General Motors is not just a car company. It’s part of the US life itself. With the brands of Chevy, Buick, Pontiac, and others, GM has been a mainstay of the industry for over a century. It endured numerous ups and downs due to the shifts in the automobile world and has weathered them well. The company even faced going completely broke a decade ago yet managed to recover. They have issues with some recent closures and some bad deals (such as letting Opel go only to watch that brand erupt into massive profits). There’s also the culture of the company which some say is troublesome. Yet GM continues to maintain itself as a vital part of the auto world.
Given its long history, it’s no surprise that GM has been home to some wild urban myths and legends. A few go for classic ideas on how GM is suppressing secret technologies or making some harsh moves against opponents. Others play on some major events and puts a unique twist on the history that’s known.
The Internet has helped spread many of these around while a few have been known for decades. GM continues to deny many of these which, to the conspiracy fan, just helps confirm they’re true. A few are truly wild yet some actually aren’t that far from the realm of belief. Here are 20 of the most famous urban legends GM denies are true to show why these tales stick to such a huge company.
20 Spy Games
The truth is that espionage has been part of the car industry ever since it was founded. From the start, companies have been doing their best to learn the secrets of rivals and get an edge. To hear some folks tell it, GM has a spy department that would put the CIA to shame.
The company has confessed to a few things from detective agencies to mining the data of thousands of radios. Yet some anti-GM folks rant on the company planting agents within unions, hacking the servers of other companies and even bribing for good reviews. Maybe GM isn’t perfect but claiming they’re hardcore in espionage moves is going a bit too far.
19 They’re Bringing Back the Bandit Car
The Trans Am goes by a few nicknames but it’s still known best as “the Bandit Car.” That’s because it was used by Burt Reynolds’ character in Smokey and the Bandit. That made the Trans Am a must for muscle car buffs. The Firebird was discontinued in 2002 and Pontiac itself went the way of the dodo in 2010.
Since then, rumors have abounded that GM is going to bring the Trans Am back. They grew even more in the wake of Reynolds’ passing as it would be a tribute to the actor. A few auto buffs have created their own versions with fans insisting an official version is coming. GM continues to deny it as they don’t want to mess with a classic.
18 The Disney Relationship
In 1964, GM began a partnership with Disney that’s paid dividends. The highlight was the World of Motion pavilion at Epcot Center. When GM renegotiated sponsorship, they asked for a pavilion focusing exclusively on GM products which became Test Track. Stories grow on GM playing further hardball with Disney to the point of demanding just what sort of vehicles could be used in the hit Cars movies.
Both Disney and GM deny that part as well as the tales of how a GM employee gets special perks others are denied at the parks. GM and Disney are good partners but GM hardly calls all the shots in the relationship.
17 The 6th Grand Sport
The Corvette Grand Sport has gone through a lot of changes over the years. The original 1963 version is still loved for its great design, fantastic engine and stunning when on the track at Nassau as even the Cobra couldn’t match its speed. As only five of them were made, they have become a major collector’s item. But in 2003, a story circulated that Zora Arkus-Duntov had built a sixth Grand Sport that he kept hidden.
Stories range of the sixth version being anywhere from the secret vault of a GM building to smashed apart in a junkyard. There are no official records of a sixth version ever existing at all but the story continues there’s a lost Grand Sport somewhere out there.
16 Jayne Mansfield’s Buick Is Cursed
The mother of Mariska Hargitay, Jayne Mansfield was one of the most gorgeous movie stars of her era. That made it so surprising when she passed in a terrible accident in her Buick Electra 225 in 1967.
Contrary to belief, the accidents was not as bad as some reported. It has led to talk on how the actual car is somehow cursed. It was put on display tours with the rumor building that anyone who dared get behind the wheel would meet with misfortune soon after. It sounds like it’s just one of those tall tales pushed by the fascinating history of the car and its connection to a Hollywood icon.
