he first automobile is generally considered to have been invented in 1886, making it just over 125 years old. And yet cars are among our most primal obsessions. Learning to drive is a profound rite of passage; sliding behind the wheel for the first time symbolic of freedom. Not surprisingly, the last 125 years have provided us with a great deal of awesome automobile trivia.
10 Mr. Rogers’ Stolen Car
If you believe everything you see in movies, you might assume that beautiful sports cars are the vehicles most likely to be targeted by thieves. In reality, the most common cars are also the ones most frequently swiped—particularly Honda’s Accord and Civic models. For the most part, stolen cars are not sold intact, but are taken to “chop shops” where they are dismantled. Honda’s wide circulation and relatively expensive parts make their cars an attractive target.
Unless it was picked up for a quick joyride and then dumped, the chances of recovering a stolen car are slim to none. However, your odds supposedly increase precipitously if you are a beloved children’s television personality. According to a probably apocryphal urban legend, none other than Mr. Rogers once had his car stolen. After the theft was reported on the news, the thieves returned the vehicle with a message: “Sorry, we didn’t know it was yours.”
9 Driving Upside Down
The idea of a car driving upside down might seem preposterous, the kind of stunt seen in dumb action movies. However, science has assured us that it is indeed possible for a car to drive on the ceiling.
Race cars, specifically those used for Formula One racing, are designed with inverted wings. They work in the opposite fashion to aircraft wings—instead of generating lift, they generate downforce, which pushes the car down against the ground. While this might seem counterproductive in relation to achieving high speeds, the downforce has a practical use: It allows F1 cars to take corners at a velocity that would otherwise send them flying off the road.
All an F1 car would need to do to drive upside down is to generate a downforce equal to or greater than its own weight. But while the science is sound, there are some pretty big complications. Driving upside down would be extremely disorienting to the man behind the wheel. Moreover, the car’s engine and components are not currently designed to operate upside down.
Movies set in Cuba often portray rows of pristine classic cars, chrome twinkling in the sunlight. You’d be forgiven for thinking Cubans have a love affair with vintage Detroit rolling iron, but the reality is a bit uglier. On October 19, 1960, the United States issued a trade embargo against Cuba. One of the embargo’s many effects was that new cars stopped rolling into the island nation. The Cuban government also cracked down on the purchase of cars; only those that were already on the island at the time of the embargo could be freely traded and sold amongst its citizens. All others who wished to buy a car had to secure special permission.
Beginning in early 2014, the Cuban government lifted the sanctions, allowing people to freely buy cars if they wished. While the United States continues to ban automobile exports to Cuba, manufacturers in other countries, such as France’s Peugeot, have no such restrictions. Unfortunately, the Cuban government has instituted staggering markups on the prices of these vehicles, to the point where a new car ranges from US$91,000 to $262,000. The average Cuban earns only about $240 a year, putting such expenditure so far out of reach as to be unimaginable.
And while there are some beautifully maintained 57 Chevys and the like rolling down the streets of Havana, the truth is that keeping almost 60-year-old cars in running order is a full time job. Most of Cuba’s vintage cars are dangerous (almost none have seat belts), oil-belching monstrosities held together with duct tape and prayers.