QotW: What’s your best fuel-saving JNC story?

Mazda Mizer

Tomorrow is Earth Day, and if we can get real for a moment let’s admit that one of the main reasons Americans bought Japanese cars by the boatload is because we’re cheaper than Scrooge McDuck when it comes to fuel. Japan and Europe pays more than $7 a gallon at the pump and we practically pick up the pitchforks to revolt when dead dino juice rises above the $4 mark. Luckily, many JNCs got Prius-like fuel economy 25 years ago.

What’s your best fuel-saving JNC story?

Back when we were just starting JNC, we had to buy a car with hauling capacity for long-distance driving. It looked like choices were going to by a new-ish SUV or van of some sort, but then lady luck called. In 2005 I had left a note on a 1986 Toyota Cressida in a Seattle parking lot, asking the owner to contact me if they ever wanted to sell it. Apparently, she’d kept my note for two years and finally decided to part with it. $1000 and a one-way ticket later we had our JNC wagon, averaging 26 mpg down to LA despite some, uh, spirited driving in the mountains of northern California. It’s not CRX HF territory, but it was better than any vehicle with similar cargo capacity in Toyota’s lineup at the time.

What say you, dear reader? As always, the most entertaining comment by next Monday will receive a toy. Click through to see the winner of the last QotW, “What’s your greatest Mazda MX-5 story?” 

Last week’s winner comes from LM, a tale that involves, in no particular order, a broken condom, medical marijuana, a five-car accident and an impossibly tough Miata. We’ll let her take it from here:

I was 25, driving lots of freeway miles for work, and despite having only street parking in a beachfront southern California neighborhood, I decided it was time to procure a quarter-life crisis car. I had (still have!) a perfectly serviceable Acura Legend coupe, but wanted something small, fun, and cheap. The answer is always Miata.

Did I mention I didn’t know how to drive manual (I’ve since learned)? Thus I obtained one of the two auto NA Miatas available at the time. Owned by the seller’s deceased mother-in-law, with only 80k in its decade-plus of life, and with all interior plastics clawed by either a scrabbling Shi Tzu or a family of ferrets, it was mine for a pittance.

I had a good nine months with it, despite regular trips to the Inland Empire in sweltering weather with non-working AC, arriving at at clients’ offices sweat-sodden, keeping my back to the walls so that my clients wouldn’t think their rather expensive IT girl a total mess.

And then I had a very bad day. It started with great sex, followed by a broken condom. Ever-resourceful, I found a pack of old birth control pills that, luckily enough, could be used as emergency contraception if taken in multiples of 8 or so. But with unfortunate side effects — utterly incapacitating nausea and misery. My partner at the time suggested I beta-test something from the family business — medicinal marijuana tinctures.

Allow me to digress – I don’t smoke pot. I’ve never really enjoyed it, but given the circumstances, I thought a few droppers of cannibis-laced alcohol would do me good. I started to feel better, and decided it would be a good idea to go to the gym.

The Miata and I nearly made it to the destination, but someone pulled out into 50mph traffic some lengths ahead and everyone slammed on their brakes. The Miata, lacking ABS, didn;t appreciate my sudden stop, and I slid into the Civic ahead of me.

A simple fender-bender? No. According to the 5 friendly CHP representatives at the scene, I caused a five-car pileup by rear-ending the Civic. Three of the four victims’ vehicles were rendered un-drivable and towed away, including 2 SUVs.

Did I mention I was technically high?

The damage to my Miata? Cracked paint on the bumper; nary a dent or dislocated panel. I attempted to school the officers in the laws of physics, arguing that a single-ton vehicle simply couldn’t have caused a debilitating chain-reacting wreck without significant body damage of its own and that someone ahead either hit first. They were unconvinced. My fault. Cited. Insurance payout over $30k, not a cent of it spent on my vehicle.

I ended up getting a job out of state and sold the little battering ram that could, but not before treating its front bumper to the finest re-paint Maaco offered. Maaco couldn’t match the metallic paint and re-did the entire car for free, and I bid the car farewell….

