Example: [Collected on the Internet, 1995]
The folks in the lab finally figured out what it was, and pieced together the events that led up to its demise.
It seems that a former Air Force sergeant had somehow got hold of a JATO (Jet Assisted Take-Off) unit. JATO units are solid fuel rockets used to give heavy military transport airplanes an extra push for take-off from short airfields.
Dried desert lakebeds are the location of choice for breaking the world ground vehicle speed record. The sergeant took the JATO unit into the Arizona desert and found a long, straight stretch of road. He attached the JATO unit to his car, jumped in, accelerated to a high speed, and fired off the rocket. The facts, as best as could be determined, are as follows:
The operator was driving a 1967 Chevy Impala. He ignited the JATO unit approximately
The Chevy remained on the straight highway for approximately
Most of the driver's remains were not recovered; 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.
Origins: Of all the crazy Internet 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
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
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 1990. In 1992 the incident was said to have happened in
1995 saw this legend just about take over the Internet as it was flashed from
As it appeared in 1995:
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
The brakes were completely burned away, apparently from trying to slow the car.
TODAY'S LESSON: Solid-fuel rockets don't have an 'off'
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. As reported in Motor Trend in 1957, Dodge took a brand-new car out to
Barbara "cliff unhanger" Mikkelson
Last updated: 12 November 2006
Brunvand, Jan Harold. Too Good to Be True. New York: W. W. Norton, 1999. ISBN 0-393-04734-2 (p. 93). England, Terry. "L.A. Man Joins the Jet Set — At 200 Miles an Hour." Los Alamos Monitor. 27 June 1982 (p. A1). Matheny, Dave and H.J. Cummins. "FYI; Death of an Urban Legend." [Minneapolis] Star Tribune. 18 November 1996 (p. E1). Thompson, Tracy. "Tall Tales Echoing Down the Info Superhighway." International Herald Tribune. 22 February 1996.
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