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The Rattletrap


Claim:   Car owner discovers the source of an annoyingly persistent rattle to have been an act of sabotage on the part of a disgruntled auto worker.

LEGEND

Examples:

[Collected on the Internet, 1999]

A man goes to a car dealership one day after inheriting a good deal of money (or after a great business deal, whatever — he has a lot of money somehow). After looking around the lot, he picks out the nicest, newest, fanciest, most expensive car he can. He pays cash up front and drives out of the dealership in the new car.

On his way home, he starts hearing a rattling sound — something must be wrong. So he turns around and goes right back to the dealer. The dealer is of course very sorry, and offers to either fix the car or let the man take a different one while they order a replacement. The man really wants the car, so he just has the guy fix it. Two hours later, the mechanics give the car back, saying they couldn't find a thing wrong with it. The man is a bit wary, but he drives home. Whatever the rattle is, it has stopped.

A day or so later, the rattle starts again. He takes it to the dealership, and they still can't find anything wrong with it. This continues for a number of weeks — sometimes the rattle even goes away on its own. Anyway, after nearly two months of it, the dealer is very upset — he doesn't want to get a bad reputation. So he orders a replacement and exchanges it with the man for the malfunctional car.

Then he orders the mechanics in the shop to do a complete tear-down to figure out the problem. They begin taking the car apart, piece by piece, but they can't find anything — until they take apart the door. Inside, they find a piece of metal pipe, along with a note. Written on the note, in a scrawling, worker's hand is: "So, you finally found the rattle, you rich son-of-a-bitch."
 

[Collected on the Internet, 1997]

Walter ordered a Jaguar the minute he became a partner in the law firm. He'd earned his wealth, now he was intent on enjoying it. Flaunting it, even!

It was a beautiful car. However, after a week, he began to notice an annoying rattle. He brought it back to the dealership where they did a thorough check-up. They found nothing wrong with the car and told him he was just sensitive because it was a new car.

But the rattle was still there! After two more check-ups by the dealership, Walter vowed not to bring the car to them again. Every time he got in the car, the rattle annoyed him just a little bit more, until he was so enraged that he decided to pull the car apart in his driveway ...

Three hours later, the rattle was still there each time he started the car. He turned the car off and got out. Enraged, he kicked the door panel just below the handle. Surprise, there was the rattle, even though the car wasn't running!

Walter tore the inside of the door off and found what had bothering him all this time ...

There was an empty bottle of whiskey with a note inside. Walter opened the bottle and read the note ...

"You finally found it! I drank this fifth of whiskey my last day working for Jaguar, and couldn't resist giving it to someone! I hope it drove you crazy you rich S.O.B!"

Walter couldn't help but laugh ...
 

Variations:  
  • The referenced car is always a luxury vehicle, such as a Jaguar, Mercedes, Corvette, or Cadillac.
  • The persistent rattle is created by a loose bolt, piece of pipe, or a bottle in the vehicle's rocker panel, or a handful of small stones in one of the hubcaps.
Origins:   Anecdotal evidence dates this legend to at least 1969, and it gained national prominence in the U.S. 1986 when Brian "Boz" Bosworth, then a star linebacker at the University of Cartoon of the legend Oklahoma, claimed in Sports Illustrated's pre-season football issue to have sabotaged cars in this fashion while working at the General Motors plant in Oklahoma City during the summer of 1985.

Boz eventually apologized for repeating a yarn as fact and thereby calling into question the quality control practices at that local General Motors plant. A fellow employee said of the incident, "He heard a lot of auto war stories, but we don't even have any nuts or bolts in that part of the plant where Brian worked."

A real-life event somewhat similar to the legend occurred in June 2001 when the Queen Elizabeth II's Jaguar was found to contain pornographic magazines tucked into a cavity and a swastika painted behind a seat panel. These discoveries were made during bombproofing of her new auto. According to a Jaguar spokesman, such pranking is "... one of those old traditions where people used to write things behind the seat panel of cars and they were never discovered unless there was an accident." He stated the practice had been common when he was an apprentice: "I have never understood if it's for good luck or what, but the person knows that the owner of the car will never see it. There are hundreds of cars of all makes going round like that. I have not dared to go and look in the casing of mine." The Jaguar worker responsible agreed to resign.

The "rattle in the Cadillac" demonstrates how auto workers might feel about those who can afford to buy their most expensive products. Or, more likely, it demonstrates how we worry they might feel. Although the accumulation of wealth is considered a good thing in a capitalist society, some of those who manage it never quite get past their guilt over succeeding. Legends like this speak to that guilt, allowing the uneasily successful to express anxiety over doing too well. Alternatively, such legends are ordinary blokes' way of assuring themselves that at least the rich have their problems. Just as the fox assures himself the grapes hanging out of his reach must taste horribly sour, so do they take comfort in their non-rattlely jalopies.

Barbara "fair shake, rattle, and Rolls" Mikkelson


Last updated:   16 June 2014

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Sources:

    Branigan, Tania.   "Nazi Symbol Mars Queen's Jaguar."
    Los Angeles Times. 13 June 2001   (p. 6).

    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   The Choking Doberman
    New York: W. W. Norton, 1984.   ISBN 0-393-30321-7   (pp. 62-63).

    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   Too Good to Be True.
    New York: W. W. Norton, 1999.   ISBN 0-393-04734-2   (pp. 275-276).

    Dickson, Paul and Joseph Gouldon.   Myth-Informed.
    New York: Perigee Books, 1993.   ISBN 0-399-51839-8.   (p. 30).

    The Big Book of Urban Legends.
    New York: Paradox Press, 1994.   ISBN 1-56389-165-4   (p. 23).

    Los Angeles Times.   "Boz Confession: Bolt Out of Blue."
    16 October 1986   (p. C2).