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What'll She Do ... At The Pump?

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On: Wed, Aug 18, 2010 at 1:46PM | By: Lou Ruggieri

What'll She Do ... At The Pump?

I will admit, when I bought my 2001 Trans Am Ws6 on October 30th of 2000, I bought it with the intention of getting people’s attention.  Don’t get me wrong, there were other reasons I chose the car, but if we’re being serious, that was a big one.  Granted, it was blazingly fast with 320 horsepower from the factory Ls1 V8, and could outrun just about any other American car aside from a Corvette or a Viper.  It had four seats so friends could join in the fun, T-Tops to enjoy the sun, and six forward gears to choose from that I regularly rowed through.  Over the years, I’ve taken it road racing, and to the track where I ran a best of 13.2 @ 107.94 on street tires and very little experience.  My car has seen trips from Maine to Tampa Bay and from New Jersey to Texas, to San Francisco, and back across 80 East from start to finish.  

I have made quick friendships with car guys (and girls) in just about every state in the Union.  Some talk about their kindred ride, some want to race first and then discuss the outcome, and some just want to hear the exhaust note of  (what was then, and still is to some extent) a modern day muscle car.  The conversations usually go in similar patterns, which have become as familiar as catching up with extended family at Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner.  But after ten years and 140,000 miles across 40 states, I finally was posed a question that I have never heard before.  

It was a Saturday night around one in the morning, and I was on my way home from my second (of several) jobs and had to stop for gas. Luckily, there is a Sunoco station within about a mile of my job that I’ve become a weekly regular at. I pulled up to the pump, and was surprised to see that my usual friendly gas station attendant was absent, but instead appeared a younger version of the same man, in what I could only presume was his son. The young man had to be around 22, his hair was gelled, and he was clearly wearing his Sunoco shirt as fashionably as possible. When I pulled up to the pump he was chatting on his iPhone, but quickly told whoever he was talking to that he‘d call them back.

I saw him give my car the once over, as most testosterone driven individuals tend to do (I certainly did, which is why I bought it). He clearly couldn’t help but smile as he approached my window. He asked how much gas I needed right away, obviously getting the formalities out of the way. Then began the questions, “Hey what year is this car?”he asked innocently enough. To which I told him it was a 2001. Then he asked, “What mods do you have done to it?” Again, this was a fairly common question that even I find myself asking when I come upon a fellow gearhead’s hotrod. I explained that I had to rebuild my engine due to my #7 cylinder’s piston rings decision to commit suicide at around the 80,000 mile mark. I told him I upgraded to an Ls6 heads and cam package with an underdrive pulley, forged internals, exhaust and a host of suspension mods. I went on to explain that I wasn’t sure how much longer I was going to keep it because it has gotten to the point where it seems as though something is always in need of being fixed, and that I was considering upgrading my choice in ride to something a little faster.

When he heard that I did not intend to keep this beast until my dying day, his eyes lit up immediately. “How much do you want for it?” He asked almost before I finished my previous sentence. I thought it over, and gave him an arbitrary price I thought was approximately the last Kelly Blue Book value I looked up for my car. He nodded, and seemed to consider it for some time. All of these questions had been questions I have heard hundreds of times and have no problem answering again and again. But then, just as I expected this horsepower junkie to ask me who he should make the check out to, he asked me a question that I had never heard until that very night.

He said, “How many miles to the gallon does it get?”

Now, that may sound like an ordinary question to some, but to me it was a first. At no point in ten years had anyone ever out right asked me that. Sure, some guys would make an assumption with a smile, “Bet she‘s no hybrid!” But here was a college kid on his iPhone, and one of the first questions he factored into his contemplation of a car purchase was what kind of mileage the car gets. When I bought the car back in 2000, I remember thinking about gas mileage for a second, but then quickly dismissing the less than Corolla-type MPG with the car’s staggering performance.

I realize now, that that was a different world. A world that was less afraid, and much more entitled to many extents, than the one we live in now. In that world, gas was less than half the price it is now. Most stations did not add in the now 10% Ethanol to their mixture, which has since sent previous MPG ratings crashing down 10-30% depending on the environment and driving style. Then was a world where the next frontier was how much faster and more luxurious cars were going to get, not how much more electricity they can run on. Times are changing, and changing quickly. This should come as no surprise to anyone as a macro concept, but it becomes a bit more real when a 22 year old car guy shows almost as much concern for fuel mileage as he does for horsepower.

All is not lost however. My gas pumping friend did make me an offer for the car, so there is still hope. But the one lesson I took away from my late night encounter is that in the world we live in today, the next time I hear the question, “Hey, what’ll she do?” I might just need to ask for a clarification.

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