Oh No, JATO?!

Last Week’s Blog Post asking that readers Be Smarter about phishing emails was read thousands of times, but apparently not by one long-time reader who sent me (yes, he sent it, not malware) an email with the subject, “O. M. G. -----The Darwin Awards are out!”

Just by the subject line I knew there was a 99.999 percent chance that it was fake.

Not only did he not reflect on the improbability of an annual “awards” summary coming out in July, rather than January or February, but what he sent was so old, it ended with the “winner” being the guy who strapped a JATO rocket to his car, which after ignition was found as “a pile of smoldering metal embedded in the side of a cliff.”

It concluded, “You couldn’t make this stuff up, could you?” Well most people couldn’t, but someone certainly did!

Because about 99.999 percent of you know that’s not just a made-up urban legend, but a very old one.

Click for the Full Story, If You Need It
The Arizona Highway Patrol came upon a pile of smoldering metal embedded in 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. Police investigators finally pieced together the mystery. An amateur rocket scientist had somehow gotten hold of a JATO bottle (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. He attached the JATO unit to the car, jumped in, got up some speed and fired off the JATO!

The facts as best as could be determined are that the operator of the 1967 Impala hit the JATO ignition at a distance of approximately 3.0 miles from the crash site. This was established by the scorched and melted asphalt at that location.

The JATO, if operating properly, would have reached maximum thrust within 5 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, and soon to be pilot, would have experienced G-forces usually reserved for dog fighting F-14 jocks under full afterburners, causing him to become irrelevant for the remainder of the event.

However, the automobile remained on the straight highway for about 2.5 miles (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 3 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.

Epilogue: It has been calculated that this moron attained a ground speed of approximately 420-mph, though much of his voyage was not actually on the ground.

You couldn’t make this stuff up, could you?


And they vote…and they breed.

How Old? The Snopes write-up is more than 20 years old, but even at that point it was already old: they included a couple of versions of the story from 1995, and note that several of their readers remembered hearing versions of the story in the early 1960s.

That’s right: well over a half-century old.

It’s such a well-known urban legend that it was even proposed as a Lego “Product Idea” based on the Mythbusters segment. (Photo: Lego Group, 2020)

It’s such a well-known urban legend that even Wikipedia has a page on it. It’s such a well-known urban legend that it was the very first myth tested by The Mythbusters TV show, first airing January 2003 — and they revisited it twice more over the years to give it every possible chance!

There are so many improbable clues about this one that it’s surprising that anyone who hadn’t seen it before wouldn’t be suspicious enough that they wouldn’t do the simplest of Google searches before sending it to the guy that publishes something called This is True.

As usual, it comes down to the need to think.

Related Good Reading: from Wired magazine published in August 2000, one possible origin of the myth: Heard the One About the Rocket Car? (First two words of the subhead: “Hasn’t everyone?” Nope! There was this one guy….) Warning: it’s LONG!

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11 Comments on “Oh No, JATO?!

  1. Well, there’s a first time for everything in everyone’s life ~ and this IS the first time i’ve heard that urban legend, Randy. I tend to meander through the ancient ones with gods tripping up humans, not karms 😉

    You’re 1 in 100,000, my dear! 😉 -rc

  2. Have heard of the jet assisted Chevy. I first heard it years ago. Of course Wendy (I’m sure you know who she is) made a serious attempt to verify (Failed) so she reports it on her page as a myth. Still in the song dedicated to her page it’s a verse. (And now I wonder how many of your readers are asking “Who is Wendy and what’s her page. I will let you fill ’em in.)

    I’d guess a number of them know Wendy is the proprietor of the Darwin Awards — the real ones. -rc

  3. My memory is going but that is a very old piece of…er…work, yes work!!! As Radar said in M.A.S.H ah, Bach! Lolol

  4. “JATO ignition at a distance of approximately 3.0 miles from the crash site.”
    “automobile remained on the straight highway for about 2.5 miles”
    “becoming airborne for an additional 1.4 miles”

    If I created a story, I’d like to think the arithmetic would work.

    Indeed. The funny thing was, as I compared the story sent in the email to the samples on Snopes, I happened to notice the “approximately 3.0 miles” vs Snopes’ “approximately 3.9 miles”. Which means to me that somewhere along the way, someone was stupid enough to retype it rather than copy/paste it. Or, (much!) worse, saw fit to edit that detail. -rc

  5. Despite having long since been proven as untrue, I still quite enjoy reading that story. It may well be my favorite Darwin Award story. I always get a chuckle out of imagining it happening as I read it.

    Yep: for the most part it’s imaginative and well written. -rc

  6. I am absolutely delighted that I took the time to read the whole story on Wired. Great story, regardless of whether it’s true or not! 🙂

  7. In case anybody wants to know:

    According to Wikipedia, JATO was “pioneered” by Jack Parsons, a fascinating guy, if his biography is to be believed.

    Also, according to Wikipedia, Jack Parsons was “one of the principal founders of … the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)”.

    Does anybody know anybody who works at JPL, or who used to?

    Hm… sounds familiar somehow. Jack Parsons (born Marvel Parsons) was a co-founder of GALCIT (Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology), which became JPL, which is still run by Caltech today. GALCIT was indeed funded by the government to develop JATO into a more workable system. Parsons also was part of the group who founded Aerojet Corp., which still exists as part of Aerojet Rocketdyne. -rc


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