If you’re a regular reader of Jalopnik, chances are you’re into cars. But you likely weren’t born with that interest, emerging fully-formed as a human with opinions about catalytic converters and fuel injection. Somehow, you gained that interest along the way — but how? On Friday, we asked how you got into cars, and some of you even didn’t go for the “through the door” joke. Here’s what you said.
Making Vroom Noises
I usually open the door first, unless I’m feeling rowdy, then I do the Dukes of Hazzard slide across the hood, then jump in through the window.
Hotwheels and Matchbox cars.
To this very day, a single Hot Wheels car sits on my desk at home while I work. The part of you that likes toy cars never fully goes away.
Just Some Good Ol’ Boys
[Photo of the General Lee]
The only proper answer from an 80’s kid.
The General Lee is, unfortunately, one of those childhood classics that ages worse every year. Modern incarnations often pull the confederate flag off the roof, though some fan recreations add more of them on.
Putting The Grand In Grand Prix
One day I saw this:
[Photo of red sixth-generation Pontiac Grand Prix]
It was by far the prettiest thing I had at that point seen in my life. That was the start of my education. And yes, that education, a few years later, included learning that the Grand Prix was a typical 80's shit show with a terrible interior, painful ergonomics, and cheap components under that red fascia. But I mean.... just look at it! Because of this car I still understand people who buy Alfa Romeos.
While writing this slide, Jalopnik Resident Wrong Guy Andy Kalmowitz walked behind me, pointed at my screen with two fingers like Paulie Walnuts, and said “That’s a good car.” Need I say more?
From Racing To Slot Cars
It first started with my brother who brought me to my first GP (Canada - 1968), then I got my first idol (Jim Clark), following by building model cars (LeMans and F1), buying Road & Track and Hot Rod magazines, and finally with my pocket money I bought my first Scalextric track (that became a monster track - 4-track circuit, 30+ cars). The Sclextric track made it a perpetual love of cars and racing.
I remember having slot cars as a kit, and launching them off the track at every corner because I didn’t understand the need to slow down for turns.I imagine if I tried them again, I’d do better. Maybe.
Maybe my earliest memory.
My parents had me late in life (dad was 46, mom was 41). My older siblings were a lot older than me. This memory was from when my brother was 15 and I was about 4.
My dad and my big brother bought a 37 Chevy Sedan Deluxe from the side of the road there and my brother was going to restore it with my dad. They started towing it back and I was in the back of the truck with my brother (the truck had a cap, so dad considered it safe)
I was looking out of the back of the cab and noticed that as we went through turns, the steering wheel of the old Chevy would turn on its own and asked my brother about it. I think I was something like 4 and he was something like 15. My brother told me that a ghost was driving the car and I freaked out and I think he got in trouble with my mom for scaring me.
Anyway, my brother passed away a couple weeks later (from a heart defect that hadn’t been detected).We never got the Chevy restored, but it was in the backyard on the to-do list all the way through my childhood. Every time I saw it, I recalled the only memory I have of my brother’s voice. Even to this day, if I see a picture of a 37 Chevy, I can hear my brother’s voice telling me that ghosts are driving it.
If my brother had lived, maybe something like this would be out there driving.
When Vin Diesel growls the word “family” in that impossibly-low voice, this is what he means. People, brought together through cars. For hoser68, that was blood family, but for others it may be the kind of family you find on your own.
When I was about 10 years old, my uncle who lived in New Jersey came down to visit usin the DC suburbs. He was a crane operator, and did quite well for himself as a fresh-off-the-boat immigrant from Eastern Europe directly after the fall of the iron curtain. He drove down in his brand new Porsche 911 Turbo.
I remember seeing this snow-white 993 911 Turbo and being amazed. I was used to my parents’ ancient forest-green jalopy from the 70s (we were quite poor at the time). This car actually looked sexy. It sounded different. It felt different. It was an absolute game changer for me. He drove me around some back country roads, absolutely laying down the power and scaring the shit out of me. I remember thinking, “Yes. This is a feeling I want over and over again.”
Before he left he gave me a book about the history of 911s, that I still have to this day. Hoping to go out and buy one of those 993 911s within the next few years and maybe scare the shit out of my nieces.
