Urban legends have become part of American Folklore especially since they began being collected and published in books and journals and now the new age of the internet. According to several sources, the term "urban legend" became popular with the publication of The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meaning which was a series of books done by Jan Harold an English professor in the 1980s.
With time, urban legends became a favorite way to fill time over campfires and tea breaks as well as simple conversations among all folks. The beauty of the legends is that they contain some believability even when they are outright false. This is especially when they are told as an experience that happened to a friend’s workmate or relative. They range from the comical to the disturbing and frightening ones and occasionally there are some which are based on factual events. Ultimately, they do benefit from the embellishment that comes with frequent retelling even the factual ones get spiced up to fit the occasion. Cars make the perfect addition to the urban legends and given the naughty and strange things that happen and can happen in cars, their urban legends are more relatable. Here are some of the strangest urban legends involving cars.
20 The Riverdale Road stories
While most places and most legends consist of one creepy story, the Riverdale Road is home to several of them which vary in the nature of their spookiness. Most of these stories originate from the haunted and eerie feeling that seems to cover the whole area around Riverdale Road. The people who used to live there have moved, leaving behind empty structures and a ghost neighborhood.
One of the most common stories is that of the ghost lady who walks by the Gates of Hell. These are rusty gates along Riverdale which after completing them, the man who was building them lost his mind and burnt his mansion with his family sleeping inside. He was never caught or charged and thus as you pass along them, a lady in white said to be the wife may appear in your side view mirror looking for help. Another interesting story is that of a jogger who lost his life after being hit while on the road. To the present day, he is believed to haunting the spot manifesting himself in form of footsteps or drivers may feel they have hit something when nothing is really there. Finally there is that story of the phantom Camaro which patrols the road whose owner had a fatal crash at a blind corner. The phantom Camaro apparently has one headlight and it challenges drivers on the road for a race which never ends well.
19 The Knock Knock Road
As Michigan’s Otherside reports, the legend goes like this: “You’re driving from Strasbourg Street in Detroit on a warm night. It’s 2 in the morning and as you approach a stop sign, you notice how desolate and quiet everything is. You glance to your left and see a small girl standing on the sidewalk. Worry sets in and a little bit of uneasiness as she stares at you. Something doesn’t feel right about her. Why is she out this late and all alone? You look away from her and are suddenly startled by a loud “knock knock” on your driver’s side window. The little girl is standing there, looking at you with sad, deep-set, hallow eyes. She is looking for the driver who killed her.”
This is the common version of an urban legend on a road whose location is not exactly known. There has been no substantial source for the story which has been around since the 1940s.
Other variations include that of a couple who parked at “lovers’ lane” but when the lady told her partner nothing intimate was going to happen he pushed her out and drove off while unfortunately, the woman’s hair or dress got stuck on the door and she was dragged for several miles and died. In still other variations, it is a babysitter who was murdered by her male employer for resisting his advances on lovers’ lane.
18 The Bus to Nowhere of Pennsylvania
Here is an urban legend that is both sad and uplifting while maintaining enough spookiness at the same time. It is about a bus belonging to the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority which has no known route or destination and displays none of these things. Others call it Zero or The Wandering Bus, it only displays the name SEPTA. The bus only appears when you truly need it and you will spot it a couple of blocks away. You have to run to it to show you truly need it for it to stop or slow down for you to board it.
Once in, you can pay your fair if you can if not, you get an understanding nod from the driver and you sit by a window with no idea of your destination or the bus. At some point you are moved to pull the cord to disembark the bus, once your feet touch the pavement all memories about the bus, the duration you have been in or the passengers who were in disappear with the bus but you find yourself at the place or close to the place you needed to be. Some people stay days, others even years, and some even say the bus can get you to an earlier point in life before your troubles.
17 The Legend of Spook Hill
“Ages ago, an Indian town on Lake Wailes was plagued with raids by a huge gator. The town’s great warrior chief and the gator were killed in a final battle that created the huge swampy depression nearby. The chief was buried on its Northside. Later, pioneer haulers coming from the Army trail atop the ridge found their horses laboring here…at the foot of the ridge…and called it Spook Hill. Is the gator seeking revenge, or the chief protecting his land?”
