The JATO Rocket Car Myth: Urban Legends Take Flight
Fans of the Darwin Awards take note: it seems that not all of the stories circulated by the award’s presenters are true. For example, consider the account of the non-too-bright inventor who decided to strap a solid fuel rocket to the top of his car and go for a ride. This story has been repeated so often that many people believe it’s true. In reality, it’s one of the most successful urban legends in history. For those not in the know, the term “Darwin Awards” refers to a series of annual honors bestowed on persons who, through their own stupidity, ended their lives in spectacular ways, ensuring that their dim-witted DNA would not continue. Past winners include a South Carolina man who asked his friend shoot him in the chest as a way to quality-check his bulletproof vest. Another recipient was a New Zealand guy who shoved a high-powered air pump tube up his ass and turned it on. Needless to say, most winners were never in serious contention for a Nobel Prize. Nowadays the group that administers the awards is diligent in its fact-checking efforts. This was not true in the early days, however. Thus, in 1990 the society published the original version of the rocket car hoax. Per the text, an owner of a 1967 Chevy Impala somehow got his hands on a jet assisted take off (JATO) solid-fuel rocket booster, the kind used to give military planes an extra oomph when taking off from shortened runways. According to the story, he strapped the engine to the top of his Impala and took off, reaching speeds of 350+ mph within the first five seconds. The legend goes on to say that the car held a straight course for 15-20 seconds before the driver hit the brakes. The results: an indelible set of rubberized burn marks, a brief airborne flight, and a very dead driver. The tale spread like mad, thanks in large part to the explosive growth of the Internet in the 1990s. As the story circulated, the tellers embellished the details. Some versions have the rocket booster being found in a pile of discarded junk by four drunken young men in Arizona, who weld the unit to the Impala and take off for one helluva last ride. RELATED: The 2015 Galpin Mustang Rocket is Something Different Entirely
Unsurprisingly, the Arizona Department of Public Safety was less than amused by the notoriety the fictitious story gave their state. The organization issued a 1996 news release in which they officially declared the story an urban legend. Despite this, however, countless Darwin Award fans still believe the story is true.
In 2003, the hosts of the popular TV show MythBusters decided to lay the rumors to rest by trying to reproduce the story. Crewmembers strapped three humongous rockets to a 1966 Chevy Impala and took it out to the Mojave Desert. The results were less than impressive not only did the car’s actual speed fall well under the claimed 350+ miles per hour, the auto stayed tethered to the earth during its brief flight.
The episode was so popular that MythBusters tried twice more to replicate the events described in the legend. In one case, the car blew up before taking off. In the other, its inherent instability caused the vehicle to smash into the ground.
Despite these disappointing results, pilots have successfully tested rocket-propelled cars many times during automotive history. In these cases, however, everyone was quite sober and nobody used an Impala.
The lesson to be learned is that there’s a fine line between courage and stupidity. Just on the other side of that border sits the next Darwin award, patiently waiting for the next fool who wants to test his “bulletproof” vest.
RELATED: The World's Fastest Car Moves Closer to 1,000MPH
Photo Credit: Mythbusters
Click Here to Read the Original Article on BoldRide