Few things seem to stir the heart of a child like a Porsche. Maybe that’s why they’re all so expensive now.
Reliving The Glory Days
Like a lot of these, from my Dad. He was a gearhead in the 80's doing engine swaps in his Torino and whatnot until I came along. He sold his fun cars to have a family but would still work on our cars in the driveway when the brakes or suspension or whatever needed fixed, and being the oldest kid, I was the flashlight guy from an early age and just found it fascinating!
By the time I was 9 or 10 I was shifting my dads manual ‘95 F-150 from the center seat and was good enough he just had to push the clutch and I would shift without him telling me which gear or when. I wanted that truck so bad when I turned 16, was sad to see it go when he traded for an automatic truck.
I would love to find the Torino he sold or at least one like it so we can fix it up together before he gets too old to enjoy it, and now that I am in my 30's with a career that can afford something like that, I hope I can find something. Seems like decent 70's-80's muscle cars are just sky rocketing in value so every day I wait is less car I can afford.
Eighties cars are hot right now, riding the Radwood wave to six-figure valuations. they’ll flop again, but it likely won’t be any time soon — and by the time it happens, you may no longer want one.
Runs in the Family
From the old man.
As long as I can remember, seeing Dad take apart the car’s brakes and replace the drum shoes, or get out the timing light after changing the truck’s points and plugs struck me as pure magic...I had to learn what was going on. On top of the mechanical aspects of cars, the aesthetics of cars getting better and better styled iterations to the market (well, at least before the anonymous jellybean cars took over) made looking forward to the September issue of Popular Science and its pages dedicated to the new car models my Numma 1 priority.
I later found out and saw the snapshots that in Dad’s younger days, he and his brother did dirt track racing with clunkers they kept on the tracks at county fair races in Iowa. So do I believe it’s in the blood for an appreciation of cars? Absolutely.
If your parents are into cars, it seems far more likely that you will be too. If they aren’t, you can still get into them — it may just take you a bit longer.
Some Website About Jello Picnics
Honestly, it was probably this place ~10 years ago. I always thought my uncle’s Fairlane was cool, but never cared to do more than look at it as kid. Did some basic stuff like oil changes, wipers, lights, fuses, and a stereo swap in college, but that was just to save money, esp when I worked at a Menards and got a discount on all that stuff. Then I stumbled across this smorgasbord of car weirdos (probably via old deadspin?) and can’t seem to give it up, no matter how badly the owners of these websites seem to want us to.
Don’t worry, engineerthefuture. We don’t want to give you up either.
Since Day One
It was pretty much right from birth with me. As a baby I got really specifically excited by cars more than any other thing. When I was going anywhere with my folks I would smile and wave at cars and they would tell me their names, and that actually helped me learn to speak very early on. Luckily my parents were gearheads themselves so they showed me what was cool. Many of my toddler toys were cars and I got Hot Wheels as soon as I was old enough. They took me to car shows as a kid and we watched all sorts of motorsport/automotive TV. When I started showing artistic talent at a really early age, you bet it started with drawing cars. My weird lil autism brain needed stuff to latch on to and cars were the very first thing.
I had a subscription to Hot Rod Magazine in my name from kindergarten all the way to my last year in high school, and video games opened my eyes to car culture from the rest of the world, but honestly there was really never a time when I didn’t love cars. I was deadass just born with it.
 also it’s worth mentioning that when I was born, I was driven home from the hospital in my mom’s baby blue ‘64 Impala, which is about as good an omen as I could ask for. I wish she had it long enough for me to remember it.
A bright blue ‘64 Impala is a hell of a first automotive experience. Your mom had excellent taste back in the day.
Always More and More
I honestly can’t pinpoint a single moment TBH. As a young kid I remember being fascinated by the other cars on the road when my dad was driving us about.
Then it kinda snowballed from there. My dad bought me toy cars and even car magazines when I was still a toddler. My aunt also had an Alfa 33 around that time which I remember was pretty nice, but there wasn’t like one exact starting point for my love and fascination for cars.
Sometimes, that first step into car love happens long before your memory hits Record. You may never know what truly sparked your interest.
