Tigers On The Tracks

News and Views from the Brisbane Tramway Museum by David Fryer.

Come down and meet some of the volunteers that keep the Brisbane Tramway Museum on track

Remember those wacky tiger tails hanging from fuel filler-caps? Probably not if you are sub-60, but younger readers may have seen revival tails hanging out at retro rallies in more recent times. 

The ESSO tiger first appeared as a mascot in Norway around the turn of the 20th century, but the big stripy cat really took off in 1959 with the highly successful ‘Put a tiger in your tank’ promotional campaign. The slogan was created by Emery Smith, a young Chicago copywriter, and it quickly gained popularity around the world. 

The tiger campaign was heavily promoted in TV commercials with catchy jingles, and Time magazine declared 1964 to be ‘The Year of the Tiger along Madison Avenue’. By the mid-1960’s, ESSO service stations were awash with tacky ‘tigermobilia’: life-size cardboard tigers, giant inflatable tigers, menacing yellow tiger paw prints around bowsers, striped pump-hoses, and a myriad of kitsch plastic giveaways for every occasion. And if that wasn’t enough, there were even coin-operated tiger rides for kiddies and a 166-page hardback book on tiger trivia for die-hards.

Of course, trams had a taste for electricity, lots of it, so they had little appetite for petroliana (so called by collectors) ……….. or did they?  The City of Brisbane had an advertising tramcar for motor vehicles and Ford climbed aboard in 1966 with a Cortina painted in all-over tiger stripes. There was even a bizarre inflated tiger at the wheel and a pair of potted shrubs for added effect. The Telegraph newspaper and ESSO joined forces to offer a Win a Cortina Competition with entry forms at ESSO Service Stations. The unlikely ‘Tiger Tram’ – car number 140 (a ‘Dreadnought’) – roamed the streets of Brisbane for many years promoting everything from cars to furniture.

The ‘Tiger Tram’ – car number 140 promoting the ‘Win a Cortina Competition’

The tiger craze fizzled out with the early 1970’s oil crisis and the fate of the stripy Cortina is unknown. Conspicuous petrol consumption was out, but after a 27-year hiatus, the ESSO tiger was unleashed once again on a new generation of tiger enthusiasts. Sadly, trams were no longer a familiar sight in the streets of Brisbane. Most were scrapped after the devastating fire at the Paddington Depot, but tramcar 140 miraculously survived to earn a well-deserved retirement at the Brisbane Tramway Museum in Ferny Grove. 

It would be nice to end this tiger tale on a happy note, but disaster struck in 2012 and the tram was tragically destroyed by a scrub fire. 

You probably won’t see too many tigers at the Tramway Museum these days, but you can earn some valuable stripes by taking the kids for ride a ride on one of the amazing vintage trams. Now that would make a pretty wild tale for schoolies…………….

For more information about the Brisbane Tramway Museum visit www.brisbanetramwaymuseum.org

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