David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
12/10/12 6:29 p.m.

While I don’t think I’ve ever watched a full episode of the original “Star Trek,” somehow I became a fan of the show’s Prime Directive concept. I recently looked it up online and found the exact passage that has appealed to me: “As the right of each sentient species to live in accordance with its normal cultural evolution is considered sacred, no Starfleet personnel may interfere with the normal and healthy development of alien life and culture.”

How does that relate to anything involving cars? It’s something I have followed for years: I don’t believe that we should affect the outside motorsports world, meaning we can’t promise anyone editorial so they can get a ride, sponsorship or free parts.

However, I am willing to bend that rule if it helps foster the next generation’s love of cars. Think back for an instant: All of us had that aha moment that got us into cars. It may have been that first ride in something neater than the average family sedan, a really cool Tonka given as a gift, or the sight of something low and sleek cruising by the house.

I admit that I was kinda forced into it, but I’m not complaining. My dad is a huge car guy, and I was brought home from the hospital in my parents’ 1967 Pontiac GTO—no, it wasn’t a Tempest—complete with four-speed gearbox, Posi rear and dog dish hubcaps.

For my brother and I, cars were definitely part of our formative years. My dad built an awesome AFX set for us in the basement. I got to visit The Glen while in grade school. Up until the age of 12, I thought that every movie featured a car chase. My grandparents always came bearing Hot Wheels. I wouldn’t say that I was spoiled, though. I never had a go-kart or minibike. I didn’t buy my first car until I finished my freshman year of college. The GTO left soon after I arrived, its place in the driveway occupied by a series of garden-variety Oldsmobuicks.

I don’t have kids and neither does my brother, but I still figure I have to do my civic duty and help pass along the love of cars. Someone has to carry on the love of autocrossing, slot cars and Miatas, right? A friend recently mentioned that her 6-year-old has taken an interest in cars. He received a care package soon after. It contained a Playmobil race car set that I had received a while ago as some kind of promotional item.

Apparently young Jack has already given the set a full workout, and his little sister thinks it’s pretty neat, too. Given the opportunity, I’d love to play the part of the long-distance uncle and push them a little further down the path that so many of us have followed. Do I hook up the kids with a ride in something loud and impressionable? Organize a group outing to an autocross, car show or club race?

It’s funny how things we take for granted can have a big impact on the general public. Sit in a race car? Talk to a race car driver? Those are normal activities for many of us, but for a kid they can be a magical, life-changing experiences.

I recently had a mild epiphany along these thoughts, yet its origins don’t involve cars. My friend Craig professionally raced BMX for several years, and for a while he owned his own bike company. He recently sent out a message asking if anyone would like some of his old frames.

I already have some of his signature frames from stints with other companies, but I figured I should round out the collection. I didn’t yet have any frames bearing his name on the downtube. Yeah, I like to collect stuff. When I opened the box, something came to me—and it wasn’t the joy of owning a bike frame actually ridden in professional competition. No, I realized that I have too much stuff. Way too much stuff.

In order to make room for this new find, it was time to thin out my personal holdings. And, I figured, maybe I could do some good in the process.

I had recently come across a box of unopened Hot Wheels cars circa 1999 and 2000. I must have gone on a little buying spree and put these away for safekeeping. They’re going away and, no, I’m not putting them on eBay.

The first group of cars went to my cousins’ kids. Each one received a care package featuring those iconic blue cardboard backing cards. Upon noting the age of the cars, one cousin asked if they were to be collected or played with. “Let the boys enjoy them,” I said.

Those cars spent too many years cooped up. The boys should do as we did so many years earlier: beat the holly hell out out of them.

Back in the day, our own Hot Wheels were punished on a near-daily basis. Ramps were constructed, speed tests conducted, races sanctioned. No surface or element was deemed too extreme: linoleum, hardwood, concrete, pavement, dirt and even snow. Someone should run a metal detector through my family’s old backyard, as I’m sure there are a few fallen comrades back there.

Those orange tracks? Oh yeah, we had them. And when we got bored, we’d break out the Testors paint. Did those cars help fuel later passions? Signs point to yes. They didn’t teach us about suspension setups and gear ratios, but as a kid I don’t think I ever left the house without a Hot Wheels tucked in my pocket. That has to explain something.

Hopefully a few simple gestures can get the next generation dreaming about cars. Here’s how I see it: I may not be able to send all of my friends’ and cousins’ kids to racing school, but I still have a lot of Hot Wheels to hand out.

Read the rest of the story

Jordan Rimpela
Jordan Rimpela GRM+ Memberand Digital Editor
9/10/19 10:58 a.m.

So what got you folks into all-things automotive?

For me, it was diecast. That, and my mom's '72 Malibu that had holes in the floor, but it was blue and I thought that was cool. Also cool? The yellow VW Rabbit my aunt and uncle had at their log cabin in the woods. It wasn't that old, but they parked it when it had some major mechanical issue. It was our plaything whenever we visited them. I can still remember the smell of the interior: Slightly mouldy and slightly plastic and vinyl. 

z31maniac MegaDork
9/10/19 12:05 p.m.