15 Words Employees Can’t Say
Even when this was reported in legitimate news places, GM still denies it’s true. In 2014, an email was circulated that detailed the inner workings of GM plants and the rules for employees that they cannot say from a 2008 presentation. The choices were, frankly, a bit odd. There could be no references to “disaster” or various synonyms for “destroy.” Also, employees couldn’t say “safety” or “flawed.” Even “Band-Aid” was banned.
This got attention yet some GM employees were quick to state that the list was, at best, exaggerated if not outright false.
14 The Rocket Car
The Darwin Awards is the “honor” given to a person whose stupidity outdid anyone. In 1995, the Award was given to the tale of Arizona patrolman finding the wreckage of some engine and car in a mountain. It was reported that someone had put a JATO engine onto a Chevy Impala to turn it into a literal rocket car.
The evidence indicated it had even taken flight before crashing. The story grew more popular to the point that the Arizona state police had to clarify that no such incident had ever taken place. It was so huge that this was the very first tale MythBusters tackled to show it could never work. But folks still cling to the tale of an Impala going airborne.
13 The Vega Fell Apart
In the history of major car lemons, the Chevy Vega stands tall. Chevy had hoped it would succeed and Motor Trend even named the first version the 1971 Car of the Year. They soon regretted that as the Vega became famous for numerous problems and recalls before it was finally discontinued in 1977.
In the wake of its bad run, the history has been rewritten to state this car was a mess from the start. That includes the tale of how then General Manager John DeLorean came to view a test Vega, pressed on the hood and the car literally fell apart on the spot. DeLorean denied it happened but given the poor life of the Vega, it’s no wonder the tale remains.
12 They Tricked NBC
In 1992, NBC got major egg on their face when Dateline did a report showing GM trucks erupting seemingly on their own. After a lengthy investigation, NBC admitted that the trucks had been rigged with devices to make it seem more dramatic. GM got a huge settlement as NBC suffered bad press.
However, a few conspiracy buffs insist GM somehow set this fake test up. The “logic” is GM figuring they could hide the real issues of the trucks by having everyone think the blow-ups were all NBC’s trickery. That gave GM a chance to correct the problems using the scandal as cover. It’s a pretty convoluted explanation for what was really a producer desperate for ratings.
11 Miracle Carburetor
This is a story credited to various car companies yet GM is the more popular choice for it. A retired GM employee is given a brand Chevrolet Caprice. He enjoys it but soon notices the fuel consumption is very low. Before he knows it, the car can go 200 miles to a gallon. He brings it back to the factory to have it checked and when he gets it back, it takes up fuel like any other car.
A play on the story has the man keeping the car only to find some masked men working on the engine at night or it just vanishes. This plays into the myth that GM has long developed a long-lasting car and keeps it quiet for profit.
10 Producing ’57 Chevys For Another Decade
The 1957 Chevy is considered one of the greatest and most iconic cars ever created. Collectors go wild for a new version of it thanks to its classic style. That there are still so many available is the reason this legend remains. The story is that a group of disgruntled ex-GM employees set up shop in Illinois and spent a decade creating brand new ‘57 Chevys.
The tale gives the crew credit for turning out 200,00 cars in a tiny factory and selling them off, all without GM knowing about it. It should be no surprise GM denies this ever happened yet it’s still used as the “explanation” for why the ‘57 Chevy is so commonplace.
9 Production Line Sabotage
This is one of those tales that predates the Internet by a long mile and is often credited to GM over other companies. A rich man buys a brand new car fresh off the line and enjoys it. He soon notices an odd rattle coming from nowhere. He brought the car to a repair shop and they found no issues yet the rattle continues. Eventually, the man has the car broken down where they find a metal pipe in the door with a note from an assembly line worker mocking the owner.
A few GM workers claim to have done this but it seems highly unlikely it could be pulled off given how these cars are given a full check before rolling out.
8 Origin of the Bow Tie
While the huge “GM” letters are often used, the true iconic logo of General Motors has been the Chevrolet “bow tie” design. The long-standing story has been that William C. Durant was at a hotel in France and struck by the unique design of the wallpaper. He tore a piece off the wall and brought it home to create the famous logo.
Durant's widow claims he saw it in a magazine and copied it. Another version is that Durant just stole the idea from a mine company’s ad. GM themselves just brush off the origin tales as they enjoy the final product more than how it came to be.
