We recently heard a popular myth that gets told frequently and decided to track the bad urban auto myth down. Finding the story in the Google fan news group “alt.fan.cecil-adams,” we were reminded of the story’s almost realistic sounding tale of speed.
As the story goes:
“The Arizona Highway Patrol came upon a pile of smoldering metal embedded into the side of a cliff rising above the road at the apex 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 lab finally figured out what it was and what had happened. It seems that a guy had somehow gotten 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!”
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The story continues:
“The facts as best as could be determined are that the operator of the 1967 Impala hit JATO ignition at a distance of approximately three miles from the crash site. This was established by the prominent scorched and melted asphalt at that location. The JATO, if operating properly, would have reached maximum thrust within five-seconds, causing the Chevy to reach speeds well in excess of 350-mph and continuing at full power for an additional 20-25 seconds.
The driver, soon to be pilot, most likely would have experienced G-forces usually reserved for dog-fighting F-14 jocks under full afterburners, basically causing him to become insignificant for the remainder of the event.
However, the automobile remained on the straight highway for about 2.5-miles, about 15-20 seconds before the driver applied and completely melted the brakes, blowing the tires and leaving thick rubber marks on the road surface, then becoming airborne for an additional 1.4-miles and impacting the cliff face at a height of 125-feet leaving a blackened crater three-feet deep in the rock.
Most of the driver’s remains were not recoverable; however, small fragments of bone, teeth and hair were extracted from the crater and fingernail and bone shards were removed from a piece of debris believed to be a portion of the steering wheel.”
Reality Kicks In
As with many good stories, reality steps in. 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 popular cable TV show MythBusters tackled the subject in 2003 on the very pilot episode, titled “Jet Assisted Chevy”. Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage got their hands on a 1966 Impala and substituted three model rockets, fired in succession to produce an equivalent amount of thrust for 15-seconds (around 3,000 horsepower). The car did not go anywhere near the 350 mph reported in the original story, and did not become airborne. They have since revisited the story twice, in 2007’s “Supersized Myths” and 2013’s “JATO Rocket Car: Mission Accomplished?”, with further lack of success.
JATO engines have been mounted on cars on a couple of occasions. Once as reported in Motor Trend magazine in 1957, when 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. As reported at the time, the intent was to test the car’s brakes and to film the event for TV commercials. The car went 140 mph.
The JATO powered Impala is one of the worst urban car myths, yet it continues to be questioned on a regular basis. Now you know the truth. What other urban myths involving stupid car tricks do you continually hear about? Tell us in the comments section below.