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The real story behind the Dateline saddle tank scam

Discussion in 'The Garage' started by jimmy88, Jan 9, 2004.

  1. jimmy88

    jimmy88 1/2 ton status

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    So as not to hijack the ***NEED CARNAGE PICS*** post I'll start a new one. Here is an interesting article word for word from the April 1993 issue of MOTOR magazine, page 4, titled Editor's Report; written by Wade Hoyt (MOTOR is an excellent mag meant for those in the automotive repair trade, see MOTOR ).

    [ QUOTE ]
    <font color="blue"> What are your chances of meeting a fiery death in a GM pickup? About the same as getting the truth from a network TV news show.


    By now you've probably read something about the way General Motors forced NBC News to make the embarrassing confession that they had faked a news report about fire hazards in GM pickup trucks. There was a lot more to the story than met the eye. It involved not only a multimillion dollar game of "chicken" between two of America's biggest corporations, but also intrigue, deceit, phone tips, private eyes and an attempt by groups of ambulance-chasing lawyers to rig the news and flim-flam potential jurors.


    The whole sordid story revolves around a very serious issue: The safety of 5 million full-size 1973-87 Chevy and GMC pickup trucks and their "sidesaddle" gas tanks, which are mounted outside the frame rails, under the cab. Critics say the tanks are prone to burst in a side impact and cause a fire. NHTSA has opened an investigation that could lead to a billion-dollar recall. GM has statistics to show that their trucks met all safety standards of those years, are as safe as any other full-size pickups and are safer than many smaller trucks and cars.


    Back on Nov. 17, 1992, the Dateline NBC news show aired a 16 ½-minute report on the GM pickups called "Waiting to Explode?" A minute-long video clip showed two crash demonstrations between cars and pickups, staged some three weeks earlier on a deserted Indiana road. In one crash at a claimed 30 mph, the '77 Chevy pickup burst into a dramitic fireball. NBC claimed that the gas tank had burst and the explosion was triggered by a headlight filament in the Citation crash car.


    GM engineers were immediately suspicious. Their own tests showed that the gas tanks on these older C- and K-series trucks could survive crashes at much higher speeds without leaking. A frame-by-frame analysis of the video by GM's Hughes Aircraft division reveled a crash speed of at least 39 mph. (In a second staged crash at a claimed 40 mph--GM calculated it at 47+ mph--there was no fire or visible fuel spillage.)


    GM asked NBC if it could examine the crashed trucks. The Dateline producer said they'd been junked and were "no longer available for inspection."


    While the corporate giants were fencing, Popular Hot Rodding magazine wrote an editorial criticizing the show. A reader from Indiana called Editor Pete Pesterre and told him that local firemen had also videotaped the crashes, and that the fire had been rigged. Pesterre--the proud owner of four GM pickups--tracked down the local fire chief in Brownsburg, Indiana, and put him in touch with GM.


    GM sent private investigators to scour junkyards in the surrounding area. At the 22nd junkyard they visited, they found the four crashed vehicles and bought them for $400. But the gas tanks had been removed from the trucks!


    Now the plot thickened. A spent model rocket engine was found in the bed of the slightly burned pickup. Duct tape was found on the frames of both trucks. Brownsburg fireman said that four to six model rocket engines had been taped to the truck frames and detonated by remote control just before impact in an attempt to trigger fires. The gas tanks were filled to the brim. The previous owner of the '77 truck told GM he'd lost the original gas cap and had to bend its replacement to make it fit.


    In the 39-mph crash, the ill-fitting filler cap flew off, gas sloshed out and was ignited by the sparking rocket engines. A dramatic fireball followed, but burned out--mainly on the ground--in about 15 seconds. Fireman could be heard on their video tape laughing about the puny fire, one saying, "So much for that theory!"


    The TV crew then ran a second crash at 47 mph in an attempt to get a bigger explosion. But the 1980 Chevy pickup, this one with the OE gas cap, spilled no gas and would not ignite, despite the incendiary rocket engines along its frame.


