Manual Classic: 1970 Gulf Safety “Car-Chek” Guide – A Relic From When Service Stations Sold Tires Instead Of Twinkies

The Gulf Oil logo ranks among the most recognizable in the petroleum industry, especially among gearheads.  The Gulf colors of powder blue and orange adorned the flanks of such heady machinery as the Ford GT-40 and Porsche 917, but few know that the standard Gulf service station colors were dark blue and orange; these are the colors that grace the cover of my 1970 Gulf Safety “Car-Chek” Guide.  Owners of Gulf service stations were expected to provide more than gas and snacks; many of them were full-service garages, performing minor and major repairs for their patrons’ cars.  This book was their guide.

Before entering a discussion on service manuals (again), allow me to digress.  This GT40 was painted in traditional Gulf service station colors at the behest of Gulf VP Grady Davis, who had commissioned the car for several sports car races in 1967.  Soon afterward, the Gulf GT40s and Mirages were switched to the colors that most racing fans know and love today.

The service guide itself was a one-stop shop for a gas station mechanic.  While it was nowhere near as comprehensive as a factory service manual or a MOTOR manual, it listed general service specifications and instructions for the types of tasks that would be expected from a gas station.  Of course, Gulf Oil would be remiss if they didn’t try to sell a few lubricants to their station owners.  I learned about dripless oil from this page and have since purchased a couple of cans for myself.

The manual explained basic lubrication operations and suspension joint construction.

It illustrated how to service both disc and drum braking systems, although any brake service was only to be done by “Qualified” mechanics.  The minimum wage gas pump jockey was supposed to stay away from the “tough” stuff.

The manual even delved into instructions one might not expect, such as automatic transmission band adjustment operations for a variety of makes and models.  One must remember that occasional band adjustment was nothing out of the ordinary for older cars; it is certainly easy to take a modern car for granted when it comes to a comparative lack of a maintenance routine.

There is a short explanation of tire types, because there were certainly cars running around on radials by 1970, even if few service station owners would have had to worry about them at that time.

There is a short description of PCV system operation, which hopefully stopped a few well-meaning but ignorant mechanics from disabling these emissions devices, thinking that they hampered driveability.

No self-respecting gas station could neglect the standard lube job, and the manual not only explained where to add the grease or oil, but also which fine Gulf products one would use.  It’s actually a handy chart; there are several places I never would have dreamed of servicing, such as the glove box door hinges (dripless oil, once again).

My favorite thing about the manual, however, is that it gave detailed service specifications for most cars, trucks, and even chainsaws.  I’ve selected a few samples based on my fleet of vehicles and vehicles I want to own.  The 1970 manual offered specifications for cars as far back as 1963, but for some reason, the Dodge Dart stopped at 1966, leaving my ’65 wagon out.  Fortunately, the Valiant page covered the older cars.  Gulf usually recommended a 10W40 oil, which differed from the manufacturers’ typical recommendation of 10W30 in most climates.

One might expect that a service station would be servicing many first-generation Mustangs, so my ’65 was obviously covered in the “Car-Chek” Guide.

My ’63 Thunderbird barely made the cut, but you may notice that each page included such information as lifting points on the undercarriage and suggested tire rotation.

My ’65 Skylark was covered, too.

As was my Corvair, a car for which no tire rotation at all was recommended.

Gulf didn’t exclude those “funny little foreign cars” either; I’d happily drive the 124 Spider on this page.  I thought about buying one a dozen years ago, but it was way too rough for my tastes, and that’s saying a lot.

Over the past year, I’ve been admiring “Fintail” Mercedes-Benzes from the 1960s.  The right one would have to come along at the right time for me to actually buy one, but I’d be ready for the basics thanks to Gulf.

I’ve been on a Volvo kick for quite a while now.  Last week, I made a decision that it’s soon going to be time to open up the wallet for a first-generation Riviera, but changing one’s mind is certainly a prerogative in life.

An old truck is always a useful tool, and all major brands were covered, including International.

Motorcycles, small engines, and snowmobiles earned limited specifications; apparently, the mechanic was just supposed to wing it if somebody brought in a Husqvarna (spelled wrong in the text, it seems).

Even chainsaws and outboards had a page; the Gulf Safety Car-Chek Guide wasn’t just for cars.

The last page of the guide offered service station owners, such as Gary Busey here, a program designed to impress the customers and keep ’em coming back.  In reality, an actual service station would likely impress me enough to stop by the Gulf station when I needed basic maintenance.  Judging by the fact that working service stations were fairly uncommon in my community by the time I noticed such things in the 1980s, I’d guess that the Car-Chek Guide outlived its usefulness soon after my edition was published (although I’ve found editions as new as 1980 online).

Nevertheless, it’s a fun, rose-colored glimpse into a past that was certainly more likely to be the purview of the “grease monkey” than the well-trained technician, but I’m always ready to give a fella the benefit of the doubt.

*Note from the author: I apologize for the slight fuzziness of my photographs.  I use a cheap digital camera because I spend most of my money on old cars rather than electronics.