than “no va”–the first is basically a variant spelling of “new” (not a bad name for a car, actually), while the second does mean “no go.” GM sold a lot of Cutlasses but I can’t imagine too many buyers shying away from the car because if it had a space in its name and read “cut lass” it would refer to a sliced up young girl. Adding a space changes the word and its meaning, obviously.

    Don’t know about the bulk of the reader’s on this site but I do love the myths and conspiracy theories from both the past and present. Stuff like this makes for great conversation and rhetoric imo.

    One not mentioned…the Iron Duke engine was the old Chevy II four cylinder engine that GM sent to Mexico after it bombed in the US…

    The Iron Duke design was influenced by a Brazilian version of the Chevy II 153 c.i. four cylinder. Bore spacing mirrored that of the Brazilian motor, which presumably mirrored that of the Chevy II four cylinder. Bottom line seems to be that the only thing shared between the Iron Duke and the Chevy II four cylinder is some machine tooling.

    “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.”
    Correct. Insurance industry stats showed the Pinto to be only marginally more prone to fire in a rear ender than a Vega, Colt or Gremlin.

    More facts here [unburdened by the sensationalism of the Mother Jones piece]:

    But the ‘Pintos explode’ story is just so much more fun than actual facts

    Let’s not forget the nonsense about the 1959 Chevrolet rear fins that were horizontal. The claim was if you go fast enough, I guess around 100 mph, the rear end of the car would lift off the ground. You know something is bull when people who continue to spread that myth, weren’t even born during that era, or have never driven that car at that speed themselves. I understand the foil design on a wing that will create lift on a plane, but the spoilers on 60’s muscle cars acted to keep the rear end down. Or maybe the driver of those 59 Chevs, was the Dali Lama, who knew how to levitate, so I stand corrected.

    I am more than old enough to have been there. Saw them unloading the new 59 Chevy from the window of the shop class I was in. I think the stories about the 59 Chevy came about because they were just plain ugly. The idea that at speed the rear end would lift was ludicrous. If the rear end lifted you would lose all traction and it would be impossible to remain at speed. It seems to me that the rear end could never entirely lift. It would reach a point that traction was just minimal enough to keep the car going but not enough to increase speed and produce lift. I never bought into that. It did make sense though that you could lose traction going over a sharp bump. The horizontal wing would keep the car airborne longer. The one thing lacking in that theory was that I never met anyone that this actually happened to. Lots of stories, however, no first hand experience. I believe that the car was so ugly that these stories were made up by people who didn’t want to buy one. They were Chevy people who always bought a new Chevy. Interesting to see what the sales numbers were for Chevy in 1959 vs prior years. Also Oldsmobile and Buick.

    Bunka, you are 100% right, the 1959 Chevy wins the Stanley Cup for UGLY! Who designed that Mess? Not the Tri-Five guys! The 1960 wasn’t much Better! I for one miss the 50’s & 60’s!
    PS, I did meet Ralph Nader in 84 or 88, as He was in Laconia, NH, running for President? Seemed like a real nice guy, like the Guy next door? I didn’t vote for him!

    we had a 59 chev my dad bought new. it passed down to my brother when he got his license, and yes the back would lift off the ground above 100, you could Rev up the motor and peg the speedo.

    With regard to some knowledge and accessibility; the Tin foil in the hubcaps article is flawed.
    While most folks back then (outside of Active Duty personnel) didn’t have access to Chaff, if you had it, and new how to use it, it would mess with the radars.
    In the late 1970s, I personally knew of some guys in the Air Force that spread Chaff across the dashboard of their cars. After a few months of investigation by the XX State PD, they were charged and ordered to pay for a couple of the State Polices’ fried radar units as they clearly had the knowledge of what they were doing and the damage it could potentially cause.
    That particular style of Chaff was literally Tin Foil, but not what you can buy from the Supermarket.

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