By on July 12, 2021


It’s Chicago Auto Show week around these parts.

You might not remember this, but there actually was a 2020 Chicago Auto Show — it took place before COVID shut the world down. This means that the Chicago Auto Show was the last one before the world fell apart, and will be the first one as we tentatively reopen and march towards some sort of normalcy.

It also means that enthusiasts and car shoppers get to gather in person to check out sheetmetal once again.

Growing up, I loved the auto show. Went at least once every year with either my dad or both parents. But it’s not the show that got me into cars — I was already a car person due to other factors. Still, the show, plus a tweet I saw over the weekend asking car people for their stories of how they became car people, got me wondering about how all of us became car lovers.

For me, mostly it was because my parents ran an auto-parts store from the time I was about 1 till I was 12 or 13. That’s what did it for me. It also helped that both parents were car people, as were some friends and family.

I also blame toys like Hot Wheels, Matchbox, RC cars, and the Transformers for my addiction to the automobile.

I did go through a phase of indifference towards cars for a few years as a child — like a lot of suburban kids, I became obsessed with sports. I still love sports. But at around age 12, I started caring about cars again, because I realized I’d be driving soon enough, and I also started reading the buff books.

Eventually, I worked in a dealership as a porter, then a service greeter, then a service advisor, before stumbling back-asswards into automotive journalism. Now I’m here, typing these words for TTAC.

That’s my story of how I came to love these two-ton pieces of metal. What’s yours?

[Image: oneinchpunch/]

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39 Comments on “QOTD: What Got You Into Cars?...”

  • avatar

    I don’t know, probably just seeing them on the street. I first started drawing cars when I was five or six. My dad liked cars, but he wasn’t mechanically inclined at all. Replacing a bulb was about as much as he could handle.

    I learned to work on them out of necessity – after the Chevy dealer “tuned up” my first car, a ’75 Vega, it pinged, and would stall at idle with the a/c on. So I went to Sears, bought a Craftsman 3/8″ drive SAE socket set, a set of SAE combination wrenches, a Craftsman 1/2″ drive beam-type torque wrench, a chrome Sears/Penske timing light, and a Sears/Penske tach/dwell meter (I still have all that stuff), and a Haynes manual, and set the timing and idle, fixing the ping and stalling issues.

  • avatar

    It’s as far back as I can remember. Interesting since no one else in my family is or was a car person.

    I had some large books of car pictures as a young kid, though I don’t know if they started the interest or if my parents bought them after I was already hooked.

    I remember learning to read by knowing automotive logos and matching them with the letters on the car.

    I remember taping Formula 1 and Indy races and watching them over and over.

    I remember playing for hours with Hot Wheels and other toy cars.

    Just kind of always been my thing I guess.

    • 0 avatar

      When I was a kid, we had this book around the house (this was probably about 1968) that was mainly about Italian cars, including show cars (it had the Alfa Romeo B.A.T. cars in it). It was a big softcover book, and I think it was missing the covers. Tons of black and white pictures (nothing in color that I can remember). I wish I could I figure out who wrote and published it, so I could try to find a copy.

      • 0 avatar

        I had a small pocket book on how to identify mostly basic cars of the world. I never went anywhere without that book. One of the highlights of my first trip to Canada was to actually see these slightly different versions of American cars I had seen in my handbook

        • 0 avatar

          I actually went down to the basement and dug one of my old books up.

          Exotic Cars, by Sam Brown, copyright 1985.

          Some interesting choices for “exotics” in there (Lincoln Mark VII?, Camaro Z28? Mitsubishi Starion?, Fiat X1/9?), some weird stuff (Bitter, Bristol, TVR, Excalibur!, Vector!!!), along with all the expected 80s hits (Ferrari GTO and Testarossa, Countach, Lotus Esprit, 911 Turbo, Audi Quattro)

          Such was my introduction to the world of cars.

  • avatar

    Like most grade school kids I spent hours drawing cars and building them with Legos. Had RC cars and Hot Wheels, so toys got me going too.

    My real car love came from Gran Turismo on the original Playstation. Of course there were arcade, console and computer (C64) racing games that I enjoyed before that, but GT1 opened my eyes to so many different kinds of cars, parts and configurations plus racing concepts (oversteer, apex, etc) that I was hooked. I started watching F1 and Indycar, reading car magazines, helping buddies install car audio systems and it just snowballed from there.

