DEAR PROFESSOR: I've waited a long time to find where I could send this urban legend. It's about a guy who's selling a Corvette for a ridiculously low price, something like $100.

The only thing wrong with the car is an odor which can't be removed.It seems that someone died in it, and the body wasn't found until it had rotted. By that time the odor had permeated everything inside the car.

While growing up, I heard this from many different sources, but I never found that cheap Corvette. I doubt if there ever was one. Let me know if you've heard this story. - GARY COATS, CORTLAND, NEW YORK

Have I heard it, you ask! Does a fish swim? Is the Corvette a classic? Do used car dealers wear plaid sportcoats?

Any folklorist who doesn't recognize "The Death Car" should get into another line of work. But don't get me wrong; I'm always happy to add new versions of urban legends to my files.

"The Death Car" is one of the most persistent American urban legends, so it deserves to be debunked every year or so. It seems that every generation of young Americans since Henry Ford has dreamed of that classic new car smell with the bargain price tag.

Folklorists traced the story back to the mid-1940s before they lost the scent. Its prototype seems to be a traditional legend about ineradicable blood stains left at a murder site.

Presumably, as the story was told and re-told, stains became a stench, and a car became the death scene. The low price for the flawed classic car is a detail that came in just after World War II, when new cars were in short supply.

When I was in high school the deal was $50 for a befouled Buick, now some of my students claim it is $100 for a tainted Thunderbird.

A rare letter in my file verifies the detail of a persistent odor in a vehicle. Tom Monahan of San Francisco wrote that in 1954 he did an insurance investigation on a car in which a suicide had been committed.

Tom says even a professional odor-removal firm could not clear out the smell, so the car was eventually sold for junk.

Tom's story is not quite the same as our well-formed legend, but the incident may have influenced an early stage of its development.

Rather than review dozens of variations of the "Death Car" theme, I'll report a detailed version that was sent to me recently by Paul E. Pirie of the Fort Frances, Ontario, police force. Officer Pirie heard it in 1968 and recalls many details.

He says the new car was a dark blue Thunderbird with a black vinyl roof. The owner shot himself in the head while parked on a lightly traveled prairie road outside Steinbach, Manitoba, and his body was not found for about two weeks. It happened during the summer, when temperatures sometimes reach 115 degrees.

By that time, Pirie said, "His remains had more-or-less liquefied in the vehicle." Yuck!