Don Macleod

Igniting renewed interest in autos amongst the younger set

Men have always been obsessed with their rides.

The caveman smoothed his stone wheels, the frontier cowboy broke his spirited stallion and the 50s greaser revved his flathead Ford. We want our ride to haul the heaviest load, put on the most miles, make the loudest noise or reach the finish line first.

By the 60s, every 16-year-old boy knew the make, model and year of every car on the road. It was a rite of passage to scrape together enough cash for a junker, drag it home and get to work.

It used to be that a father and son who saw eye-to-eye on nothing had the lines of communication open up when they stuck their heads under the hood of a car.

An entire Saturday would be spent together on the driveway, tinkering on the engine. A dad would learn about what girl his son wanted to take to the drive-in, and a son would learn about what dad was driving when he met mom. The more they got to know about each other’s cars, the more they got to know about each other’s lives.

But times are changing. Many fathers and sons don’t live together and the same kid who 50 years ago took pride in rebuilding an engine now takes pride in his Halo score.

A focus on fuel economy and lease vehicles has changed the automotive landscape. Driving isn’t an “experience,” it’s a way to get from A to B. And why bother learning what’s under the hood? Roadside assistance is only a cell phone call away.

As an automotive enthusiast, I have seen the average age at car shows getting older and older. Despite the ease of connecting with like-minded people via the Internet and car clubs, there’s more grey hair at these shows every year. That’s too bad, since there’s a generation of young men who will never feel the satisfaction of whacking a stuck starter solenoid with a hammer and hearing it fire up again.

They’ll never impress a broken-down damsel in distress by fixing her car. They’ll never have someone flag them down to ask where they found that gem they’re driving.

So how can we jump-start this generation’s interest in car culture?

Short of flipping electrical breakers to get them off the video games, how can we teach them basic garage skills? Don’t get me wrong—I love video games and I play them with my son. But there has to be a balance. I’ve also taught him how to change a tire and choose engine oil. Instead of playing I Spy on road trips, we spot the coolest vehicles.

If you’re a dad, don’t dismiss video games as a waste of time. They’re part of the culture and they’re here to stay. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em by learning the lingo, and appreciating the skill and tenacity it takes to complete a level.

Instead, lead by example by turning off the hockey game or cancelling a golf day with your buddies, and surfing Kijiji with your kid to find a cheap garage project you’re both interested in.

If you’re a teenager who doesn’t have a father figure but still wants to learn about automotives, there are plenty of guys out there who are just waiting for someone like you to ask about their ride. That’s how I learned. It may be the retired neighbour who rolls out his antique Austin Healey every summer. It may be the widower at the car show sitting quietly behind his Dart. It may be the tattooed dude driving the flat black rat bike or the cool kid driving the WRX STI. Automotive enthusiasts come in all ages, shapes and styles—just like their rides. And we’re always looking for new drivers.

Don Macleod is a local automotive enthusiast, writer and reviewer for anything and everything with wheels. You may email him at drmacleod@hotmail.com.

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