This is the message on the sign that greets you when you get to Spook Hill. It has become a prominent attraction site because when cars are placed in the neutral at the spot, they roll backward (uphill) on their own.
It is actually a true phenomenon called the Gravity hill which happens when a location’s surrounding creates an optical illusion that makes a downhill slope appear an uphill slope usually because the horizon is blocked from sight or is curved. Without a clear horizon as a reference point, other objects that would help in the accurate identification of a slope like trees can easily play with the mind hence the perceived "anti-gravity movement." Even with this explanation, Spook Hill and similar locations have not lost their magic.
16 Don't Flash Your Lights...
The usual reaction of most drivers on the road when they meet a car going on the opposite side which has either high beams on or is driving with headlights off is to flash their headlights at the car. This is a signal to alert the other road user to either turn on their headlights or have their lights at appropriate levels. Unfortunately, an urban legend has dissuaded many from doing this.
Apparently, a gang usually drives around in the city at night either with high beams or the headlights off. Should you flash your headlights at them, you become marked and the gang turns around and trails you to your home and kills you as a way of initiating a new member to the gang. The decision to drive around with high beams or without headlights is intentional in order to help them select their next ritual victim. This is an urban legend that has been around since 1990s but there has been no recorded incidence of such a case. Even then, in areas where this legend is popular, few people are willing to take the risk of being the next target for a gang initiation killing.
15 Killer in the Backseat
This is quite a thriller of an urban legend especially when you hear it for the first time. In the story, a woman is driving alone in her car going home from either a mall or watching a game when she notices a car, usually a truck, following her to the point where it can’t be a coincidence anymore. Several attempts to shake off the car are unsuccessful and they only lead her pursuer (obviously a man) to follow more aggressively and even begin high beaming his flashlights. The panic-stricken lady drives home calling out for her father asking him to call the police.
The truck following from not far behind pulls up to and the man emerges from it holding a gun and stands there. The police called by the family arrive to arrest them but he explains he is the wrong guy and asks them to check the backseat of the woman’s car. Upon inspection the police find a man hiding in the backseat with a knife. The truck driver then explains that he saw the man slide in the woman’s car at the mall or stadium and having no other means of warning her he decides to trail her and watch out for her. His flashing the headlights was to ward off the assailant every time he rose up trying to overpower the lady. There are other variations of the story in which it is a petrol attendant who gets the driver from the car with a story about either counterfeit cash or declined credit card.
14 The Vanishing Hitchhiker
This is another urban legend involving a ghost. There are several versions of it depending on the location. A driver on a certain street comes across a hitchhiker, usually a girl and in most cases wearing a prom dress, asking for a ride home. The girl provides the details of her home address and the driver agrees to take her home. Along the journey, the lady chats with the car occupant, or in some cases occupants until the car gets to her presumed home.
When it stops for her to disembark, it is discovered she mysteriously disappeared into thin air. Shocked, the driver knocks at the door of the house the lady was supposed to be dropped her only for a distraught father to explain that the described lady was her daughter who passed away several years past on a prom night.
In the Chicago version of the story, the young lady is said to appear around the Resurrection Cemetery and usually disappears before getting home and locals explain that she is the ghost of a girl who was called Mary and was buried in a nearby site. Either way, the details and addresses are just the usual embellishments to make a ghost story more believable.
13 The 100 mpg carburetor
A break from the spooky urban legends leads you to this fascinating corporate conspiracy legend which has been around for quite a long time, since the 1930s. In the earlier period, it would become very popular during fuel crisis and price hikes. The common version goes that a brilliant engineer had come up with an ingenious carburetor which allowed all cars to be able to get 100/200mpg.
However, the big car making companies or the oil companies learn of this and either buy out the invention and keep it under wraps or steal and in either case, the inventor is never heard of again.
In other versions, there is no inventor. Either a retiring employee of a car making firm is gifted a car of his choice on top of his pension as reward, or a couple buy a car and decide to drive it home to save on shipping costs. Along the way home or over daily use, it is noticed the gas gauge hardly moves despite the long trip and frequent use. They call back at the dealer or company and they are informed to get the car for inspection. Needless to say, the car company changes whatever technology was there and the car is back to its normal fuel thirst.
