Photo: Columnist John Moore’s 1971 Olds Cutlass Convertible had cool wheels. His current Prius – not so much.
After an accident sent my first car, a 1966 Mustang, to the junkyard, my dad found me a replacement. It was and still is the coolest car I’ve ever owned. It was a 1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme.
The car was a metal-flake gold color inside and out, and had bucket seats with a center console with an automatic shifter.
The one thing the car lacked was a decent set of mag wheels.
The factory wheels were OK, but I was surrounded by buddies who had Cragar Mags on their Firebirds, Camaros, and Chargers.
When you’re 16, priorities that are clear to you aren’t always clear to your parents.
“You want to spend how much on wheels when you already have wheels?” my dad asked.
“You just don’t understand,” I said.
“You’re right. I don’t,” he responded.
In 1978, there was no crowdsourcing, so the issue of course, was cost. Four, beautiful, shiny, amazing, mag wheels that were manufactured by the Cragar company were out of my price range.
I paid $1,000 for an entire Oldsmobile. The wheels were about the same price.
Keep in mind that these are 1978 dollars, so you can multiply those figures several times to get an idea of what that equals in today’s money.
In the 1970s, there was a certain purity that was expected in the car community. So, Cragar knockoffs weren’t really accepted. But, they would have to do. I didn’t make Cragar money at the Piggy Wiggly.
A compromise was in order.
I drove my Cutlass to the local OTASCO (Oklahoma Tire and Supply Company), where they sold wheels that looked almost identical to Cragar Mags – they just didn’t have the same expensive price tag.
Before Wal Mart, residents of small-town America were served by franchises such as OTASCO. A local person could buy their own store that had the backing and reputation of a large company. Customers could purchase everything from auto parts, to household items, to stereos.
Mr. and Mrs. Russell owned the OTASCO in Ashdown, Arkansas, and they offered to give me $500 in credit to get my wheels.
The Russell’s were the first people to ever trust me to pay them back. Can you imagine a company offering a 16-year-old the credit equivalent of about $2,000 today?
But, the Russell’s did. Thanks to them, I was able to order my wheels.
That’s how it worked in a small store back then. Everyday items were kept in stock, but large-ticket purchases weren’t typically in the store. OTASCO had a catalog that you’d look through and they would order what you wanted.
They did, and I waited.
A couple of weeks went by and my parent’s phone rang. My wheels were in.
I picked them up at the OTASCO, thanked Mr. and Mrs. Russell for giving me a credit line, and headed straight to Mr. Rosenbaum’s Exxon station.
About $10 later, my old wheels were off the car and the tires were transferred to the new mags and put back on my Cutlass.
Since I had just installed a Kraco under dash 8-track and a set of 6×9 Craig speakers behind the back seat, my ride was now complete. It had everything I needed.
Well, except for my girlfriend – whom I promptly went by to see.
And for some reason, she wasn’t nearly as impressed with my new wheels as I expected her to be. As a matter of fact, I had to point them out to her.
I began to question what was wrong with people. My dad didn’t see the importance of these mags, and my girlfriend was oblivious to them.
But, she and I loaded up in the Cutlass and headed out for a cruise around town. When I say, “cruise,” I’m referring to Rankin Street, Locust Street, Main Street, and then back to Rankin Street to start the circle again.
It wasn’t long before the acknowledgment I’d expected arrived. As my girlfriend and I drove by the Laundromat and car wash, the guys hanging out in the parking lot with their Firebirds, Camaros, and Chargers, began to yell and whistle.
We pulled into the lot to let them take a look.
It was noted that they weren’t Cragar Mags, but my car’s cool factor had obviously increased exponentially.
My dad and girlfriend didn’t seem to get it, but the guys in town did. I was happy.
I paid those wheels off ahead of schedule. Unfortunately, the payoff of the wheels coincided with a national recession and an increase in gasoline prices. Those of us driving cars that drank a lot of gas found ourselves at a crossroads. Drive a lot less, or trade our rides for fuel-efficient vehicles.
I loved that car, but it got 11 miles to the gallon. I made the difficult decision to trade it for a car that got over 30 mpg.
Gone were my beloved Cutlass, wheels, and sound system.
Later, I would buy an Olds 442 Convertible to relive my youth. It was a lot of fun, but that also ran its course. A man in Galveston really wanted the car, so I sold it to him. As far as I know, he’s still enjoying it.
I still think that American cars from the late 60s and early 70s are some of the best looking rides to ever come out of Detroit. Especially if they have a set of mags on them.
But, I guess I’ve gotten that out of my system. I no longer have the desire to put wheels on my ride. Which is just as well.
I don’t think that Cragar makes mags for a Prius anyway.
©2019 John Moore
John’s book, Write of Passage: A Southerner’s View of Then and Now, is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
You can reach John through his website at www.TheCountryWriter.com.