Nostalgia Marketing: Mercury Endurance, Mobilgas Economy, Chitwood Thrill Show

Greg Zyla
Q: Greg in early 1963, I talked to a buddy of mine and a race driver by the name of Ray Murray. Ray told me he took part in a 100,000-mile non-stop reliability test at Daytona International Speedway for an endurance promotion campaign for the Mercury Comet. During the 100,000 mile run, they would run wide open at over 100-mph and would only stop to change drivers, get gasoline or change oil.
I remember these type of events going on but don’t recall ever seeing the ads for this Comet 100,000-mile run in print. I’m 82-years-old now and my memory is a little rusty. Do you remember these ad campaigns and could you maybe find an ad of this Comet test?
I really enjoy your articles and look forward to them every week in the Wayne County Times. Sincerely, Theodore (TJ) Aeckerle, Clyde, N.Y.
Q: Well TJ, I admit not only do I remember that Mercury Comet high-speed endurance test, I will also add a few other ways the car companies utilized extraordinary tests to increase floor traffic. These examples all took place when home computers, digital newspapers, cell phones and hundreds of television stations just didn’t exist.
The Mercury Comet 100,000-mile endurance effort you correctly remember was indeed a big deal that year and I found a nice print ad that appeared in 1962-1963 in both newspapers and magazines. According to the ads Mercury engineers ran the Comets wide open at 105-mph for 100,000 miles with no problems (see advertisement). So, I’m happy to report that your memory is still pretty darn good for an 82-year-old who loves cars and keeps actively reading newspapers. These types of car promotions sure helped sales as consumers back then (as they are now) were always been concerned with longevity and mechanical integrity.
In an examples of durability, Chevrolet and Ford both utilized the Joie Chitwood Thrill Show for many years to help sell their cars. Chitwood would tour the country putting on his wonderful “hell drivers” thrill shows and the first time I saw his show he was using ’56 Chevrolets and with Chevy providing all of his cars. General Motors, meanwhile, wasted little time promoting how well the Chevy models were able to take the beating the Chitwood drivers threw at them. Prior to the Chevrolet contract, which lived on right through his final shows run by his family (as late as 2014), Ford also took advantage and sponsored him with their Fords as far back as 1950 (See advertisements attached). Chevy also produced several marketing TV shows, and you can see one of them on YouTube today at
High speed runs were also popular, be it the Daytona Beach runs in the 1950s to yearly competition on the salt flat runs. I clearly remember Studebaker Avanti competing on the Bonneville Salt Flats with their Supercharged Avantis and breaking 29 records in 1962. The gentleman in charge of this Studebaker effort (and also its driver) was none other than legendary Andy Granatelli, he of Paxton supercharger and STP fame. Granatelli is the 1969 Indy 500 winning car owner with Mario Andretti behind the controls amongst his long list of successful motorsport endeavors.
The Avanti was one of Studebaker’s final new car production efforts and its supercharged 289-V8 Avanti was really a neat car in the early 1960s. Granatelli used a slightly larger 299-inch V8 version with the Paxton supercharger at Bonneville and went over 168-mph to establish several fastest street car records. Eventually, the Granatelli Avanti exceeded 200-mph in later years.
Another highly prized automotive award came from the annual Mobilgas Economy Run competition, where Mobil would test new cars of all shapes and sizes to determine which vehicles got the best fuel mileage in class. From 4,000 pound Cadillacs to little 2,500 pound Nash Ramblers, a win could prove to be the difference between an average sales year to a great sales year.
It was a yearly tradition to see Mobilgas economy results in newspaper ads heralding the good news and winning vehicles. The manufacturers took full advantage of the positive results and while there were accompanying Mobilgas television ads, it was the print ads that provided additional information unavailable in a 60-second television spot. The Mobilgas economy runs began in 1936 and lasted until 1968, when the performance cars and cheap gas overtook economy car considerations. The car culture quickly turned from “miles-per-gallon” to “horsepower-per-cubic-inch” when the muscle car era took hold.
In summary, be it a Joie Chitwood thrill show, a high speed run at Bonneville, the Mobilgas Economy Run or that amazing Mercury Comet 100,000-mile endurance test, car manufacturers utilized many forms of marketing in search of successful consumer branding. These marketing maneuvers provided the “why our cars are the best” tools in a business climate that offered just three television channels combined with the many local radio and newspaper outlets.
Thanks much TJ for your kind comments and being a weekly reader. Happy holidays, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. 
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