My How Things Change: Car Buying Priorities of an 11-year-old

Do Not Touch is just a suggestion when children are involved.
"Do Not Touch" is just a suggestion when children are involved.

Even when I was little, I was captivated by cars. My parents frequently tell the story of a nightly ritual that started when I was about two years old. I was quietly playing with my Matchbox cars on the end table beside the couch. When they told me it was bedtime, I politely responded, “No thanks, I’m fine,” and continued playing. Several further attempts were met with similar quiet resistance, and eventually they gave up and went to bed themselves.
Apparently I continued playing for a couple hours, then selected a few of my favourite cars, and quietly put myself to bed. From that point on, whenever it was bedtime, my parents would tell me to select a few of my favourites, and I’d head to bed with a huge armload of toy cars. I’d sleep quite contentedly all night, surrounded on all sides by Jaguar XJ’s, Lincoln Continentals and Model T Fords.
As I grew older, of course, some of my strange habits eventually went by the wayside, but my fascination with cars never waned.
By the time I was about eleven years old, I was quite literally counting down the months until I turned 16 and could get my driver’s license. Even then, I started considering the cars that I wanted to buy — of course, money didn’t really make that much sense to me, so the sky was the limit — and what features were absolutely non-negotiable.
Having owned a few cars since, I of course have a new list of non-negotiables. Let’s start there, and see how much my priorities have changed.
Ah, comfort. A convertible makes the need for heated seats all the more pressing.
Ah, comfort. A convertible makes the need for heated seats all the more pressing.

1.) Heated Seats.
Yeah, I admit it, I’m a wuss. But hey, where I live, -40C is the norm in the winter. Have you ever sat on a non-heated seat in that weather? You freeze to it. Dead serious, your butt gets stuck. I prefer to combine that with a remote starter so I can warm up my car from bed, but I fear if I had that, it’d be just that much harder to actually get out of bed on a cold morning.
2.) Manual Transmission.
When I was little, I actually didn’t understand the manual transmission, so I forgive myself for omitting this from my 11-year-old self’s list. I knew, in my dad’s old Rabbit, that he had to move the shifter around whenever the engine got loud. That was about as far as I’d managed to figure out until I actually was 16, had to get to a rehearsal, and dad tossed me the keys for his manual-transmission Ranger, saying, “Figure it out on your own.” I’ve never looked back, and my old 3-on-the-tree Rambler, with an automatic overdrive, was more fun to drive than should be allowed by law.
3.) Air Conditioning
Yeah, my A/C is broken right now. Along with cold winters, we get hot summers, and I think I’ve actually lost weight on some of my drives through downtown traffic on a hot summer’s day.
MOAR POWER!
MOAR POWER!

4.) Plenty of passing power
This is almost a given, as I don’t even consider cars that are significantly lacking on power, but again, to reference the Rambler, there were a few too many times when I was trying to lug that beast past a B-train tractor-trailer and came a bit too close to oncoming traffic for my own tastes. Never. Again.
5.) Style
Call me superficial if you like, but I want a car that I can be proud of. Admittedly, my sense of “style” might be dramatically different from others’, but I think I can reserve the right to be just as weird as I like.
So, what about my 11-year-old self? What were some of the priorities I clung to as a child, back when I first started shopping for my first car — which, by the way, I decided in my childlike wisdom, should be a Jaguar XJ, for the simple reason that it had been my favourite toy car growing up — and making a list of what I wanted?
1.) Huge Chrome Fins.
It was the end of the Malaise Era, can you blame me? I was looking back on the stuff that had been cool, and thinking, “Yeah! I wants me some of that!”. I had a toy Chrysler Imperial, I think a ’58, and I remember thinking those fins were pretty much perfect… maybe just a little bigger.
Shiny. And wings! And bench seats! Oh my!
Shiny. And wings! And bench seats! Oh my!

2.) Huge bench seats.
After all, I had to have room for all my friends. Okay, let’s be honest, I was a nerd, it would be all my friend. But I remained optimistic that someday, somehow, somewhere, I would have enough friends to need extra seating for them!
3.) Shiny chrome wheels.
When I was really little, I remember being fascinated by chrome wheels, because they were right at my eye level, and I could see myself in them in a distorted perspective, like a carnival mirror. Since I usually look better in carnival mirrors, that’s clearly a good thing. That fascination somehow never faded.
4.) Four headlamps.
Four is better than two. Duh.
5.) Fucking Rocket Boosters™.
Yeah, that pretty much never changed. Find me a car that has these now, and I’ll probably drool over it.
So the more some things change, the more they remain the same. While my current-me list is far more practical, and reasoned out, and logical, it’s hard to deny that I still have a soft spot in my heart for my 11-year-old self’s priorities. Maybe if we all went with our 11-year-old’s gut instincts, we wouldn’t be mired in a new Malaise in auto design today.
To infinity, and BEYOND!
To infinity, and BEYOND!

