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Gas for 99» a Gallon (But Not Today)

Shameless publicity stunt or noble cause? Probably a little of both.

It didn't matter to hundreds of motorists who cashed in on an offer of remarkably cheap gasoline ? 99 cents a gallon ? at a Texaco station on Willis Ave. in Albertson yesterday.

"It's a beauty," Albany resident Charlie Jubrey said as he pulled away from the pumps in his blue and white 1992 Chevy Astrovan. The hardwood-floor installer had just filled up for $21, saving about $20.

"We're protesting the high gas prices. They're ridiculous," said Darren Rybka, 36, a passenger in the van.

They'd waited in line for more than hour.

There was no mistaking who sponsored the event.

Radio station WBAB (FM-102.3) plastered the pumps with placards and bumper stickers and filled the place with its own staffers, colorful company vans and the sounds of rock 'n' roll blaring from loudspeakers.

The station also invited the cheerleaders from the Arena Football League's New York Dragons.

The station's morning show had conducted a bidding war last week to determine Long Island's cheapest gas, and Bill's Friendly Auto Service ? the Texaco on Willis Ave. ? beat all comers.

"We're incurring all of the costs," said Bill Martaki, the owner.

Martaki sold 12,000 gallons at the below-cost price. He said he lost about $8,000.

Most Long Island gas stations are selling regular gasoline for about $1.85 a gallon. Independently owned stations like Bill's say they aren't making more on the higher gas prices.

Independent stations often are forced to pay a higher wholesale price for gas than what consumers are charged at stations owned by oil companies.

Jim Mulligan, who was first in line, waited two hours in his black Ford pickup for the sale to start.

"I've got a 38-gallon tank, a V-10 engine and I get about 6 miles a gallon in city driving," said Mulligan, 40, who uses the truck in his landscaping business. "I'm going to save $40."

The lucky customers also got Italian heroes from Subway and bottles of Snapple iced tea supplied by WBAB., an Internet car-sales company, handed out T-shirts.

"I got a free lunch, a free T-shirt and I'm going to save $20 on gas," Jubrey said.