TopSpeed’s Top 5 Scary Car Stories
Stop trying to dress up the cat and read thisby Jonathan Lopez, on
Happy Halloween, TopSpeeders! The day of pumpkin carving and trick-or-treating is upon us, and although this holiday is traditionally associated with ghosts, ghouls, and goblins, there’s still plenty of frightening tales to dig up from the world of the automotive.
To get you in the mood, we asked our writers to come up with a spooky car story. If you think you’ve got the nerve, read on, but be warned – past the jump you’ll encounter a haunted street, a dangerous racetrack, the slow death of a Nissan, a cursed BMW, and a four-wheeled zombie.
We know you’ve got your own frightening car stories to tell, so let loose in the comments – the more bloodcurdling the better.
So grab a fistful of candy, dim the lights, and hit that jump.
Continue reading for TopSpeed’s Top 5 Scary Car Stories.
When I was young, I used to live in this place near a street called Balete Drive. You can Google the street, but the gist of this story is that I saw something I shouldn’t have, and the memory of it still creeps into my head to this day.
It was 1992 and my cousins and I had just finished watching a late night showing of Beauty and the Beast. I was eight years old at that time and some of my older cousins thought it would be funny to scare the younger ones on the way home. So they took us to Balete Drive in our grandmother’s brand new Mitsubishi L300 van and they thought it’d be funny if they intentionally stalled the car in them middle of this haunted street.
Needless to say, some of my younger cousins and I were spooked to the point that we all started crying. Knowing that they had gone too far, the older ones apologized and said that they were just messing with us and we’d all go home now. The only problem was the van – a brand new one at that – wouldn’t start anymore. At first, we thought that they were just messing around again, but then they too started getting scared. And then… something slammed into the roof of the van, like a body falling from the skies. None of us saw it, but the thud was loud enough to have caused a dent in the roof.
Immediately, we all got out and ran the few blocks back to our house, leaving the van there in the street for somebody to take. My cousins and I couldn’t sleep the rest of the night and as soon as dawn broke, we all returned to the van. Not only was it starting again, but the roof was completely fine. No dents. No nothing. To this day, none of us who were there that night have an explanation for what happened, and none of us have talked about it for a long time.
A long time ago, I competed in a regional championship formula series. We went to events all over the West Coast, taking on tracks in Las Vegas, Phoenix, and a few other places, but the best events by far were at Laguna Seca, in Monterey, California. No doubt about it – Laguna Seca is intimidating, especially for a young racer without a whole lot of experience.
But towards the end of the season, after hundreds of laps, I started to get comfortable with the place. Thing is, racing has a way of throwing you a curveball when you least expect it.
The penultimate race of the season was once again at Laguna. After qualifying in the middle of the pack, I found myself pushing towards the front. With just a handful of laps left, I was within striking distance of a podium finish.
For me, the most challenging section of the track is Turn 9, a fast left hand that tightens at the exit. In order to carry maximum momentum, you’ve got to balance the car just right coming off the Corkscrew, which means you’re actually setting up for Turn 9 before you even crest the hill. Get it wrong, and the whole section will turn on you.
But I wasn’t thinking about that as stretched for the podium. Lap after lap, I was using every inch of pavement coming off 9, creeping ever closer to the dirt.
Hungry for a solid finish, I kept pushing, cutting into my lap times bit by bit. Then I pushed too far. Coming off 9, I squeezed the throttle a hair too much, forcing my right front tire into the dirt. As the tire bounced into the rut and off the rumble strip, I felt something snap. The tie rod was shot.
I’ll never forget the feeling – no steering and almost no brakes at 90 mph, fighting through Turn 9 at Laguna Seca. You could call it a “moment.”
Luckily, the cars behind me were nowhere to be seen, and I managed to coax my damaged car into the deep sand adjacent to Turn 10 without breaking anything else. But I was still in shock by the time the tow truck arrived.
In the days before high school kids had cell phones, my buddy and I were driving his early ’90s Nissan Hard Body pickup though the dark woods of Southern Mississippi on our way to a camping trip. His truck was slightly built, just right for a kid with little sense of self-preservation. Tall, skinny mud tires rode under a modest body lift with a rusty frame in between.
About two hours from our destination, we were tooling along at 65 mph down a desolate two-lane highway, jamming out to terrible early 2000s music, when the revs shot up on the Nissan’s 2.4-liter four-cylinder. Jabbing the throttle made noise, but didn’t translate into forward movement. We had lost fifth gear.
Downshifting the five-speed manual transmission into fourth kept the truck moving, but it too was soon nonexistent. Left with third as the highest gear, we kept pushing on, closer to camp and the safety of my friend’s uncle’s place. But the dark highway seemed to have a hold over the truck, as third gear soon let loose as well. Left with only first and second, we decided to pull over at a run-down convenience store, long since closed. The truck sat dead near the edge of the road, bleeding transmission fluid from its bowels onto the dirt like a murder victim. A dim streetlight was our only light.
