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
GM

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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Comments

    The Olds diesel was certainly designed from the gas version,as it was the most reliable of all the GM V 8s. Unfortunately the engineering wasn’t good to put it nicely. I worked at a GM dealership in the late 70s early 80s and we always had at least one of them apart in the shop. Everything from head gaskets to connecting rods that looked like snakes.

    As far as the Pinto myth is concerned it was true. Back in my home town of Peoria illinois I remember a man was sitting at the stop lights on old state route 88 and a car rear ended him as i believe at around 40 mph. The fuel tank ruptured and by standers were not able to pull him out because the doors were jammed shut from the impact and he burned to death.

    That wasn’t a PInto. It was a Ford Escort and this wreck was around 1988. My wife’s cousin and family lost their lives in the wreck. A person with a medical disorder that should have precluded having a drivers license passed out and hit them at 45 mph while they were stopped at a light. Bystanders pulled my wife’s cousin out of the window but he died of burns a week later. His wife and two kids were still in the car. After the fire was put out, they found the burned remains. It was a very bad day for the firemen.

    How ’bout: Don’t get gas while the station is receiving a delivery, cause it stirs up the dirt in their tanks and will clog your fuel system”?
    I suppose this may have been true once a upon a time, but I think the pumps have sufficient filtering these days.

    I was more worried about the water in the station tanks getting emulsified and pumped into your tank. My dad worked for Standard Oil decades ago and stations were supposed to ‘stick’ their tanks to see how much water was in it and pump out if needed before the tanks were filled by the tanker.

    There were A LOT of AMC Matadors sold as fleet cars to police departments all across the USA, including many in California. They were most typically equipped with the 360 V8 engine, an AMC 360 equipped engine. Some had the AMC 401, some had the smaller 304 V8 or even the 258 inline six. They did not have Chrysler engines. However they did source the Torqueflite transmission from Chrysler.
    Unless you have proof that they used Chrysler engines, they didn’t.

    What about the infamous “ unintended acceleration “, the press accused Audi of? Did Audi do such a good job handling it that it faded away??

    Wasn’t just Audi. There were several others. They always blamed it on drivers mistaking gas pedal for brake or floor mats. My mom had an ’83 Pontiac Bonneville with a Buick V6 that floored itself at a light while I was driving.

    Best gas mileage I ever got was 49 mpg in a geo metro 2 door hatchback. Got the car for free. Front subframe finally rotted out from road salt. Car was butt ugly. My kids hated being seen in it. At the time gas was high. People at work were paying $80-$100 to fill their trucks and suburbans. I maybe spent $30 to fill up and it would last me 2 weeks. That’s better mileage than expensive hybrids and what a smart car gets. Should’ve kept making them

    I actually miss my 93 4 door metro, although knowing that it was a death trap if ever in an accident. Especially when setting next to a semi and staring at the tires. But the fuel economy and simplicity was amazing. Bought it for 200 bucks because the motor failed, put a used engine in it in two hours. Never again will you see a car so easy to work on.

    I’m surprised nobody mentioned the myth about putting a car/truck battery on a concrete floor because it would drain the battery.

    I’ll risk sticking my neck out here – I know with modern batteries this is not true, but I was taught that by many knowledgeable people in the late 50’s that is was the case.

    Yessir you are correct. What we were told in the 80’s and 90’s by the battery manufacturers was they had poor quality back in early days and there was some loss but with the technology improvements in plastic that problem was eliminated by the 70’s or so

    Does anyone recall the Political Cartoon in the LA Times back in ’71 about the exploding Ford Pintos? It showed a B-52 Bomber flying over Viet Nam dropping Pintos instead of bombs.

    I work in engineering, and we are always doing practical jokes. Some friends a long time ago had a friend that got a new car and they would add just enough gas each day to make it a believable but really high gas mileage number. The owner was really proud of the numbers, and they then began siphoning. As the story goes, he was so disgusted that he sold the car and they never confessed. Maybe that is one of the sources of the high-mileage carbs. Even in my teens I knew that a 100 mpg carb was not possible.

    How refreshing to see some truth, but sadly many folks will still believe myths.
    Fact is the gas tank between the bumper and axle was a fire problem on many cars for decades due to poor regulations and the industry claiming “it will cost to much to move the gas tank to the middle of the car”.
    Yes we all laugh at “Lucas, Prince of darkness”, but frankly most 50’s and 60’s cars weren’t much better. I’m always busy sorting old care electrical problems due to corrosion and loose connectors. As I tell folks, these old cars were only meant to survive about 5-6 years. Oh! you forgot the “magic pills” that turned water into gasoline! Good grief folks were still failing for that one in the 60’s.

    I have a signed copy of Ralph Nader’s book “Unsafe At Any Speed.” His book was published back in 1965 and was written to expose many of the inherent safety flaws (from poor design) of various American cars at that time. The first chapter of his book (32 pages) cites all the problems GM had with the 1960-1963 Corvairs with the swing rear axles. The design of the axles was similar to those on the old air-cooled VW Beetles of that era. The problem with the Corvair is that it had a much greater rear weight bias due to its flat air-cooled six cylinder engine. The swing axle rear suspension also allowed excessive camber changes (as much as 11 degrees positive!) when cornering hard or swerving. This is what caused the cars to often spin around and sometimes roll. The fix for the 1960-63 Corvairs was to install a rear stabilizer bar that limited how far the rear axles could swing to minimize positive camber changes. In 1964, GM changed the design of the rear axles and added outboard U-joints the axles so the rear wheels would remain perpendicular to the road with minimal camber change when cornering. In ’64, GM also added a single leaf transverse spring under the rear suspension to help keep it flat. Nader’s point in writing this book (besides making a name for himself) was to take the auto makers to task for knowingly selling vehicles with know safety flaws. He asserted GM knew they had a handling problem with the Corvair, but the GM bean counters said it would be too expensive to fix. So they did nothing until GM was facing hundreds of law suits over the problem. In ways the story is similar to Tesla offering their so-called “Auto Pilot” to motorists when they knew full well that Auto Pilot had serious limitations and was not really a self-driving innovation.

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