    These movie stunt crashes were staged for NBC by Bruce Enz and a crew from an outfit grandly called The Institute for Safety Analysis (TISA). Byron Bloch, a self-styled industrial engineer, served as an "on-air expert" during the Dateline broadcast. Neither man has an engineering or technical degree. Both earn their livings as paid professional witnesses against auto companies in lawsuits. TISA was recommended to NBC by the Institute for Injury Reduction (IIR), a group funded by trial lawyers. After the Dateline show, IIR sent a letter out to its lawyer/supporters asking for $7000 to pay TISA to make another crash video "for....litigation use," using a GM pickup "with a modified design further enhancing the likelihood of a...fire."


    The missing gas tanks were eventually recovered from a junk heap on the property of Bruce Enz's neighbor. Tests, including x-rays, showed no punctures in the dented tanks.


    All this prompted GM to file the first defamation lawsuit in its history, charging NBC and TISA with "outrageous misrepresentation and conscious deception." The car company's top lawyer stated that "GM now faces a poisoned environment spawned by the cheap, dishonest sensationalism by NBC."


    Just six weeks after the Dateline broadcast, a jury trial began in Atlanta that would eventually award $105 million to the parents of a teenager who died in a tragic, fiery accident in a GM pickup. His truck had been T-boned by a drunk driver going over 70 mph, a speed that involves much more energy than a 39- or 47-mph impact. (Energy increases with the square of the speed.)


    The day after GM announced its suit and publicly displayed its evidence, NBC caved in. They aired a lengthy retraction and apology on the February 9th Dateline show and agreed to reimburse GM for the estimated $2 million it spent on its investigation.


    The sad part about the whole affair is that the rigged demonstration was totally unnecessary. It added no new information to the Dateline report, but was simply an attempt to "hype" the news with a sensational visual. This is what happens when news broadcasting crosses the line between journalism and entertainment. Sensational "tabloid news" shows such as 20/20, 60 Minutes, Inside Edition, Prime Time Live, Hard Copy, A Current Affair and others are the journalistic equivalent of trash sports. They don't do interviews, but muggings.


    Because I like to think of myself as a journalist (as does the rest of the MOTOR staff), I'm as embarrassed and angered by this blot on my profession as you must be every time you hear a story about dishonest mechanics. Hopefully, GM's exposing of NBC's slimeball tactics will make other networks think twice (and check twice) before accepting prepackaged footage from self-styled "experts." If the current sleazy trend in news reporting is not reversed, they rest of us will be ashamed to tell our mothers what we do for a living.


    In his New York magazine column, Christopher Byron charged that NBC, in its confession, "was simple fessing up to something that TV news departments have done for years: using fake news footage-and prepackaged 'stories'-supplied free of charge by ax-grinding PR firms and consumer advocacy groups to push particular points of view under the guise of objective news."


    For example the CBS Evening News broadcast an IIR report in June '91 about seat belt buckles that could spring open with a light tap. A NHTSA investigation of the alleged problem was recently called a total waste of time and money by former NHTSA chief Marion Blakey.


    And 60 Minutes' now-infamous accusations of unintended acceleration in Audis were supported by an ersatz demonstration in which three pressure relief valves in the automatic transmission were disabled and hydraulic pressures were tripled by an external compressor. The US, Canadian and Japanese governments spent untold sums investigating the charges. All three governments decided the charges were baseless. But Audi sales still haven't recovered.


    Many of today's so-called journalists have become so lazy about checking their facts that we've had to come up with a new term for those who actually do their own research-they're now called "investigative reporters." Broadcast greats like Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite would be appalled by what passes for "news" today. In this sorry episode, a car company did a better job of reporting than a major news network! </font>

    [/ QUOTE ]

    In another article in the same mag Bob Savasta hits the nail on the head with this comment: "The sad fact is that millions of people probably never saw or heard NBC's retraction, so they may never consider buying a GM truck in the future."