12 A JATO Rocket Car
Just like the 100mpg carburetor, this next myth builds on the human being curiosity on what could happen if certain technologies were combined. It catches on because it explores the depths of imagination and its main attraction is that the said feat was done by an ordinary guy. The story goes that a former technician from the Air Force or someone at least affiliated with the Air Force got hold of a couple of Jet Assisted Take-Off rockets and decided to add that much power on his car and try some hopefully record-breaking speed runs in the desert. The story does not end well for the adventurous spirit though since apparently the rockets proved to be too powerful for the car that they lift the car so far off the ground that it literally flies right into the side of a cliff with such an impact that it leaves a crater-sized depression on the cliff. At first sight this seems like something plausible, but Mythbusters have long since proven that the physics are all wrong.
Still, the fact that this story was an against all odds attempt that ended up with unfortunate results makes the legend all more endearing and a likely feature in conversations around car modifications.
11 A .22 Bullet Fuse
The way this story is told like a news piece, attributed to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has made it stay around since 1996 despite even the publication denouncing the story as a hoax in 1997. The story goes that two men in their thirties, Thurston Poole and Billy Ray Wallis were driving their pickup truck on a Sunday night when one of their headlights malfunctioned.
After some inspections, the two gentlemen concluded that the fuse had burnt out, lacking a replacement, a moment of inspiration led to Wallis noticing that his pistol’s .22 caliber bullet would fit perfectly in the fuse slot which was on the steering column.
He was proven right when upon insertion of the bullet to the headlights began operating well. After driving for about twenty miles the bullet overheated and discharged striking Poole on the right testicle which led him to swerve right sharply and the vehicle hit a tree. The two suffered minor injuries from the resulting accident and were quickly tended to at the hospital, but Poole’s first injury required surgery. The details provided from the hospital name, the locations, the injuries and even a state trooper’s witness account make this urban legend one of the most believable and of course hilarious.
10 The Evil Black Volga Legend
This is one of the most sinister and quite horrific urban legends involving cars, it started in the 1960s in Poland but it spread out becoming quite popular among the Eastern Europe countries, especially Ukraine, Hungary and Russia which also explains the choice of the car.
The original legend goes that a haunted black Volga limousine drove around abducting unsuspecting people.
The Volga despite its black color was fitted with white furnishings from the rims to the curtains. It is also said in some versions to have horns instead of side mirrors. Depending on the times and the location, the details of the driver differed. In some parts of the world, the Volga was driven by sinister nuns, Jews, Satanists, vampires and even in some versions the devil himself. The victims were then sacrificed to evil spirits or depending on who the driver was, the victim’s blood was sucked. In later versions of this legend, the drivers were usually a gang dealing in human organs. The victim would be captured and their blood or vital organs harvested and sold to a rich Arabian or white man who needed them. For their perceived purity and vulnerability, in both versions, children formed the most part of the targeted audience.
9 The Haunted Car of Archduke Franz Ferdinand
The assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was a world-changing moment and while its repercussions including the World War 1 are well known, the story of his car, a 1910 Double Phaeton made by Graft and Stift is not as well known. According to its legend, the car was also shocked and even traumatized by the events (it apparently possessed a soul) and it became mad and went on a murder spree. Over the course of 12 years, the car had 15 owners and was responsible for 13 deaths. Some of its owners were met with gruesome fates. For instance, one owner an Austria general is said to have gone mad and died while in Asylum. The governor of Yugoslavia suffered four accidents in four months, one of which cost him his arm.
His doctor friend bought the car and was crushed when the car flipped which was the same fate that met a Swiss racing driver.
Not content with its mayhem the car fell over a Serbian farmer who was towing it after getting possession of it. The worst fate befell its alleged last owner, a Romanian who was on his way to attend a wedding with five friends. The car spun around and crashed killing all occupants. Despite the supplied details, the legend has been debunked as largely a work of sensational storytelling with the car now resting at the Austrian Museum without evidence of a major reconstruction work or the expected effect of all the accidents.
