Last week, I couldn't find a single gas station in the area with a price of under $4 per gallon for regular. Even the "cheap gas" stations were over $4. Remember when we thought we were close to bankruptcy when the price of a gallon went over $2?
As we approach Father's Day, just one of the many things I feel thankful to my father for, was that he taught me how to drive economically. He also taught me some of the subtleties of driving a racecar and the feeling being pressed back in the seat when you dropped down a gear and the secondaries on the four-barrel snapped open and the big block moaned. But it was how to be miserly with gas mileage that I use every day.
Back in the early 1960s, besides his everyday work at Chrysler, he was also one of the team of drivers (pop drove a standard V-8 Plymouth and has the trophies to prove it) who competed in the annual Mobil Gas Economy Run. I'd ride along with the team when they practiced, and it was through this careful observation that I learned the techniques of economy driving.
Beginning in 1936, the Gilmore Oil Co. staged an Economy Run to determine the mileage potentials of American passenger cars under the same city and country driving conditions encountered by the average motorist. Gilmore merged with the General Petroleum Corp. and the Run became the Mobil Economy Run, and except for a break during the '40s, lasted until the late '60.
The early Runs were from Los Angeles to Yosemite, and a number of the cars entered aren't around anymore. Entered in that first Run were Willys, Terraplanes, Supercharged Grahams, Hudsons, Studebakers, Reos and even a Hupmobile.
In 1936 a Willys 4 was the least thirsty of the field of 30 cars with a gas mileage of 33.21 miles per gallon (mpg). The thirstier Fords and Chevies that first year trailed in with figures of around 25 mpg.
Later Runs went to the Grand Canyon, Sun Valley and Colorado Springs. It wasn't until 1958 with a trip to Galveston, Texas, that the Run became transcontinental. After that, destinations of Minneapolis, Chicago and Detroit were included. The last Runs went to New York and the 1968 Run was called short of its Washington, DC end, because of urban riots, and was ended at Indianapolis.
Because of the differing sizes, weights and power of American cars, the field was broken into eight different classes, ranging all the way from small engine compact to luxury cars. As the years progressed, the miserly Willys was replaced with Rambler Americans, Chevy IIs and Ford Falcons. In the early '60s, in the classes that held the bulk of automotive sales, Chrysler seemed to have an edge.
The Economy Run was covered daily by the media with news reports of the cars making their way across the country. With full FIA and USAC sanctions, a Run car with its colorful lettering, numbers and Flying Red Horse stickers began to look like a racecar. And they were racecars, except that it wasn't speed they were competing for.
The entire run was set up as a huge Time/Distance Rally. The most important object for the driver was to be at the prescribed checkpoints at the prescribed minute.
If they weren't there on time, they'd be progressively fined and eventually disqualified. Consequentially, most of the professional drivers came from the field of sports car rallying.
If you could get good gas mileage out of your automobile while you were running the rally that was an added plus and the reason you were hired. Each car carried the driver, a navigator and a USAC observer to discourage cheating.
So what did I find out about driving for economy? You can use some of these simple proven driving techniques to increase your fuel mileage, but you have to change your driving habits.
The most efficient way an engine operates, is at a steady speed. Therefore, avoid rapid accelerations and hard braking. Fuel mileage plummets with constantly changing speeds. It takes fuel to accelerate the mass, and because of that, also remove all the unnecessary excess weight from your car. Empty your trunk.
Drive as if there is the proverbial egg between your foot and the pedal. The cruise control option many cars offer is primarily an economical benefit because it holds your speed at a set level, mile after mile, not help for people with lazy legs.
Drive with your attention fixed on the traffic far ahead of you. If you see it's stopped, don't go sailing right up to it and then climb all over the brakes. Take your foot off the gas and coast up to the traffic, hopefully, it will be moving by then and you won't have to stop. Stopping is to be avoided.
Pay attention to your car's condition. Inflate your tires to the manufacturer's recommendations. Under-inflated tires provide unnecessary drag and use more fuel.
Keep your car tuned. With today's complex computer-driven engine management systems, engines operate more efficiently than they ever have. This doesn't mean you can ignore the preventative maintenance schedule. Follow it.
Now, I'm afraid I'll be looking for $4.25 per gallon soon. I'm glad the Metro stop is only a few houses away.[[In-content Ad]]