When cataloging objects one never knows what bits of previously unknown information one might find. The latest example of this for me started with a sticker on a suitcase that belonged to journalist Ernie Deane. The sticker was for the 1964 Mobile Economy Run, a cross-country car contest—not a race, but a contest—sponsored by Mobil Oil.
In today’s automotive world fuel economy is determined by the EPA. But in the pre-EPA era of the Mobile Economy Run, auto manufacturers used the Economy Run to determine what the different models averaged for gas mileage. The contest was held from 1936 to 1968, except during World War II, with women permitted to participate beginning in 1957.
Ernie Deane was working for the Arkansas Gazette when he covered the 1964 Economy Run, a 3,243.8-mile trek which boasted 45 American-made cars in eight different classes based on wheelbase, engine size, body size and price. Manufacturers supplied a driver and relief driver for each of their cars.
The United States Auto Club, which sanctioned and operated the event, purchased the cars from dealerships. The vehicles were then inspected for modifications. Seals were applied to hoods and chassis before the cars were shipped to the starting city. Factory fuel tanks were disconnected for the event and a special tank was mounted in the trunk.
There was a “breaking in” period allowed for the drivers to get comfortable with their particular car and to figure out techniques to optimize fuel mileage. It was much like a sports car rally, with a set course and time allotment—70 hours and 40 minutes for 1964—but with the added complication of gasoline consumption. The course was a secret, even to drivers, who were given maps of the next day’s course at the end of each day. To make sure that the drivers obeyed all the traffic laws there were United States Auto Club observers in each car who would penalize a driver for infractions. The observers were rotated to help limit familiarity between drivers and observers. Penalties could be issued for course deviations, traffic violations, going over the speed limit, rolling stops, or arriving too late or too early at designated checkpoints. Any resulting penalties were served the following morning by sitting idle while the rest of the cars started on the route for the day, not only costing the driver time, but gas mileage.
Starting in 1959 the Economy Run winner was determined by actual miles-per-gallon, instead of the previously used ton-mileage formula.
It is interesting how one small sticker from over 50 years ago can evolve into a new world of information, especially if that world involves Ernie Deane.
Read two of Ernie Deane’s “Arkansas Traveler” columns he wrote for the Arkansas Gazette during his coverage of the 1964 Mobil Economy Run.
View the map for Day 4 of the Run, which included the route through Arkansas.
Aaron Loehndorf is the collections/education assistant at the Shiloh Museum.