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17 Responses to QotW: What’s your best fuel-saving JNC story?

  1. Nar says:

    I drove down to Portland from Vancouver BC for the CRX meet in 2011 and cleared through 746km in one tank (about 500km to get to Portland). I could have probably hit 800 but i didn’t want to take a chance on running out of gas. I drive a 90 CRX Si and for a sport model it does better mileage than a lot of the newer “fuel efficient” cars of today. I regularly get 500-600 km out of a tank in my regular commutes of mixed highway and city driving which translates to about almost 2 weeks before each fill up. CRX Hf owners must be so happy with the mileage they get out of these cars. 🙂

  2. Unionmine says:

    Best I’ve done is on a trip to utah running down Hwy 80 in my gutted lowered 93 eg I was able to get 52 MPG. But only running Nevada and utah gas, as soon as I put california gas in it the mileage dropped to 38 MPG way to go California.

  3. Ben E. says:

    I’ve gotten well over 700kms on 1 tank in my 84 RA64. 61 litre tank helps 😛 But we are paying 1.46$ a litre…. or about 6.60$ a gallon. Way to go America, buy our oil and sell it for cheaper than we can buy it in our own country… Also, way to go Canada, good job at sucking up. not.

    • Randy says:

      Gotta ask: How do y’all afford a mortgage/rent up there? Four bucks/gallon here has people trading in their SUVs and such.

      I’d think that the oil up there would bring the fuel prices down. Guessing there’s not a whole lot of refinery activity?

  4. GEN2TWINCAM says:

    This one’s easy!

    On my 18th birthday, I took the day off from work, drove my Opel Kadett to the Honda dealer and picked up my brand-new 1982 Honda Civic 1300FE. They kept the Opel.

    FE stood for Fuel Efficient, and that it was. 42 City / 55 Highway was the claimed mileage – and I absolutely got that. Way back when, I lived in New Jersey and was a big Mini enthusiast (the real ones). I used to drive to all the annual Mini Meets. I remember driving home from the Montreal meet, filling up the tank on the way out of the city. I made it all the way home to South Jersey on one tank! Another trip to the Knoxville, TN meet resulted in exactly 55 mpg average. Imagine what the maximum mpg must have been!

    And ponder this fellow JNC peeps, this was with a carburetor, no ECU wizardry, and not much in the way of aerodynamics! Cor Blimey! If they’d trim some of the butt-cosseting lard from today’s hybrids, just think what could be done with the numbers.

    Oh, by the way, I still own my 1982 1300FE

  5. Steve says:

    I just gotta say.

    That story doesn’t surprise me at all considering it came outta SoCal.

    Ya’ll are crazy.

  6. Jim-Bob says:

    Two words: Geo Metro. You see, I deliver pizza for a living (not particularly proud of this fact…) and so for me, cars are all about numbers. Back when gas hit $4 a gallon (the first time), I was driving my Nissan Frontier and getting maybe 20 mpg. I wanted to replace it with something more efficient, but at that time anyone with money and an SUV was thinking the same thing. Thus, a Geo Metro was suddenly $4,000-$8,000! I calculated the amount of time it would take me to pay for the initial investment with fuel cost savings and it was just not worth doing at those prices. However, I also thought that gas prices were in a bubble and would eventually crash, giving me my buying opportunity. Well, about a year later, gas prices crashed to $1.79 a gallon, and so did the bubble in Metro prices. I knew I had a fairly small window, as quantitative easing would soon depreciate the dollar versus crude oil prices, so I had to act fast. At first, I paid $350 for a 92 2 door Metro automatic with a burned exhaust valve, a failed transmission computer and no cat. However, the body was perfect (with bad paint) and the interior was decent too. It even had the owner’s manual set! I parked it in my back yard, pulled the engine and sent the head off for a rebuild. While the head was out though, I found another Metro-this one a running and driving 91 5 door with a 5 speed for only $300! I talked the guy down to $250 and drove it home. It leaked oil-bad- (half a quart in 10 miles), the cobbled together A/C system didn’t work and it smelled of mold inside, but it was mine. Originally it was to be a parts donor for the 2 door, but that’s not what happened. I fixed the oil leak (just a $10 cam seal that hadn’t been glued in), fixed the front suspension with parts from the 92 and started delivering with it. When I first started driving it, it was returning no less than 40 mpg, with one tank of mostly delivering seeing 49.5 mpg! Sadly though, the MPG’s have gone south as of late, and nothing I do seems to help. It’s currently only seeing 36-40 mpg (city). Still though, this car is worth $150-200 in extra income every month versus the Frontier. The only negative (besides a lack of crash worthiness) is that due to it’s age some parts are becoming scarce.