Image credit: thread.co.nz, automobilemag.com, popularhotrodding.com, jackfrostaa.com, creativecow.net

58 Comments

  1. Let me be the first to say, “Well done, my good friend.”
    Now, as far as your list goes, it is hard to argue with. Especially #1. Especially in a car with leather seats in Michigan (OK, we don’t get to -40, but it still get’s damn cold) with a row-your-own tranny that they won’t put a remote start on.
    Also, as an engineer who happens to have a degree in a rocket-like field, I can help you with the Fucking Rocket Boosters™. Plus, I hear NASA might have some old launch pads they aren’t using any more.

    1. Funny thing about heated seats is that I want them but don’t actually use them. My SVT Focus has them as part of the winter package, but it barely gets any use on the drivers side. Even in the dead of winter, I MAYBE have them for a minute before I turn them off. But then again that prolly makes all the difference. The funny thing is I can happily turn on cooled seats all day long.
      The girls love them though! ;P My GF loves to have them on all the time. Sometimes even in summer!

      1. Heated seats? What´s that good for? BTW. Girls should be treated different to get them hot.

        1. If the switches are on the center console, it’s always fun to switch on the other person’s heater. Especially in summer.

        2. Fantastic article! I definitely agree on #1. Heated seats are a deal-breaker. Sad to say, I use mine in the summer as well on cool mornings/evenings.
          @BЯдΖǐL-ЯЄРΘЯΤЄЯ: Riiiiiiight.

  2. One question: Where in the bloody hell did ’70s Civic Guy get a freaking V1?
    That was awesome. It reminds me more than a little of my own priorities and misconceptions as a child. I have managed to get my hands on one of the cars I most wanted in the years just before getting my license, though (for the record, it’s the second example I’ve owned). I plan to own it for many, many years to come.

  3. Funny you mention toy cars in bed. When I was real young I would “goto bed” and play with my cars on the bed. If I heard my parents coming I’d shove them all under my pillow (rather uncomfortable), and play asleep.
    Eventually they wised up and just came in to sweep them out from under the pillow and onto the floor…

      1. Is there anyone that didn’t? My mom tells a story of how she found me in my bed one night with my cars, and I had taken all of the dry Jell-O packets from the kitchen and dumped them in my bed. I made mountains of Jell-O to drive my cars in! There’s also one that involves kitty litter, but that one is a little fuzzy…

  4. Thanks man. I feel pretty bad, as I never intended for it to pan out like this… the optics of that are pretty terrible, and it looks like I staged it. Sadly, there’s nothing I can do about how it looks, events panned out this way, just gotta roll with them. Thanks for the encouragement. Hopefully, as time goes on, I’ll get a little better at it.

    1. I’ll go ahead and point out that was all on me.
      I got this up and running a few days ago, and had no idea he was going to check out from over there today.
      I wasn’t going to post a link in the comments, but someone was like “man, I wish there was some other site where we could just go to talk about random cars and stuff”. It would’ve been a disservice not to bring up Hooniverse, as that’s exactly what I started this to be.
      Besides, if the comment/link over there is deemed inappropriate they can delete it.

  5. Soo…. where does one acquire these “Fucking Rocket Boosters™”?
    Inquiring minds want to know!

  6. Let me congratulate you, MadScience, and anyone else you’ve got over here on finding a new outlet for the joyful discussion of all things automotive.
    My love of cars is all drawn back to my large collection of Matchbox cars, so my favorites were the ones with interesting features: the gold Trans-Am had doors that could open (which meant it could fly!), the white Lamborghini that turned pink when cold (it spent a lot of time in the freezer). And my all-time favorite was the black pedophile van, because the wheels were put on absolutely perfectly, and it always went the furthest and straightest when I rolled it down my cardboard ramp.
    But yes, give me heated seats.