    I remember seeing the original show, in which it was easy to spot the rocket motors firing, but never saw the retraction (which, of course, was not hyped for weeks beforehand like the original show was.) So clearly the bullsh*t legacy lives on, the result of greedy ambulance chasers and jurys that get swayed by emotions, not facts. For those who still think the saddle tanks are just itching to explode, go back to the couch and watch your favorite TV "news" show.....Jerry Springer.
     
  2. clubba68

    clubba68 1/2 ton status

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    Interesting.
     
  3. bigburban383

    bigburban383 1/2 ton status

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    Down with NBC!
     
  4. bryguy00b

    bryguy00b 3/4 ton status

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    very interesting indeed...id like to see those tv reports.. /forums/images/graemlins/thinking.gif
     
  5. skratch

    skratch 1/2 ton status

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    I recall seeing the retraction that NBC aired and another clip about this later on. In the second clip they slowed down one of the videos and you could see the flames under the 77 prior to the impact! I've never trusted the media about automobiles, and never will.

    This brings to mind the Consumer Reports incident with the Isuzu Troopers.
    Where they ran the truck through the test corse so fast and at such severe angles that it had no chance of not rolling over. But all the other SUV's were run through at much slower speeds and had less drastic steering corections made during the test.

    You gotta love the media nad wonder how much Honda and Toyota are paying them for this kind of reporting!
     
  6. K1Orion

    K1Orion 1/2 ton status

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    I posted in the carnage post about the tanks being a fireball waiting to happen. I never saw the retraction to the NBC thing, I never saw the NBC thing either. I just remember seeing the footage somewhere, so I guess the damage was done. I'm not gonna stop driving my pickup cause its got saddlebag tanks, but I do think its a crappy design.

    I've crushed my share of tanks when I high centered a truck and am convinced it was cause of their crappy design. I sometimes wish the tank was inboard of the frame. But not because I'm afraid of a fiery death caused by NBC.
     
  7. bigburban383

    bigburban383 1/2 ton status

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    Im sure you remember the Firestone vs. Exploder rollovers. I saw a news report and they tested an Expolder and made it get a blow out. They went to milan dragway with an Exlpoder outfitted with a rollcage and a rapid tire deflater device on the rear. They did the test, deflated the tire, and the truck didn't do anything. It was kinda funny because I was expecting the thing to go outta control and flip. I was in my truck on the freeway and my rear tire blew out, all it did was make my ass end squat, I had no loss of control most likely because it was a rear tire.
     
  8. skratch

    skratch 1/2 ton status

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    My older brother had an Explorer with those tires.

    I was driving him to work one day in Denver when I was on vacation visiting them, we had a rear blowout (actually this was a full blown delamination of the tires tread!) on the freeway, scary but no problem since I know how to drive. Got it under control and went to the shoulder and changed the tire. A little body damage that was fixed by a BS no problem and she was good as new.

    A couple years later his wife driving their daughter home from daycare in the same rig has a left rear blowout (only a blowout). Yep she rolled it, they all walked away but the rig was obviously wasted. My brother works for Ford too. /forums/images/graemlins/rotfl.gif

    I still believe it's all in the drivers. You only hear about the folks that roll because they don't know how to drive and wreck in a controlable situation. But you never hear about all the folks that had the same problem and didn't roll simply because they knew what they were doing behind the wheel of an SUV.
     
  9. DaHateTank

    DaHateTank Registered Member

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    Interesting read...

    Ive recently been in a 'discussion' with some guys, on another board, about a '60 Minutes' piece, that claimed certain Ford vans rollover too easily.

    Too many people, are ignorant of the sensationalistic nature of these supposed 'news' shows. I once read a transcript of a '60 Minutes' segment, and an actual transcript of the interview it was taken from... All I can say is, 'it's no wonder that people decline to be interviewed by them'.