    Some of you may be wondering what will become of the 92? I am not completely certain yet. I have managed to get most of the parts needed for a resurrection and it may still live. It’s engine has had a few fuel efficiency modifications done (3Tech head and extra compression), and the 91 now has a taller geared 4 cylinder transmission in it. What I want to do is combine all of the good parts and put them in the 91 for now, but use the 91’s original engine and trans to mock up the 5 speed conversion in the 92. Once it is running and working, the drivetrains will be swapped between the two cars, giving me a white 92 Metro with a max efficiency drivetrain and a 91 Metro backup car. I’ll also paint the 92 and put in new (black) carpets, as well as better heat insulation to make the A/C more efficient. It will be the ultimate team of pizza cars that will (hopefully) last long enough to get me through my return to college and into a good paying career.

    • Randy says:

      Keep ’em both! If one gets killed, you have parts to swap to the other, and really, what are you going to find for a reasonable price that gets even the 36-40? Four years of payments that’ll offset any mpg savings?

      I don’t remember how long you may have previously said you’ve had it, but you also know at least that much history of it, and every quirk and creak.

      You could maybe pick up a Yaris for “a really good price,” but it’ll probably have been beat half to death, be heading to more expensive repairs, and based on what I’ve read, ain’t gonna crack 35mpg in your line of work.

      Let the Metro be your money maker, laughing all the way to work, whether the present gig, or some office something in the future, knowing that you’re spending next to nothing to sit in traffic, while the Denali in the next lane is shelling out for 50 gallons/week. Summer’s coming, so you know prices are going back up (Pgh is around $3.79/gal right now), so you’ll save even more.

      Put the savings toward the stuff you want to do on the Frontier (lift? new wheels/tires? winch?), and on the getaways you do with it. (A Metro allowed me to cruise weekends in a ~9mpg Chrysler.)

      Oh, and while it’s a pain-in the-butt job, obviously there’s a need for it, and it’s income. Who knows? Maybe you’ll meet someone who will hook you up with your next job…

  7. cesariojpn says:

    I’ve been keeping my gas receipts and noting the mileage of each fill-up. My SOP is to refill the tank around 180-185. One thing i’ve noticed that whenever the fill-up is low (around 7-8 gallons), is when I keep my car “stabled” out of the sun. Where I live is sunny like, 88% of the time, so i’ve surmised that if I keep my car in shade, it’ll help with the gas mileage.

    The jury is still out with that one.

  8. Steve says:

    I’m guessing this is not a very Earth-day friendly story but back in the early 80s I removed all of my smog equipment and installed a Doug Thorley header and saw a 15% increase in gas mileage, from 20MPG to 23MPG. Those early cat cons (full of loose pellets) were very poorly designed!

  9. Tofuik says:

    No good stories of my own cars, but my buddy averaging 45mpg in his 81 Corolla Wagon makes my ’13 iQ’s average of 42 depressing. And that’s up from the 38 I was getting before I starting modifying it. We really screwed up somewhere along the way.

  10. Randy says:

    Not yet old enough to be a Nostalgic, but I had a ’93 Metro XFi. I had a regular-hours job, and I’m ALWAYS running late, so I was sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic daily, until I got to Bigelow Blvd (near Univ. of Pgh), where I’d open it up. Never got below 40mpg.

