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What are your formative cars?

By Claes Bell ·
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Posted: 9 am ET

Writing about the new Ford Explorer got me wondering about how I became so shamefully biased toward hatchbacks and station wagons over SUVs.

Part of it, I'm sure, is that one side of my family, including my mom, is Swedish. Euros are completely head-over-heals in love with hatchback cars and station wagons. In Europe, "estates," as they adorably refer to station wagons, make up around 11 percent of the total cars sold, according to the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association, a much bigger proportion than you see in the United States. So culturally I'm predisposed to appreciate their practicality, driving characteristics, etc.

1984 Honda Civic Wagon.

The 1984 Honda Civic Wagon. Courtesy Jeff Young Design.

But the other part of it was I grew up and learned to drive in a Honda Civic wagon. As you can see from the picture, it was roughly the shape of a doorstop stapled to a cardboard box, but damn if that car didn't start on the first try every time and carry just about anything when we put the back seats down. Plus, for being such a proletarian vehicle, it was pretty fun to drive. I remember clearly giving my friends heart attacks as a teenage driver by goosing that Civic into oversteer around the windy mountain roads in Tennessee. My uncle, who was one of the people who really got me into cars, was also a big proponent of the hatchback. He had a nimble little Ford Festiva hatchback we had a blast driving around North Carolina in.

Because of those early experiences, I've always liked station wagons and hatches more, and SUVs and trucks a little less. Volvo's turbo-charged T5-R 850 station wagon was one of my big love affairs as a car-obsessed kid, as were the BMW Z3 Coupe and the Gran Torino wagons of the early '70s. Of course I still lusted after the Ferraris, Mustangs and Supras of the world, but I saw myself driving a hatchback as a daily driver.

All this got me thinking that experiences with "formative cars" could explain a lot of the irrationality people display in their car buying choices. For instance, if you grew up with trucks and have great memories of driving around in one with a parent or friend, you're going to have good feelings about them regardless of how crummy their gas mileage is or how much you could use a little more room for passengers. Conversely, I'm going to have good feelings about hatchbacks regardless of how geeky I look driving one or how much I could use the extra interior space a minivan or full-size SUV could offer.

So my question, dear readers, is what are your formative cars? Do you think your early memories with cars influence your buying choices? If you have pictures or stories, you can post them in the comments or e-mail them to me.

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1 Comment
June 20, 2010 at 2:14 pm

Although I don't have a whole lot to add, since I had the same formative cars, I definitely agree that the cars you grew up with influence what kind of cars you appreciate, and not always in obvious or expected ways. For example, when I think of fun cars now, I don't think of extremely fast or powerful cars as much as I think of zippy, go cart-like cars, similar to the wagon.