Wanna buy a new car?
Alexandria Cadillac dealer Jack Lindsey can put you in a brand new 1979 Coupe de Ville, the ultimate American motoring status symbol for "under $10,000."
Or, for $9,489 you can buy a Volkswagen.
Not an ordinary run-of-the mill Rabbit, admittedly, but a VW Scirocco sitting on the showroom floor at Cavailer Cars in Alexandria with a price tag that's been rewritten by the gas crunch of '79.
On top of its $8,789 factory sticker price, the post-gas-line price includes $250 for dealer preparation, $150 for "auto armour" (a fancy wax job), $150 for undercoating and $150 for "fabric treatment" to protect the seats from stains.
The result of $700 added to the selling price because Volkswagen dealers have learned the lessons of supply and demand.
All Volkswagen models are in short supply, so dealers are demanding more than $7,000 for a two-door Rabbit, $8,000 or more for Rabbit diesels and upwards of $10,000 for the sporty Sciroco.
Local dealers also are asking - and getting - $500 or more above the sticker price for virtually all Honda and Mazda models, an afternoon of tire-kicking and car-shopping discloses.
Even some fuel-efficient American cars are demanding premium prices. A Chevrolet Citation on the showroom floor at Rosenthal Chevrolet in Airlington carried an $8,405 sticker that included "additional dealer markup - $695."
At the same time , discounts running as much as $2,000 off the sticker price have become the rule of the marketplace on full-size Fords, Chevrolets and even - reluctant as dealers are to admit - Cadillacs.
"There are some tremendous values in today's market" said Cadillac specialist Lindsey, who says the Alexandria dealership's sales are not off as much as the 26 percent decline in national auto sales.
Big car sales are holding up, dealers say, because gasoline shortages have not only rewritten the price stickers on most new cars, they've also edited the traditional miles per gallon - MPG - into miles per tankful - MPT. the price stickers on most new cars, they've also edited the traditional miles per gallon - MPG - iNnto miles per tankful - MPT.
"People are less concerned about the price and more with how often they get in line." says Don Klimkiewicz of JKJ chevrolet at Rysons Corner.
Using federal mileage estimates, auto dealers point out that a 1976 Rabbit, getting i9 miles per gallon with an 11-gallon tank can go 319 miles on a tankful. A 1976 Dodge Monaco with a 26.5 gallon tank and only 15 miles per gallon can go 78 miles farther.
The American Automobile Association estimates the average motorist drives 11,000 miles a year, which means 34 gas stops for the Rabbit compared with 27 the the Monaco.
While the miles-per-tank pitch is being made widely by auto advertisements, it's not to be found at Consumer Reports magazine.
"I think it's stupid," said Robert Knoll, of Consumers Union. "The object is to conserve the gasoline we have. If you go out and buy a car with a 26-gallon fuel tank and it has 11 miles per gallon fuel economy you can go 50 extra miles. It makes no sense to me.
Nor does the disruption of car prices make sense to auto dealers like Jack Pohanka, who sells Hondas and Oldsmobiles in Marlow Heights.
"When you look at the relative values it's fascinating," said Pohanka, whose dealerships can sell either a Honda Accord or an Olds Cutlass for about the same price - $6,500.
"When you look at the two cars side by side, it's unbelievable," said Pohanka, who has more customers than he can handle for the Honda and more Cutlasses than he can sell.
"I've got 60 Cutlasses in stock," he said. "You'll wait at least 60 days for an Accord."
In today's topsy-turvy car market Pohanka admits "there's more gross profit selling a Honda at $6,500 than selling an Oldsmobile for $10,000."
That's because the Honda sells for about $500 more than the list price and most of that extra money is profit. And a $10,000 Oldsmobile has a sticker price of more than $11,000, with a big discount that is also largely dealer profit.
The public's propensity for paying more for less car is affecting not only the retail auto market, but also the corporate strategies of the big automakers.
General Motors announced price increases averaging 0.9 percent last Friday, about $60 a car.
But the hikes were skewed heavily toward small cars. Full-size Chevrolets, Pontiacs, Buicks and Oldsmobile's didn't go up at all, but $150 was added to the list price of Chevettes and the new front-wheel drive X-cars, the Citation, Olds Omega, etc. CAPTION: Pictures 1 and 2, Lone new Volkswagen Rabbit in stock at Cavalier Motors in Alexandria contrasts with the line of cars at Capital Cadillac at 22nd and N Streets NW yesterday as buyers still snap up small cars. By Frank Johnston - The Washington Post