7 The Executive Demo
This isn’t the famous car dealership trick but something else. Many a car fan has complained over how a well-hyped car can fall apart on the road. It leads to questions on how distant the executives are to not know of these issues. The legend is that the developers put together a “bare bones” version of the car that enhances all the best parts while leaving out some key stuff that could lead to problems down the line.
The executive takes it on a test drive, thinks it’s perfect and gives the okay for the rougher version. Any car designer knows this is the worst thing you can do as tricking the boss is never a smart idea. Yet some insist GM execs get a different demo to drive.
6 The Haunted Plant
A popular pastime for some people is to tour spooky abandoned places in the country. Given their closures in Detroit and other cities, GM has quite a few plants that can fit the bill nicely. A popular tale printed in some books is of a worker in 1964 saved when someone pushed him out of the way of a falling apparatus.
When he described his rescuer, the worker was told that matched the description of someone who died on the job twenty years earlier. Some “ghost hunters” insist that a few GM abandoned plants carry such spirits and can even be heard. Obviously, GM brushes these off as just ghost stories yet they remain.
5 The Chevy Nova
This story just refuses to die. The Chevy Nova was a long-lasting success for GM as customers enjoyed an affordable small car. It’s the name that creates the legend. Chevy wanted it as “Nova” for the powerful starburst. But “Nova” translates into “no go” in Spanish.
People, therefore, assume the Nova was a massive failure in Latin America as customers stayed away because of the name. The reality is that the Nova sold pretty well and even exceeded sales expectations in some of those countries. It just shows the issues of translation for different languages which ended up creating one of the most iconic urban myths in car history.
4 Killing Anything Faster Than the Corvette
The Corvette was always a loved car for drivers wanting some serious speed for their garage. This has led to the story that GM went out of their way to crush any car (either their own or a competitor) that could outmatch the Corvette. That included the Ford Thunderbird although that car still became popular. There were numerous rumors that GM designers came up with cars faster than the Corvette but management refused to let anything else top their prized machine.
Frankly, this legend doesn’t hold much water given the rise of faster cars was inevitable in the 1970s and ‘80s. The fact the Corvette has undergone major changes should prove GM isn’t as obsessed with it being the fastest car on the market.
3 The EV1 Could Have Been a Hit
To this day, conspiracy nuts love to talk about how the EV1 could have been a game-changer for the world. There are even documentaries hailing this electric car as the way of the future and GM could have blazed a path for other electric cars. The idea is that oil powerhouses and other car companies conspired to crush this for their own means and GM themselves backed down.
The reality is that the EV1 really wasn’t that good a car. It was slow, prone to various issues and could only reach about 60 miles on an eight-hour charge. The technology just wasn’t there to make the EV1 successful enough in the 1990s.
2 They Could Have Owned Pixar
Pixar is known today as the ultra-successful animation branch of Disney that’s provided several Oscar-winning box office hits. Back in 1985, they were still a struggling studio when founder Ed Catmull was approached by GM.
According to Catmull, GM was interested in the company’s computer graphics to aid in design work and offered a reported $15 million for the studio. Catmull claims the deal was close to coming through when a massive management shift occurred at GM and crushed it. The company actually downplays any deal and it has been pointed out how Pixar was a far cry from the powerhouse we know today. Yet the idea that they could have prevented this animation success story is intriguing.
1 The Streetcar Story
Of all the legends about General Motors, this is the biggest of the bunch. Once, streetcars were a regular sight in every major city in the United States, outdoing buses in terms of public transportation. That faded in the 1950s as more people bought cars. A huge school of thought is that GM led a concentrated effort to shut down streetcars, mainly in Los Angeles, to increase their own production numbers.
However, while GM was convicted in court of pushing more buses, the idea they “destroyed” streetcars doesn’t hold up. The fact was that the entire system was already on the decline and would have ended anyway. Thus, blaming GM for the end of this mainstay doesn’t hold water.
Sources: Snopes.com, jalopnik.com, Wikipedia.org, reddit.com