  • avatar

    I went from tinkering with my bicycles, to maintaining our “fleet” of lawn equipment, and when I got my first car I started working on that. I always had good mechanical aptitude and I found it fun to work on mechanical things. My father didn’t understand why I would do all the work myself when he was more than willing to pay for all repairs. I’m glad I chose to do it myself. What I have learned will be with me until I’m too old to turn a wrench or use a clutch…

  • avatar

    It was definitely my dad. I wouldn’t call him a gearhead, but he liked nice cars and traded them in often. I remember shopping for his first Cadillac when I was probably seven or eight. In particular, I remember how those early ’70s Caddies smelled – it was different than other new cars of their day. He always took me along when he was shopping for something new.

    He could have afforded basically any car he wanted, but tended to go more for luxury / grand touring rides – a couple of Caddies, several Mercedes (including a early-’90s 400E, which might be the best all around car I’ve ever driven). He also drove some less-expensive American stuff, like a last-gen Riviera, and an early-’90s Town Car that failed to inspire any Panther Love in me.

    He would shop different cars for months before pulling the trigger on one – a habit I learned from him. I bought something last month after a five-month search.

    It’s a tradition I tried to carry on with my kids – semi-successfully, as it turns out. My oldest likes cars too; my youngest could care less as long as she has something with four wheels and a functioning motor.

  • avatar

    Sadly, I was in Chicago just last week, and so just barely missed the auto show.

    When I was very little (early-mid 1990s) my grandmother had a 1985 Buick Riviera. It was triple-brown (brown paint, brown landau top, brown leather) and had the dog-slow 307, but with its longitude-FWD setup, it was a very surefooted car in the Denver snow. Anyway, she would let me sit in her lap and help her steer. That particular car is what got me into cars. I was obsessed with the Riviera.

  • avatar

    And with that image I’m off in my snobby convertible… :D

  • avatar

    I was always into cars. Don’t know how or why, I just was. Neither my father nor my mother was into cars. We didn’t own anything inspiring, just basic transport. Mom’s 1962 VW Beetle (I fixed up to drive in high school in the ’80s – I still have it, waiting for restoration/resto-mod), 1972 Plymouth Valiant, 1977 Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser Wagon (I really forced my Mom and Dad to buy that one, Deep green over tan interior), 1984 Chevy Caprice Estate Wagon

    When I was about 2 or 3 as my parents were driving somewhere, I would randomly yell “Sadie’s Bench”. My parents were baffled; who was this Sadie person? It didn’t click until we were stopped in traffic one day and I flipped my lid screaming “Sadie’s Bench” over and over. My dad turned to look out the window and there was a Mercedes Benz (Sadie’s Bench) dealership. (Alas, I have never owned one but would love to have a late 80’s – early 90’s SEC Coupe)

    I loved making models as a kid, started off with planes and ships, but most of my collection was cars and trucks. Read Popular Mechanics, for the car articles, Motor Trend, Car & driver, etc. My friends knew baseball stats, I could rattle off car stats left and right.

    I do as much wrenching on our cars as time allows which is not as much as I like. I watch anything automotive as much as possible to my wife’s chagrin.

    What can I say, I’m a freak.

    • 0 avatar

      The “Sadie’s Bench” thing is hilarious. I remember when I my oldest daughter was very little (she’s a junior in college now, and a pre-med major) would yell out from her car seat every time she saw an SUV – “Ess-You-Veeee!”

      She’s a bit of a gearhead, and her first car in high school had a 5-speed manual, because she wanted to learn how to drive one. It lasted about six months before she totaled it, after which we learned she was regularly rolling stop signs, to avoid having to start off. The replacement is an automatic, but she swears she’ll have another manual someday; either a Mustang GT, or a Jeep Wrangler.

  • avatar

    They were just interesting from the very beginning. I’m not sure why, as neither of my parents is a car person. (No one else in my extended family is, either, except for my father-in-law, who just texted me excitedly to say that he bought “his wife,” who is the stereotypical grandma driver, a new M340i.)

    I read all the buff mags during my school years, but it was always the fun versions of practical day-to-day cars that got my attention more than the sports cars. And sure enough I’ve owned a lot of fun sedans in my life, but never a sports car or even a coupe.