Been around it all my life. There are pictures of me, from the mid-80s at Hallett with my dad and his racecar. And he always had cool cars over the years growing up.

Plymouth Road Runner, Thunderbird Turbo Coupe, '85 Mustang GT, etc etc. 

Jerry UberDork
9/10/19 12:24 p.m.

Started with Hotwheels and Matchbox as a kid in the early 70s, then building model cars around age 10 or 11 (I remember because the min age on the box said 12), then slot cars a few years later.

At 52 I'm still involved in all of them to some degree.  (Plus my first car in 1985 or 6.)

300zxfreak New Reader
9/10/19 2:06 p.m.

My indoctrination came as a 12 year old when my dad’s best friend was restoring a Jag XK120 for his son. My task was to crawl underneath and scrape/prep the oil pan rails for new gasketry. Not a glam task by any stretch, but looking up at all the mechanicals got me going, had to know/understand what that was all about. Fast forward to first job and first car bought with my own money, a ‘65 GTO Tri-Power, what a first car for a kid.....soon turned into a tubbed street racer, not that we did such things. Some years spent in drag racing gave way to sports cars, and I found my calling, still at it at age 73 and loving it.

Ian F
Ian F MegaDork
9/10/19 2:22 p.m.

I don't really know... My father liked cars well enough when I was a kid, but has zero mechanical aptitude other than buying a car with a manual transmission.  But I remember getting toy cars when I was 4 and living in Okinawa. And then Matchbox & Hot Wheels cars in the 70's as well, followed by model kits (many I still have).  Cars have always been something I've loved.

To do my part to pass along that enthusiasm, I try to freely encourage kids.  That was one of the great things about taking a classic Mini to a show - little kids just LOVE the Mini.  And I would let them sit in the driver's seat while parents took pictures.  It was fun and maybe helped to plant that same seed of enthusiasm. 

MadScientistMatt PowerDork
9/10/19 2:29 p.m.
Jordan Rimpela said:

So what got you folks into all-things automotive?

Getting stuck driving a Datsun that was only three years younger than me when I got my license. I suspect my parents had been saving that car knowing I'd get into an accident when I got my license and they didn't want me to take out anything valuable. So, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to get something better without spending a lot of money.

barefootskater Dork
9/10/19 2:29 p.m.

I grew up in a VW family, and my stepdad is a big jeep guy. That environment and an ingrained curiosity towards understanding all things mechanical and here we are. 31 years old and I've owned way more than 31 cars. Doing my part to pass it on to my son. He loves the gray Mustang and the orange Honda. Also firetrucks and motorcycles.  I started collecting Hotwheels just before he was born, something near 100 now.

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Reader Services
9/10/19 2:44 p.m.

Funny enough, I was giving this way too much thought the other day, and I realized the initial "spark" actually came from my mother. Being the classic film enthusiast that she was, she always had TCM on when I was a kid. One day Chitty Chitty Bang Bang came on, and I was instantly hooked as soon as I saw those massive pre-war Gran Prix cars running in the first few minutes. And I guess the magical car was pretty cool too.

So thanks for getting me addicted to cars, Mom.

GameboyRMH GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
9/10/19 2:51 p.m.

I've always been into cars somewhat despite having no "car people" in my immediate family and very few in my extended family. Probably some combination of toy cars, growing up around kickin' rad cars from the late '80s, and auto racing being one of the more exciting things I could find on antenna TV.

One time I held a "speed week" for all my toy cars, I remember the winner was some oversized yellow & orange plastic car called the "Record Breaker," it seemed to have a flywheel mechanism in it to store and release energy - so it dragged when you pushed it, and then took off with extra speed when you let go.

Edit: BWAHAHA I found it!


slowbird Reader
9/10/19 5:07 p.m.

Probably a combination of Hot Wheels (and Micro Machines, Lego, Matchbox, and other such names), my dad watching Nascar on TV, and VHS tapes of Bigfoot vs. all the other monster trucks of the day. And the Herbie movies. But then, I'm told the third word I ever learned to say was "car" so maybe it was just meant to be laugh

I remember being jealous of the neighbors who had a Power Wheels car. To this day I'm still kinda sad I didn't get to experience that as a kid.

aki New Reader
9/11/19 9:37 a.m.

I got a VW Fastback Matchbox car from my best friend's older sister (I was 4, she was 6?). I loved the suspension, I'd run the car "around corners" and such and watch the wheels move up and down in the car's body. We moved away to Holland. My fascination with suspension continued - I'd sit and watch 2CVs bounce across a railroad crossing about half a mile from our house.

I loved to watch my dad drive. I knew he was serious when he shifted extra carefully, typically at the beginning of a long road trip (we'd drive to Switzerland, Italy, France, and also shorter trips to Belgium, Luxemburg, Germany).

At 5 I started building plastic models. I focused on WW2 European theater stuff but I loved the car models I got, including a Tamiya Porsche and Lancia (classic Martini and Alitalia livery respectively). I also started car spotting, looking for Porsches (the highway police used white and orange 911s and 914s) and Alfa GTVs (my favorite).

