I got a suggestion recently from a reader that was brilliant and simple: find out what car Calvin’s dad, the hardworking everyman from the beloved comic strip Calvin & Hobbes, drove. I mean, we have a right to know what he drives, I think, since his son has been seen peeing on so many car windows. So let’s try and figure this out.
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This post originally ran on May 13, 2016, but we’re resharing it in honor of Father’s Day.
Bill Watterson is an incredibly talented and observant artist, so I think the car he drew for Calvin’s father (who seems to have no known name) was carefully considered and not just something chosen at random. The comic ran from 1985 to 1995, so the car chosen would have been one common in the U.S. during that period.
Interestingly, the first time we ever meet Calvin’s dad, he’s with his car, but it’s not the same car that eventually becomes the type most associated with Calvin’s dad:
This first car looks to me like a tiny, slightly-flattened Ford LTD. This car is soon replaced by the car that’s most consistently Calvin’s dad-car, a small, two-door econobox-type hatchback.
Now, today, that may seem to be an odd choice for Calvin’s dad, who seemed to have a decent mid-level white collar job, owned a home, and all those trappings of middle class living. Today, I think we see two-door hatches as entry-level cars, and would have expected Calvin’s dad to have upgraded beyond that, but back in the 1980s, that wasn’t the case.
Don’t believe me? This guy identifies himself as a “corporate executive” and drives a 1984 VW Rabbit:
So, for the time period, a two-door econobox makes total sense.
But which econobox? The early ‘80s were the glory days of the everyman hatchback, so there’s plenty to choose from. I do think Watterson had a couple specific ones in mind when drawing Calvin’s dad’s car, though.
Here are some common variants, with my best guesses:
Much like our corporate executive up there, we see examples that strongly suggest a Volkswagen Rabbit. The round headlights seen here are actually pretty unusual for Calvin’s dad’s car, so this may be an anomaly. Maybe a rental. But why wash a rental?
Overall, though, I am sort of leaning to a Volkswagen for Calvin’s dad’s car, but a slightly newer one: a MK2 Volkswagen Golf. Here, look:
That’s pretty convincing, right? The headlight shape, the marker lights, the round, central badge. It even seems to hold up for the rear.
That seems pretty close to me. Still, I’m not absolutely certain. There’s something familiar about that rear end that could possibly be a first-generation Honda Civic.
Maybe? The overall shape feels pretty Civic-like, and those two-chamber taillights fit... but I’m still leaning to the Golf. The Civic’s windows are quite small, and I think the taillights are suggesting an angled shape like the Golf’s.
Sometimes, though, Watterson mixed it up a bit, and drew the car like this:
Whoa. Totally different tailights here, and they seem like Chevrolet Chevette lights. That’s certainly possible, and maybe Calvin’s dad quietly preferred RWD, though all the times we’ve seen the car in snow make me think this is unlikely. Calvin’s dad seems like the kind of guy who’d prefer FWD over RWD in the snow.
Then, just in case you weren’t confused enough, there’s a Sunday full-color variant of the car that seems to suggest yet another option:
Now, this could still be that Mk 2 Golf, but there’s some key details that have changed that make me think the dream-flying hatchback is a Dodge/Mitsubishi Colt. The lack of a round badge on the grille, the wide rectangular lights, the horizontally stacked, wider taillights, the prominent black rubber side impact strip—I really do feel Watterson was looking at a Dodge Colt when he drew this strip.
Did I mention that Bill Watterson may also be the most consistent daily comic strip artist when it comes to including side marker lights on his cars? That’s a detail I have a lot of respect for.
So, I think if I had to come to a conclusion, I’d say that for most of the strips, Calvin’s dad drives a late 1980s Volkswagen Golf, but for the occasional full-color dream sequence, he’ll break out the Dodge/Mitsubishi Colt.
I hope this clears everything up, and you can rest easy now.
Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus, 2020 Changli EV • Not-so-running: 1973 Reliant Scimitar, 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!)