    I made a game of it, when I could. Just doing the early-shifting, and neutral coasting as much as I could, – did NOT do the shut-off/restart hyper-miling thing. I eventually got it up to 45mpg! I never thought about the pump-up-the-air-in-the-tires thing. Couldn’t keep the windows up, either; no AC in XFis. Forty-five miles per gallon, driving a parachute!

    Eventually traded it in for another Metro, though not an XFi. Turned out that the first one was in better shape, but I was an IDIOT. Possibly my dumbest move ever, since the AC in the second one died, and wasn’t worth fixing.

  11. simon says:

    pffft “butters” my old 1976 Mazda 808 Savanna Wagon had a crappy tc1300 that could get me from Canberra to melbourne on $45, 4 years ago at $1.50 a litre. plus he had about 400,000km on the clock, pure awesome (we had put a 5 speed box in him though).

  12. Jonathan Miller says:

    1971 JDM Mazda Carol..I brought the car here in 2008 and have driven it 169,000km since at an averge of 55mpg..Best $17.000 I ever spent ($4500 for the car and $12,500 to get it right with the Feds)

    • Randy says:

      What did you have to do to “get it right with the Feds?” $12,500 ain’;t much less than I paid for my whole car…

  13. Jay Roberts says:

    I don’t really have any road trip or hypermile stories. Just one from an older guy in the US who was there when that whole ’70s fuel economy thing Ben’s talking about actually happened.

    It’s tough to find the words strong enough to describe how most rural Southern Americans hated those times. It was like their entire way of life was under some sort of threat. They saw cheap gasoline as almost a “right”, and when OPEC turned off the tap in `74, they freaked. Not just *my* parents, but everyone else’s, too, Seems like they freaked out for different reasons..but some folks didn’t freak out quite as much as they *should* have.

    My dad had a hard & fast rule after I got my first driver’s license..NO FOREIGN CARS! That was kinda tough for me, because I was a sports car guy. I wasn’t into Japanese iron then (yeah, the 240z and 510 were around, but only 3-5yrs old. Even used, waaaay too expensive for a 14yr old high school student), but I already knew that small & light was better than big & heavy..The only American (my dad’s rule, remember?) sports car was the Corvette. Yeah, not quite the thing a high school student could afford. I actually bought British..a rusty old Triumph, and parked it far away from the house. I’d drive one of the family cars over to where I’d hidden the thing, and change cars for the day. At the end of the day, I’d change back and go home.

    And then, it happened. One of my girlfriends’ fathers (a farmer, looking to reduce the expense on fuel like the Pizza Guy describes) bought a ’75 Corolla for her. Wanted to buy a new car, as parents do (especially fathers worried about daughters being stranded on the road), but also knew that if he’d bought a Malibu or LTD or Dart, he’d be bleeding money feeding their V8s. Money that might fuel his tractors and keep his farm alive. I still remember my sixteen year old self telling Corolla girl, “Hey, let’s take *your* car!” because we could cruise around for much longer than we could running around in my family’s Jeep Cherokee or Chevy Malibu.

    Once the first guy in our neighborhood did it, it seemed like damn near *everyone* did. Even after fuel costs went back down. My dad never did get on that train, but my mom sure did after my dad’s death..my sister was a little hottie in 1980. My mom was scared to death that she’d get raped on the side of the road the next time her ’77 Chevette broke down. New ’81 “Quaalude” for her. The cost of fuel might have been *why* older Americans started buying Japanese cars in the 1970s, but what their kids (like me and Corolla girl, and my sister) learned about the cars once they finally arrived over here is why Japanese marques still have so much success in the US market.

    I have to admit..I ran German (BMW/VW) for a long time. But when I got laid off from my middle-class job, the first thing I did was liquidate some stock and grab an RSX Type-S. Hell…gotta get something reliable enough to get to work, right?

    TL;DR: It ain’t all about fuel economy..

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