Repeat a story often enough, and people eventually think it’s a fact. As with celebrity gossip and whatever actually happens at Area 51, the auto industry has attracted its fair share of myths over the years.

Some of them are “well before your time,” yet many still crop up whenever people talk about cars. How many of these historic myths did you think were facts?

“Henry Ford invented the automobile”

Henry Ford with his Quadricycle, his first prototype car, and the 10th millionth Model T
Henry Ford with his Quadricycle, his first prototype car, and the 10th millionth Model TPhoto by Ford

The myth: The famous auto giant invented the “horseless carriage”

The reality: Ford’s first prototype car was created ten years after the first automobile

Here’s how we know: Historians generally agree that Gottlieb Daimler and Carl Benz independently built the first gasoline automobiles in 1886. (They never met, but the auto companies they founded eventually merged to become Mercedes-Benz.) And they worked off the four-stroke internal combustion engine invented by Nikolaus Otto in 1861.

Henry Ford and his friend Charles King both built prototype cars, based on magazine articles that showed how to make an Otto engine. King’s was the first to be test-driven, with Ford riding his bicycle alongside. Three months later, on June 4, 1896, Henry Ford took his “Quadricycle” for its first run. And both trailed brothers Charles and Frank Duryea, who made the first documented U.S. drive of a gas-powered car in in 1893.

“Any colour the customer wants, as long as it’s black”

1912 Ford Model T
1912 Ford Model TPhoto by Ford

The myth: Henry Ford massively limited the colour choices on his Model T

The reality:When he supposedly said the above phrase, the Model T wasn’t even offered in that shade

Here’s how we know: Henry Ford made his first production car in 1903. The simple and inexpensive Model T was introduced on October 8, 1908, and went on to sell 15 million copies. Ford became the rock star of his day and almost everything he said made news, but “as long as it’s black” seems only to be found in his autobiography, published in 1922.

He claimed he said it in a meeting with his salesmen in 1909; but that year, the T only came in red, grey, or green. In 1910, all Model Ts were green; in 1911, they were all blue; and only in 1912 could you order your car in black. It only went all-black in 1914 and stayed like that until 1926, when four more colours were offered. Ford often “rewrote history” when describing events, and it looks like that’s what happened with this.

“The Isetta single-handedly saved BMW”

1955 BMW Isetta
1955 BMW IsettaPhoto by BMW

The myth: The German automaker only exists today thanks to this tiny, egg-shaped car

The reality: The Isetta brought it back from the brink, but it was the 700 that ultimately saved it

Here’s how we know: BMW started as an aircraft company, and built military planes during the First World War. The Allies squashed German aircraft manufacturing after the war, and BMW turned to motorcycles, and truck and marine engines. It got its automotive start making the Dixi, a version of Britain’s Austin Seven.

It then designed and built its own cars, which gradually got more luxurious and expensive. These continued after the Second World War, but there wasn’t much of a pricey-car market in war-torn Germany, and BMW was in financial trouble.

1960 BMW 700
1960 BMW 700Photo by BMW

An Italian scooter company made the Isetta microcar, and BMW began building it under licence. It eventually sold 100,000 copies, but that wasn’t enough to keep the automaker afloat. In 1958 it was replaced with a stretched version, the four-seat 600, but Germany’s economy was improving and drivers didn’t want tiny “bubble cars” anymore.

Enter the 700, still powered by a rear-mounted motorcycle engine, but with handsome conventional-car styling. Its sales put BMW on firm ground, and the company was able to finally concentrate on its ultimately-successful sports and luxury models.

“Henry Ford raised wages so his workers could buy the cars they made”

Ford’s integrated moving assembly line
Ford’s integrated moving assembly linePhoto by Ford

The myth: The famous “$5-per-day” wage hike was to create new customers out of the workers

The reality: It was to prevent one-tenth of the workforce from walking off the job every day

Here’s how we know: Henry Ford didn’t invent the assembly line – it’s believed Oldsmobile was the first carmaker to use one – but he did perfect it, moving a steady stream of cars past workers, with secondary moving lines bringing parts to them. This integrated line reduced Model T assembly from 12 hours per car to just 90 minutes.

But the job, which paid $2.34 per day, was monotonous and relentlessly fast — and made worse by Ford’s tough rules, including one 15-minute break over nine hours, and no talking, singing, or smoking. Each day, an unbelievable 10% of employees left for less-rigorous work for similar pay at other companies.

It cost the automaker a huge sum in recruitment and training costs, and to stem it, Ford instituted $5.00 per day and an eight-hour shift (which also let him add a third shift for 24-hour production).

The base rate was still $2.34, and the extra $2.66 was a profit-sharing bonus that not all employees received; but enough did that it effectively created a new middle class in Detroit. It was a beneficial side effect, and that’s what Henry Ford spun to the public to create the myth, but it wasn’t the reason for the wage hike.

“Ralph Nader killed the Chevy Corvair”

1962 Chevrolet Corvair Monza Club Coupe
1962 Chevrolet Corvair Monza Club CoupePhoto by General Motors

The myth: Ralph Nader’s book Unsafe at Any Speed forced GM to discontinue the Corvair

The reality: The Corvair was heading toward the chopping block before the book was even published

Here’s how we know: The Chevrolet Corvair was just the first chapter of the book, which Nader used to address the high traffic fatality rate that he believed was equally the fault of all automakers, plus tire companies, governments, and insurance companies. He singled out the rear-engine Corvair, introduced for 1960, because it had been involved in a number of rollover fatalities, allegedly due to its rear suspension design.

