QotW: What will my 3-year-old’s first car be?

My son is three. I’ve always had dreams about passing down my AE86 to him someday. But by the time he turns 16 in 2035, a car built in 1986 will be nearly 50 years old. That would be like me, who came of age in the 90s heyday, inheriting a car from the 1940s when I got my license. And I can tell you that I had zero interest in a pontoon-fendered streamliner at 16. I’m hoping that my son will transfer his love for Hot Wheels into love for real cars, and that he’ll have one that teaches him the joy and art of driving in a fun and safe way. If gasoline and human-driven cars have not been outlawed by then…

What will my 3-year-old’s first car be?

The most entertaining comment by next Monday will receive a prize. Scroll down to see the winner of last week’s QotW, “Should being celebrity-adjacent add to a car’s value?“.

Last week’s question spawned some interesting debate in the comments. The result was split pretty evenly down the middle. In the “yes” camp were arguments like letting the market decide, as j_c said. A case could also be made that all’s fair in marketing and war, as r100guy asserted. However, as speedie cautioned, the value added by a celebrity will diminish over time as more and more people forget about them.

It seemed, though, that those defenses of the “yes” side had an underlying current of “that’s the way it is, but it’s not the way it should be.” Voices on the “no” side were a lot more emphatic. Mark F. Newton-John had no patience for famous asses. Nigel‘s one-word answer said it all. Jim Klein came up with a brilliant idea for Nissan that would’ve wiped out years of financial woes.

The winner this week, Ginkei Garage, explained both sides in a well thought out response that identifies a key split in car culture today:

To be honest, I think it all comes down to what is automobile to you? Do you love cars for what they represents socially and what social status they give you or is it for what they fundamentally are, pieces of engineering and mechanical devices that allow you to move freely, with added emotions and sensations?

I have the strong feeling that a large part of the internet era automobile culture fan belongs more in the 1st category. They love what social status cars give them. Symbol of wealth, taste, and a tentative way to differentiate themselves from the herd, would it be through overpriced hypercars, unobtanium made JDM “legends” or highly coveted 60’s-70’s childhood crushes. So, assuming the fact that those people are high and intoxicated on the hype and the internet spread distorted vision of automobile culture, they have a very biased approach on cars, filled with “legendary statuses” and other exaggerated beliefs like everything is awesome just because some very emotional content editor said so in a blog or YouTube. So yes, for those people it really matters if the car in question has some pedigree and some celebrity association because it adds to the myth around which their imaginary world revolves. Add to this the sub-category of that crowd, which are the “investors”, who make profit on the rest of the group beliefs.

Then there are the others, who love cars for what they are, the sensation they bring and the human connections they allow us to build and the experience they allow us to live and share. Not by maintaining fantasies and storytelling, but simply by driving them, working on them, sometimes breaking them and then repairing them. For that category, who I think I’m part of, the relationship is with the car itself, not with the idea of it. We can love a car that’s not incensed by the hype because it’s awesome in real life, and not have any interest for another that’s considered a legend, because in real life conditions, it’s far from being anywhere near enjoyable. So, we could not care less about which celebrity once put their asses on the driver seat, nor in whose garage they were left unattended during 20 years. If it was only for me, the value of a car should be the reflection of its real qualities, what it essentially is. Anything else than that is just storytelling and marketing, and that’s a big part of the reason why the actual market is gone totally mad (increasing scarcity in older cars and the lack of new offers in some car categories doesn’t explain everything).

The fact is, as humans we’ve always been attracted to storytelling (for good and bad outcomes), so this is not going to end anywhere soon. The mass will always think that some celebrity endorsement or previous ownership will bring more value. Sellers know that and they will always capitalize on that.

Omedetou, your comment has earned you a set of decals from the JNC Shop!

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This post is filed under: Question of the Week.

18 Responses to QotW: What will my 3-year-old’s first car be?

  1. Art says:

    I have the exact same situation as you do Ben. My 6 year old daughter loves classic cars and I would love to pass my AE86 to her someday. She is very persistent on that her first car should be pink or purple. I’m not sure if I would pass the AE86 on as her first car though as 1) it might be difficult to find a driving school for manual cars by then (yes, this is mandatory in the Netherlands as otherwise you’re only allowed to drive cars with an automatic gearbox) and 2) it might be too expensive by then to have as a first car and insurance wise a nightmare and 3) I wouldn’t dare to respray my AE86 in pink or purple.

    My first thought would be to get her a 1982 Toyota Carina SG Jeune, which was Toyota’s view on what daughters of well-off Japanese fathers would drive: a four door saloon equipped with power steering, aircon, height adjustable driver seat, vanity mirror for the driver, back sonar (crude parking sensor) and to top it off wheel covers made out of polyurethane! That shows what Toyota thought of young female drivers in the early 1980s!

    The Carina SG Jeune ad is the third in this video (starts at 0:30):

    Of course, it is impossible to find such a car nowadays as, unsurprisingly, it wasn’t a big sales hit. I did encounter one for sale in 2017, but unfortunately I missed out on that one. I have never seen one for sale since.

