Literally the last time I was truly happy
Photo: The Lourd Family

Last week, on the heels of the massive Barbie Dream Camper recall, I learned—and don’t ask me how or why—that there are now Power Wheels ride-on cars for children that come with auxiliary outlets for their music devices. On a current Ford Mustang lookalike model, there is a touch screen in the dash to control performance settings—traction control and stability control being two of them.

A parent or guardian can even control the speed limiter for the car, via this same screen, which is uncool and lame. I mean, if your parents are able to lower your top speed to a sluggish 3 mph, where is your FREEDOM? You can run faster than that crap! This is unjust!

So it got me thinking— what the hell happened to the good old days, when cars weren’t just computers on wheels? Back in my day it was just the feel of the plastic wheel in your grip, the road, and the wind whipping your hair. They were about the analog feel of speed, not working with your smartphone. These were purest of times, the best of times, the ’90s.

It used to be about the driving, man.

The true enthusiast’s garage
Photo: Lourd Family

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Yes, I was one of the lucky kids, who in 1997 received a Barbie Jeep for Christmas. I can actually still remember it like it was yesterday; that’s how important this moment was. I woke up, obviously at the break of dawn like all kids do, grabbed my younger brother, and looked down from the staircase towards the tree. I had asked for a Barbie Jeep that year—where was it? Everything under the tree was far too small. My dad noticed my expression and whispered “behind the couch.”

I ran over and jumped onto the couch, and sure enough, there it was. My first car, ironically the same color as my still-standing full-size first car (a 2007 Nissan Sentra), a white Barbie Jeep with pink wheels. No iPhone, no AUX cable, no traction control—just a pure car.

My baby Jeep Wrangler was adorned with beachy graphics, a fake soft top with more dolphin and sun graphics, and text that said “Barbie Beach Patrol” along the side. Unfortunately, because I grew up in Connecticut, no beach patrolling was ever done, just laps of our circle driveway.

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The only other functional car-like feature on my “bare bones” Jeep were the pointless windshield wipers. This is what pure, innocent driving is supposed to be like. No fancy gadgets, no screens—just you and the sound of your plastic wheels crunching along the pavement.

You don’t see stripped-out, basic, driver-centric Power Wheels cars like that anymore.

Action shot
Photo: Lourd Family

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And it’s a shame, because that’s a great way to instill a love of cars in kids. Behind the wheel of a Barbie Jeep or Power Wheels, I learned such driving lessons such as: Not driving on the grass (this Jeep was not a pure Jeep, sorry David Tracy), not driving too closely to other objects (dings would result in license suspension), and looking out for pedestrians (sorry, mom and dad.)

These days, tech features on Power Wheels cars are out of control. Mine didn’t need to be filled with a whole lot of hoopla, and it shouldn’t be. What kind of example are we really setting? Aren’t we really tempting our children with distracted driving?

We need to go back to our roots and remember what driving really is—a joining of two souls, you and your machine. The sound of your engine, even if it’s a tiny battery and a whining motor. The feeling of your steering wheel as you whip around corners at 5 mph. The smile on your face. And for me, that all started when my Barbie Jeep began to shape me as a driver.

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We need to get back to pure driving.

Parked and Posing with a childhood friend
Photo: Lourd Family