Drive With Your Kid

Clay and Andrew Collins, circa 1990.

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is what was the first car I ever drove, and what my lousy teen-years Bondo beater was like, and how my parents and my spinster aunt with the cat glasses were set up for daily drivers, and all that Holden Caulfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.

Kidding. But really, my kid, who you’ve probably seen on this website before, has already made my signature car, a 1979 FIAT Spider, the big star of one story of his. I’m in there between the lines.


(Welcome to Jalopnik Father’s Day, where we are celebrating the wonderful dads of the Jalopnik staff. This is a story from Clayton Collins, dad of Jalopnik Reviews Editor Andrew Collins.) 

And I got a cameo just this week in his Jeep Rubicon review. That ride-along was like an early Father’s Day gift. I hear that one’s been popular, so somebody tell Andrew he needs to invite his old man on more test drives.


And, hey, happy Fathers’ Day. What’s better than cars and dads?

Cars are lush, vivid baubles of chaos and charm. Dads are style icons and keepers of lore and raconteurs in our own so-tired minds. Sometimes we do good things.


Like, I gave Andrew a jump start with his driving. There was that slick Kettcar, to start.


(Sorry, Andrew, about never hooking you up with one of those battery-powered monstrosities you wanted. Just too much lawn plastic. Trying to have a society here, as you like to say.)

But we soon put away childish things. Who needs toys that are ... toys? I never figured being able to see over the hood of an actual automobile was a prerequisite for a little closely monitored steering or shifting practice. And we all work best when we’re alone in the driver’s seat, not in somebody’s lap. Work the clutch for me, dad.


So Andrew did indeed turn some heads on a golf course down in the Caymans at age seven when he puttered past at the wheel of a rented orange CJ with bad graphics and, it turned out, a bone-dry radiator.


(Editor/son’s note: We later figured out that wasn’t actually a “Jeep,” but some strange fiberglass body’d island vehicle. Wish we had more than one picture!)

He got comfortable in that old FIAT awfully fast. We split the cost of his first car, a red Integra from a repo shop that he would immediately outfit with an N1 exhaust that pretty much excluded me from ever driving it. (Well played.) I tipped him off about the RX-7 he’d buy with insurance money once that Acura was good and wrecked. (Took a couple tries. He was persistent.)


The Land Rover he bought afterwards I had nothing to do with.


See how that slow separation works? But with it Andrew taught me that we can do safari right here on Cape Ann, Massachusetts, and the ladder and the Hella lights and the shovel mounted on its roof surely were signs of bad-assity to come. (As you may know, Andrew spent 2011 as an off-road tour guide in Australia). The kid and I did motorcycle-safety school together in 2005. Finished 1-2 in class. Not gonna say who was which.

And now you all get to slurp a steady diet of his robust adventures. You’re welcome!


So who am I again? Thanks for asking; no one does once you’re old. I’ll keep it to my driving life, because audience.

Fastest I’ve hauled ass (legally, and on the ground)? About 155 in a 12-cylinder 850ci on the Autobahn outside of Dinkelsbühl in 1994, where the wondrous comedy was that of course there was a Carrera behind me before very long with its left blinker flashing, some serious Hanzorfranz gripping the wheel in his handsome driving gloves.


I think the first car I left the road in without meaning to was my dad’s new ’83 Saab 900 Turbo. Pilot’s car for a family of pilots: wraparound windshield, ignition nestled down in the center console, farings on the sunroof and even the side windows.

This is an old Saab press photo, but it’ll have to do.

I was 20. My own dad–the son of an actual parachute-wearing test pilot and carnival contortionist, but let’s leave that alone–was running hard Pirellis. It was cold. My girlfriend and I were giddy and leg-tired from skiing and we broke through a crusted snow berm and nosed into a fetid cornfield.

Seemed funny at the time. I climbed out through the sunroof, purely for effect, then had to wake up a farmer, which killed the mood. He wasn’t careful with the chain when he yanked the Silver Bullet back up onto the road with his Massey Ferguson.


Dad would never know, and just as well. He could be a little bit Great Santini about things – so intense about airplanes that he sent me up solo in our Piper Tri-Pacer when I was just 14 (no, not legal) but locked down about pretty much everything else. The right car for the ski trip would have been his Cherokee Chief but that was at the airport under another snowbank while he was off on a trip. I wouldn’t wreck that one until college–same day my mom rolled her Subaru.

When dad was away mom was lenient with vehicles. But that’s a different story.

Back to Andrew and me. Fun apple-not-far-from-tree fact: I got in a few years of auto writing too. Never my main gig; not like the boy. Wrote a boatload of kind reviews, complimenting new Volvos on their pleasing ergonomics. Some fun, relatively staid experientials: I ran quarter miles in a Jaguar XKR (sorry, Jaguar, I don’t think the press-fleet terms allowed for that). Plumbed the donk culture down South. Covered rally racing up in northern New England.


Andrew came along for that Maine one. By 2006 he was a high school senior and pretty hard to corral for anything. But car shows and events he was still always down for. So we sped up to the town of Mexico, Maine, and breathed dust and stayed in a weird flophouse with swaying bunks, no towels, and no proprietor in sight. Hippie-dude guest said to just find the dude in town next day “and say ‘here is money.’” That was money! It’s all been money.

Have a kid? Drive with your kid. Like I said, happy Father’s Day.

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