    1. Right on! Any that had doors that could open could fly! I remember I used to have quite a collection that would go with me everywhere, even to school. My pride and joy was a Jag, an XJ series II if I recall correctly…it was larger than the average matchbox and the doors, trunk, and hood opened.
      Stick shift is a must. And fins. Although those probably aren’t practical on a truck. Hmmm…

  7. Good read! Bravo!
    As I approached age 16 years and legal to drive (in 1979), it was assumed that the family 1970 Ford Custom 500 Wagon would become my vehicle in the Barrett family carpool (later, a Caltech classmate of mine would tease me that the Barrett household looked like the Brady Bunch’s house; parked out front were a ’70 Ford wagon, a ’69 Chrysler New Yorker 4 dr. hardtop, a ’77 Ranchero in arctic white, a ’67 GMC 4wd pickup, and a ’73 Mercedes 220D). Although the 220D had only 52hp, it had a 4-speed manual tranny, and when I became proficient, that little diesel was by far the most fun to drive. The big New Yorker was the most imposing, being like an aircraft-carrier in length.

  8. At 18 or 19, I talked my way into test driving a C5 Corvette. It was an automatic, but to this day I haven’t experienced the same level of acceleration. Maybe that’s why I want to drop a Chevy small block in my German wagon…

  9. Although I’m still in my teens, and am soon approaching the age of driving (in a couple of months) I have been bitten with the bug of wonderful cars that no one appreciates.
    My friends think it’s crazy to have a wagon, any time at all, but why am I having the urge to find a mint rs2 instead of a new bmw?
    Or want an all black “sleeper” Grand National instead of a new challenger.
    Or even a 2002, a car i would surely be mocked in, but I wouldn’t care, because I know I would love it.

    1. anyone who mocks a 2002 deserves to be slapped… I could show you a treasure trove of 2002s that would make even a hardcore DB jealous.

    2. My buddy bought a 2002 back when I was 16, and we kinda shared it for a while there. Whoever needed it took it, that sort of thing. Trust me, you would not get mocked in it.
      We found one in moderate-to-okay condition, lowered it, but a 2002tii engine in it, upsized the wheels a notch or two (nothing crazy, just a bit) and did the body work. It was already painted yellow, so we chose a slightly brighter shade, and repainted it in a friend’s garage. We then apologized to his dad profusely for painting all his tools yellow.
      Trust me, you will not be mocked. We got stopped everywhere, by everyone, wanting to admire it. They are fantastic looking cars when done nicely.
      Oh, and if you like the Grand Nationals, stick around.

      1. I would love to find one for my first car. My neighbor is a handyman and remembers when he was growing up in Iran his friends and him rebuilt a 2002 in mint condition, they also drove around in a rambler.

  10. Great write-up.
    I once heard it said, “Matchbox are the cars you drove to the store; HotWheels are the ones you WISH you did”. To that end I probably had more Matchbox cars than most, because they were the most tangible to me: just like the workaday beaters I saw on my way to school and on the block. They’re what my relatives and friend’s parents had. But when they were mine in miniature, they became magic. Plus most MBX cars had opening doors for flight and dogs in their station wagons (HW added some to theirs, though). They all had FRBs when necessary, could withstand the impacts of countless daredevil train-crossing stunts, and yes, went with me to bed. Thanks for making me feel normal on that count.
    I still have more than a few survivors, as well as my own modern fantasy garage. Why just today I found a new-for-2009 HW casting of a ’53 Cadillacamino.
    Keep the heated seats, though. I built my character the hard way, and I intend to keep it! Same for the A/C. It’s nice, but my ’88 had neither and the Angstmobile’s doesn’t work. Only weight I ever lost or will lose is because of those cars.

    1. I definitely had Matchbox. More realistic, as I had the big “town” type rugs to lay out. But basically I always ended up having big police chases and running the cars into each other. What can I say?

  11. I still have the DB4 from ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ and The Green Hornets Chrysler (I think it’s a Chrysler. Long time since I played with them!) with Kato driving and the Green Hornet leaning out the rear window, gun in hand. Both are still in the boxes they came in. I guess I was a retentive 7 year old.

