Motor Trend

L.A. TO THE GRAND CANYON the cheap way

I have made a terrible mistake.

Gallons of gasoline spew wildly, spectacularly, apocalyptically out of the Ford police cruiser. As I dash to stop the potential conflagration—my ears abuzz with furious hornets, my vision narrowing with the dreaded rose mist—I wonder how I’d gotten myself into this mess.

Nearly 70 years ago, in the April 1950 issue of MotorTrend, we published what was our first road trip story—a Mobilgas-sponsored fuel economy run from Los Angeles to the Grand Canyon via Las Vegas.

The rules were onerous: You had 18 hours and 30 minutes to drive your stock sedan in the most efficient possible manner, with the winner determined by their overall “ton-mpg”—calculated by the weight of the car and passengers in tons times miles traveled divided by gallons consumed. The winning V-8-powered Mercury managed 26.52 mpg over the run, achieving 61.27 ton-mpg. It proved to us—and the consumer—in those pre-EPA days how efficient a modern car could be if driven economically.

To pay tribute to our magazine’s first road trip while proving how much the automobile has evolved, managing editor Miguel Cortina, features editor Scott Evans, and I set out to retrace our steps from L.A. through Vegas and on to the Grand Canyon, but we’d given ourselves some new rules: Instead of 18.5 hours, we’d have just 10; we would follow no set route, just a single Las Vegas checkpoint; we could pick any vehicle; and the winner would be declared via some sketchy cocktail-napkin math determining who spent the least amount of money on gas combined with the least amount of time on the road. As modern Americans have proven with our desire for SUVs and pickups, we might not care about fuel economy, but we care about our wallets.

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