Photos of a Belgian forest crammed with decaying old cars are making the internet rounds again. It's being called an "abandoned traffic jam," as if American soldiers just left their cars in the middle of the road and ran once WWII ended. That explanation is totally bogus, as Jalopnik's Jason Torchinsky proves with some photographic sleuthing.
For some reason, I've been seeing links to this "70 Year Old Traffic Jam" all over my social media accounts — Facebook, Twitter, Compuserve, the Source, all that. The story told is pretty compelling — American GIs ditched all those cars as they got the hell out after WWII — but it just doesn't seem to be true.
I think it's partially true — I suspect many of these abandoned cars were left by American servicemen, but based on the ages of the cars, it looks like this forest may have been a car dumping ground for decades.
But the story that these cars were somehow parked here hurriedly while American servicemen left to return home, the tale that keeps coming up associated with these pictures, just doesn't appear to be true. These cars aren't 70 years old. They seem to be in a range of 45-60 years old or so. That's still pretty damn old for a mass of cars in a forest!
My first clue came by looking at some of the Beetles. If the story was what the headline said, some of the Beetles left here would likely be Kommanderwagens (Beetles built on Kubelwagen chassis) or some of the very first civilian-style Beetles built in the bombed-out factory when it came under British control.
Looking at this Bug, though, I can tell that's not the case. There's not much left, but I can see that little fender-mounted oval horn grille. Beetles made during and after the war didn't have these, and the first ones that had them had round ones — this is a 1950s or newer car. Then, as I looked out at the other cars, you can see that many of them are 50s and 60s vehicles, and would not have been the sorts of cars GIs ditched right as the war was ending.
Look, there's a Rambler American from the early 60s. And there's a 60s-era Fiat. These may have been servicemen's cars, but the only way they were ditched right after WWII is if our car-transport time machine project actually worked.
So, sure, they're lovely pictures, but like anything else your aunt forwards you on Facebook, don't necessarily believe it.
Still, the pictures are really striking, in that forlorn-decaying sort of way, and it is a huge mass of vintage cars all out there in one place, so we may as well just appreciate it on that level. I don't really see hardly any cars there that do actually look pre-, during, or even post-war — the earliest ones look to be from the early '50s. Even if it isn't some hurried GI "traffic jam," it's still a pretty amazing sight.
Now I just need to get my aunt to stop sending me crap about how Obama's gay alien lover is keeping incredible weight-loss secrets from me.
(Photo credits: Rosanne de Lange)