    So my current plan is to get my daughter a EU Nissan Micra and swap a March Bolero or March Tango front end on and respray it in pink or purple. Alternatively I could get a zippy Subaru Vivio T-top and do a LHD conversion with a EU Vivio and respray it in pink or purple. And if all that is too much hassle, I could also get her a Daihatsu Copen, which would also be a classic by that time. In all three scenarios I would give her a nice classic JDM car that she’ll probably loves, gets a lot of attention and allows her to get used to driving before handing down the AE86.

    Naturally she will be encouraged to drive the AE86 occasionally. 😉

  2. daniel says:

    the simple evolution of the AE 86 is… an AE 86!
    You can take advantage of building the best version of the car with all the knowledge and time to have all the “unobtainables” that work and can be valued in the future.
    I think that after all it is the intention of Toyota and other brands should follow, to think about what will be the classic car that your son will drive.
    but it can become a kind of “modern Bunta Fujiwara” and start saving to have a hydrogen conversion saved or the whole electrical kit to have it in your sights for when the time is right (and build another car with this powertrain) Likewise, any excuse that serves to have (and perhaps rescue) another AE 86 is valid.

    • daniel says:

      I also think that the conversion to hydrogen of the AE 86 respects more the essence, the “swan song” that Akio left before passing the torch.
      or at least as close as possible to the fact that the engine continues to “beat” in a similar way.
      And I think Mazda should take advantage of a run through Toyota’s shelves, take the last thing they did on the hydrogen thing, compare notes to what they did 20 years ago with hydrogen and the rotary engine, and start offering within the RX-restoration combo. 7 FD what it takes to keep them alive.
      by the way… if there is any contact between hyundai and mitsubishi, they could still share some powertrain to convert the mitsubishi starion (the N78 generates things for me…)

  3. Taylor c. says:

    I think the most important thing is that it’s stick shift and something an average 16 yr-old can learn basic maintenance on. I think you will gift him the AE86, much like how I’ll gift my cars to my daughter and son. However, it does not mean they’re going to daily it; instead it’s more of the proud “hand me down” that goes to the next generation.

    Maybe your son might not be the car enthusiast you want him to be, fine. And for that matter, can’t really force him to have a sports car or something we keep envisioning behind the wheel of. My daughter was handing me wrenches when she was 3 yrs-old, but she gradually developed interests towards other things. These days the 14.5 yr-old is aware that driving looms ahead, but isn’t like my 11 yr-old son who’s ready to go touge in his FD dream car. She doesn’t care what car I pass onto her, but she knows it’s gonna be stick shift and not some self-driving car.

  4. Jim Daniels says:

    Ben, I know it is not unusual for my input to be different. This will be no different. My input will be from a father with off spring that already are driving and a father who had kids later in life. First, all cars are not created equal just as all people are not created equal. People come in all sorts of sizes, strengths, mentalities, intellect and so on. There are today and will be ill handling un interesting boats built in the future and few if any 16 year olds will be interested in them.
    An AE86 is a true modern sports car with good looks and handling. Possibly the equivalent of lets say a Datsun 240Z of 50 years ago. The first gen Z are archaic compared to a modern car. However people still like them for many reasons. I will assume it will be the same for the AE86.

    Now for the true parental advice and this is more important than what he will be driving. This information is how to keep your son interested in classic cars and enjoy driving them. Never force you child to do what dad in interested in. Allow your child to participate with you at his level and try to meet him at that level. Can be as simple as stacking washers in order. Do not have a plan to accomplish a project in a time frame the time spent with your child is more important than accomplishing the project. Your child will want to be with you and try to be involved in your passions. Do not give him projects he can not be successful with. You want positive experiences with Dad and cars. Do not make him spend hours out in the sun at car shows. He will be board. Allow him to play away from peoples cars at a child’s level.

    Keep the Hot Wheels coming. Keep him away from electronic wizardry cell phones and all until he actually needs The constant stimulation and vivid lighting is to much for the developing child. Take short spirited drives with him their attention span is short. Allow him to sit in the drivers seat with supervision. He will want to do what Dad does, turning the wheel and rowing the gears. In the long run his interest may not be to your level but he will have memories of Dad and cars and that is the goal.

  5. f31roger says:

    That’s a hard one! I want to say influence of older cars will always play a role in our kid’s when they come of age to drive (my sons, 12 and 9, will get my convertible and a CRV).

    But who knows how things are 13yrs from now. I’m thinking more EV conversions in older cars.

    I definitely tell my kids what I like about cars and I hope it rubs off.

  6. Jonathan P. says:

    Hate to be the rain cloud, but the way they’re trying to force the market, it’ll probably be a Nissan Leaf.

