Rio Grande ‘Cracked Gasoline’

Since we’ve already blogged about 1930s automobiles — the Hudson Terraplane, honored by Robert Johnson — we’ll add another historical note this morning. Seventy-five years ago today, West Coast radio stations broadcast an episode of the popular crime drama, “Calling All Cars.”

Sponsored by Rio Grande, a West Coast oil company eventually bought by Sinclair, “Calling All Cars,” was a precursor to “Gangbusters,” “Dragnet” and other crime procedurals. Like all the episodes, “Hot Bonds” — broadcast June 11, 1935 — opened and closed with a pitch for Rio Grande “cracked gasoline.” The selling point was that the Los Angeles police used “cracked gasoline” in their vehicles for extra power.

In the ad, off-duty L.A. cops Don and Eric are headed away on a fishing trip. From the opening:

Eric: Better fill up with gasoline now, Don. There’s a cut-price station right ahead.

Don: Nah, not me, I’m going to drive into a Rio Grande station.

Eric: Gosh. You’re not driving a city police car now. You don’t have to use cracked gasoline.

Don: You couldn’t hire me to use any other kind, even in this old bus of mine. I’ve had too many sad experiences with cheap gasoline.

Eric: Well …at 22 cents a gallon, I’d use any gasoline.

Don: That’s what I used to think, but when the city switched to Rio Grande “cracked” for all police cars, well, I could certainly feel the difference in the police car I was driving. It stopped vibrating. It was a real pleasure to step on the throttle and shoot up the hills without shifting. It changed all my ideas about gasoline.

Twenty-two cents a gallon — cheap, right? Well, taking inflation into account, that works out to the equivalent of about $3.40 a gallon. This week, the national average price per gallon was $2.73.

Here’s the commercial that closes the show.

Technical question: Isn’t all gasoline by definition “cracked,” that is, produced during the cracking process?

Pronunciation question: In “Calling all Cars,” the city of Los Angeles is usually pronounced Lohs An-gheles, with a long “o” and a hard “g.” When did it become Los Angeles, with the “g” sounding like a “j?”

Archive.org has a large library of episodes available here. It’s one of the few, well-archived radio dramas from the mid-30s, and very entertaining — albeit with broad ethnic stereotypes that clash with today’s sensibilities.

Leave a Reply