The 1% moniker has taken on some new meaning of late. Formerly the exclusive province of outlaw motorcycle gangs, it now includes the richest of the rich. I’m not going to talk about either of those groups. I am going to talk about something far more exotic: high school kids who drive stick shift.
I taught my older son how to drive on my old B5 wagon. The hydraulic clutch and super short solid linkage make it so easy to drive, it’s like eating cake. It spoils you, but you love it. A friend of his was learning to drive at the same time and that kid’s parents had coughed up a Dodge Dart with a manual trans. Exactly two other kids in his class of 300 had any experience with the old ballet á pied, and neither of them had routine access to a shifty car. Going out to lunch was fun because it nearly always involved the Dart and it also nearly always involved the kids who could drive it. The four of them morphed into a sort of teenage boy stick shift clique. Who knew?
One weekend when I had the wagon in the air, my son asked me why more kids weren’t interested in cool cars.
I had to think about it, because being interested in cool cars was is such a natural state for me that the idea of not being into them is completely foreign.
We worked out the population of the school parking lot.
40% of the kids had the latest and greatest safest car
8% of the kids had the most expensive car (it’s a pretty well-off place)
Another 40% had a recent hand-me-down
11% had a cheapo CL special
1% had cars that could maybe be described as interesting. Ok, it was one car. An old Bronco that a kid was working on. And a Ruckus.
We talked about his friends and what they wanted. Most did not want a car at all, but needed one to go to their jobs and back and forth to school. Some wanted nicer cars, some wanted faster cars. Only a precious few kids were actually interested in cars because cars.
I suggested that he survey kids and school and ask them what car they would have if nothing stood in their way. He said most kids just stared at him. He got some good answers, heavy on the AMGs and Teslas, but still more than just “something nicer”. More than a few wanted a car with a better stereo or better conectivity. A small handful, less than ten, wanted an older car for one reason or another. He asked why they didn’t have one, or weren’t trying to get one.
My son loves Initial D and all of the 80s goodness it features. Midway through his senior year, he discovered the cars&trucks section of Craigslist and began the hunt for an early Toyota MR2. I admit that my heart fell, I’m a Honda and VW girl. But the AW11 has pop-up headlamps, and I always allow pop-ups. Especially 6054s.
I set some rules out. It had to be running. It had to be reasonably straight. It had to have a clean title. It also had to be watertight. We looked at a lot of MR2s.
So why weren’t more kids rocking classic iron? We uncovered a set of conditions that had to be met for kids to have cool cars, and they turned out to be a high hurdle in these times. The first one is money. Fun cars tend to soak it up. Even cheap fun cars, ask any LeMons racer. Many kids cited not having the money to buy their own car as a key hurdle. The second is space. You have to put it somewhere. If your parents already got you the latest in hybrid technology, that is already taking up your allotted room. Quite a few kids were concerned about having that room, particularly garage space. That brings up part three: parental acceptance. You need parents who can feel the love. Without that, you are fighting an uphill battle against everyone, even those who should have your back no matter what. Nearly every kid said that their parents would support a hobby that they (the parents) were into, but didn’t see value in old/interesting cars. A major thread was safety. Kids keyed in on the fact that older vehicles are simply not as safe as modern ones and this was a huge barrier for their parents to overcome. The last part is tools and knowledge. If you have car-people parents, this one usually isn’t an issue. If you don’t, then you are looking at investing even more of your precious money in the hobby, money you already don’t have because you spent it on that AE86 or urQ that fills up every corner of your brain. The knowledge part is no small hurdle either, learning cars from scratch without a mentor is not something I would really wish on anyone. Here, take this complicated machine that is trying to set itself on fire and is made of about four thousand parts and sort it. Before your dad gets home so he can have the garage back. Kids felt this was the least significant barrier and felt that they could learn. As long as their parents were open to the idea to begin with.
It’s just not that easy to enable the car thing in kids, and the barriers to entry get higher every day. The kids who do pick it up are unique, their own version of 1%ers. Like the OMGs, they have to find a sponsor, commit, and do the deeds required to get in.
My son has a rusty MR2 now. I’m grudgingly learning how to read the big green book, and quite grateful that Toyota uses a slightly modified version of Bosch notation for their wiring diagrams. I’ve learned that MR stands for midship runabout. I’m reminding him that this is just his first one, so he needs to get all of the practicing out of the way so he’s ready for the perfectly clean one he dreams about. MY SON IS LEARNING RWD.
The college version of the high school stick shift club is the autocross club, and there are apparently quite a few kids in it. More than the high school survey would predict. It’s nice to know that there are more of these kids out there. I think I want to meet their parents. We can trade notes.