U.S. car dealers were caught in a pickle 40 years ago this week when the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries punished the United States for supporting Israel in the Yom Kippur War by refusing to ship oil to America.
For months, hundreds of thousands of gas-guzzling, bargelike American sedans sat unloved and unwanted on dealership lots across the country.
How would dealers respond to the crisis? With characteristic resourcefulness, as typified by legendary Southern California multiline dealer Cal Worthington, who died last month. Worthington's famous speech to his sales team was recounted in Wheels For The World, Douglas Brinkley's 2003 history of Ford Motor Co.
"'Men,' Worthington shouted, 'you all know what we're up against! A subcompact gets 20 mpg against 10 mpg for a standard-size car, but we got to convince 'em that a standard's just as good. Throw some figures at 'em. Tell them that they're three times as likely to be injured in an accident if they're driving a subcompact. Wait a little bit, and then say that with big-car prices down so much, they'd be foolish to sit cramped up in a small car ready to die ... Men, get out there and sell those big cars.'"