How My Dad's Cars Changed My Life

Illustration for article titled How My Dads Cars Changed My Life

Father's Day is this Sunday. In honor of dads everywhere, we'd like to take a moment and consider where we'd be, car-wise, without our patresfamilias. This one's for you, pop.


If you have a pulse, then at one point, you had a dad. If you're here, you like cars. If you're lucky, the two are connected.

One way or another, we owe these guys a lot.

I don't remember the first time I saw my dad with a car, but I do remember the last. It was a few months ago in Chicago; I was staying with a few friends and helping re-prep (it had already competed and crashed out once) a roofless 1989 BMW 750iL for a 24 Hours of LeMons race. It was one of those all-nighter weekends where your brain gets sucked into a pile of welding slag and transmission fluid, never to return — we finished the car but didn't make the race, and all of us left the garage exhausted and miserable.


Miserable, that is, except my dad. He had driven up from his home in Kentucky to help out, and he spent most of his time filthy, working on the car and grinning his ass off. He knew something we didn't. He was happy just to be there, happy just to be alive, happy to be doing something he enjoyed with his son and a group of like-minded nutbags. He didn't care that the whole endeavor was a (expensive, time-consuming, soul-sucking) failure. I was tired and angry, and I didn't get it.

It took a while, but I

Illustration for article titled How My Dads Cars Changed My Life

eventually realized that this was a lesson. My dad doesn't so much teach by lecture as by example: He does something, I get confused, I think on it, and later, I understand. In this case, it was simple: Cars are fun. Life is short. Wasted effort sucks, but ultimately, experiences are what matter. And that Chicago weekend, no matter how miserable, was better than working or shoveling shit.

Dads are like this. We spend most of our lives trying to understand what they're telling us, only to realize that the lessons aren't always obvious, the imparted truths rarely blatant. Cars? We get old, we look back, and we realize that they, too, fit nicely under this umbrella. Years later, you think about the stuff your dad drove when you were little — no matter how cool or lame it was — and you come to one conclusion: I was warped.

Illustration for article titled How My Dads Cars Changed My Life

I won't bore you with my personal details; the pictures here give a taste, but suffice it to say that, if it was weird and European, it probably did time in my parents' driveway. My dad was responsible for all of it (and as I discovered today, in 1982, he apparently had Wes Siler's hair). At the risk of stating the obvious, I wouldn't be here — hell, I wouldn't be lucky enough to work with cars for a living — if it weren't for him. I am a more patient, more interesting, more frustrated (but in a good way), and, ultimately, happier person because Dad loves cars. What's more, I came to it on my own: He never shoved it in my face, never forced me to like what he liked. It just happened. And it was good.


I'm not the only one here who feels this way. Proof:

When it comes to my father and cars the key word is: sacrifice. During my childhood, he patrolled the seaside town of Corpus Christi, Texas in a Subaru Brat. It was awesome. Alas, a car-based pickup with rear-facing seats in the bed doesn't make a great family car,

Illustration for article titled How My Dads Cars Changed My Life

so my dad decided to make a personal sacrifice and trade it in on something more family-appropriate. In its place, he got an Isuzu Impulse. It's a particularly strange human being who sees an Italian-styled Japanese sports car as a "family car," but that's my father.

We both loved the car. In addition to the modified wedge styling, the Isuzu had a manual transmission and a thumb-activated button control system next to the gauge cluster that blew my seven-year-old mind. When we moved to Houston and the Rockets made the NBA finals, I used white shoe polish to write pro-Rockets messages all over the car. Unfortunately, my dad didn't notice, and the Texas sun baked the words into the paint, never to fully come off. I don't remember getting in serious trouble for it (we did win, after all). He sold the car soon after at what I have to imagine was a reduced price.

—Matt Hardigree, News Editor

No, no. I'm not even a Rockets fan, and I'd pay money for that.

My Dad shaped my cars in very disparate ways. Becomming a father had the same effect on him as many young men — he became frugal in the extreme. When I came around, his red '67 Impala SS got the boot in favor of a Toyota Corolla, and both parents have been driving the little beigemobiles ever since. In fact, the both drive identical, beige 1999 Corollas right now. While he hooned it up in his youth, it was very important that my high-school ride be safe and responsible. I ended up with a 1982 Volvo 240 DL.

