World affairs and a teenager’s wheels sometimes clashed in the so-called good old days

By John Toth / Editor and Publisher

These lower gas prices are beginning to resemble what we used to pay back in the days when we worried more about the color of a car than how many miles per gallon it was getting.

Those were the good old days, as they say. But sometimes those days weren’t all that good, like when world affairs affected my affairs as a teenager with wheels.

So, in 1973 I decided to buy my first car, an older VW fastback stickshift that used hardly any gas, but had a problem with rain water leaking into the passenger compartment. It accumulated inside an area under the back seat that also housed the battery.

That wasn’t a good combination. I had no idea from where the water was seeping in, so I did the next best thing – drilled a hole in the floorboard to allow the water that had entered the compartment to drain. Luckily, there wasn’t anything in the way of my drill, like a muffler pipe or fuel line.

Unbeknownst to me, since I was a teen-ager who sometimes forgot to read the Wall Street Journal, about the time I bought that leaking pile of metal, Egypt and Syria decided to attack Israel to try to regain territories they lost in 1967 in the Six Day War. That one didn’t take very long.

When the U.S. supplied Israel with arms, the Arab members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) retaliated with an oil embargo against the U.S. and other Western countries.

And just about the time I was ready to cruise with my high school buddies, the price of gas shot up from 39 cents a gallon to 59 cents as a barrel of oil went from $3 to $12. If this wasn’t enough, a gas shortage hit the country, and I couldn’t even buy gas at that exorbitant price.

And there went the free dinner plates with every fill-up. I almost had the whole set.

I wish now that I kept that VW. It would be worth a lot of money. It preceded the cheating computer chip. As a matter of fact, it probably preceded the computer chip.

Then, in reaction to the embargo and higher gas prices, the speed limit was dropped nationwide to 55 MPH. That didn’t affect me much, since I was just glad that my pile of moving debris could get up to that speed.

My timing wasn’t any better the second time around. I bought a 1968 Buick Skylark with a 350 engine that got an incredible 9 MPG. It was a gas guzzler, but I didn’t care. Gas was still cheap, and I liked that power under the hood.

I liked it until the Iranian Revolution took place in 1979, destabilizing the nation’s oil supply and scaring the driving public into generating another gas crisis. There I was again – with a car and no gas. That baby sucked it up faster than the VW, so when all this took place, the Skylark was parked a lot while I returned to public transportation.

That Skylark brought me to Texas, although I had to delay the trip by one day because of odd-even gas rationing. Once I got to Texas, gas was in ample supply, so I decided to stay.

Thank you, world problems, for making my youthful car-owning days so complicated. It was definitely bad timing. That revolution could have been delayed a little until I made my cross-country trip.

At the top of this column, I wrote that today’s gas prices are beginning to resemble the prices back then. They are actually lower if we compare apples to apples (for those of us who like apples.)

After searching the Internet for a few seconds, I found a formula that compares current money to old money, calculating in the inflation index.

The current price of gas here of $1.65 or so, converts to 31 cents per gallon in 1973 numbers. That’s eight cents lower than the actual price that year, before the oil embargo. At the time, gas sold for 39 cents per gallon.

Now, aren’t you glad you read all the way down to here? It probably made your day.