My first car after I graduated from college–one that belonged to me and wasn’t borrowed from mom–was a second-hand 1967 Oldsmobile Delta 88 two-door hardtop. I bought it on the recommendation of my father, with twelve-hundred borrowed bucks from my grandmother (whose last name ironically enough was Buck). His car salesman buddy had told him he’d just taken a “clean” trade-in from a lady who was divorcing her carousing, no-good-bum of a husband. She was only getting rid of it, the car not the no-good-bum of a husband, because she wanted a smaller car that was easier to park. That’s how the story went anyway. Pictured above is the artwork from a vintage 1960s ad for the Oldsmobile 88 which had graced the pages of Life weekly magazine before it disappeared from newsstands in 1972, the same year I bought the car.
Judging by the smiling and contented looking couple in the illustration, clearly readers of Life were meant to discern that owning this expansive assemblage of Detroit steel was, in all its fashionable splendor, the key to a happy marriage. Either that or when a couple had arrived at that elusive station in life of being both well-established and happy, parking an Olds 88 in the driveway was simply de rigueur (the Olds 98 was reserved for folks who were more mature–mature sounds politically less offensive than older– and perhaps a tad more discriminating as well). Maybe this was the real reason why the previous owner of my car, being newly divorced, had decided an 88 was no longer the right car for her. I wonder… a little… but mostly the ad makes me wonder when hats are going to come back into fashion for the ladies. Aren’t they overdue?
My five-year-old 88 looked similar to the one shown in the inset. It was Tahoe Turquoise with a black vinyl top and matching black interior. I added amber-colored fog lights, which were all the rage, and side marker lights front and rear, all of which were buggers to wire into the electrical system, plus a pair of in-door speakers that could better handle cranked-up Doobie Brothers tunes on the AM radio. Though it was a gas guzzler by today’s standards, in my father’s words as I recall them, the car was affordable, sensible and comfortable. I have to admit it ran like a dream. Still, that was little consolation for not being able to cruise about town in wheels that, in my mind, would have been more befitting a recent Penn State graduate… wheels like, say, my girlfriend’s ’67 red Mustang convertible (okay so the pony was a rattle trap and it leaked in the rain, but after all, there are always trade-offs in life are there not?).
I remember picking up my GF one particular Friday evening. I was running a little late because I’d stopped for gas at the new Getty gas station on the way to her place. At a time when other stations were selling three grades of gas, and Sunoco was selling their “Blue Sunoco” product that supposedly could be blended right there at the pump, Getty had gone premium only. So after I explained to my GF why I was late, she asked how much I’d paid for the premium gas. I said, “Thirty (slight pause) nine.”
“OMG!” she exlaimed. “39 cents a gallon? Are you crazy?” As I recall, regular at that time was selling for 28 or 29 cents at other stations.
“No, thirty POINT nine. Who do you think I am, Rockefeller?” I said.
Young folks today have a difficult time imagining this. Thirty cents and nine-tenths: put those numbers up on the sign at your local gas station and see if you don’t attract a gas line that stretches as far as the eye can see. Who came up with that tenths-of-a-cent thing anyway? I suppose it made sense when gasoline sold for mere pennies per gallon, but now that it’s priced in dollars (and lots of ‘em), wouldn’t it make sense to drop this tenths-of-a-cent nonsense?
Gas guzzler though it may have been, I wouldn’t have classified my 88 as being a high-performance machine, like so many of the muscle cars of that era that every young man lusted after. I’d've done just about anything to drive a ’67 GTO convertible, with red pin stripe Tiger Paws wrapped around Krager mag wheels. Nonetheless, my ride did have a thirst for premium high octane go-juice. Oh, how that 350 cubic-inch Rocket V8 did purr when I fed it the good stuff. That was okay with me though because I rather thought of myself as a premium kinda guy, and at 30.9 cents a gallon, it was a splurge a guy who was still living at home and working a low-paying entry level job could afford. It was a couple of pennies cheaper than “putting a tiger in my tank” with Esso Extra. Besides, I liked the Getty TV commercial in which an army of ‘Getty Guys’, replete in their crisp service attendant uniforms, and led by a line of tank trucks, march across a long open bridge spanning a scenic gorge while whistling the tune from Bridge Over the River Kwai.
Incidentally, Esso’s 1960s Put a Tiger in Your Tank advertising campaign checks in as being one of the most successful and memorable ad campaigns of all time. Esso stations (now ExxonMobile–who, I might add, is a valued Air Liquide customer) gave out little tiger tails that you could tie around your gas cap to proudly proclaim that you had a tiger in your tank. And people actually bought 9-inch and larger versions like the one shown. My annoying younger brother, who’d finally retired from wearing his stupid-looking black Beatles wig, had a 24-inch job that he delighted in smacking me with whenever I wasn’t looking. If I thought that darn thing might be among mom’s many mementos, I’d sell it on eBay, like the one pictured, and make a few bucks as retribution for his torment.