  12. I, too, had a thing for huge chrome fins when I was a young lad. In fact, when Homer Simpson unveiled the Powell Motors Homer, I decided that that was exactly what I wanted to drive.
    Every now and then, I’ll be looking through my desk at home and I’ll come across a sheet of paper that I filled with car drawings when I was supposed to be doing schoolwork. Looking over them, I can track the evolution of my taste in cars: The first car I remember drawing was a dune buggy-like contraption, conceived after my father gave me a book about Porsche that had a picture of a WWII VW Kubelwagen. Later, I added tailfins to every car I drew. Then side pipes and mag wheels began to crop up in my drawings. By the time I entered high school, I was drawing sleek, postmodern stuff. In college, I drew a lot of old-school hot rods. But no matter how old I got, it seems that every now and then I would throw an old-fashioned finned car in the mix.
    Of course, I don’t have much time to draw anymore, as I spend more time working on my Sunbeam Alpine. But do you know why I have an Alpine?
    Because it has fins.

    1. I just googled Sunbeam Apline and let me say congrats on your beautiful car.
      I love those old cars, MGBs, Healeys.
      I still get goosebumps when the bugeye beat the ricer Puegot in Top Gear

      1. It’s great for someone who loves fins and hates knowing that they’ll be able to make it home under their own power.

  13. I still have my toy cars, in a box under my desk (and strewn around everywhere, I never really stopped buying them). I think my favorites were the Majorettes – like Matchbox cars, but metal and more European.
    I’ve always suffered from a serious case of automotive ADD though, bouncing from obsession to obsession. When I was four, I wanted a Ford Aerostar, and cried when my parents couldn’t test drive a Dodge Colt Wagon (because the last one in stock had just been sold). At 9, I wanted a Neon or Jeep YJ. By 11, I seriously lusted for a Viper, although I appreciated the ’87 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe in my math textbook (possibly because I had a toy of one that got crushed a day after I bought it several years earlier). At 16, I really wanted a Fox Body Mustang, but would have been happy with a 3rd gen Camaro (and dabbled in looking at G-bodies, especially the Monte Carlo SS). I ended up in an Intrepid. There’s been no major connecting threads in any car I’ve bought since then except some feature that attracted me (fuel economy, V8 and RWD, stick shift) and that I could afford it. I know my next car will be a hand-me-down Hyundai Accent (automatic, but it’ll get me to school), and after that, I have no idea.

  14. Consider me a part of the Exodus.
    I’ve been wrestling for half an hour for just the right words to describe my childhood relationship with my toy car collection, and I’m at a loss. The nearest I can come is “Rosetta Stone.” They’re the key to understanding the car enthusiast I would become: a lover of aesthetic beauty, of scintilating performance, of rarity and provenance. I cherished my Pocket Car Bugatti Royale, I hooned the hell out of my Majorette Renault 5 Turbo, and I picked up countless imaginary trophies in my Matchbox Porsche 935. But, as careful readers of that other autoblog might recall, the best, THE BEST, was my Hot Wheels Cobra 427S/C. Guardsman blue, white stripes, rubber tires…heaven in three inches of diecast metal.
    On the other hand, if my eleven-year-old self were allowed to select the car I drive today, I’d be looking good in my monochrome white widebodied Mercedes SEC, my pasty thighs clinging ever-so-gently to the red leather seats. I think that my eleven-year-old self was only about one bad babysitter away from a serious blow habit.

  15. I’m 99.999% certain I was genetically predisposed to being a gearhead. The fact that my folks would push me around car shows in my stroller and would buy me things like a little Fisher Price Indycar that had a rear wing that doubled as a wrench that would allow you to take the body and the wheels off probably contributed a fair bit.

  16. Whilst I may have no avatar, it’s great witnessing the birth of a new age of blogtacular-blogging. Bring it on, and hopefully I’ll be able to do some contributing. College student’s have tons of free time anyways.

  17. The mindset of an 11 yr old doesn’t change much over time. The pictures my son draws in the back of his notebooks of big-wheeled, swoopy, gun-encrusted-all-barrels-blazing automotives nightmares seem to be lifted directly from my long gone duotangs of yore. The only addition I would make to your list of priorities would be a deer bouncer for night driving to Tims’out here on the right coast. We don’t need that fancy shmancy air con, but the notion of toasted bottoms makes the morning commute bearable. The friggin weather dude said the S-word last night….BASSTURD!!…Where’s my scotch?….
    -Confessions of a former Jalop lurker-

  18. Wow, Dearthair, nice to see you write as opposed to being just a commenter! And glad to find your new spot, along with many other Jalopnik personalities, it would appear. Greetings guys, nice to see all of you!
    I think unlike you, I came understand the manual tranny at an early age, thanks to my aunt’s Beetle. I loved wathcing her feet and right hand as she shifted gears, and would copy her moves from my seat. Left foot down, right foot up, move lever. I took note of the gear pattern on the ashtray, and knew that gear changes were necessary to make the car go faster. Strangely, it was the automatic that had me confused. You put this lever next to the “D” and it doesn’t move? Then why are there a “1” and “2” down there, and where is the left pedal to push when you go from gear to gear? Even more confusing was the column mounted auto shifter. During my early years cars just didn’t have “on-the-tree” shifters any more, and seeing someone move the lever on the column was just bizarre. Ahh, memories.