8 The Cursed Car of James Dean
Closely related to Franz Ferdinand’s car legend is the Porsche 550 Spyder that belonged to actor and cult hero James Dean. There are several stories and claims about this car that it is hard to differentiate fact from fiction though most of the stories about the car are to be taken with a pinch of salt. James Dean was at the height of his acting fame but also had developed a strong racing interest. Only the shooting of the film Giant held him back as he was forbidden by Warner Bros form racing despite having developed quite a reputation with his skills.
Once the film went into post-production he got back to the track but unfortunately perished inside his Porsche he had nicknamed "little bastard" in a freak accident with another car. A second-hand car dealer got the car and would charge for viewership before the car got to car designer George Barris who restored it and sold it for parts. The first accident allegedly happened when the car was being delivered to George, the car rolled off the truck and broke a mechanic’s legs. A doctor is said to have bought the engine to use in his Porsche but died in a crash the first time he took the car out. Another doctor who bought the transmission was involved in an accident. In another case, a person who bought two tires had his car crash after the two tries blew mysteriously at the same time. A series of bizarre accidents ended with the car’s disappearance.
7 The $1 Corvette
This is easily one of the most popular urban legends and has been syndicated in different forms around the world. At its center is the story of a heartbroken woman with all the fury and rage or love turned sour. A philandering man is finally caught by his woman and instead of coming clean and seeking forgiveness he leaves the lady and goes off with his new love interest. Incensed and seeking revenge, the woman resorts to a cold-hearted plan.
The man has in his possession an expensive vehicle usually a Porsche or Corvette in America while in other countries the car in question can be a Ferrari or Mercedes Benz or some expensive roadster or luxurious vehicle. Having the necessary documents, she puts the car up for sale for either $1 or in some versions $50. A lucky young man scouring the classifieds sees the advert and decides to take up the offer and to his surprise it is genuine and he drives off with the best bargain of his life. What the man does and whether he returns is not known. However, there is no denying that it is pretty much sweet revenge and the young guy did have a lucky day.
6 Rolls Royce Impeccable Service
Rolls Royce has built its reputation around the fine workmanship and attention to the smallest details it gives its cars and the customization options those who get to use its vehicles enjoy. Given its claim as the world’s greatest car company, the expectation of its service is required to be above reproach. Thanks to two interesting urban legends, Rolls Royce usually enjoys priceless PR. The first story involves a new owner of a Rolls Royce who having been amazed by the quietness and surreal driving experience, writes to Rolls Royce to tell them of the wonderful experience that all he could hear was the ticking of the clock. Rolls Royce cannot have this and they send someone to replace the clock with a much quieter one.
The second story describes a situation a number of drivers have found themselves in. A Rolls Royce owner on a drive around the continent experiences a car breakdown. He has to leave his car and call around seeking help but no one seems capable of assisting him. Almost giving up, the man is surprised when a large transporter arrives from nowhere with the RR logo, covers and loads up his car and drops him home. The following day, the car is delivered at his home in perfect condition. He calls the local dealership to find out who to thank and he is answered, “Oh it can't have been us sir, Rolls Royce cars never break down."
5 The Tragedy of a Dance Icon
This is a sad urban legend because it is a factual event that happened and also because of the horrific manner it happened. Dance icon Isadora Duncan met an untimely and brutal death after the shawl she was wearing as part of her dress got entangled in the spokes of her lover’s car. She had insisted on putting on the shawl which was sixty inches wide and two yards long and had even refused the jacket offered by her lover.
Spectators on the scene noticed the shawl flailing on the ground and called out to her but she did not notice until too late when the shawl had already been wrapped around the spokes and axle of her lover’s car which was an Amilcar.
As ClassicsCarsForSale described the accident, “Pulled half out of the cockpit in brutal fashion with her head wedged between the tire and the bodywork, her larynx was crushed, her spine broken in two places, her jugular severed and her nose ground off by the rotating spokes. An enormous story in the news at the time, some reported a Bugatti as the killer – but it was in fact a humble Amilcar CC.” A movie based on her life was released but it did not capture the gory nature of her death.