GM already faced numerous lawsuits over the crashes long before Nader drew national attention to the car. In September 1964, Chevrolet introduced the 1965 Corvair, redesigned with a new suspension. Unsafe at Any Speed went on sale more than a year after that.

The Corvair’s rear suspension as illustrated in “Unsafe at Any Speed”
The Corvair’s rear suspension as illustrated in “Unsafe at Any Speed”Photo by Unsafe at Any Speed

By then, the Corvair was already struggling for sales against the new-for-1964 Chevelle, which outsold it by 146,000 units that first year; and in 1967 it would also face the new Camaro. The Corvair was an aging, quirky design with an engine that couldn’t easily be upgraded to the power levels of these competitors.

Rumour has it – and we admit this might be a myth, although it is plausible – that GM planned to deep-six the Corvair after the 1967 model, but it wouldn’t look good with lawsuits (dating from before the book) still before the courts. The 1969 Corvair was the last.

“A pink 1950s Cadillac? It must be a Mary Kay car!”

A pink 1970 Cadillac is unveiled as the award for top Mary Kay sales representatives
A pink 1970 Cadillac is unveiled as the award for top Mary Kay sales representativesPhoto by Mary Kay

The myth: Other than Elvis’ famous pink Cadillacs, all those rose-coloured 1950s cars were Mary Kay models

The reality:Mary Kay’s cosmetics didn’t even exist back then

Here’s how we know: The Mary Kay cosmetics company, which sells through multi-level marketing, famously awards its top salespeople with cars painted its signature shade of pink. That colour happened to be relatively popular on vehicles in the 1950s, and so people assume any they see at shows today were Mary Kay cars.

Mary Kay Ash worked for a company that consistently promoted men ahead of her, even ones she’d trained. Fed up, she left in 1963 to start her cosmetics firm. Most bathrooms were white, and she chose pink packaging so it would stand out. The company was an instant success, and in 1968 she treated herself to a new Cadillac custom-painted the same shade.

Seeing a marketing opportunity, she later announced that the company’s top five salespeople would receive pink 1970 Cadillacs, and the tradition was born. Anything pre-1970 simply can’t be a Mary Kay car. And before any of those promotional vehicles are resold to a new owner, the company stipulated it must be repainted. Only a Mary Kay rep can drive a pink Mary Kay car.

“GM crushed the EV1 to kill the electric car”

General Motors EV1
General Motors EV1Photo by General Motors

The myth: GM forced drivers to turn in their EV1s and crushed them because it wanted to eliminate electric cars

The reality: GM didn’t actually want to build the EV1, but that’s not why the cars were destroyed

Here’s how we know: Back in 1990, California – which could (and still can) set stricter emissions standards than U.S. federal regulations – mandated that if major automakers wanted to sell cars in that huge market, 2% of them would have to be zero-emission vehicles (ZEV).

Ford and Toyota, among others, swapped gasoline for batteries in their existing models, but GM engineered an entirely new electric car called the EV1. And while most sold their vehicles to commercial fleets, GM leased the EV1 to consumers — who had to acknowledge that GM would take the cars back at lease end, with no chance of buying them out.

California and the carmakers had been locked in lawsuits over the ZEV mandate. Eventually the state lost, and the auto companies no longer had to build EVs specifically for the market. As the leases came due, GM reminded customers that they had to return the cars. Most didn’t want to, and there was even a protest against it, but eventually all the EV1s were picked up.

The automaker cited liability issues and the high cost of making unique-to-them replacement parts if the cars stayed in operation. About 40 were given to museums, minus their batteries, and the remaining thousand-or-so were crushed.

“The General Lee was a real car”

Bo Duke's General Lee 1969 Dodge Charger
Bo Duke’s General Lee 1969 Dodge ChargerPhoto by Barrett-Jackson

The myth: The bright orange General Lee Charger was historically a real car

The reality: Well, it sort of wasand there’s more to it than that

Here’s how we know: The Dukes of Hazzard TV show ran from 1979 to 1985, and while it featured the antics of cousins Bo and Luke Duke, the real star of the show was the orange 1969 Dodge Charger that regularly ran from the sheriff and jumped over whatever needed jumping over.

You have to back up to get the real story. The show was based on a 1975 movie called Moonrunners, and that was inspired by a real runner named Jerry Rushing, who delivered the illegal moonshine his family made. He drove a 1958 Chrysler 300D, souped up to reach 140 mph (225 km/h) and with an oil dump that could slick the road behind during a pursuit. It was grey, and he called it Traveller, after the grey horse that Confederate general Robert E. Lee rode throughout the Civil War.

No one’s exactly sure why a 1969 Charger was picked for the show [one of our other authors surmises a similar car was spied by a producer during a lunch out. —Ed.] but the producers figured viewers wouldn’t get the Traveller reference and so called it the General Lee, and painted it orange because that showed up better on a TV screen.

It’s estimated some 300-plus cars were cracked up during filming, but Dodge built 89,000 that year — and it’s likely they’d never have become hot collectibles if at least one hadn’t been cracked up beyond repair for every episode. At the height of the show’s fame, the car got 35,000 fan letters every month — and that’s no myth.