Everyone remembers their ‘first car’, and most Classic Driver readers can probably reel off the make, model and registration numbers of all the subsequent ones they have owned, too (and very likely in the correct order). But what plants the seed that grows into a passion for automobiles?
In many cases, a lifelong fascination with wheels began, quite literally, at ground level, when we started to push toy vehicles along the floor. But in my case it all started at the age of three, when my then-teenaged sister locked me in the toy cupboard as punishment for some minor misdemeanour that I probably hadn’t realised had been committed. Despite the injustice, I was grateful, because it led to the discovery of my much older brother’s abandoned Austin J40 pedal car, which I spotted lying beneath an assortment of far less interesting playthings.
It was, indeed, thoroughly buried. But by the time I was released (which must have been a full five minutes after first being imprisoned), I had fully unearthed that J40 in all its slightly battered, faded yellow glory and was eager to get out there and start my ‘driving’ career in earnest.
From then on, all waking hours seemed to be dedicated to vehicles. And I was living in just the right era, too, when virtually every car on the street was perfectly replicated in miniature by the likes of Dinky, Corgi and Matchbox. Favourites soon emerged, such as a blue Jensen FF, a Citroën DS Safari (complete with ski rack and skier) and, best of all, a Police Range Rover with suspension that was, I later discovered, every bit as ‘wallowy’ as that of the real thing.
Lining up ranks of such cars, shoving them across the carpet and attempting to preserve their paintwork initially occupied a large amount of time, but then a need for greater speed took hold. It was initially satisfied by the Christmas gift of a Hot Wheels track (complete with gravity-defying loop-the-loop) and then, of course, by graduating to Scalextric, which instilled a particular love for the Datsun 240Z and Ford Escort Mexico.
Indeed, as our sequence of evocative photographs shows, miniature cars in all their forms were the staple entertainment of virtually any boy growing up during the 1950s, '60s and '70s.
While they might have lacked the sophistication and electronic wizardry of 21st Century toys, they left us with a love of the real thing for which I, for one, will always be grateful. Even if the expense, frustration, impracticality and aggravation which often goes hand-in-hand with owning the ‘real thing’ might occasionally make us wish for the days when our mechanical woes never extended beyond worn brushes on a Scalextric car or an ill-fitting joint on a Hot Wheels track…