Texaco Big Friends: A Holocaust?

Origin of the Species

The story of the early fiberglass giants and who built them.

An interview with Steve Dashew, former president of International Fiberglass, the original makers of the Muffler Men. Steve tells the story behind the "Big Friends" created for Texaco service stations in the mid-1960s . . .

Steve: When we signed our agreement with Texaco, that was the toughest deal ever. All this political infighting. They ordered 300, with an option to order 2,700 more... there would have been a total of 3,000 Big Friends.

RA: Were all "Big Friends" identical, or could they be ordered with different colored hair, skin or uniforms?

Steve: Big Friends were all identical when we built them. These guys actually came out a little larger than was budgeted. Texaco got more than their money's worth -- and more of my money than planned.

We had a sculptor by the name of Sasha Schnittman who did the Big Friend. Sasha was the first and only "fine arts" sculptor I used. Too difficult to work with -- drove me nuts. In any event, the Big Friend was not just a point of sale display to Sasha but a work of art. At that point in my life, with a big client breathing down my neck for delivery, and a mock up way over budget, I could not see the artistic value...I'm mellower now.

The uniforms were all a yucky Texaco green color.

RA: Were they all ordered to be destroyed by Texaco, as we have heard?

Steve: Not sure of the answer to this one. We originally had that order for 300 units, if I remember correctly, as a tie in for their ad program. I spent a lot of time in New York with the various VPs and ad managers working on the program to get an okay from their board (I was about 23 at the time and way over my head with these old fogeys -- but did not realize it).

We started building these units and they were not ready to roll them out on the original schedule, and we had this production line going. We ended up with almost all 300 standing, tied together in a field behind our factory. At some point a chopper flew over with an LA Times photographer and the secret was out!

RA: Did the ad campaign ever actually appear?

They had this Big Friend marketing campaign running on TV. [In the commercial, ] there would be a car in trouble, and the Texaco Big Friend would reach down and help out.

As I recall, they decided that the area sales managers, who were supposed to move the Big Friends from station to station, did not like the idea, or maybe it was the brass. They had nowhere to store them. In any event, the program met an early end, although the TV and billboard ads ran nationwide for the year.

But we got paid, and at the time it was a huge order. I bought myself a Martin D35 (guitar) as a bonus -- about 1965 or 1966. My daughter, who is a musician in Austin, Texas, has the Martin these days.

Also see: Muffler Men Home Page

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