  7. speedie says:

    Okay, three now, license at 16, so 13 years before they get their first car. That makes it 2036. Subtract 25 and that gives us any car prior to 2012. That’s some serious JNC to be looking at. Using 2010 as a possible year and excluding large sedans/crossovers and cars that are already collectible, I would be looking at the following to pick from: Acura TSX, Honda Fit, Honda CR-Z, Mazda3, Nissan Cube, Scion TC/XB, Suzuki Swift. Any of these would be good first car drivers.

  8. nlpnt says:

    On another automotive site it was mentioned that one of the founding writers’ 12-year-old son wants a PT Cruiser.

  9. Bryan Kitsune says:

    Since my first car was a Toyota Celica, I’ll show my bias by suggesting a Celica that is not yet a JNC. A 7th generation (2000-05) Toyota Celica GT-S.

    In a few years the 7th gen Celicas will all be nostalgic and hopefully have survived the “cheap car to do stupid things to” phase. Maybe then they will finally be appreciated and overcome the ridicule earned by those “Looks Fast” commercials.

    With the GT-S, you get the high-revving 1.8 liter 2zz-ge, basically Toyota’s successor to the 4A-GE. Sure, it’s not all that powerful, but they are quick, fun cars even if they aren’t fast. At around 2,500 lbs they are lightweight and nimble. In fact, during the Best Motoring V. 08 touge battle, Tsuchiya praised the C-ONE 7th gen Celica as “very, very nice” and “the best car today” in the Touge 200 Class.

    They are also capable of nearly 40 mpg on the highway. The EPA estimate is 31 highway, but I was able to achieve 36-38 mpg regularly. A teenager will be more prone to hitting “lift” than I did as a 25-39 year old, and I’m not going to suggest your son would be shooting for mileage, but it’s possible.

    My ’00 GT-S 6-speed was very reliable. In the 14 years and 89k-216k miles I owned it I only did routine maintenance, and a few elective modifications. It never even needed a new clutch.

    When the time comes for your son to move out, he would be able to pack a lot of belongings inside. As with most hatch/liftbacks, people tend to be shocked how much you can fit in there.

    Reliable, practical, economical, yet still fun to drive. I give you the future nostalgic 7th generation Toyota Celica GT-S. A great first car.

    But yeah, all this is assuming that your son won’t be forced to use autonomous transportation by 2036.

    • Ben Hsu says:

      I have always been interested in this generation of Celica. This may be a good excuse to buy one.

      • Bryan Kitsune says:

        They’re very good cars, unfortunately many are not tastefully modified or well cared for.

        I only parted with my ’00 GT-S due to rust, but I replaced it a few months later with a *mostly* rust free ’02 GT-S from Florida. It’s had a harder life other than the lack of salt, but I think with some TLC it still has a lot of life ahead. It’s currently at a hair under 200k miles. It’s about to get some transmission work and an LSD installed.

        I will also admit that the Drift King made fun of how high the Celica was, saying it looked like an SUV in that episode. They do have some insane wheel gap from the factory.

  10. Jim Klein says:

    Ben, he’s three and it sounds like he’s perhaps behind the curve already if you’ll forgive me for being frank. He needs that bastion of all-American early automotive nirvana NOW. I of course speak of the Cozy Coupe. How he seems to not already have one is beyond me. An early childhood spent learning the finer points of drifting around the living room, juuuust clipping the apex of the coffee table corner and avoiding the dog’s tail can quickly progress into further adventures first on the back patio, and then, one day, the big time: The Front Driveway! With a roomy interior yet compact overall dimensions, durable exterior finish, a solid roof without the weight penalty of a sunroof, and a commanding horn note to warn others (safety first!), the Cozy Coupe represents everything there is to like about our automotive passions: Speed, Freedom, and the Magic of the Open Road. Supply Chains have loosened, the Cozy Coupe is available at multiple retailers all competing on price, but be careful not to let him see the new variant, the Cozy Truck. It really offers no more space, no more power, yet costs significantly more and will suck the soul out of the boy’s driving experience. It might be best to just pick the right Cozy Coupe out for him online and have it delivered by UPS, as all future auto purchases will be anyway. The hardest part might be choosing a color. Your choices are…Yellow. OK, that part’ll be easy. Just choose your online dealer wisely for after-sale support. I prefer the big red Target, but can see why others love a Mart of Walls. There’s also an up and coming vendor that apparently hails from a South American Jungle but I hear has good pricing and quick delivery. Anyway, don’t deny your boy any longer, he deserves his own wheels today.

    • Ben Hsu says:

      I must admit that he indeed lacks a Cozy Coupe. However, he has something similar — a foot-powered Subaru rally car that I paid a ridiculous sum for on eBay. He already enjoys speeding around the dining table and will probably soon graduate to a Power Wheels-style vehicle. I wasn’t even aware of the Cozy Truck and googled it. It is truly hideous. It’s as if these pretend cars are mimicking bad trends in real ones.

      • Bryan Kitsune says:

        I forgot about that Subaru pedal cart. Maybe his first car should be a WRX. A world rally blue blob-eye in honor of my guy Petter Solberg?

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