What's The Most Ingenious 'Cheat' In Automotive History?

Illustration for article titled What's The Most Ingenious 'Cheat' In Automotive History?

VW’s use of a secret cheat code to skirt US emissions regulations on their small diesel cars is pretty ingenious. But is it the most ingenious cheat in automotive history?


The trick about VW’s code was that the car complied with US emissions standards only when it was being tested. This is remarkably clever, and it reminds me of a similar trick used by the legendary Gordon Murray in his Formula 1 glory years.

He managed to get a system on his Brabham F1 car that met the series’ standard for how low a car could be to the track, but only while the car was being inspected for its ride height. Decades after he won the championship with the cheat, Murray explained how it all worked in the documentary on his work How To Go Fast And Influence People.

Here’s what I wrote about it two years ago.

He linked the suspension to a hydraulic reservoir with a pinhole exit. When the car was at speed, the pressure on the car was strong enough to press it low to the ground, and the pinhole exit was small enough that air couldn’t leak out. That meant the hydraulic fluid kept the car low.

When the car came to a stop, there was no more pressure pushing the car down, so the air leaked out from the hydraulic suspension line and the car gently rose to its proper 6cm ride height for scrutineering.

The really ingenious part is that Murray knew every other team would pick up on his device, so he put an empty aluminum box [pictured above, -ed.] in the car with a few wires sticking out of it. Every other team focused on the box, and nobody noticed the hydraulic suspension line.

The whole system basically gave the car no suspension, making the Brabham brutal to drive, but fast enough to win the championship by a single point.


Volkswagen’s diesel trickery seems very similar. I wonder if they had some dummy code to throw off engineers at the EPA, too?

But that is just my favorite ‘cheat’ in automotive history. What’s yours?

Photo Credit: How To Go Fast And Influence People


Contact the author at raphael@jalopnik.com.