    Then they state '-------' declined repeated requests for interview', and people assume the person is guilty. /forums/images/graemlins/rolleyes.gif

    -M
     
  10. bigjbear

    bigjbear 1 ton status Staff Member Moderator

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    I remember the gas tank story and the retraction. If NBC didn't hype up the retraction the other two networks sure did! I loved it when they showed the frame by frame and you see the thing catch fire before the impact. IIRC, Ward's Auto World had a similar editorial to waht the guy in Motor wrote.
    I also remember the Audi thing, several years later it came up on Jeep Grand Cherokees. The final decision was those two vecicals have wider trans tunnels/ narrower footwells and people hit the gas not the brake.
    Last, IIRC the Consumer Reports rollover thing was w/ a Sammi not an Isuzu.
     
  11. Drey

    Drey 3/4 ton status

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    Hmm back when all the Chevy stuff happened I was still playing with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles /forums/images/graemlins/tongue.gif

    But we owned a 91 Explorer, it had michelins on it, but the firestone spare was still there unused, we got a free tire out of that deal. My uncle Alan owned a 91 0r 92 Explorer with the Firestones, he ran the first set bald, bought the same firestones, ran them bald and was about to go in and buy another set then the recall came back, so he got free tires for turning in bald ones. We had one of those tires on a spare rim at our farm which had seperated, it had some wires showing, but it still held air /forums/images/graemlins/wink.gif better then the crap tires I had on my 86 C10 at that point(first truck). So I got two free firestones out of that recall. But about 3 months later the tranny started acting up on the Scottsdale, and its been parked since November of 2001, new tires and all.

    I dont intend to stop driving my beloved GMC or Scottsdale(whenever i get the cash to fix the damn thing). Sooner or later the GMC will get a Inbox fuel cell anyway.

    Another thing you look at the people that roll any vehicle, in many cases they are driving past their skill limit, or past the vehicle limit. Ive known many a person that has rolled a car on gravel going 45, simply becuase they got a front wheel drive car fishtailing and couldnt bring it out of a slide. I cant even count how many times I pegged the Scottsdales speedo on gravel. The suspension handled those conditions great, I also grew up driving gravel, from mini-bikes to fourwheelers to a rusted out 83 S10, or 84 Datsun car.
    You may find this a little odd but a kid at my highschool last year flipped a 99 Sunfire on the highway...when it was nice out. I heard something about he put two wheels on the shoulder and came back but dang. I could do that with our top heavy Explorer and it have very little effect on the handling so I dont know...
     
  12. lukebaby1

    lukebaby1 1/2 ton status

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    GM settled a classaction lawsuit in the early 90's for this problem. If you owned one of these trucks then, you were included. The terms were if I recall, you could go to a chevy truck dealer, make your best deal on a new chevy truck. Then right before you signed you hand them the notice you received in the mail, and then they would take an additional $500.00 dollars off the final price. I can't recall if it was 500 or 1000. Its been 10 or 11 years. /forums/images/graemlins/confused.gif
     
  13. thefarside

    thefarside 1/2 ton status

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    I do not believe that story about the exploding gas tanks under those conditions and why might you ask?

    Well five years ago I was goofing off with a buddy of mine. We where drunk, it was late at night and we became stuck in a rain storm at a local state park. He had a 77' step side with dual side saddle gas tanks and he took it upon himself to punch it doing about 40 around a corner which because of the rain turned to muck. As he came around the corner the truck let go and started to slide right into a light pole. It not only smashed the whole cab corner in but also ripped a huge chuck of sheet metal off of the wheel arch of the bed and crushed that side of the tank. I naturally freaked out because I thinking the tank could be leaking switched tanks and dive to the closest friends house about 20 min. away. When he got there and took out the shop light we saw nothing! Not even a the slightest hint of gas smell. Let me tell you this tank was crushed! Right in the center too, the sides were almost touching in the center. Granted he only has a bit over a half of a tank but still. Ever since then I thought the hole myth was BS!
     