On the other hand, he bought my brother and me our first car: a 1951 Chevy 3100 pickup. It sat for a long time, and now my brother is hot-rodding it, dropping a 327 V-8 and an independent suspension in the nose in place of the anemic, 98-hp straight six. Of course, Dad also taught us the lessons every father should teach his son: how to change your oil, how to do a brake job, and which laws were meant to be broken and where to break 'em. Amusingly, the boring cars of my youth shaped my desire for cool cars as an adult. What I couldn't have then, I lusted after and now have — along with a job that lets me pretend to be like all those writers in the cars magazines that I fawned over.

—Ben Wojdyla, Writer, Detroit

Then there's a voice from the intern corps:

My friends would always be confused: Why can't you come out tonight? It's Saturday! Every few weekends, from April to September, I'd head back home early, or just not go out at all. I always tried to explain it, but they just couldn't wrap their heads around it. Why would anyone, especially a teenager, give up their Saturday night so they could get up early the following day? To go sit out in a field all day? In the sun? With a bunch of old cars and older people? Yup. Pretty much.

I'd fold myself into the back of Dad's old Ferrari while he and Mom were up front, and we'd head off to whatever golf course or town park was holding a car show that week. We'd get there, and he and I would walk up and down the lines of cars, talking to their owners, learning their stories. That's what he's most interested in, I think. The cars are always cool, but what really separates one Mustang or Jaguar from another? The story behind it. We'd talk to everyone, soak up every detail of each car. And then, after returning to our car and fielding any questions that came our way, we'd fold up the umbrella and head home. And every time, probably because of the exhaust fumes, I'd nod off in the back seat. I still do.

—Martin Grossinger, Intern, New York City

And another...

My dad has always loved cars. I remember spending hours in the garage when I was younger, watching my dad tinker with his car as he explained all the parts to me. He's a very solitary man, someone who would rather be alone with a car than in a room full of people. My mom thinks that that makes him strange. I think it's wonderful.

When I learned to drive, I learned to drive stick and how to change the oil. The summer after I graduated high school, my parents bought my older brother and I a 1990 Mazda Miata. My brother — who is named Trevor, after TVR's Trevor Wilkinson — totaled it a month into the summer. He was OK; I was sad; my dad was furious. Dad bought another Miata — same year, same bright red paint, but this one had an engine problem and cost even less. They're just two little broken Miatas, and they probably weren't even worth it, and my mom didn't understand this either, but they're my dad's project, and it makes him happy. It's things like this that explain why I'm now in engineering school.

—Kelsey Freeh, Intern, New York City

Last, but not least, is the boss:

My dad and I didn't bond over cars so much. Instead, we bonded over car companies.

My dad worked at Merrill Lynch, where he created Chrysler's 401(k) employee retirement plan in the early '80s, right after the U.S. automaker emerged from the shadow of its federal loan repayment. Because he managed the plan, he'd head over to the Chrysler Tech Center in Auburn Hills every few months. He'd give a speech in front of a group of 5000 or so Chrysler employees, explaining the importance of choosing the right investment options. It was in the summer of 2000 that I went with him to one of these events — and learned that my dad was actually brilliant. I watched him weave rhetorical devices from years of practice, calming even the most fearful, worried employee. I marveled at his ability to explain, in a simple and understandable way, the long-term benefits of investment in the markets. In that conference hall, I saw the impact an automaker has on the world. These weren't mindless automatons building cars, these were real, live people with families, dreams, goals, and aspirations — and my dad was helping them plan for the future.

Dad managed the plan until he passed away in early 2001. I think he'd be proud to know that, even through two new owners and a bankruptcy, Chrysler is still using the same plan he devised 30 years ago — and it's still winning awards over its flexibility. I know I'm proud of him for doing it.

—Ray Wert, Editor-in-Chief

Naturally, there isn't a single answer for this. You've probably been there, and most of you know what it means. If you've got a story, share it in the comments, but if you can, let your dad know, too. And thank him. He'll appreciate it.

Illustration for article titled How My Dads Cars Changed My Life

Happy Father's Day, pop, and thanks. Love and burnouts all around, you know?

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Patrick George

My two favorite Dad Cars were his 1983 Toyota Cressida wagon, with RWD and a straight six out of the Supra; and his current whip, a 2001 Corvette Z06.

Back when he was in college, he owned a series of whacked-out Mustangs, so it's nice to see him return to form after owning a long string of practical (but nice) sedans. He's also the craziest and scariest driver I have ever met.