Here's the Scoop: Oct. 8, 2008
30-year-old gas sippers
I remember — barely — back in the early ’80s when I was shopping for my first new car. Sure, it was sad to trade in the old Pontiac Ventura that had been handed down to me. But I wanted new wheels.
Even back then, I was, what’s the word? Cheap. I had no interest in paying a lot of money to fuel the car when I could just as easily plow those dollars into a sound system that probably had more power than the engine. And I did.
So, when I went car shopping, my choice was pretty simple. I wanted a vehicle that was reliable and thrifty. I quickly narrowed my choice to the Toyota Starlet. Yes, it was a very bad name for a car. But I could overlook the dumb title because of the fact that the Starlet, when it came out, was rated at 52 mpg on the highway and 39 mpg in city driving.
Note here: For the purpose of this column, I Googled this mileage information to back up my claim and found a site that listed this mileage at 50 and 36, respectively. I still go with my recollection, but you get the picture. The mileage was great.
Many to choose
What really surprised me, though, was that the Starlet was among a long list of great mileage cars. Vehicles like a 1981 Dodge Omni (30 and 50) and a 1979 Volkswagen Rabbit (41 and 55). In all, there were approximately 100 vehicles made from 1978-1981 (including various models of the same make) that averaged more than 40 mpg on the highway and nearly all of these averaged 30+ mpg in city driving. Whoa.
Fast-forward to today’s desperate ads to sell vehicles that are absurdly large and anti-economical. I find it’s like watching a sitcom when these commercials and newspaper ads tout some lumbering V-8 rig as a “gas sipper” because it gets a stunning 19 mpg (on the highway).
Do these vehicle manufacturers think we’re stupid? If they do, they’re probably on the right track.
I’m not sure how we reached the point where mileage claims in the teens and 20s were considered a “selling point” for vehicles. But I’m sure it has a lot to do with recent past in which everyday folks thought it would be a good idea to drive Hummers.
Fortunately, I missed the part of our country’s history where I thought it was a good idea to throw away money on lousy-mileage vehicles that are bigger than many houses. I guess that’s why looking back on this list of great-mileage vehicles was so stunning. Thirty years ago, things were looking rosy on the mileage front. Today, apparently those smaller rigs just don’t bring in enough corporate profits.
On the bright side, the nice thing about having invested in booming stereo equipment rather than automotive fuel over the years is that I don’t have to listen to people complain about gas prices now — even if I wanted to.