Parents of the world, pay attention: If you don't act soon, your child may not grow up to be a gearhead. Nip lameness in the bud! Get motor oil flowing in those veins! Buy one of these ten toys now!
Lego Ferrari F1 Pit
Five Lego men, a handful of tool bins, and an F1 car that fits inside of a truck. Next thing you know, little Timmy will have his Hot Wheels collection winning world championships. (Either that, or he'll be pimping his way around your basement like Flavio Briatore* on a Monaco Sunday. Neither is undesireable.)
*Yes, we know he's a Renault man, but sadly, Jean Todt doesn't date supermodels. You want your kid chasing uglies?
Hip T-Shirts They Won't Understand
Ancient references. In-crowd oil stains. Sure to prompt lots of questions. ("Daddy, what's ‘HF' mean?" "That stands for ‘High Fidelity,' son. That's the opposite of what daddy's ears do when mommy starts to talk.") Keeps 'em thinking, and normalizes the idea of four-wheeled weirdness.
Age: Irrelevant, so long as they fit in the shirt.
Price: $10 and up. (The Lancia Fulvia shirt at left is £19.35, or roughly $32.)
Hot Wheels Radar Gun
This fine piece of work is a marvel of packaging and down-to-a-price engineering. Yes, it's a real radar gun. Yes, it actually works. It reads both Hot-Wheels-scale (1:64) and real-world speed, and when it came out in 2007, it listed for just $20. It's no longer in production, but you can still find it on eBay and Amazon. Cheaper than most baseball guns and durable enough to be kid-friendly. A recipe for dangerous driveway speed experiments and thrill-seeking one-upmanship. Teaches the value of Band-Aids.
Age: Mattel says 7–12 years, but we call foul. Anyone, anywhere, and any age.
Price: $50 and up.
Scalextric Slot Cars
Easily found at Target. (Yes, you can stroll into the Big Red Dot and walk out with an Audi-Mercedes DTM-car battle and several feet of track. America is fantastic.) Appeal requires no explanation. If you go online, you can find everything from Trans-Am Mustangs to Dan Gurney's Spa-winning Eagle F1 car. There's also a Top Gear-branded "PowerLaps" set that sports a Stig on its box. Run, don't walk.
Age: 8 and up.
Price: $80–$320, depending on car/track configuration.
Little Tikes Cozy Coupe
I had one of these when I was little. It's since been redesigned — mine did not look like a demented clown on uppers — but it's still worth having. Few things will better show your child that they will spend their entire waking life in motion. Foot power means built-in speed limits, less broken furniture.
Age: 18 months to 5 years. (I no longer fit in a Cozy Coupe. It should go without saying that my life is a sad, sad place.)
Killer Wall Art
Vintage motorsport posters give your brood something to dream by. Young and feisty? Pick a print that's fun and bright. Old and moody? Go for dark and heroic. No matter what you choose, you should paper the room in this stuff. (If Suzy doesn't ask to take her time-outs in the garage, then you haven't tried hard enough.)
Price: $20 and up, depending on print and frame style.
Take Your Kid To A Race
Take your runt to two races: a modern one, to see what evolved speed and the marketing machine is all about, and a vintage one (Do this one first. Trust us. — Ed.), to walk among legends and see how far we've come. Buy the paddock passes, eat the fair food, and make your scruffy little rugrat smell the hot tires. Bonus points if you're actually driving something on the track at the time. (Remember: It's not where mommy and daddy hang out, it's where they live.)
Age: Old enough to breathe.
Price: Admission tickets, pizza, youthful innocence.
[Photo Credit: Getty Images]
World Rally Championship DVD
Because the best way to get someone into cars is to start an obsession. As anyone who's unwillingly watched High School Musical knows, some things can be seen over and over; some things cannot. If your kid is going to glue herself to the television, you might as well try to rot her brain with an excess of mud and oversteer. ("Sally! No playing Left Five Over Crest in the house!")
Age: As soon as their eyes open. (Baby Einstein, my ass. I want Baby Petter Solberg.)
Price: $14.95 and up.
My R/C Car Is Cooler Than Yours
Yes, you'll spend long hours helping them build it. Yes, it will be far too fast for their young reflexes. Yes, it'll get smashed into tiny bits. This is the price of childhood joy; it must be paid. (Don't you want your kid to know the name "‘Smokin' Jo Winkelhock"?) Years from now, when your offspring wants their first car to be a decades-old homologation special, it'll all make sense.
Age: 5 and up, depending on the quality of model and how much cash you have to burn.
Price: $20 and up. (The Tamiya M3 at left is an adult-level kit; it costs $180.00 and doesn't include batteries, paint, or a radio.)
Tom Lichtenheld's Excellent Book
Yes, the printed word is currently undergoing a strange and confusing paradigm shift. Yes, books are rapidly – and, in many cases, unjustly – losing ground to the internet and video games. But reading still has a place, and car books are the best place to start.
Tom Lichtenheld wrote Everything I Know About Cars: A Collection of Made-Up Facts, Educated Guesses, and Silly Pictures About Cars, Trucks, and Other Zoomy Things. It's funny, clever, and contains the line "Your next duty is to test the power windows. Down. Up. Down."*
Age: Doesn't matter, so long as they like bedtime stories. Start with this, then work your way up to Christopher Hilton's excellent James Hunt: Portrait of a Champion. (Debauchery! Booze! Racing! A virtual instruction manual for life!)
*FYI: Lichtenheld also wrote a similar, equally amusing book about pirates. ("Pirates will often carry their knives in their mouths, although the practice is frowned upon by the American Dental Association.")