  • avatar

    The Chicago Auto Show and my dad who worked for GM and had a general love of cars is probably what most influenced me growing-up. I mentioned in the Avanti series that the 1963 Chicago Auto Show and my introduction to the Avanti, the Corvette Stingray split-window coupe and Riviera is pretty much what sealed the deal for me and my love for anything with a motor in it

  • avatar

    I apparently lined up my Matchbox cars all in the basement like a big car show when I was three or so.

    I’d also sit with my mom at the McDonald’s and identify the crash as they went by.

  • avatar

    Definitely my Uncle Bill, who used to let me “help” while he wrenched on his MGA and would take me for a ride on the infrequent occasions when the wrenching was successful. (Imagine taking an eight year old for a drive today in an MGA with no seat belts. The social workers would get you put in jail for at least three years.)

    He also subscribed to Road & Track and my earliest memories of reading “grownup” stuff are Henry Manney’s beautifully written F1 race reports.

  • avatar

    I can’t pin down anything specific. My dad had a small trucking business so my brother and I helped him. We were raised around heavy equipment.
    As I became a teen I read various 4×4, truck and dirt bike magazines. I was more into dirt bikes and 4×4’s than cars. That hasn’t really changed.

  • avatar

    Steve McQueen and “LeMans”.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    My Old Man. “If you are going to do business/be taken seriously then always drive a ‘good’ car, keep it clean, polish your shoes and wear a dark suit with a white shirt. If people don’t think you need their money then they are more likely to give theirs to you.”

    For him ‘good’ car meant a Lincoln or Cadillac. And he got them on a 1 year leases/traded them at least every year for the past 30 years of his life.

    My job every weekend was to wash the interior and exterior and fill it with gas. In return he would let me drive one of his cars, for first dates/proms/etc.

  • avatar

    Mostly my Dad. He was always interested in and knowledgeable about cars and used to work on them especially when he was younger. His brother was a Volkswagen dealer, and Mum’s brother was a mechanic/Lotus/Saab dealer.

  • avatar

    I can’t pinpoint a discreet moment, but know it really wasn’t my family. The sum total of my dad’s car advice was to get a 4 cylinder because it was better on gas. There was nothing further.

    What led me to get my license at 16 was a petty win against my brothers. They waited until 18 because we couldn’t afford driver’s ed, a requirement in Minnesota if you’re under 18. I had worked two summers to pay for my driver’s education for the specific purpose of getting my permit.

    My first car was decidedly not the enthusiast’s car, nor was it the stereotype of a young guy’s car. It was a 1993 Aerostar Eddie Bauer Edition. I didn’t care though because I managed to support that car by myself.

    I personally appreciate the ability to come and go as I please without figuring out bus schedules, and living in 2nd ring suburbs makes public transportation less convenient anyway.

  • avatar

    Like some others have said, it goes back to my Dad. By the time I was about 7 and of age to notice and care, my Dad was buying a new car almost yearly. My Mom could have cared less about cars, so I went to lots of showrooms as Dad put miles on his new car while shopping for the next one. I remember the whole experience : inhaling the legendary new car smell, admiring the shiny chrome and vivid colors (Dad was partial to red), debating the merits of each car (I was a Pontiac fan, my Dad preferred Buicks/Oldsmobiles), and seeing what new features were offered each year (I remember being particularly impressed by push button drive and a floor button that changed the station on the radio). But probably as important was that the car shopping experience just gave me time to spend with my Dad. He was incredibly busy with his business, so I cherished the time I could spend with him talking about/looking at cars. My dad’s brother and his son were just as car nutty as we were, so cars was a prime conversation topic for the four of us. None of us were particularly mechanical, so there were few discussions on the intricacies of the engine or the drivetrain. But we sure all loved the finished product.

  • avatar

    Rarely have I seen a photo in an article which so perfectly answers the question. My God, look at that girl. She is the reason I fell in love with cars and will always love them. And all they represent-freedom, independence, back seats, front seats, any darn seat. And thank God for Henry Ford while I’m at it.

    • 0 avatar

      What’s wrong with that picture of an attractive, happy young couple out for a drive?

      The passenger door is either open or missing, the girl’s hair isn’t flying around, and neither one is wearing a seat belt. The gearshift lever appears to be in P, also… whoops, we forgot about that little detail.

