Memories · The Last Half Century

GTO, OPEC, MPG and First Love

It was love at first sight. I was a 13-year old boy minding my own business when I spotted her flaunting her beauty. I couldn’t stop myself from staring at her. I was mesmerized by the Pontiac GTO parked in my parent’s driveway with its copper-colored steel body resting on racing slicks with raised white lettering.

A minute later I watched my brother’s friend climb into the car. As the engine roared to life, he turned and waved at me from the open window in his door. He looked so cool in that car. A second later he left in a cloud of dust as he spun the rear tires on our gravel driveway. I watched in awe as he raced down our road and quickly disappeared from sight.

“What a time to be a teenager,” I thought. It was the early 1970s when big engines propelled fast cars with cheap gas. I was living during the heyday of the American muscle car. But I could only admire it from afar. I was too young to have a driver’s license. The next best thing for me was to leaf through the pages of Hot Rod magazine and dream about the day when I would look cool behind the wheel of a GTO. Little did I know my dreams were about to be shattered by something called OPEC.

The OPEC oil embargo of 1973 caused a dramatic rise in gas prices. Soon a 55 mph speed limit was put into effect and suddenly gas mileage became more important than 0-60 mph acceleration times. It caused the death of muscle cars with monster engines and raw horsepower. By the time I graduated from high school, I had traded my GTO dreams for MPG.

I remember driving out of the dealer lot with my Plymouth Horizon into adulthood. It wasn’t exactly the GTO moment I had dreamed about. When I punched the accelerator, I could barely get a chirp out of the tires. It had half the cylinders of that GTO and zero cool factor, but it did get a cool 34 MPG on the highway. I reassured myself I was saving money commuting to college in it as I mourned my dream of owning a GTO. Yet I never dreamed what would happen next.

I now look back on my first car with fondness as I recall taking my wife on dates in it. I vividly remember proposing to her in the front seat right before I dropped her off at her college dorm. It was the car we took on our honeymoon — a three-week, cross-country trip to the Pacific Coast in Washington state. Riding in that car with the love of my life was a dream come true. That’s a dream I’m still living.

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