Really old urban legend

Way back in the late 70s/early 80s when drive-in movies were still popular we were often warned about sneaking into the movies by hiding in your friends trunk because “A friend of a friend knew a kid who did this and the car got rear-ended locking him in and then caught on fire and he burned to death”.
Anyone ever hear this before? Any record of this happening? I couldn’t find anything on Snopes since this was a popular UL before the internet was around.

Well, Pinto’s had the feature that they could burst into flames when rear-ended (link).
So that may have seeded part of the legend?

I had heard this but I don’t remember anyone treating it seriously. Besides the only Drive-In I regularly went to was pay by the car, not the person. I like the Pinto idea though. That would’ve added *fuel *to the legend.

Not all legends have been published. I checked six volumes of Jan Brunvand, the main Urban Legend scholar, and the folklore journals indexed on JSTOR. Brunvand mentions other drive-in legends (mostly about sex), but yours doesn’t come up. It does sound to my ear (folklorist) like an authentic urban legend, so I doubt if your memory is wrong, but it may have been highly localized.


That started in around 1980. It changed to $5/car. Before that it was $2.50/person. Maybe they made that change to prevent the trunk sneaks.

I have no idea if it was just that theatre or if it was a new law. Every one that I’ve been to since (in the late 90s) was pay by car.

That makes sense TDN.

The more I think about it, the more I think the rumor or legend I heard was about a teen suffocating in the trunk, not burning up.

It couldn’t have been a Pinto anyway, because weren’t those hatchbacks? :confused:

But this is really bringing back memories. We used to do the same thing. There was even a porno drive-in that, looking back, showed only soft-core fare, but we were gob-smacked. A couple of older guys who were 18 would be the paying customers while the rest of us went in in the trunk.

Some of them were but most of them were “runabouts” which was apparently marketing’s way of saying they had the ugly hatchback styling without an actual functional hatchback. They had the big sloped rear window, but then it ended and they had a small trunk.

There were a lot of small cars of the era that had similar gas tank configurations, but for the most part the trunks were so small even teenagers with the promise of free softcore might not have been willing to or able to hide in one.

Brunvand is way overrated as a scholar. I don’t think he ever researches whether anything is actually true; he just always assumes that if something spreads like an urban myth, it inherently must be false.

At least he knows the difference between a myth and a legend.

As it happens, he does sometimes investigate the relationship to true events, but in general why should he? You have Snopes and Mythbusters for your debunking needs.

“Oh, woooow…”

“What’s the matter, man?”

“Hey man, you’ll never guess what happened.”

“Uh…you broke the key off in the lock?”

“How did you know, man?”

Aren’t some cars today built with a latch inside the trunk to open it?
Siam, we did the same thing when we were kids. Not so much to save money but for the thrill of it!

And THAT is the true tragedy of the downsizing of the American car. :frowning:

Well, what is he researching? Is he just listing “I’ve encountered the following 273 urban legends”? If that’s all, then Snopes has him beat by a long shot. And besides, there’s a difference between not researching the truth status and leaving the legends listed as “unknown”, and not researching them and then just saying “Well, it’s an urban legend, so it’s false”.

I imagine (from what I have read of popular versions of his work) that he is interested in the cultural significance of the legends. There are repeated themes in the legends (spectacular karmic punishment for venal sins, etc) that are very revealing about a society’s preoccupations in a way that the overt assertions a society makes about itself do not reveal.

In that context, the objective truth does not matter. The point is to see, from among the legends that thrive, what themes persist and why. Why are kids who go parking in the woods for some furtive sexual experience always “punished” by axe murderers, etc? What are the resonances with these stories and ancient ones like Little Red Riding Hood? Why are fear and deception (the “dog” licking the girls hand story, for example) so prevalent? What can we learn about ourselves from these things? And shit.

Exactly. When I teach folklore classes, it takes weeks to get people to leave the truth / falsehood dichotomy and delve into the material at a more critical level. Regarding Brunvand, his popular books are a good source for listing the legends, but if you want to see he does as a scholar you need to look at his journal articles, which are usually a bit more involved.

I reckon it would be possible to be trapped in a hatchback’s boot (trunk). You’ve got the parcel shelf to push out of the way, and if the back got deformed enough, or if the car immediately burst into flames, this may become very difficult.

There are already plenty of implausible elements to the legend, what’s one more?