SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, TX - What's situated on a glorious 34-mile long, halfmile wide, overgrown sandbar and smells like suntan lotion?

It's South Padre, a small community of 1,800, where between 150,000 and 200,000 students frolic during college spring break - an onslaught that pumps out about 30% of the island's revenue.

It's an ideal place and time for Chevrolet Motor Div.'s Geo product line to bring its showroom to the beach for the third year in a row as title sponsor of "Geo Spring Break," which is coordinated by Intercollegiate Communications Inc. of Leonia, NJ.

Nearly 1 million college students each year trek to Geo Spring Break locations at Panama City Beach, FL; Lake Havasu City, AZ, and here to party and sun bathe.

Geo says spring break offers it an interactive opportunity to speak to an important target market "in a fun, non-intrusive manner." It also uses this opportunity to promote a healthy environment for students and provides beach activities such as volleyball, Velcro wall climbing and pseudo bungee jumping.

One purpose behind these marketing activities with college students is to develop a relationship with them before they buy their first vehicle, Chevy says.

The relationship Chevy/Geo means to establish with these young buyers also includes their social activities. In a partnership that confronts student alcohol use, the automaker has joined with two student groups, BACCHUS (Boost Alcohol Consciousness Concerning the Health of University Students), and GAMMA (Greeks Advocating Mature Management of Alcohol).

Students sign "safe spring break" pledge cards, promising not to drink and drive during spring break. Students who make the pledge also register to win a 1995 Geo Metro. This year the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration picked up the campaign.

South Padre Mayor Peggy Trahan says there have been no student drinking/drivin,-related fatalities since the Chevy/Geo sponsored program began three years ago. That was not the case before. "One year, we had eight deaths on the highway." She's all for the program. "If there's just one in the crowd who can be responsible and say, `Hey, you can't drive' or `I won't drive with you"' it helps, she says.

A student group provides rides to students who shouldn't drive, and there are also buses and taxis. There have been amusing incidents, says Mayor Traban. in which sobriety-challenged students mistook police cars for taxis. "Sometimes they get taken to our `hotel'," she laughs.

WAW plans to celebrate 100 years

of U.S. automobiles in May 1996

Next year Ward's Auto World will celebrate 100 years of affordable mass-produced American cars, capping more than a decade of remembering auto industry century milestones.

We began in 1985 with a special issue marketing the anniversary of Karl Benz's and Gottlieb Daimler's German vehicles, spawned 60 miles and a few months apart in 1885. Subsequent celebrations pointed to Charles and Frank Duryea's 1893 spin in their gasoline-powered car in Springfield, MA. Ward's chooses Henry Ford's 1896 Quadricycle as its benchmark because it leads to the first mass-produced affordable vehicles.

A lot has happened since 1896 to make the U.S. auto industry the technological giant that it is today. We would like our readers' help in identifying the significant people, technologies and vehicles of last 100 years. Let us know who or what you feel were the century's:

* Most innovative cars

* Most innovative leaders

* Most significant manufacturing techniques

* Most significant component and systems

The May 1996 issue of WAW will be dedicated to this retrospective. We will compile your input during the next several months and use it as we plan that edition.

Please send your thoughts to Tim Keenan, associate editor, Ward's Auto World, 3000 Town Center, Suite 2750, Southfield, MI 48075, or fax them to 810-357-0810. Photos and documents also are welcome.