Mid Life Crisis
Growing up, I rode in one of two cars... A moderately modified pickup truck or a Dodge Grand Caravan. For most my childhood, I didn’t grow up around cars that were all that interesting.
Then came my father’s post-divorce midlife crisis.
He picked up a 1979 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am in the classic black/gold color scheme, right as I was becoming a teenager. One weekend I attended a fundraiser/car show with him and somehow became obsessed. I don’t know how to explain it, because nobody in my family has ever been much of a car enthusiast. Even dad didn’t know too much about his car beyond the fact that it looked like one from Smokey and the Bandit. Everything was just so shiny, loud, and so interesting.
I don’t really know how it spiraled from that moment to today though. Somehow it shortly turned into watching MotorTrend videos and reading Jalopnik. Then buying a moderately interesting hot hatch. Then attending motorsports events and turning into a bit of an F1 fan. And now its just crying because I don’t have the time or money to take the hobby and enthusiasm further, lol.
See, that’s the nice part about the mid-life crisis — by that point, hopefully you have the money to sustain such a hobby. Us in our quarter-life crises don’t have nearly the funds for a full-blown car addiction.
Dear Old Dad
When I was born, he had a ‘32 Oldsmobile (eternal project car), ‘57 DeSoto (from his grandmother when she stopped driving) ‘72 Pontiac Catalina, ‘73 Suburban, and a ‘74 Peugeot 504 (last three were daily-drivers for him and my mom)… and he kept acquiring interesting cars throughout my early childhood (‘67 Cadillac deVille convertible, ‘81 Corvette, ‘73 Mercedes 220D within the first few years)
He was a PhD communications engineer, but was very blue-collar in how he always wanted to do his own repairs and wrenching on cars (and anything else, for that matter). He also had a stack of Road & Tracks dating back to the late ‘60s. The moment I learned to read, I’d pour through them. Adored the April Fools issues.
He passed in 2020, but his fandom of cars left me one final present, one of his final vehicle purchases, a lovely BMW 1-Series convertible. I adore that car.
I may have inherited his proclivity for anything automotive, but I did not inherit his mechanical aptitude. I adore cars, but I can’t work on one to save my life. I have stupid hands.
Wangan Midnight has a great monologue about some car folks having oil blood, and others having gasoline. The oil-blooded types, according to the show, are the ones who like to work on cars. The gas-blooded types just like to drive them. Both count, and both are gearheads.
Toys and Tools
Well I typically get into cars by opening the door, climbing in and shutting the door.
On a more serious note, for me I just gravitated to toy cars when I was very young and watching my dad drive our car and do maintenance and repairs on it. We also had an old racing set that was great when it worked... but like most racing sets, constantly needed fixing in some way.
There’s something very refreshingly physical about cars. If you’re working on them, you can see and feel the differences your changes have made. The results of your work are tangible, far more than any spreadsheet.
Getting Your Knuckles Greasy
For me, it was the ability to easily modify the cars of the 60s and early 70s to make them better than what came from the factory. Especially the pre-’73 cars, you could easily swap in a true dual exhaust system, swap out the 2bbl carb for a nice 4bbl setup, easily improve the air intake as well as the ignition system. Wheels and tires were an easy upgrade, as well as a myriad of other car components. This was especially true in the early 1980s when the early 1970s cars were affordable and easily upgradeable.
Add in the pizzazz of the late 60s / early 70s musclecar era, when cars were colorful and exciting and didn’t look like each other...
We didn’t have computers to play on back then. We had fun getting together and figuring out ways to make our cars better and faster and more efficient. Today’s elder auto engineers were born out of that era.
I look at today’s kids and today’s cars, and it is no wonder that kids these days have little interest in cars. I wonder how that will fare for future auto design?
Just because the methods of tuning have changed, doesn’t mean the spirit has. Four-barrel carbs have been replaced by Cobb accessports and big turbos, but the idea of making your own speed is still alive and well. Those computers that people “play on” are full of car forums, detailing all the thousands of ways to make your car better, faster, or more fuel efficient. And today’s kids are still interested in cars — just maybe not your car.