On 28 February 2016, a video claiming that Indian billionaire Vijay Mallya was able to get cheap parking in New York City by using his expensive car as collateral for a small loan went viral on social media, racking up more than 15 million views within a week of its initial posting:
This video, however, didn't report a true story. It was a new version of an old joke that we first covered back in 2006:
Jokes often have attributes in common with urban legends: they're narratives, they serve as expressions of social beliefs and customs, and they describe general, vaguely plausible events. So, if a joke is transformed into an urban legend by prefacing it with a "This is a true story" tag, it's not surprising that someone might venture to ask us if it really is a true story.
While the exact origins of this humorous tale are unknown, a version of it was published in "Bentley: Lighter Moments With Our Heavy Metal," a collection of short stories, illustrations, and poetry from Bentley owners in 2002:
A man walks into a bank in New York City and asks for the loan officer. The man says he is going to Europe on business for two weeks and needs to borrow $5,000.
The loans officer says the bank will need some kind of security for such a loan, so the man hands over the keys and documents of a new Bentley Continental, parked on the street in front of the bank. Everything checks out and the bank agrees to accept the car as collateral for the loan. An employee drives the Bentley into the bank's underground garage and parks it there.
Two weeks later, the man returns and repays the $5,000, plus interest, which is $15.41. The loans officer says: "We are very happy to have had your business and this transaction has worked out very nicely, but we are a little puzzled. While you were away, we checked you out and found that you are a rich man. You have a good-sized house in up-state New York, a sizeable equity portfolio and no debt at all. We are curious as to why you would bother to borrow $5,000?"
The man replied: "Where else in New York City can I park my car for two weeks for $15!"
Various versions of this joke have been published over the years, and while the basic premise remains the same in each iteration, the person seeking cheap parking has changed from a "a blonde" to "a Jamaican" to "an Italian" to "a businessman" to "a Chinese man" to "a Jewish man" and now, finally, a specific Indian businessman. Interestingly, the make of expensive vehicle has also changed over the years. In 1998 the car was a Rolls Royce, in 2002 it was a Bentley, and in the most recent iteration it was a Ferrari.
Vijay Mallya's name was first inserted into the joke when it was published on "The Vijay Mallya Blog" in 2012. As this version was nearly identical to the versions mentioned above, it's reasonable to assume that someone (perhaps Mallya himself) simply inserted Mallya's name into an old joke.
The situation described above did not happen to Vijay Mallya, and most likely did not happen to anyone else, as it is highly unlikely that a bank (or anyone else) in New York City would go through the trouble of storing someone's car for only $15.41.