4 The biggest con job in automotive industry
In 1974, the world was treated to one of the most dramatic and biggest scams ever to have happened in the car industry. At the center of it all was a car as revolutionary as anything could be even in modern age, the Dale named after its designer Dale Clift, the company which took it up to push and produce the vehicle known as Twentieth Century Motor Car Company, and the head of the company, the intimidating and charismatic Liz Carmichael who stood at over 6 feet tall and weighed about 200 pounds. According to Liz, the car TCMCC was making, a three-wheel vehicle, weighed 1000 pounds and could do 85 miles an hour and had a shocking fuel efficiency of 70 miles per gallon. It had an output of 40hp and came at only $2,000 and 15 months warranty.
While the figures raised eyebrows, there was a strong momentum built by Liz Carmichael including when the car would be ready and the production potential of TCMCC. In few months even before the first car was launched she had already collected $3 million in advance sales while the final investors’ money is placed at $6 million of which Dale Clift only got $2,000 with the promise of royalty as the car started being sol. Further scrutiny by journalists and authorities revealed the sham that TCMCC was and Liz Carmichael took off. When she was caught it was revealed she was actually a con on the FBI list since 1961, who previously was called Jerry Dean Michael and had gone through surgery to change his gender and identity.
3 The Sunken Bugatti
This is a rather unfortunate but true event which started of brightly and it is marked by strange decisions and events it is almost unbelievable. A lucky man won a rare 1925 Bugatti Type 22 Roadster in a card game which must have been a car game of enormous proportions. The owner had to drive back home to Switzerland in his new car. However, at the border, he could not be allowed to get the car across since he had to pay taxes on his winnings which expectedly he was not in a position to do so. He resorted to leaving the car in a private garage but the Swiss law required that the property had to be destroyed to prevent any unjust benefitting. Strangely, the authorities saw the best way to do this was to have the Bugatti tethered to 35-foot chains and suspended over Lake Maggiore. The man would have his car returned to him upon payment of the taxes. Apparently the man could not and with time the chains got rusty and eroded and the car broke from the tether sinking to the bottom of the lake. On July 12, 2009, the car was pulled up and auctioned and it has been preserved in its damaged state.
2 The Unfortunate fate of the Norseman
This is another true event which again saw a valuable car get lost in the deep waters. In 1956, Chrysler, with the help of the Ghia designing team had developed a famous concept car that was named "The Norseman." The Assembling of the car had been done in Turin and after the Ghia tea was done it was time for the car to make its journey to America where it was to be showcased in the 1957 American car show circuit. The car was to be ferried by the cruise liner Andrea Doria and had been specially carted ahead of the 4000-mile journey. Unfortunately, The Norseman became part of the worst maritime accidents when the Andrea Doria collided with the SS Stockholm. The Andrea Doria had been damaged heavily and it began taking in water before sunk undersea and with it the Norseman. Unlike the Bugatti Type 22 above, there was no salvaging the Norseman as the parties which have shown interest in trying to get it to the surface have been discouraged by scientists who say after over half a century resting in the seabed, there is nothing left but rusty sludge. In a way, this is not so bad an ending since the Norseman had apparently been slated for crash testing and then scrapped.
1 The Ferrari 330 America Coffin
Here's another true urban legend but at least one of grandeur, though the Ferrari involved may beg to differ. Sandra West was the 1960s equivalent of Paris Hilton only she was an heiress to oil and cattle fortune in Texas. She got her wealth after the passing of her husband Ike West Jr and became a high flying socialite with a taste in flashy expensive cars and a more than passing interest in Egyptology with a particular liking of the lives of the pharaohs. This would later explain the events of her funeral which caught the nation’s imagination.
In her will in which she named former fling and brother in law Sol West as sole heir, she required that she be buried with her beloved 1964 Ferrari 330 America.
This was the one condition that the brother-in-law had to meet in order to inherit the vast fortune. On May 1977, Sandra West was laid to rest according to her wishes which read in part that she “be buried next to my husband in a lace nightgown seated in my Ferrari with the seat comfortably slanted.” There was a huge risk of robbers coming after the Ferrari and fearing for the safety of the tomb, the mourners encased Miss West and her Ferrari in a plywood structure which was then lowered to the grave with a crane and then cement was poured all around the container.
Sources: michigansotherside.com, thoughtcatalog.com, onlyinyourstate.com, worldatlas.com, thenewswheel.com, www.snopes.com