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Urban Legends about Cars: The 200 MPG Carburetor

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According to an urban legend, Charles Nelson Pogue invented a 200 mpg carburetor

According to an urban legend, Charles Nelson Pogue invented a 200 mpg carburetor
Photo: Rich Niewiroski Jr.

Urban legends are always fascinating because they teach you something about the way people think about certain subjects—and this particular legend is one of the oldest of them all when it comes to automobiles, having been around since around 1930.

As with all stories of this kind, there are numerous variations and modern adaptations, but it originally went something like this:

In the 30s, a previously unrecognized but brilliant Canadian engineer by the name of Charles Nelson Pogue invented a new kind of carburetor. It was said to be able to get over 200 miles to the gallon, and several independent dealers and publications claimed that was the truth of it. Tales of thieves, wolfhounds, and mysterious moneymen who all wanted to take a look at the carburetor—or more likely acquire it—began to spring up.

Unsurprisingly, no one ever got to see it, but that only made the rumors become wilder. Instead of just attributing the lack of an actual miracle carburetor to, well, the lack of one, some people believed it was evidence that Pogue had been suppressed by the automotive industry. To some, the fact that no carburetor was produced seemed like proof of foul play. And who can’t get behind a good story about the big bad establishment?

Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you see it (a 200 mpg carburetor would be nice, after all), this story has been debunked. We can only hope that eventually some new inventor will manage to produce a real one. We won’t mind too much if it’s a hundred years late.