“This does not occur in nature!”


A comment to yesterday’s article about the M16 rifle reminded me of a funny – but true – story from the 1970’s in South Africa.  I was told this by a friend who was an engineer at BMW South Africa.

BMW was about to introduce its new 7 Series luxury cars.  South Africa was to assemble them for the right-hand-drive market.  As part of pre-production testing, and to allow local engineers to plan ahead, two of the new 7 Series prototypes were sent to South Africa to be wrung out on local roads.

In due course a detailed report was sent back to Germany, giving local impressions of the car.  Most were very favorable, except for one comment that the dust-proofing needed improvement.

A rather stiff query came back from Germany, asking what on earth the South African engineers meant.  After all, the pre-production prototypes had been tested on almost every continent, and nobody else had complained about their dust-proofing.

Samples of dust from South African dirt roads (in Natal province, IIRC) were duly gathered, and sent back to Germany to illustrate the point.

A few days later, a telex was received in the engineering department of BMW South Africa – one that was duly framed and hung on the wall of the design room.  In it, the engineers at BMW Germany stiffly informed their local colleagues:


They were convinced their South African counterparts were trying to pull a fast one on them.

BMW South Africa stuck to its guns.  In due course, a couple of disbelieving emissaries from Germany came out to investigate, and were shown the exact locations where the dust samples had been collected.  They took their own samples, still disbelieving, and carried them back to Germany for analysis.

In due course, reluctantly, Germany conceded the point;  and the dust-proofing on the new 7 Series was duly improved before production commenced.



  1. I am reminded of an anecdote from Eastern Washington. People may know that Redmond and Seattle were pioneers in personal computer technology, but few will know of how the other half of the state made its own contribution.

    In the 1990's, a computer vendor contacted Gateway 2000 and complained that many of their computers were being returned under warranty due to overheating issues. Gateway told him to tell the customers to clean the inside of the computers more regularly, but that didn't help. The exasperated vendor told them that the computer fans were failing. They were caked with dust, unbalanced, and their simple bearings were quickly wearing out.

    How is this possible? The engineers at Gateway were perplexed. They never heard of dust that could do that.

    "Remember Mount St. Helens? All that ash is still blowing around over here."

    Computer fans with better bearings were manufactured for the inland northwest, and I believe that these fans became standard as the price of manufacture dropped.

  2. If I say this sounds like the typical German response to things, then that might make me seem a bit prejudiced. But this sure looks like another example to me.

  3. Big city folks don't know or understand that things are different in smaller cities an+d rural areas.

  4. Heh, come to Florida during dry weather and drive on the limestone roads, or what Texans call 'caliche.' That fine powder gets everywhere.

  5. And then wait until that Caliche gets soaking wet. Sticky, sinking, slippery MUD.
    John in Indy

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