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Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Great Filling Station Hold-up

Back in 1973 - is that really almost forty years ago? - Jimmy Buffett released The Great Filling Station Holdup on his A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean album.

Back then, I thought the song was just a cool song about modern-day highwaymen that were a little down on their luck and, after all, they were just taking what they needed to get by - and they were promising to pay it back. That's not so bad is it?

Yesterday, I listened to a segment on NPR's Morning Edition that focused on Ford's new 3-cylinder EcoBoost engine (available in 2013). I'm guessing this is Ford's entry into the Prius Wars.

A quick visit to the U.S. Department of Energy's website reveals more information than I ever dreamed of concerning Hybrids, Plug-in Hybrids, Flex-fuel Vehicles, Fuel Cell Vehicles, Alternative Fuels and much more. It would seem that, as a nation, we are fixated on good gas mileage. Any ideas why that might be?

Courtesy of

As recently as December 2008, average U.S. gas prices were down to $1.61 per gallon. I suspect that Hummer owners were breathing a big sigh of relief since only six months earlier they had been paying over $4 per gallon. But Jimmy Buffett sings that his filling station bandits pulled in and told the man, "Fifty cents worth, please."

Fifty cents? These days that wouldn't even wet the pipe that runs into the tank.

But back in 1973, fifty cents would get you a little over a gallon at the average price of thirty-nine cents per gallon. Now, there are all sorts of economists running around that pooh-pooh that number, and frankly, it's hard to find gas prices for that era without someone caveat-ing all over the place and wantonly adjusting for inflation. So in the interest of financial integrity, thirty-nine cents per gallon supposedly translates to about $1.91 or so in twenty-first century dollars.

I'm laying my marker down and stating for the record: If we can roll back prices to $1.91 per gallon, I'm good with it.

In 1977, I was driving my Mom's '77 Mercury Cougar XR7.

This is identical to my Mom's old Cougar!

I can't tell you many details about the car but I'm pretty sure it had a V8 and just about every option known to man at the time. The outside looked exactly like the one in the image above and the inside, with its white leather interior and dark green carpet was so luxurious that I think I smiled just sitting in it. Sorry Xzibit, I didn't need anyone to pimp my (mom's) ride!

My point is this: it was 1977, mom had bought a sweet land yacht that I got to drive, and I didn't worry a lick about gas prices. The hood on that Cougar went on for days and with a chrome grill topped with a cougar-head hood ornament, well, in the words of ZZ Top, "I was bad - I was nationwide!"

Cars back then were HUGE. And we liked them that way. Gas was an unending resource that would always be there, allowing succeeding generations of cruisers to fill up and explore the highways and byways of our country.

Um, not.

I think with the right tools, I could dismantle a Prius and put it in the trunk of my Mom's Cougar. To be fair, I have driven a Prius and I admit, it was cool. Where Toyota gets us is that big display right in the middle of the dash that shows you current miles per gallon (MPG).

It's a video game, really...

The one I drove was a rental and it was several years ago, so the display wasn't quite as fly as the one pictured above. I found myself driving in ways that would make the Current MPG reading go as high as I could possibly make it go. Coming back from a pick-up soccer game one night, I reached 100 MPG...that was awesome!

I challenge even the most jaded consumer of fossil fuels to not try to beat that score!

I know what you're thinking...I know this blog is called the Stream of Consciousness but geez! is there going to be a point soon?

Stay with me for just a minute. 

During the NPR segment on Ford's new 3-cylinder EcoBoost engine, several facts were highlighted:
  • A mechanic they interviewed was a die-hard Geo Metro fan. Why? Because the discontinued GM model gets around 45-50 MPG with it's - wait for it - 3-cylinder engine.
  • Ford's new engine will deliver 45 MPG or better and is more powerful than their current 4-cylinder offering in the Ford Fiesta
  • Even though GM currently offers a 3-cylinder car in Europe (and offered one here twelve years ago!!), it will not do so in the USA. Instead, the geniuses at GM plan to compete in the American market with a diesel Chevy Cruze
So Ford, who did not take a government bailout, is moving ahead with actually selling technology that allows normally aspirated engines to get 45 MPG or better. GM, who took $51 BILLION in government bailout dollars, says, 'Let them eat cake,' and goes with diesel.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, for all that we hate it when Government gets in our business, they missed a perfect opportunity to drive adoption of better automotive technology by applying some serious terms and conditions with the bailouts.

In The Great Filling Station Holdup, Buffett's bandits report:

We got fifteen dollars and a can of STP; a big old jar of cashew nuts and a Japanese TV.

In the great automotive bailout of 2009, it appears we got diesel.

Well I wish I was somewhere other than here...


Note: The Great Filling Station Holdup ©1973; music and lyrics by Jimmy Buffett

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