Rocket Car Urban Legend "Origins" story hits the big time in "Wired" magazine : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread

Well, The Rocket Car Urban Legend "Origins" story has hit the big time, its published in the current issue of Wired magazine. For the first time, I read the whole thing. Wired doesn't appear to have the story online, but the internet versions have been linked to before, they can be found at:

Wired published it not claiming the story was true. Having read the whole story in its entirity, I declare total bullshit, but entertaining writing. The "urban legends" have more credibility than this purported story, there are a number of technical flaws, and its obvious BS if you note the writers style, it clearly isnt a fact based article.

Its still entertaining though, and its amusing how the writer threads some decent tech info toghether to give the story more credibility and thus "explain" the origins of the urban legend.

FYI, I do believe that the legend has some factual orgins, and that there once was a car with a jato strapped on it....but this story, is not fact, its pure fiction.

Here's a challenge to the debunkers....what are some of the "fatal" flaws that give evidence that this story was fabricated?

-- FactFinder (, August 07, 2000




Of all the crazy faxlore stories, this has to be the one fellas love the most. There's something about cars and solid rocket fuel engines that draws them to this tale like happy moths to an unforgiving flame. Maybe it's the Wile E. Coyote-ness of it all, the "so real you can almost touch it" mental image of a smoldering wreck sticking out of a cliff face. Perhaps it's the vicarious enjoyment of a Tim Allen-ish "More Power!" fantasy carried to its fatal yet hilarious conclusion. Or maybe it's a simple matter of cars and the men who love them, the eternal love affair.

Whatever. The boys love it, and that's all that matters.

This tale of vehicular velocity ferocity has been popular among servicemen since the late 1970s. In those early word-of-mouth versions, the JATO was taken from a cargo plane or out of a warehouse on base, thereby answering a key question left up in the air in later versions -- where did the intrepid lad obtain the engine?

The story is even older than that. One of our readers says he heard it in 1961 or 1962. In that version, two JATO units mounted as "lakers" (exhaust pipes) on a 1940 Ford were fired on Bayshore freeway while trying to outrun the California Highway Patrol. The car was last seen going end over end across San Francisco bay. Another reader heard it in 1964 while stationed at Fort Huachuca, AZ. In that version, the unmanned JATO'd car went airborne, and smashed into a tree, destroying both car and plant.

The version we now know and love (complete with puzzled police and the smoldering wreck of what's left of a car impacted into the face of a cliff), began making the cyberspatial rounds in 1992 when the incident was said to have happened in New Mexico, with the car being a Plymouth Road Runner. By 1994 the car had transformed itself into a Chevrolet Impala, but now the accident's venue was California. (See how these things mutate over time?)

1995 saw this legend just about take over the Internet as it was flashed from e-mail to e-mail as "this year's Darwin Award winner." It's this version which is still in circulation today, the car frozen in time as a Chevy Impala, the location given as somewhere in Arizona.

As it appeared in 1995:

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

"Darwin award" Nominee: You all know about the Darwin awards -- it's an annual honor given to the person who did the gene pool the biggest service by killing themselves in the most extraordinarily stupid way.

Last year's winner was the fellow who was killed by a Coke(tm) machine, which toppled over on top of him as he was attempting to tip a free soda out of it.

And for this year's nominee, the story is:

The Arizona (U.S.) Highway Patrol came upon a pile of smoldering metal embedded into the side of a cliff rising above the road, on the outside of a curve. The wreckage resembled the site of an airplane crash, but it was a car. The type of car was unidentifiable at the scene. The boys in the lab finally figured out what it was, and what had happened.

It seems that a guy had somehow got hold of a JATO unit, (Jet Assisted Take Off, actually a solid-fuel rocket) that is used to give heavy military transport planes an extra `push' for taking off from short airfields. He had driven his Chevy Impala out into the desert, and found a long, straight stretch of road. Then he attached the JATO unit to his car, jumped in, got up some speed, and fired off the JATO!!

Best as they could determine, he was doing somewhere between 250 and 300 mph (350-420kph) when he came to that curve . . .

The brakes were completely burned away, apparently from trying to slow the car.

TODAY'S LESSON: Solid-fuel rockets don't have an 'off' switch . . . - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Nor, so it seems, do good stories. A spokesman of the Arizona Department of Public Safety stated in a 1996 newspaper article the JATO story wasn't true though they continued to get asked about it. "We get a call on that about every 90 days,'' said Dave Myers. ''It keeps us on the map.''

(The web site for the Arizona Department of Public Safety contains a denial of this legend.)

There are two fatal problems with the JATO story. First, anybody who understood the extreme forces involved well enough to attach a JATO unit to a car so that it would keep the car going in a straight line (rather than immediately spinning around) would not do it in the first place. Second, the Arizona Highway Patrol has a phone number. A call to them will confirm they've both heard the story and no, it's not true.

Sorry, fellas.

Though the legend of the smoldering Chevy smashed into a cliff face is pure fabrication, JATO engines have been mounted on cars on a couple of occasions. In 1957, Dodge took a brand-new car out to El Mirage dry lake bed in California, removed the gas tank, and mounted a JATO unit in its place. (The intent was to test the car's brakes and to film the event for TV commercials.) The car went 140 mph.

Barbara "cliff unhanger" Mikkelson

-- (hmm@hmm.hmm), August 07, 2000.

hmmmmm, Thanks, but I'm quite aware that the "rocket car" story is an urban legend, the car, the jato unit, the man killed....and so is the author of the Wired article....see the links I provided. What the author claims, is that the origin of the story was likely from an UNMANNED test of a car with a jato unit he and friends did on an abandoned railroad track, etc, in prepartion for a "manned" run....

The author disses the legends, but presents his somewhat more crdeible story as fact, which I dispute. But read for yourself...

-- FactFinder (, August 07, 2000.

hmmm, I didn't read your post close enough, you do have a reference to a 57 Dodge commercial, lol, now thats another one to chase, it sounds credible. I'm also looking at a claim that in Andy Granatelli's book "They Call Me Mister 500", he claims that he and his brothers rigged a 40's vintage Indy car with eight (8) WWII surplus JATO mounts which they would fire *individually* at various county fairs. He includes an interesting and entertaining story of an experiment they did on US 10 when they fired all eight of the rockets at once.

I don't have the book, but have emailed someone who does have it....developing....;)

The question is, does anyone else here think that the rocket car "origins" story (urls above) is also bogus?

-- FactFinder (, August 07, 2000.

FF, in your original post you made the following statements:

FYI, I do believe that the legend has some factual orgins, and that there once was a car with a jato strapped on it


Here's a challenge to the debunkers....what are some of the "fatal" flaws that give evidence that this story was fabricated?

The post I provided gave more information regarding those issues/questions.

-- (hmm@hmm.hmm), August 07, 2000.

Looks like we posted at the same time. I'm doing a lot of that lately. Never mind.

-- (hmm@hmm.hmm), August 07, 2000.

What was the name of that movie, with Burt Reynolds as a stunt man? Wasn't that car rocket powered? It was pretty funny, when the cop tried to pull him over!

-- (braindead@3.AM), August 08, 2000.

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