So there I was, out for a Saturday drive in Dad’s Toyota Tundra king cab on my way to fetch various and sundry moldings and power tools from the local Lowe’s Depot, bombing around the backroads listening to the unfortunately melancholy CD that I gave him some time ago, and I spied this pretty little mid-80s Porsche 911 Targa – and I love mid-80s targas, especially sans whale tail – curving up the country lanes. But it wasn’t the car that caught my eye, it was the two little heads bobbing back and forth and up and down in the back seats. And it got me thinking…
A lot of people associate cars like 911s with things like mid-life crisis or penile compensation, but to many of us Car Geeks it is about the experience of the car, and driving it. It made my day to see a family of four enjoying an outing in their four place sports car, all wearing huge smiles. It also made me a little jealous of them, and had me thinking about both my own car-related experiences as a kid, and how I share my passion with my own kids.
Thinking back, cars were part of my world as far back as I can remember. I can give you the chronology of cars that my parents had from the time I was born to the present day, and I have memories involving each of them: the white Dodge that met its end with a school bus, the Pontiac LeMans that made the “thunka-thunka” sound, the Fiat 850 that broke in half, the Audi Fox wagon that we used to take to the drive-in, and so on. Needless to say, I was hooked at an early age.
My TTS partner Jonathan and I have known each other literally since the beginning of time. Well, his time, anyway. Our dads both had Fiat 850s when we were young kids, and I remember weekends with both Fiats in a garage next to each other in varying states of repair, and Jonathan and in the driver’s seats, top down, competing in our own stand-still grand prix. Remarkably, neither of us ever won.
It was that same Fiat that my dad and I would take most Sunday mornings down to Jet Variety in Norwalk, Connecticut, to buy a Sunday New York Times and a pack of Wrigley’s spearmint gum. Years later our weekend routine was my driving lessons in the Alfa Spider on the back roads to and from Scott’s Corner, NY. I can remember how it seemed like it would be forever before I’d be able to drive, and how I had to whet my appetite for cars and driving through the care and feeding of my parents’ cars (boy did they shine!) along with every car magazine I could get my hands on. I was particularly fond of the European magazines, because they were bigger and had a lot more car classifieds in them. In fact, the same remains true today.
Growing up I also enjoyed working on the cars as well. There was a certain satisfaction in the completion of even the simplest oil change, to say nothing of bigger jobs like shock absorber replacements or head gaskets. Of course, as the kid, I was probably more of a hindrance than a help in the garage, and to this day can still hear my dad growling after me to “get out of the light!” It got better as I got older, until I got too confident and did dumb things like shearing oil pan bolts and cross-threading a spark plug. But that’s how we learn, right? Even at 40 years old I’ll bring my dad – Mr. PhD in Mechanical Engineering – in on my own garage exploits: from adjusting the valves on an old diesel to diagnosing why a Mercedes 6.3 won’t fire on all cylinders (incidentally, a wire was shorting on the distributor – thanks, Dad). In many ways, I’m still his student.
I am now also, however, a teacher. I have two daughters, aged 10 and 7, who both have taken more than a casual interest in things automotive. My older daughter is the one more likely to help in the garage and has assisted as a tool getter and bolt holder already on numerous occasions. More importantly (to me), she also has a real curiosity about how the various components work, and what they do. Daughter #2 is more engaged on the marketing side of things. She is pleased as punch to sit on my lap and scan eBay listings ad nauseum, telling me which ones she likes and which she doesn’t – and why.
Perhaps my proudest moment of late was when I started making noise about selling the MX-5 Miata in favor of something nutty like another Mercedes 6.9. The girls pondered it for a little while, and daughter #2 told me she was okay with it, as long as the heated rear seats in the 6.9 work. Daughter #1 wasn’t so easily convinced, telling me that it would really be smarter to wait until the weather gets nicer so I can get the most money for the Miata. From the mouths of babes… Mister Stu would be proud of them both.
So what’s the point here? Easy. Share your hobbies with your kids. Let them enjoy what you enjoy about the car hobby (or any other hobby, for that matter, so long as it’s legal), and answer their questions. Take them to your local cars and coffee or when the auto show comes to a major city near you, let them help in the garage, and let them ride in your pride and joy every chance you get. Most importantly, spend time with your kids doing the things that make you happy – your enthusiasm and joy will be memories that stick with them forever.