On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff
FOR MORE than two years, we’ve had declining gasoline prices nationwide. (Congress: Investigate this skullduggery!) However, now it seems to be over in California. Not shortages, mind; just increases in price. This got me thinking about the two oil crises I’ve lived through, 1973 and 1979. The first one affected me only slightly. The other, however, had significant effect on my life as an automotive enthusiast: It screwed up my weekend with the Healey Fiesta.
The first oil crisis began in October 1973. Its cause was an embargo by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, at least in part traceable to American aid to Israel. At the time, OPEC’s Iran was a U.S. ally and the world’s second-largest exporter of oil; only Saudi Arabia’s exports were greater.
I was living on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Caribbean was not without its own petroleum resources; neighboring St. Croix had a huge Hess Oil Refinery, which sent most of its products elsewhere. Gasoline was always more expensive in the V.I. than in the mainland. On the other hand, luxury products, liquor and tobacco were dirt cheap. And, besides, just how much driving could one do on a 3 x 12-mile island? As was said locally, no big t’ing, mon.
By March 1974, all but Libya had ended their embargo.
Fast forward to 1979. The Iranian Revolution earlier that year replaced U.S. friend Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi with 1st Supreme Leader the Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his Islamic Republic. Global oil supply didn’t decrease all that much, perhaps four percent, but it rippled into worldwide shortages and long lines at U.S. gasoline stations.
I was essentially in my third career: college teaching, Society of Automotive Engineers and newly at R&T. In those days, the Engineering Editor performed the track testing—and also assigned nightly test cars to accumulate notes for staff members writing the articles. I tried to handle this latter responsibility with less than complete greediness. But I confess the Healey Fiesta charmed me mightily.
This was the first generation of Ford’s B-segment Fiesta, an econobox mini by U.S. standards. Englishman Donald Healey had several hyphenated automotive achievements, the Austin-Healey, Jensen-Healey and Nash-Healey sports cars. In the Ford Fiesta by Healey, the car’s proper name, his company was commissioned to build an auto show counterpart of the Mini Cooper S first seen in the mid-1960s. That is, this (unhyphenated) Healey Fiesta was (and remains) a one-off, not intended for production.
Nevertheless, on its auto show circuit, the Healey Fiesta visited the R&T office—and it was precisely my cup of British Racing Green tea: a pint providing quart-size excitement.
The Healey Fiesta’s interior did away with the rear seat, replaced by a roll bar and a fat Firestone BR60-13 spare on Minilite wheel. The car had a small-diameter Motolito steering wheel, added instrumentation and an engine utterly free of power-sapping emissions controls. (This was an era when new production cars were cleaner than their predecessors, but less responsive, more fuel-guzzly and slower.)
In writing the Healey Fiesta Road Test, Editor-in-Chief Tony Hogg noted, “On driving off, the first impression is that the engine is entirely free to wind out as far as it will go, and it has that harsh feel unique to high-compression engines.”
Just the thing for an entertaining weekend, so I assigned the Healey Fiesta to myself. It had only to be fueled up after its day of track testing.
However, the Healey Fiesta’s 10.1:1 compression ratio called for premium gasoline, and this was the day that the 1979 oil crisis hit home. High test became unavailable, even to those suffering multi-hour lines at gas stations.
The Healey Fiesta, with enough fuel to get to its next auto show gig, spent the weekend in the R&T garage. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2015