Long road trips are a classic part of American tradition. Time was, the whole family would pile into the Chevy or the Ford station wagon and hit the road on vacation.
The Big Crunch wanted to know: On a per-dollar basis, how are we doing compared to Americans of previous generations? Between fuel cost, fuel efficiency and inflation, who wins?
Heavy steel frames and inefficient engines meant those clunker cars ate up a ton of fuel, and gas companies grew into giant corporations feeding the nation's petroleum addiction. In 1956—the same year the Eisenhower Highway System was begun—American cars had an average fuel efficiency of 14.5 miles per gallon, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
At 30 cents a gallon (the national average in 1956) fueling up would only cost $9.65. Making that same trip now in a 2014 8-cylinder Chrysler would cost north of $60. That Chrysler makes about 23 miles to the gallon highway, which is right around average for the year.
But, you might point out that 30 cents in 1956 would buy you a lot more than it would today. Adjusted for inflation, that earlier trip to Niagara would cost you about $86 in 2014 figures.