Propel’s Hi-Octane Society makes filling up cool again

We have an enduring nostalgia for gas stations. When the car culture took off in a major way following World War II, as suburbs sprouted up and gas station_attendant2newly paved interstates beckoned, “filling stations” — staffed by helpful, smiling, uniformed attendants — crystalized of this portrait of a wide-open America.

“A large part of America’s love affair with cars is that it’s freedom,” The Auto Channel’s Marc Rauch says in PUMP the Movie. “It means you can go where you want, when you want, with who you want.”

These days, filling up at a station might feel more like drudgery than freedom, another time-sucking task in a day full of them. But a vocal, engaged segment of car owners is bringing back some of the joy to putting fuel in the tank. Only this time, the fondness is for ethanol instead of dirty gasoline.

Drivers who zip around in their tricked-out cars, powered by high-octane E85 ethanol, are telling the world about the many benefits of the fuel. Now they have a gathering place to share selfies, do a little bragging, and spread the gospel about E85. It’s the Hi-Octane Society, a community launched in February by Sacramento-based Propel Fuels.

Propel, the largest E85 seller in the state, has a robust Facebook and Twitter channel. Just this week, Facebook visitors crowned a winner of the first “Pic Your Ride” contest, in which users posted pics of their beyond-hot rides. Tony Lee of Torrance, California, got the most likes for his 2005 WRX STI, whose gleaming purple exhaust manifolds and pipes are sights to behold:


Here’s the full view of his ride:

Pic Your Ride

Photos courtesy of Propel’s Hi-Octane Society.

Lee, 35, bought the car new in 2004, and says he’s spent more than $35,000 building it out.

“I researched for years on Subaru forums and other alternative-fuel websites, and over time modded my car around being able to use E85,” he said by e-mail. “I wanted use the highest quality fuel available to me, and the best choice was E85.

“E85 allows Subaru enthusiasts to run a cleaner, higher-octane fuel that burns cooler, allowing for higher boost and increased horsepower. Since E85 runs cooler, my EJ257 motor with an upgraded GTX3071 Garrett turbocharger is less prone to detonation, therefore [it’s] a more reliable power plant.”

Propel Fuels says it has a diverse, loyal customer base throughout California. “And this particular group, they are as fanatical about the fuel as customers can get,” said Propel’s director of marketing, Chris LaPlante. “They’re also millennials; they want to take pictures, they want to share what they’re doing, they take pictures of themselves fueling at a fuel pump, which is maybe not something that I’ve ever done. But that’s part of their identity.

Hi-Octane Society is “a place for them to gather and live and have a dialogue, in a manner that they’re natural with and that they want to be a part of,” LaPlante said.

Many E85 enthusiasts are initially drawn by the increased horsepower, but often they gradually appreciate the other benefits of high-octane alcohol fuels, including the fact that it burns cleaner, producing fewer emissions that harm health and the environment, and that it’s an American-made fuel that displaces oil imports.

“Everything matters!” Tony Lee wrote. “We help save our own planet, as well as Propel (no pun intended) our economy with a local-based business catering to what car enthusiasts want, and stop big oil companies from taking advantage of America.”

Couldn’t have said it better ourselves, @speedmasterlee.

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