Kent Bernhardt: The year of the Vega
I hesitate to write this, but gas prices have been significantly lower for the past few months.
The reason I hesitate to write it is I’m afraid someone in Washington D.C. will read it and use my column as the reason to raise pump prices again. In the past, they haven’t needed much motivation to make our lives miserable.
As a child, I never paid a lot of attention to how much it cost to fill a gas tank. Dad would pull the car in front of a gas pump, someone would come running outside yelling “Fill ‘er up?”, dad would nod, and the next thing I knew we were on our way with a clean windshield.
That changed in the fall of 1973. Something called an oil embargo made us all sit up and take notice. Oil quickly went from three dollars a barrel to twelve dollars globally, and suddenly we were feeling the pain at the pump.
Our family car, a 1967 Plymouth Fury III, got a whopping 16 miles per gallon out on the highway – 12 to 14 in the city – and with gas prices going from 35 cents a gallon to nearly 58 cents, changes were on the horizon.
Gas guzzlers were on the way out and families were looking for compact cars to get to and from their many destinations. My family was no different.
That’s why it didn’t surprise me when I arrived home for a weekend of rest from my studies at UNCC and was told by my dad we were headed to Greensboro to pick up our new car, a metallic bronze 1973 Chevrolet Vega.
Motor Trend listed the Vega as one of 15 cars to own in a gas crisis. On a gallon of gas, you could go nearly 28 miles. It’s not that impressive today, but in the 70’s it made for good conversation at the barber shop.
It was easy to see why our Vega was so stingy with fuel. It was tiny with virtually no back seat. There would be no more napping on the way to the beach unless you could actually get comfortable with your chin propped up on your knees.
I actually loved the Vega as a date-mobile. Any small car was referred to as “sporty” in those days, so I looked much more impressive pulling into my girlfriend’s driveway than I did driving the Plymouth. It was cool to be seen in one at the drive-in.
The disadvantage: bucket seats. It became far more difficult to execute “the move”, not that I had the opportunity to do that a lot anyway. Besides, the timing of my “move” as always off. She was usually halfway out of the car before I was leaning over. But that’s a sad story for another day.
Our Vega didn’t stay in the family long. It graced our driveway less than two years. For all of its advantages in the mileage department, its lack of space and comfort were obstacles too great to overcome.
It was also never a particularly safe or reliable car. There were numerous recalls, and it went from being Motor Trend’s 1971 Car of the Year to making Popular Mechanic’s list of the worst cars ever made.
Dad bought a family-friendly Dodge the next time around. It offered less of a bargain at the pump, but at least we could fit our luggage in the trunk again.
I’ve had a long history of car ownership. My travels have been made in three Chevrolets, a Buick, a Ford, an Oldsmobile, two Nissans, and now a Kia. I’m not exactly the poster boy for brand loyalty.
But my dad’s experience with the Vega taught me an important lesson about cars. Never let panic influence your decision on which car to buy. If you do, your kids will ride to the beach with their chins sitting on their knees.
Kent Bernhardt lives in Salisbury.
By Deal Safrit For the Salisbury Post Sometimes things fall together so unexpectedly that one has to take a step back... read more