Alex Graduates – A Gearhead from Day One


I had the proud-father satisfaction of watching my daughter, Alexandra Dorel Martin-Banzer, graduate from Oregon State University this past Saturday.

She received a B.S. in Business Administration with a focus on Entrepreneurship and a minor in writing. Two years ago, following a year studying in France, she earned a diploma in International Business from L’École de Management in Grenoble.

While at a reception hosted by her mother, Cindy Banzer, I came across a photo of Alex taken in 1992 in Brescia at the check-in for the Mille Miglia. Just nine months old, she was standing behind the wheel of a 1947 Siata 750 Spider Corsa with a chassis by Nardi and a body by Zagato. We were about to drive it 1,000 miles.

All of us who are parents know that there is no predicting whether your kids will have any gasoline in their blood at all, and if they do, whether it will be low-test or 110-octane Sunoco racing fuel. However, in this case, apparently the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

Looking back, I can see that I might have done more than a few things that nudged Alex toward being a “car girl.”

She did seem to enjoy pretending to drive the Siata. And perhaps sitting her on the roof of our Grand Wagoneer at the age of 2, feet dangling through the open sunroof as we poked along the dirt roads to our cabin on Mt. Hood, might have given her a visceral connection to the fun that vehicles can bring to your life.

Then there was the Honda XR50 I got her when she turned six. She still claims she could ride a motorcycle before a bicycle, but time may have embellished her memory. I recall riding my XR250 down Camp Creek Road to the general store in Rhododendron, Oregon, about a ten-mile trip. Alongside me was Alex in her motorcycle armor and full-face helmet, speeding along at 35 mph with a big smile on her face. Thirty-five is pretty fast when you are six and just a few inches off the ground.

When she was thirteen, she decided it was time to learn to drive. So we took our 1973 VW Thing (yellow with black) from our beach house in Neskowin to Cape Kiwanda – where it was legal to drive on the beach. We took the doors off and folded down the windshield. With two phone books behind her back, Alex could barely reach the pedals, but barely was enough. Soon we were cruising along the beach, startling seagulls as she practiced shifting up and down through the gears.

The day she turned 15, she got her learner’s permit. Within a week, I had found a very nice 50-cc Yamaha Vino scooter for her. (It’s legal to drive a scooter in Oregon with a permit.) She was quite pleased to have control over her personal mobility, and I will always remember the sight of her crossing the Broadway Bridge on her way to Lincoln High School, lacrosse stick strapped to her backpack like a hunter’s bow.

That year, she also learned to drive the Alfa Giulia Spider Veloce and other sports cars that were a part of our life.

On her 16th birthday, Alex got her license and we went shopping. We found a very nice, original 1977 BWW 320i, black over tan, and 4-speed of course.

Next came the car she still drives today: a 1995 318i 5-speed. Now showing nearly 200,000 miles, it’s been in our family longer than any car except the Giulia Spider, as she got it her senior year, six years ago.

Along the way, she’s become quite a good off-road pilot, with experience gained first in our extremely primitive 1973 SIII Land Rover 88, then our 1989 Range Rover Classic and finally our competition-prepped 1984 Land Rover Defender 90 200 tdi. Another Rover club member once remarked to me, “I was thinking of putting power steering on my Series rig, but after watching Alex muscle the SIII up that hill, I decided if she didn’t need it I didn’t either.”

Many cars have crossed Alex’s path since then. I recall her driving our Giulia Spider Veloce in the Northwest Classic TSD rally and doing well. She particularly enjoyed our Lotus Elise, which was “right-sized” for her, with exotic looks at a sub-$30k price point. We had a delightful trip around Mt. Hood in our 1978 911 SC.

When Lamborghini threw a party to celebrate the opening of a dealership in nearby Wilsonville, Alex and I attended. The CFO of Lamborghini was taken by her enthusiasm and insisted she drive a Gallardo convertible home that night. At 16, she had the only Gallardo at Lincoln High School. Of course, this wouldn’t have been the case if we lived in La Jolla.

She has taken several driving schools, including those by Pro Drive at PIR and one by BMW CCA at Buttonwillow, where she drove a 330 Ci. Still in the Teutonic vein, there was our memorable road trip through central Oregon and back up the California coastal highway in our Porsche Boxster S.

Last summer, she took a 1,000-mile road trip in our 1967 Giulia Super, during which a blown heater hose (and attendant loss of engine coolant) created some excitement. She also drove our 1967 GTV in the Forest Grove Concours Tour and managed to get through it without a mechanical breakdown — a testimony either to the preparation of the car or the brevity of the route.

When on two wheels, Alex now rides a Yamaha TTL125 off road, and a 250 Ninja on the highway. As a graduation present, she is pressing for a Ducati Monster. She thinks a 696i for her and an 820 for her dad sounds just perfect. Smart girl, throwing something for me into the deal.

I suppose it’s now safe to say that Alex was born with gasoline in her veins. I’m lucky to have been able to share so many experiences with her over the past 22 years. We all know that cars and motorcycles are just excuses to spend time with people you enjoy.

My advice to you as a parent is to provide opportunities for your children and grandchildren to enjoy things with motors. And if they take a small bite and come back for more, offer them all the appropriate opportunities you can.

Give your kids seat time, so that they experience all the joys and frustrations that old cars can offer, on their own terms, in their own way. As soon as they can, encourage them to take your old cars out, on their own, to find their own roads. You will never regret this investment.

As I watched Alex receive her diploma last Saturday, I couldn’t help but think about the wonderful places we’ve been, and how many future adventures are just a stretch of two-lane blacktop away.

Keith Martin

Keith Martin has been involved with the collector car hobby for more than 30 years. As a writer, publisher, television commentator and enthusiast, he is constantly on the go, meeting collectors and getting involved in their activities throughout the world. He is the founder and publisher of the monthly Sports Car Market and bi-monthly American Car Collector magazines, has written for the New York Times, Automobile, AutoWeek, Road & Track and other publications, is an emcee for numerous concours, and has his own show, “What’s My Car Worth,” shown on Velocity.

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