      Yup, they have captured the epitome of pure driving pleasure.

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    Several individual experiences coalesced into my being a ‘car guy’, I think. Most happened before the age of twelve:

    – A few rides in Leeds in my Grandfather’s Lotus Esprit Turbo and Elan;

    – Helping my Dad install headers on the family Chevy van ( I learned some new words that day );

    – Tearing into the lawnmower and, instead of a beating, I got a lesson in reassembly and compression and stoichometry and a great few hours with my Dad;

    – Working on my BMXs;

    – Lego and Hot Wheels, natch.

    – Running sockets and rasps and screwdrivers and the odd cheap beer to my Dad who was under whatever car needed work that Saturday afternoon;

    I’m 51 now and my Dad has been dead for 8 years but I’m still into fixing old cars up and driving them hard, when possible.

    And I still remember the words I learned on that header install.

    Thanks, Dad

  • avatar

    For me it was “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” and particularly the red Dodge DART 440.

    • 0 avatar

      That movie really showcased all the new Chrysler “Forward Look” models. Chrysler was smart to get their cars in front of as many movies and TV cameras as they could. The Beverly Hillbillies was a favorite, because with every new season they would get all new Chryslers

      • 0 avatar

        Yep, TONS of automotive product placement in ’60s TV shows. Every episode of “The FBI” ended with Efrem Zimbalist tooling around DC in that year’s Mustang, James Garner had a new Firebird every year in “The Rockford Files,” Mike Brady had a bitchin’ ‘Cuda convertible on “The Brady Bunch,” and so on.

        I wonder if this had an impact on the kids watching the shows. I think it did on me.

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          Darrin Stevens in his GM products (Chevs). Believe that he had one of the first Camaros and Caprices.

          Any car that Elizabeth Taylor was happy to ride in was one that I was interested in.

          Waited excitedly each September for the unveiling of Chevs new product line on Bonanza. That was a big deal.

  • avatar

    My dad and I always maintained his cars together. Good times.

    By Y2k, though, has cars were a solved problem and boring AF.

    Around 2005, green cars started to get interesting. The idea of replacing the refined-but-boring gasoline engines with something new/different/better is interesting AF.

    I’ve owned hybrids, a Jetta TDI, and I’ve test-driven as many EVs as I can get my hands on.

    My growing family always seems one step bigger than the EV I can afford, so I’m currently driving one of the GM 2-mode hybrids — though I’m itching to replace it with an EV ASAP.

  • avatar

    The first time I ever made love was in the back of a car. I was all alone at the time.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    My love for cars started through my family who mostly personally maintained their automobiles. I learned about the oil bath air cleaner on a 54 Chevrolet Bel Aire and how to change the ignition points as well as adjust the valves on a Slant 6 Mopar.
    Being a curious and observant person I would take notice at what people were driving. “Hmmm the 68 Sunbeam Alpine is way different than the predecessor roadster 67”.

  • avatar

    After reading some of the responses I started considering my own beginnings. I think it was a combination of things. The Beach Boys and other groups of the day that did ‘car tunes’. “Hey Little Cobra”/The Rip Chords was a biggie along with all the others. That lead to an interest in drag racing which lead to road courses which lead to stock cars. That lead to paying attention to the stock versions of the funny cars I found fascinating. I really found the look of the Ramchargers funny cars which lead to an appreciation of those early 60’s Dodges. Got derailed a bit in 64 by the British Invasion, but still maintained a more casual interest in cars. I’m not a gear head by any stretch, but appreciate vehicles that catch my eye or have impressive performance specs.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    I owned a parade of $#!+boxes that I had to work on regularly. I determined that it was actually sort of fun. As $#!+boxes gave way to better rides, it was more fun.

  • avatar

    I was always into cars, and there’s a pic of me in pajamas at about age 8 or so holding a 1964 “Hot Rod” magazine with some article about Don Garlits “Telling all his speed secrets”. It for sure wasn’t my dad, who was the most incompetent mechanic I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen some real clowns working on cars over the years. My dad couldn’t even help me tighten my bike chain when I was about six. I had to ask the neighbor to help me. He thought my dad’s cluelessness was hilarious. What did my father do in WWII? He was a B29 mechanic. My condolences to the airmen he probably killed. He always wondered how many crashes he caused.

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