We moved back to the US so other than watching NASCAR on broadcast TV I didn't have much car stuff. Started racing road bikes. I started "practicing" how to drive by sitting in the car and making the motions of driving to, say, the grocery store. I had to stop pushing the gas pedal because I flooded the engine. Started reading Hot Rod Magazine. I dreamed of a Camaro with streetable suspension. Took car classes in high school - our teacher raced (Datsun 510, 260Z, Formula Vee, and he was building a Formula Atlantic car through the school). The advanced shop class would help him race prep the school Formula Atlantic car, dyno runs, etc. When I was working on my B210 GX he let me drive his race prepped 260Z to the dealer to pick up parts for my car.

Just as I started driving I watched a bicycle racing teammate of mine heel and toe. I decided I wanted to learn that as well. I helped him install a big valve head engine in his 2002. Started repairing and modifying my own cars. Lowering, light flywheels, brakes, tires, upgrading as the stock parts wore out. Not many power mods, I had no extra money.

My son is 7, he's a big follower of F1, remembers more than I do. A conversation from a while back:

Mom: "Your cousin is 2 years old!"
Son: "That means he was born in 2017 and that's the year Sebastian Vettel got pole in Singapore!"
Mom, looking at me: "Nice job."

I Googled and sure enough, Vettel got pole in Singapore in 2017.

Although he grew up going to bike races, I have yet to take him when I go karting, or to a proper car race, or even a car event. One of these days.

JimS Reader
9/11/19 3:20 p.m.

I've often wondered about this since my mom didn't drive and my father walked to work and no one cared about cars. I think it's because I'm half English and Italian, probably the most car crazy people on earth. I just know that all my life I thought about cars and now at 75 I still think about cars every minute I'm awake. I have no answer. 

rob_lewis UltraDork
9/11/19 3:24 p.m.

For me, I think the spark was started before I was born.  Dad met mom when her rear was sticking out from under her brother's '62 Austin Healy Sprite adjusting the carbs.  Dad had a Falcon at the time and ended up buying a new Sprite not to long after!  It was their car when they got married and served them throughout those first years.  Mom's told stories of drag racing her friends cars growing up because she was faster than they were.  When he was shipped to Bermuda, he bought a Mini for something like $50.  That was the car that brought me home from the hospital.  Apparently, when my grandparents and aunt and uncle came to visit, all six of them (and me) were crammed into the car when they'd go out to dinner. 

After getting married, they would go to SCCA events and dad would work the track and mom would work in timing and scoring.  She remembers hearing an English accent coming in asking about his times and it turned out to be Stirling Moss.

Dad was an aircraft mechanic in the Air Force, so money was always tight.  There are pics of me at around 5 or 6 sitting on the headlight of his Bugeye.  He never had the money to do a proper rebuild, so when the rings would finally have too much blowby, he'd pull the motor and work on it on the kitchen table, basically putting in new rings and bearings.

So, the spark was always there.  My second car, but the first I drove as a 16 year old, was a '67 Triumph GT6.  My graduation car was a '59 Austin Healey Sprite (Bugeye). Between those, I also bought a '59 MGA from a friend's brother for $400.

My son was around cars since he was born.  Bought him the little Power Wheels karts and then the Power Wheels truck.  Have pics of him sitting in my Bugeye (which I finally had to sell), and he was the first person in the family to ride in my 2003 MINI Cooper.  It was the first British Racing Green one the dealer had and it was on the showroom floor when I went to pick it up.  Sales guy had to drive it out of the showroom and my son climbed in the passenger seat to ride.  Also had a '64 VW bus in there for a while I had been working on.  His mom had an SRT8 Charger for a while as she's just as big a car nut.  He's never seen us park a car in the garage so, to him, the garage is for projects, not for protecting the car.  Then he started kart racing and just started college and joined the FSAE team.  So, I think I've done OK in inspiring a new generation.  :D


Steve New Reader
9/11/19 5:49 p.m.

Just something to try for folks on here. My friends and I are car nuts, I'm 62 years old. We have been selling and buying at the Portland swap meet for 25-30 years. In the last few years, I thinned down my hot wheels and die cast car collection by doing this one thing......I give them away. Kids are with their parents at the swap meet, i put a box of cars out on a table for $2 each. When a kid, boy or girl, doesn't matter, picks up a toy car, i ask them what's the favorite car in the bunch. They pick it up and tell them to keep it. Usually parents and kids are both shocked, but I'm not going broke from this and kids treasure that car. Try it out, it's simple.

CobraSpdRH Reader
9/12/19 10:43 a.m.

MicroMachines ruled in my day. That and Monster Trucks were a big deal.

My dad would take us to the yearly Monster Truck Rally/Tractor Pull/Dirt Bike/etc. in the freezing (to us in FL) January weather but I had a BLAST! I also asked to take my friends to a dirt track race night for my b-day one year.

Another neat memory is the first time I was in a manual transmission vehicle. I was sitting middle seat of a regular cab pickup and was blown away by all the hand/foot movements.

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