  19. I also got the opportunity to drive an Esprit Turbo, and holy shit what a ride!! It made the most incredible sound at WOT, and was the closest thing I’ve ever driven to scary fast. That car will live on in my memory forever. Totally changed my perspective of what fast is, for sure. I thought my dad’s ’96 Vette was fast until I drove that Lotus.

  20. “Even when I was little, I was captivated by cars. My parents frequently tell the story of a nightly ritual that started when I was about two years old. I was quietly playing with my Matchbox cars on the end table beside the couch. When they told me it was bedtime, I politely responded, “No thanks, I’m fine,” and continued playing. Several further attempts were met with similar quiet resistance, and eventually they gave up and went to bed themselves.”
    I will admit honestly that I went “Awww!” the first time I read it. And mostly because you remind me of my own childhood. Another tidbit from me: I ALWAYS got a toy car when I had to go to a doctor. Made damn sure of that no matter how much in pain I was.

  21. My eleven-year-old self would probably have a pretty good laugh if he saw my 45-year-old self in traffic. When I was a kid, all I could think about was trucks… big trucks…. I mean REALLY Big Trucks! I’d sit in the bed of my biggest Tonka Dump Truck and my older brothers would push me around the house as fast as they could go until it was time to ghost-drive me into a wall, down the stairs, or into the dining room like a bowling ball looking to knock down all those pins/chairs. I loved it. The open-pit mine right in the middle of town had an observation point where I could watch the real dump trucks make their way down, down, down, to the bottom where they would take a brief rest while the steam-shovel (they were diesel-powered, but kids called ’em steam-shovels anyway) would load them up with fresh-shot rock and they would begin the laborious climb out of the hole under a black cloud of burning diesel. I could watch this for hours. Never in a million years would I have imagined driving any thing less, certainly not a little-bitty air-cooled two-cylinder that is dwarfed by every other car out there.

  22. While I didn’t as a child, I currently (at 33) do have a rather large car collection. And a few of them (Elise, VW single cab, VW 68 Variant aka Le Squareback) sit on my nightstand in their place of honor, so when I wake up in the morning I see them and smile. Guess I’m a late bloomer but that’s ok.
    Even Seamus, my kitty, has his own that he beats around on the floor.
    And ya know, it doesn’t look like “anything” except a well thought out, well written article on my screen!
    Brilliant job. Excellent writing. Bravo x10!

    1. You sound like my type of person, I am also a huge air cooled VW fan. I had a ’71 Square in high school as a project, and it never really worked out for me. I’m sure you know, it was the first year of fuel injection, and it was in horrible shape. I couldn’t find parts, it was way more complicated than I was prepared to deal with at the time, and in general I had bitten off more than I could chew at the time. I wish like hell I still had that car now, because I know better, and I could get that thing on the road in a long weekend. Anyway, I’m currently awaiting the time when I can afford another project, and this time it will be a Fastback, or a Ghia. I’d do a Westy if I could talk the wife into it, but there’s no hope in that. Anyway, nice to see another old school VDub fan. Screw water pumpers.

  23. As an eleven year old boy I was much more intriged in how to speed up my 50 cc 2-stroke mopeds, my older brothers helped me and teached me that it had a lot to do with exhausts and carbs. The results were amazing, I allways kept interested in the technical stuff so I did not care too much about luxury features. My old folks had an Escort Mk1 at the time, on the television I could see that this car had rally and race pedigree, and the fact they were so easy to drift with, made me want to own one once I got my driver license. I´ve had 2 of em, probably the most hoonable cars I´ve had.

  24. My fondest memories are of placing the HotWheels behind the tires of my parents cars. That way it looked realistic when my Matchbox monster truck drove over them!
    Unfortunately my parents disposed of my collection when I was a teenager 🙁

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