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Book Review: “History’s Greatest Automotive Mysteries, Myths and Rumours Revealed”

In my blogs over the last few weeks, I’ve been drawing inspiration from a fantastic book picked up by chance from the local library:  History’s Greatest Automotive Mysteries, Myths and Rumours Revealed by Preston Lerner and Matt Stone.  It’s such a fun read and is bound to be interesting to most visitors to Private Fleet, so I thought I’d better let you all know about it so you can read it for yourselves.


The book takes a look at some of the most popular stories circulating in the automotive world, then takes a long hard look at whether the stories are true or not.  The authors have done their homework pretty thoroughly, it seems, almost like the Mythbusters but in print.

The book is divided into six sections: Urban Legends, Crime, Racing, Hollywood, Death and Inside the Industry, with the various popular stories to be investigated being slotted neatly into one of these categories.  This structure makes it very easy to pick up and put down, and you can dip into it wherever you fancy.  As well as the main stories, the authors have included boxes with little extras and tangents – such as the development of the Batmobile for the 1960s TV series, which is included in the chapter about Model Ts coming in “any colour as long as it’s black” in a box entitled “Born To Be Painted Black”.

What are some of the stories that they investigate in this book?  Here’s a smattering to give you the idea:

  • The Darwin Award-winning Chevrolet Impala fitted with JATO rockets that crashed into a cliff in Arizona at 350 mph, 125 feet in the air – did this really happen?
  • The Hyundai  driven by Rodney King when he was beaten up by the LAPD goons, triggering the Los Angeles riots in 1991 – was he really speeding at 115 mph?
  • Did Bonnie and Clyde send a letter to the Ford Motor Company thanking them for making the perfect getaway car?
  • Would the notorious Ford Pinto been capable of flying if it had wings fitted?  Yes, that’s flying with an L not frying – what the Ford Pinto became better known for.
  • Is there a conspiracy involving the US Government, Big Oil and motor companies to supress the development of the electric car, as popularised by a documentary released in 2006? (Drivers of the Nissan Leaf and the Mitsubishi i-MiEV know the answer to this question)
  • Did the people who bought bits of the Porsche 550 Spyder that James Dean was driving when he crashed experience chronic bad luck and disaster, suggesting that the car was cursed?
  • Did Steve McQueen drive all of his own automotive stunts in the iconic car chase scene in the 1968 thriller movie Bullitt? 
  • Who really won the very first Indy 500 race? Was it actually Ray Harroun (who is credited with the win) or was it Ralph Mulford?
  • Has a monkey called Jocko Flocko won as many NASCAR Grand National races as Mario Andretti?
And if you add wings, can it fly?

And if you add wings, can it fly?


And the answers to all of these questions?  Well, for that, you’re going to have to read the book yourself.

Title: History’s Greatest Automotive Mysteries, Myths and Rumours Revealed

Authors: Preston Lerner and Matt Stone

Published: 2012 by Motorbooks

ISBN-13: 978-0-7603-4260-2

Hardcover, Kindle ebook available.

Disclaimer: The writer and Private Fleet are not associated in any way with the authors or publishers of this book.