All of this was back in the day when few people pumped, or even knew how to pump their own gas. Who would want to anyway? Maybe on a pleasant Spring day, but seeing as how gas pumps were rarely under roof, when it rained, you’d be soaking wet by the time you’d pumped 15 gallons. Gas jockeys dressed for the elements. They would poke that nozzle into your tank and let’er ripe while they serviced another car at another pump. Weather permitting, they whipped a spray water bottle out of their back pocket to spritz and wipe your windshield (didn’t need no stinkin’ squeegees–and often leaving it more streaked than it was before they started). They carried a wad of oily, dirt-smudged bills and a pocketful of jingle too, so they could make change right there at your car door. Who knew about different prices for cash and for credit?
By that time the folks at Diners Club, American Express and Bank Americard had already envisioned ubiquitous use of plastic money, not to mention the colossal profits that would come with it, but I wonder, had anyone foreseen deep-water off-shore drilling? Had anyone truly considered the havoc an oil spill could wreak on our environment? It may have been smooth sailin’ in the 1960s for Esso/Exxon when tiger tails adorned gas tanks everywhere, but when the Valdez foundered years later, wow, did they/we ever hit a rough patch of road!
About the only spills happening back then were when the automatic shut-off in the pump nozzle didn’t work when your tank was full, causing gas to slop down the side of your car. My mom had a ’62 white Rambler (talk about impressing the young ladies in those wheels–arghhh) that was prone to this for some reason. It must’ve had something to do with having a funky bend in the fuel filler pipe or something. I was always being told to drag out the garden hose to wash off the brown gasoline stain “before it ate the paint off.” Other than me bellyaching about car wash duty, no one thought too much about spilled gasoline–except of course you knew you’d be smelling it for the next ten miles or so until it evaporated and the odor dissipated. That and cautious smokers waited a while before popping out their dashboard lighters to fire up a cigarette.
That kind of nonchalance, naiveté–or stupidity if you like–went out with dashboards of steel, like the one in my dad’s 1965 Madiera Maroon Chevy Impala Super Sport, and with kids dangling their legs out the back of a station wagon with its tail gate down. Fond but sometimes dangerous memories, those. As Bob Dylan wrote: The times, they are a-changin’. In some ways, the times needed changin’. Even as a kid I was capable of speculating how an unpadded, steel dashboard might split a human skull like a ripe mellon in the event of an accident–odd that auto manufacturers weren’t. As for kiddies half hanging out the back end of a station wagon during the ride to summer camp… well, it doesn’t take a whole lotta vision to see how that might play out.
Now, being in an age where a parent is lucky to stay out of jail for driving with a child passenger who’s not tied, belted and otherwise restrained in a seat that’s reminiscent of standard equipment in the Apollo 11 Lunar Module, when you talk about spilled gasoline–more specifically the vapors it gives off–it’s almost seen as being a downright hazardous calamity. This is so much so that the state of California is taking the initiative on this score, because it turns out that gasoline vapors invisibly muddy up our atmosphere by affecting Earth’s ozone layer. They’re also considered to be toxic to the point of causing cancer–ya know, kinda like those cyclamates they used to sweeten our diet sodas in the 60s. Who knew that swigging a diet cola, or gassing up your buggy could be hazardous to your health. I’ve seen warning signs on gas pumps telling me not to let my motor run and not to use my cell phone. I never saw one that said DO NOT BREATH WILL FILLING UP.
California’s Enhanced Vapor Recovery (EVR) program, which was first adopted in March of 2000 and is now into Phase II, requires approximately 13,000 gasoline dispensing facilities (commonly referred to as GDFs, but I still like to think of them as gas stations) to obtain permits, purchase EVR equipment and have the whole kit and kaboodle installed by certified contractors. Essentially it amounts to introducing a new generation of clean nozzles and other equipment that’s engineered to trap and contain vaporous emissions at gasoline dispensing facilities.
The deal is, the carbon adsorbers and hydrocarbon sensors that are part of the EVR equipment must be tested from one to three times each year to verify they are functioning effectively. This requires using a propane hydrocarbon surrogate, isobutane and zero nitrogen specialty gases. As it happens, Air Liquide America Specialty Gases supplies these EVR gases. They are part of our SCOTT™ brand of specialty gas mixtures and are available in a number of cylinder sizes depending on the volume of gases needed.
I don’t profess to know precisely how EVR works. What can you expect from a nontechnical guy who gets excited over an ad campaign that goes viral–BTW, an astounding 2,500,000 tiger tails were sold during Esso/Exxon’s 60s campaign. Talk about merchandising your brand! Truth is, I don’t really want to know any more than was necessary for my Marketing Communications Team to create datasheets for our EVR products. But don’t misunderstand. This doesn’t mean I’m not thankful there are engineers, chemists and scientists out there–and within Air Liquide–who care enough to invent products and processes so the rest of us needn’t hold our breath for as long as it takes to pump 40 bucks worth of unleaded go-juice.
As they say these days, “It’s all good.” Truly, EVR will help preserve this beautiful planet on which we live, even more so when California’s initiative is adopted elsewhere. But ya know, maybe it’s my age, but I can’t help missing the innocence of cruising up to a gas pump, leaning out my window and saying, “Fill’er up!” Without experiencing a sense of dread over how much it’s gonna cost me. Without fear of gettin’ a snoot-full of toxic vapors. I’m missing the fun of blasting down the highway with a cheesy stuffed tiger tail flapping in the wind. I’m also a little bummed: where the heck is Oldsmobile now that I’m old (oops) mature enough to drive a 98?