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.




Check out the Hagerty Media homepage so you don’t miss a single story, or better yet, bookmark it. To get our best stories delivered right to your inbox, subscribe to our newsletters.

Click below for more about
Read next Up next: You’ll never feel alone in a 2020 VW Atlas Cross Sport


    I had a very simple repair for the Lucas wiring in my Norton. Only had to do it once. I built a completely new harness with all new connectors and an aftermarket electronic ignition.

    I owned a Pinto in the 80s and loved the car. It was a 1980 and I had installed a spoiler from what I think was a Rallye model (?) and slotted aluminum wheels. The car looked and drove great. Many non-car people actually thought it was a Mustang from the era (Fox) but alas those who knew cars slightly better would make the obvious jokes. My response was that the fire risk was mostly to the very early small bumper Pintos and there was a recall for those. I also would mention the fact that a lot more people died in ’73-’87 GM trucks from fuel tank fires than those injured by Pintos. Few here in Rural Canada liked that fact. https://www.motherjones.com/politics/1998/02/side-saddle-madness/

    Pintos were no more dangerous than any car with the gas tank behind the rear axle
    The most dangerous vehicles were the Ford trucks with the gas tanks in the cab, behind the front seat.

    I’m still curious about the high mileage carbs. A little tale for you, all true. I live in BC Canada and my folks had friends that lived in Abbotsford BC in the Fraser Valley. Their friend (I’ll call him Herb because that was his name) was a local business owner and an upstanding member of the community and to my recollection a straight guy who loved a great joke but told no lies. This would be the early ’70s and Herb purchased a new car. I regret I don’t recall the make but It likely was a GM product because as Herb grew successfully I recall him driving an Eldorado. So Herb buys this new car (big car as Herb was a big guy) and he was really pleased with his car. Not only was it powerful and comfortable, it got amazing gas mileage. Really amazing. I don’t recall the numbers but it was far better than the small import cars that were becoming so popular at the time. Herb’s only mistake was to mention how amazed and pleased he was with the fuel consumption when he took the car to the dealer for the first warranty service. The service took longer than expected and when he got his car back it suddenly now got normal large American car gas mileage. He called the dealer to find out what the hell happened and the service manager apologized telling him that his “new” car had been fitted with an experimental carb that wasn’t certified for public sale and they had been required to remove and replace and return the carb to the manufacturer. I think a deal was made to extend the warranty and other reimbursements or the like to settle up with our friend. The carb in question did not make anything like 100 mpg but it made a large ’70s behemoth use fuel like a Toyota Corolla. Herb did try to request that that carb be reinstalled but the manager assured Herb that the carb was long gone from the dealer. The manager joked at the time that the fuel companies were never going to permit the big three to produce that kind of efficiency anyhow.

    Own 3 British cars….

    Lucas electrics are bad is a Myth?

    Why don’t you go ahead and declare Toyota is second in quality only to Fiat?

    The reference to the Model T in this article brings to mind the famous “$5 a day” quote attributed to Henry Ford because if a Ford employee cannot afford to buy a company product, who can. Henry’s accountant lived in Wheatley, Ontario and he noticed that workers at the River Rouge plant were getting injured and even killed at such a rate that shutdowns of the plant were inevitable. The accountant suggested that the wage had to be increased to maintain a workforce and help bring in new workers to replace those injured and killed. The accountant suggested $5/day. Of course, Mr. Ford took credit for this.

    hadnt heard the silly tin foil in the hubcaps… the rest have been lies told over and over enough to make people believe they are truths. PR – public relations… aka – propaganda.

    i do remember seeing a show on the early mustangs with a dangerous gas tank issue – in that the tank was the floor of the trunk and there was no barrier behind the rear bench seats so in some rear end collisions, gas could be sprayed into the interior… maybe another hit piece? also was an easy fix to install a barrier.

    IMHO, with perhaps a few too many years of experience, having owned two Sunbeam Alpines, a Jensen Healey, an MG Midget, and a Triumph and BSA motorcycle or two, the legacy of Lucas electrics is the same as the legacy of any British made vehicle of the time. The problems that I have encountered center around the fact that the connectors are predominately of the bullet type. This allows for quick connections as the two mating terminal ends do not require any rotational orientation. They simply plug up together in quick fashion. A boon on the assembly line. However; there-in lies the rub. The inner bullet and the outer shell, being concentric right circular cylinders in nature, do not expand and contract at the same rate of strain with temperature (or simply mechanically regardless of thermal induced strains). There must be a small gap at some point between the two mating terminals at any time. This, coupled with the fact that the British used a lot of natural, almost pure rubber from Her Majesty’s rubber plantations in South America for wire and connector insulation, and with the inherent physical degradation over time that the use of such natural products represent, would always allow moisture to permeate the connections via capillarity…corrosion and oxidation ensue. Also, the British vehicle industry at the time very rarely used Bosch style electrical isolation solenoids in their circuitry, preferring to simply run all of the current right through all of the connectors and their switch gear. Over the course of time, it is inevitable that a British built vehicle of the era would succumb to various electrical issues, whether being used or not, or Lucas related or not…just part of the joys of vintage British vehicle ownership I guess…

    Does anyone remember the cans of smoke that were available in parts stores for replacing the smoke that leaked out of Lucas looms ??

    Owned a ’62 “AirVair” and a ’66 Corsa 140… the Corsa was WONDERFUL. At the time, it’d outcorner, out accellerate and outbrake any Porsche of the day (except race cars). The ’62 on the other hand was like driving a bag of squirrels, if you got into a windy day… and like the early Triumph Spits, if you lifted your foot while in a deep cornering situation, it WOULD swap ends. That said, in spite of leaking pushrod seals and jumping belts, that sucker would ALWAYS start on the coldest days, and get you where you wanted to go…. Ironically – the suspension drawing in Nader’s book shows the LATER suspension design, instead of the troublesome one…. the man was an idiot

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *