Regardless of what you think of Bernie Sanders as a leader, person, or whatever, today he has proven one thing very effectively: he doesn’t know shit about cars. I’m basing this on a quote from him on his Facebook page, which demonstrates a deep, rich automotive ignorance.

Let’s just look at what we’ve got here: a picture of a 1908 Ford Model T (the first one that comes up when you Google image search “1908 Ford Model T”), with the following quote superimposed on it:

“When the Ford Model T first came on to the market in 1908, it got 13 to 21 miles per gallon of gasoline. That was almost one hundred years ago, but in 2015 there are still cars being manufactured that get the same gas mileage as the very first internal combustion engine.”

There’s so many things wrong in this one little quote that it’s almost impressive.

Advertisement

Advertisement

First, while it is technically true that some modern cars return the same fuel economy numbers as an old Model T, what Sanders is implying here—that internal combustion engines are somehow no more fuel efficient than they were a century ago—is completely false, and the statement lacks any kind of real context.

Second, I should mention that there’s nothing really wrong with the basic sentiment—modern cars should be as fuel efficient as possible—but this comparison is so terrible and wrong-headed it really needs to be addressed.

Oh, and I’m pretty sure 1908 is a bit more than “almost one hundred years ago,” but we’ll let that slide.

Advertisement

The biggest issue is the comparison of a 1908 Model T, getting its 13-21 MPG, with a modern car that gets 13-21 MPG. Comparing these two cars like that is absolutely insipid.

Advertisement

A Model T made about 20 HP, and could do about 45 MPH if luck and winds were on your side. In a wreck, the fundamental question wasn’t ‘would you survive,’ but was more like ‘is there enough left to fill a human-sized coffin?’ The emissions of a Model T would probably be enough to give the kids you’ll have in a decade asthma, and the car was basically 1200 lbs of angle iron, acetylene lamps, and an engine.

Starting one could break your arm, if you weren’t careful. And Bernie Sanders thinks it makes sense to compare it to a 2015 car?

Whatever hypothetical 2015 car that gets 13 -21 MPG (remember the new Corvette does 29 MPG, a Mitsubishi Mirage will get in the 40s, a Prius in the 50s, just as examples) most certainly has 15-20 times the raw horsepower of a Model T, and is a lot like a well-appointed living room you can crash into a wall at 50 MPH and walk away from, often totally unharmed.

Sanders is either insane or was sold a Model T as a 2015 Focus if he genuinely believes, as this statement seems to imply, that there’s been no progress in automotive development. Average fuel economy is over 25 MPG, and cars are far safer, faster, more comfortable, and far less polluting than ever. Bernie’s dead wrong on this one, and there are tons of modern cars with MPG ratings well into the 40s or more that prove him wrong.

Oh, and also, the Model T did not have “the very first internal combustion engine.” Not even close. There was Benz and Otto in the later 1800s, in France Lenoir had an internal combustion engine in the 1860s, and even fitted it to a car, and even before that, way back in 1808, a Frenchman named de Rivaz had an internal combustion engine powering an unmanned cart. So, wrong there, too, Bernie.

Advertisement

Advertisement

Look, I have nothing against Bernie Sanders, and this isn’t a commentary on his overall campaign. But I would plead with him, on behalf of the car community, to at least take a moment and think about any car-related things you feel like saying. Even better, contact us! We could have saved you from looking like an ass to the masses in the great state of North Gearhead.

(thanks, Zing!)

UPDATE: It seems someone at the Sanders team has deleted the Model T quote from Facebook! I regard this as a good thing, since it suggests they’re reconsidering that quote and hopefully will give more careful thought about cars in the future. This is a victory for people who care about cars, at least a minuscule one. Rejoice!


Contact the author at jason@jalopnik.com.