We made it out alive thanks to a local and his cell phone, but for several hours, we were completely stranded in what looked like the set of a horror movie.
I was lucky enough to have a pretty quiet childhood, but there’s a certain story I can’t get out of my head, even though it’s been some 25 years since it happened. Because I grew up in communist Romania, I didn’t get to see too many Western European or American cars as a little boy. We did have the tiny Trabant, which was built in Eastern Germany, but most of the cars on our roads were made in Romania, Poland, and the Soviet Union. But as soon as the brutal Romanian revolution put an end to the communist regime in late 1989, people began to import used Western European cars, especially from Germany. It was 1990 when my godfather bought a BMW 2000. Also known as the New Class Coupe, it was made between 1965 and 1969 and preceded the BMW E9 (which included the iconic 3.0 CS) and the first-generation 6 Series. It was old and a bit rusty, but gorgeous, especially to the eyes of a six-year-old.
Soon I was notified about a 300-mile trip to the seaside inside the red coupe. I was incredibly excited about riding in the Bimmer, but I had no clue of what was about to happen. Things went wrong about half way, when a rear wheel took off and we came to a grinding halt. As if that wasn’t enough, the wheel found its way into a big corn field at the side of the road. It was impossible to see it without going in, and we spent several hours in the blistering heat before we found it. The heat, the fact that we didn’t have much water, and that we were on a backroad without traffic scared the hell out of me. I began to think that we wouldn’t get out of there alive. We did eventually, but it was far from over. On the way back, a few days later, the drive shaft broke and we remained stranded at the side of the road for a second time. After a few hours, the parents found someone to tow us to a nearby mechanic who lived in a creepy, deserted area and had two sleazy, mustached employees. It might not sound that bad, but to a six-year-old, it had "Texas Chain Saw Massacre" written all over it. It took a few good hours to fix the drive shaft, during which I began to wonder whether the red coupe was cursed and wanted to prevent us from getting home safe and sound. Its big headlamps and vertically oriented and curved kidney grilles started to morph into an evil grin in my head.
Getting home felt better, but the Bimmer haunted my dreams for a while. The two door became my own "Christine." The fact that the car was sold soon after and I had yet to see one in the metal for many years enhanced its mysterious and somewhat evil aura. But as I grew and learned more about the BMW New Class, it was no longer the cursed red coupe, but a rare grand tourer I might not have the opportunity to drive very soon. I’m actually dreaming about owning one some day, but each time I think about it, I see the "Christine" movie cover with a BMW 2000 instead of a Plymouth before my eyes.
As a state and ASE certified master mechanic, I’ve seen some pretty wild things. Insane DIY fixes that will make your stomach turn – think vacuum hose being used to replace brake lines – and vehicles that were so poorly maintained that they had no business being on the road. Well, one of the worst cases I’ve ever seen in the time I’ve spent wrenching was a 1982 Ford Bronco. The customer came into the shop, said the brakes weren’t performing well and were making noise. It’s a pretty common complaint, but you never take a customer’s word for it, so I proceeded to take a quick test drive to verify the customer’s complaint.
Sure enough, the brakes; well, they quite literally sucked. But, little did I know that was the least of the problems. I don’t know who was ate up with more ignorance, the vehicle or the owner, but once I pulled this thing into the shop and got to putting it on a lift I was disturbed that I even took a chance driving this thing down the road. The frame rails were practically non-existent, and to be honest, the only thing holding the whole thing together was the body itself, which was mounted to the sheet of rust that was once a frame.
I’ve dealt with plenty of vehicles that weren’t capable of being put on a lift. I’ve even seen a couple of them fold in half because they were rotted so bad, so I knew right away there was no lifting this thing by the usual means. Of course, some people refuse to let a vehicle die – either out of stubbornness or lack of finances to procure another – and this specific customer happened to be one. They still wanted the brakes inspected, so I loosened the lugs on one wheel and very carefully used a floor jack to lift up one corner. The body flexed pretty bad, but to my surprise, nothing broke. But, what was waiting behind that wheel was the scariest part of all.
Imagine my surprise when I pulled the wheel off to see the spooky rusted remains of what was once a rotor. It was worn so badly, that the inboard side of the rotor was completely gone, and the steel backing plate of the last bad had worn through the cooling fins and into the back side of the outboard friction surface. The rotor itself, if that’s what you would call it at this point, was no more than a quarter of an inch thick at best. The other side was just as bad. Oh and the customer? Yeah, they refused to pay for new pads and rotors and requested we let him leave with it. And, in the great state of Michigan, we’re not legally able to hold onto someone’s vehicle if it is unsafe – we just have to report it. The “customer” drove off as the old bronco tweaked and twisted but didn’t break. The boys showed up a few minutes later but were unable to locate the man with the bronco that wouldn’t quit. Talk about scary…