  14. R72K5

    R72K5 Banned

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    the media industry is a bunch of B.S. and getting worse fast and GM trucks 73-87 are safe and i will always own and drive them, forever,. i have never, nor ever will, fear an explosion of GM fuel tank on such a truck, ive sene quite a few of these trucks involved in VERy serious accidents, some so much that the steering spindles were ripped off the arms, and they fuel tank on them didnt explode, the only problem ive ever had with a GM fuel tank is a rusted one, but that wont cause any problem unless you decide to run a torch or welder near it or if EPA decides that its pollution, then you might have a problem, heh


    sound slike the media has ruined a few good gm trucks all for nothing, i kinda remember watching the broadcast on NBC, but i dont remember much, i think i remember i light beige colored pickup ? i kinda want to watch it again just to laugh at it and pick out little details noted above,.
     
  15. 84_Chevy_K10

    84_Chevy_K10 Banned

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    I feel somewhat responsible for this entire discussion.

    I was broadsided at 60 MPH in my truck. I'm not sure what the crash speed was excatly, but I believe that she never touched the brakes before she hit me. As a result, my frame was bent, my left rear axleshaft was bent in a 14 bolt semi floater, the left rear leaf spring was bent, and I was so scared I got out of my truck and ran from it when this all happened. My truck spun 270* right in the middle of the road when this psychotic bitch hit me. She hit me in a Ford Taurus so hard that the roof was crinkled from the front impact.

    The fire department showed up and everything, cutting my battery cables thinking that there was going to be a fire.

    No leak, no fire. I still use the tank today even though it has a huge dent in it. When I pull it off to replace it, which will be soon, I'll snap some pictures.

    Yes, it's a shitty design. Yes, it scared me half to death to get broadsided in the tank. No, it didn't leak, there was no resulting fire, and I'm still here to tell about it.

    The Blazer/Sub tanks aren't really that much safer. They might be inside the frame, but they're at the rear. If you get rear ended at 60-70 MPH they're probably going to leak, as would any other vehicle. Nothing is going to withstand that kind of impact.

    I don't think it was the brightest design, but it's really not as bad as everyone made it out to be, which was my point in this whole discussion.
     
  16. Confedneck

    Confedneck 3/4 ton status

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    i dont like where my tank is on my long bed k10..i have this fear of dragging it across something and a rock ripping it open.. my plans are to go to an in bed fuel cell/toolbox combo custom built to 40 gallons or so.. /forums/images/graemlins/truck.gif /forums/images/graemlins/thumb.gif /forums/images/graemlins/pimp1.gif
     
  17. rick88blaze

    rick88blaze 1/2 ton status

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    That's interesting reading. I saw the initial report, but never the retraction. I just figured that if they were that dangerous, then GM would have recalled all of them, and put a new tank under them. /forums/images/graemlins/eek.gif /forums/images/graemlins/thumb.gif
     
  18. beater_k20

    beater_k20 Banned

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    [ QUOTE ]
    The Blazer/Sub tanks aren't really that much safer. They might be inside the frame, but they're at the rear. If you get rear ended at 60-70 MPH they're probably going to leak, as would any other vehicle. Nothing is going to withstand that kind of impact.

    [/ QUOTE ]

    i have a buddy who had an 86 C10 Suburban, who was in fact hit at an estimated 65 mph by a 16 year old kid driving an F250. kid wasnt paying attention, and rear ended him at a stop sign, no skid marks at all. thankfully, neither driver was hurt, nor were the 3 bikini clad 15 year old passengers in the F250. the rear of the truck dropped about 12-15" depending on where we measured it. all of the bends were behind the rear wheel wells. the rear gate glass broke, but the side glass did not. it actually bent, something i have never seen before. the tank was 100% ok. i'll have to see if Matt has any pictures of it before they took it to the scrap yard.
     
  19. skratch

    skratch 1/2 ton status

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    [ QUOTE ]
    The Blazer/Sub tanks aren't really that much safer. They might be inside the frame, but they're at the rear. If you get rear ended at 60-70 MPH they're probably going to leak, as would any other vehicle. Nothing is going to withstand that kind of impact.


    [/ QUOTE ]

    Shows just how many wrecks you've actually been around. /forums/images/graemlins/rotfl.gif
     
  20. R72K5

    R72K5 Banned

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