- Written by webmin
Sometime late last week, the breathless e-mails started rolling in. The gist: Senator Chuck Schumer thinks you’re rich and wants to levy a special tax on all collector cars! This will destroy the hobby and must be stopped!
Included was the text of an authentic-looking press release.:
Washington, D.C. – AP. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) held a press conference today in the Capitol’s rotunda and stated that he is in the process of drafting a bill that will create a federal tax on all collector, antique, historic, special interest, hot rods and race cars…”I’ve never heard of a poor person owning a Corvette, Ferrari, Deusenberg [sic] or Cobra…”
The language was credible, but it didn’t take very long to track down the source, an all-April Fool’s edition of the Shelby American Automobile Club’s newsletter. In addition to the Schumer piece, it included “Polka Dancers have lower rates of Colon Cancer,” one on a 40-MPG 1969 G.T.350, a 1968 G.T.500KR outfitted with a perpetual motion device, and one linking Shelby expert Howard Pardee to Charlie Sheen.
Due to the widespread belief that the Schumer piece was real, the author, Shelby historian Rick Kopec, later released the following statement pointing out the joke:
SENATOR SCHUMER “TAXING CLASSIC CARS” NEW YORK TIMES ARTICLE REVEALED AS ONLY AN APRIL FOOL’S PRANK
The Shelby American Automobile Club’s annual April Fool’s gag reached a much wider audience that anyone could have predicted. Initially a four-page newsletter was e-mailed to every member. It contained stories about a perpetual motion ’68 Shelby, a ’69 G.T.350 that supposedly got 40 miles per gallon and a bogus front page recreation of The New York Times, dated March 28th, that had two stories. One was a hoax about purported tax legislation being prepared by Sen. Charles Schumer, which would tax every collector car, antique, hot rod and race car in the country. This was, of course, concocted out of thin air. But it was, on the surface, believable, and it hit numerous hot buttons of car owners.
As soon as some SAAC members read this, they immediately went into full “Paul Revere mode,” posting the article on a wide variety of Internet car forums. Once on those forums, readers swarmed like angry killer bees, both posting angry comments about the unfairness of the concept and spreading parts and pieces of the original article in e-mails and postings. It was the classic definition of something “going viral.”
When readers on some forums recognized the whole thing as an April Fool’s joke and posted this, other readers seemed to look right past the warnings. We now know how Orson Wells must have felt after his 1938 “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast resulted in traffic jams as panicked people tried to flee New Jersey.
While we enjoy a good April Fool’s prank as much as anyone, we never envisioned that this one could spread so quickly or so widely beyond the Shelby American Automobile Club. We deeply regret if taking this story seriously has caused anyone any undue distress or embarrassment. To keep more of that from happening, we would greatly appreciate it if you could forward this message to as many car enthusiasts as possible. If they forward it to others who can forward it to even more people, maybe this second message will catch up with and overpower the first one.
And finally, please do not contact Senator Schumer’s office. He already has his hands full with real issues of importance.
Shelby American Automobile Club
We expect the whole incident to soon be recorded on Snopes for posterity.
This wasn’t the only old-car April Fool’s we ran across. Our own BMW Projektzitronen-Vorwärtsblick is surely the most elaborate, but China Car Times got quite a few people with their very good British car maker, Bristol, purchased by Xinjiang No 1 Tractor Company. Phil Cooper’s The End of Classic Cars? got so many people that he had to modify the article to point out the publication date.
Did you see any others, and were you taken in?
UPDATE (7.April 2011): The New York Times and Schumer’s office weighed in on the incident.