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Turning A Ford Taurus Into A Golf Ball Was Adam Savage’s Favorite 'Mythbusters' Myth

Screenshot: Adam Savage’s Tested/ YouTube (<a class="link " href="https://youtu.be/snNL5GgOq_c?si=N4Llf1iRhlwxkwfk" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Fair Use;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas">Fair Use</a>)
Screenshot: Adam Savage’s Tested/ YouTube (Fair Use)

Out of all the episodes from its 14 years on air, “Mythbusters” co-host Adam Savage’sfavorite result is the 2009 golf ball car experiment. This automotive experiment required the team to cover a fourth-generation Ford Taurus in hundreds of pounds of clay and carve dimples into its surface to see if it would improve the Taurusfuel efficiency. How could covering a car in dimples even begin to improve the original design’s aerodynamics? It works on golf balls, so why wouldn’t it work on a car? At least that’s what the myth posited.

As a golf ball flies through the air, the dimples create turbulent air that actually forms a slipstream around the surface of the ball, allowing it to fly further than it would if it were smooth. The myth that the team put to the test was if adding the same dimples to the surface of a car would increase its fuel efficiency.

Savage is particularly proud of this experiment because it was designed and executed using reasonable scientific methodology, where early in the show’s tenure the co-hosts were still finding their footing as a science show. The “Mythbusters” teamed up with groups from the Academy of Art University’s automotive department, used NASA technology to test prototypes, and executed elaborate tests to reach their conclusions. Savage considers this experiment to be the “Mythbusters” team’s finest execution of myth busting, though the results actually proved the myth was accurate.

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Following a series of precise fuel economy tests between the unmodified Taurus and the golf ball Taurus, they concludedthe golf ball car got about 14 percent better fuel efficiency than the stock car. To contextualize a 14-percent gain in fuel efficiency, that would take a 25 mpg rating up to 28.5 mpg, or a 30 mpg rating to a 34.2 mpg rating.

The “Mythbusters” results were so drastic that it even got the attention of a Big Three automaker who attempted the same experiment with a preexisting clay model, though they claim to have found different results. Savage said it felt good to waste a big company’s time and it felt good to be influencing professional scientists. Thanks for your service, Mr. Savage.

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