QOTD: What Was Your Family Car When You Were Young?

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn

This Monday, I sat among a herd of journalists and executives waiting for the Honda Odyssey press reveal to begin. While nominally I was there to cover the event on behalf of this fine publication, I was also considering my next family car purchase.

Jack wrote at length yesterday about the relatively recent phenomenon of at once coddling and ignoring the spawn relegated to the stern of the family vehicle. While I don’t intend to completely answer the questions raised, I’d like to consider what might affect our choice of family conveyance.

Many of our beliefs, desires, hatreds, and dreams develop at a surprisingly young age. I stumbled upon a description of this a few years ago on an excellent food blog, Serious Eats, where the writer describes Sam Sifton’s “Pizza Cognition Theory:”

There is a theory of cognitive development that says children learn to identify things only in opposition to other things. Only the child who has learned what is not brown, the theory holds, can discern what is “brown.”

Pizza naturally throws this theory into a tailspin. The first slice of pizza a child sees and tastes (and somehow appreciates on something more than a childlike, mmmgoood, thanks-mom level), becomes, for him, pizza. He relegates all subsequent slices, if they are different in some manner from that first triangle of dough and cheese and tomato and oil and herbs and spices, to a status that we can characterize as not pizza.

Thus, while a kid growing up in Brooklyn might wretch at the thought of a deep-dish Chicago pie, another kid raised on Lou Malnati’s would turn up his nose at the thin, greasy slice at Original Famous Ray’s (not affiliated with Famous Original Ray’s). Just like a kid who first rode in a Camaro might spend his life savings on those awful “Calvin pissing on the Blue Oval” stickers.

Of course, the contrarian might prevail as well — thus the slow death of minivans, the symbol of mom-ness in the ‘80s and ‘90s — as most current drivers of child-rearing age won’t even consider the best utility box ever.

While my dad’s frequent sportscar purchases enthralled me, the drives in those were merely a treat for sunny, salt-free days. Whether by his own restlessness or the whims of the corporate fleet manager, dad never kept a daily driver for more than two years. Once he escaped retail sales around 1987, our driveway was constantly in flux.

I recall his first sales job when he had to buy his own car — a stripped down, DX model pop-up headlamp Honda Accord in which I was tasked with installing the dealer add-on center armrest. He quickly moved on to a firm that provided him cars to be turned in upon reaching a mileage threshold. GM A-bodies were the norm for many years, followed by second-gen Tauruses and Crown Victorias.

But my most memorable ride was my mother’s car — a 1990 Toyota Corolla. Painted light metallic blue, equipped with a five-speed manual, and stripped of nearly any feature (while I think it did have AM/FM and a cassette player, it did not have a clock), it was her first major purchase after the divorce. We drove that car everywhere. The tweed-like cloth interior wasn’t plush, but it held up well. Neglected maintenance doomed it, but mom replaced it with another Corolla, and another. I think she’s up to number six or seven with her current 2014 model. Only the last two have been automatics.

Which of your parent’s cars made a major impression on you, and how is that reflected today in your automotive passion? Mom’s Corolla explains my love of cheap and cheerful cars of the ’80s and ’90s, including Toyotas. The cars were simple and fun to drive, and made a lasting impression.

Oddly enough, I drove a (rented) Corolla to Detroit.

[Image: By IFCAR (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

Chris Tonn
Chris Tonn

Some enthusiasts say they were born with gasoline in their veins. Chris Tonn, on the other hand, had rust flakes in his eyes nearly since birth. Living in salty Ohio and being hopelessly addicted to vintage British and Japanese steel will do that to you. His work has appeared in eBay Motors, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars, Reader's Digest, AutoGuide, Family Handyman, and Jalopnik. He is a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, and he's currently looking for the safety glasses he just set down somewhere.

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  • WildcatMatt WildcatMatt on Jan 25, 2017

    When I was small, my dad drove a '68 Beetle and my mom drove a '72 Buick Riviera. After that came a string of Chevrolets and Buicks until we got an '86 Ford Aerostar. As I began driving, I had Buicks and Oldsmobiles until I got a Volvo. To this day, I think mom's Riviera and the General Lee are the two reasons I love classic cars.

  • Jaycampy Jaycampy on May 10, 2017

    1995 Chevy Suburban LS (Mum) 1972 Chevy C-10 Pick-Up w/ a 454 (Dad) 1968 Chevy Camaro w/ a 327 1997 Mazda 626 (sister) 1995 Acura Integra GS-R Sedan (sister) My parents just recently sold the Suburban for a 2017 Suburban. My father's pickup was totaled in front of my house by some teenager and he replaced it with a 2005 Silverado 1500. My sister's '97 Mazda was eventually replaced with a 2003 Mitsubishi Galant GTZ then other vehicles. My sister's Acura was given to my mom after her family grew and she purchased a 2003 Chevy Trailblazer and a 2002 BMW 325i. Sadly, the Integra, was stolen from my driveway. I miss that car dearly and learned how to drive stick in it.

  • V16 2025 VW GLI...or 2025 Honda Civic SI? Same target audience, similar price points. Both are rays of sun in the gray world of SUV'S.
  • FreedMike Said this before and I'll say it again: I'm not that exercised about this whole "pay for a subscription" thing, as long as the deal's reasonable. And here's how you make it reasonable: offer it a monthly charge. Let's say that adaptive headlights are a $500 option on this vehicle, and the subscription is $15 a month, or $540 over a three year lease. So you try the feature for a month, and if you like it, you keep it; if you don't, then you discontinue it, like a Netflix subscription. In any case, you didn't get charged $500 up front the feature. That's not a bad deal.In my case, let's say VW offers an over the air chip reflash that gives me another 25 hp. The total price of the upgrade is $1,000 (which is what a reflash would cost you in the aftermarket). If they offered me a one time monthly subscription for $50 to try it out, I'd take it. In other words, maybe the news isn't all bad.
  • 2ACL A good car, but - at least in this configuration -not one that should command a premium. Its qualities just aren't as enduring as those of Honda's contemporary sports cars. For better or worse, this is a formula they remain able to replicate.
  • Jalop1991 I just read that Tesla's profits are WAY down "as the electric vehicle company has faced both more EV competition from established automakers and a slowing of overall EV sales growth." This Cadillac wouldn't help Tesla at all, but the slowing market of EV sales overall means this should be a halo/boutique car. Regardless, yes, they should make it.
  • FreedMike It's just a damn shame that Alfa never conquered its' quality demons in time for the Giulia and Stelvio to hit the market - these are loaded with personality, and we need more product like that.