- by Alex West
Fond memories of working in the shop with my Dad: “Stop shining the light in my eyes!” “Don’t touch that!” “Quit crying, you’re not even bleeding!” “Who left the chocolate bar on the back seat?” While absorbing the frustrations of a father working on a broken Blazer, I had the opportunity to learn more than how to (not) hold the light—I learned patience. I really loved learning from him and being treated as a “mechanic’s helper” when we were repairing our clunker in the garage until all hours of the night. The creation of patience was paramount to my development as a man and integral to how I raise my own children.
The question has been posed, ad nauseum, about how to get the next generation involved. How can we get our children and grandchildren to be as involved in the old car hobby as we are? How can being around an old car be interesting to a toddler, let alone a newly-minted driver of 16 years of age? To maintain our club, the constant lowering of the average age of our membership must be at the forefront of our minds. Let’s start by making the hobby fun again! Make it interesting for all ages and inclusive of all skill levels.
As a new father and a certified old car nut, I have to find a way to keep my family interested in what I’m working on in my shop, hours after they have all gone to bed. My love affair with antique vehicles is a habit that I’m sure that I am not likely to shake soon, and it will be in everyone’s best interests if I foster this inclusivity. Although my children are still quite young, I wish to provide what I have found, and learned from others, to be simple, engaging and exciting things to actively involve kids with the hobby.
The youngest children (aged 0 to five years) are the most fleetingly interested in the old car hobby. To them, as it is with my own sons, a vintage vehicle is a fun thing to ride in, a fun car to sit behind the wheel of, and a ride to get an ice cream with family. My boys are all about the experience of getting to play with something that is new and exciting.
Our old truck, nicknamed Jesse after a dear family friend and fellow old car enthusiast, has become my twoyear- old’s favorite pastime. He loves sitting in the driver’s seat, making engine noises, signaling with his arm out the window, and smiling in the driver’s seat of the non-running truck until its too dark to see and time to come inside to have dinner. If he is ever headed somewhere on our property, it is to hang out in the truck and press the horn button mercilessly. We have made it a rule that our old vehicles can and should be treated with the same care as our daily-drivers. Our cars are not Concourse quality restorations, but rather are much more of a high-quality driver restoration, and as such are restored to be enjoyed. Although I wince when a door is closed abruptly, a toddler is unlikely to shatter a window or otherwise permanently damage a truck or car with the heavy steel of pre-war vehicles. I have always felt that if I restored it before, I can do so again. I will allow my kids to play in my own vehicles and encourage them to respect them as they would their own possessions—all they need is opportunity to learn what is appropriate, and to smile and laugh with me while enjoying the old car.
Older children from five to nine years old or so can be much more involved in the old car hobby with parents and grandparents providing ample opportunity to learn and enjoy. Finding age-appropriate tasks to complete with them is also easier, giving them a sense of value and inclusion. Car shows are a great opportunity to show this age of child what the old car hobby can provide and what the outcome of a restoration can be. Many kids of this age group are enthusiastic spectators of outdoor shows, and love spending time with loved ones while picking their favorite paint color of a vehicle, the best wheels, or the coolest car in general. When going to a car show with kids this age, respect and appreciation can easily be taught by showing how much time and care it takes to wash and polish a car in preparation for the big show day. They can exercise their creativity by helping attach streamers and balloons to a car about to embark on a parade route, and hand out their favorite candy during the event. By including these kids in these car show activities, they develop a healthy appreciation for the amount of work that is involved (albeit maybe only the washing of the car the day before the show), and then they get to experience the pride of being complimented for their job well done.
Pre-teens and teens from the age of 10 to 16 can be much more involved in the old car hobby. Washing and drying are still necessary, but these kids can learn to change oil, check fluids, exchange faulty bulbs, change tires, and undertake the simple repairs necessary to maintain a family member’s antique auto. Many of us were taught by our parents to complete these maintenance tasks on our older cars, as many of our first cars required major fluid additions before driving them anywhere. These older cars frequently needed a quart or two of oil added with every refueling, lest they begin to tick incessantly at a stoplight from noisy lifters. The recent additions of “idiot lights,” “service engine soon,” and “check engine” lights have precluded the daily pre-trip that was once a requirement, along with the requisite conversation with your deity of choice prior to departure and the perpetual threat from the driver of crushing the vehicle in the case of a car throwing a “scrap-iron fit”*** during a drive. By instilling these tasks as routine and necessary and therefore developing them as habitual practice, you create a pattern of problem prevention and a foresight to anticipate future challenges.
Don’t underestimate what you can teach a 10-year-old. The shop classes that we may have grown up with are no longer offered as electives in school, and so it is up to the mentor who has an old car to provide the opportunity to learn these simple tasks at home or in preparation for learning to drive. Good habits are learned early, and a little practical knowledge can save the day for a new driver. Get your kids, grandkids, neighborhood friend’s kids, and really any kid that shows an interest in your car involved! Let them come help wash, wax, fix, build, refuel, salvage, push, maintain, rebuild and even drive your old car. Let a two-year-old sit behind the steering wheel and honk the horn until the battery is drained so low that the car won’t start (preferably in your driveway, and not a car show… ask me how I know this one…). Let them ride in the front seat to get ice cream. Let them crawl underneath with you and show them how things work. But most importantly—let them be kids. They won’t purposefully wreck your pride and joy, but even if your beloved antique gets a tiny paint scratch, this is a small sacrifice in the development of a lifetime of automotive enthusiasm in a child. Thanks, Dad, for not killing me at a young age for accidentally scratching your paint.
*** This term is courtesy of Ed Lappin, describing some terrible engine troubles that his car recently experienced.