Keith’s Blog: Bradley’s First Drive

It’s a rite of passage that we’ve all experienced.

The first time we were behind the wheel of a car, started the engine and actually drove the machine.

For most of us, that moment is lost to time and captured only by our memories.

However, it today’s world of smart phones with video cameras, nothing goes unrecorded.

Bradley’s first drive was posted to Facebook for others to see within minutes of his accomplishing it. His glorious moment has been memorialized for all time.

He’s 10 years old and 4’8” tall. This means he fits perfectly into his 1960 Bugeye Sprite — with just a couple of small pillows behind his back. People were just smaller 57 years ago, and Europeans were even more so.

I chose the Bugeye because of its torquey engine and low gearing, which makes it nearly impossible to stall (although Bradley did achieve that a couple of times).

It was a brisk Oregon winter day, just 39 degrees. But Bradley said he didn’t mind the cold. (Would you have, at his age and being offered a chance to drive?)

We found a large, empty parking lot. He slid behind the wheel and we were off. Nearly instantly, he grasped the connection between the clutch and gas pedals. We spend the next half hour circulating around in 1st gear, with Bradley giggling with excitement as he experienced his own low-speed autocross.

I thought it was important his first drive be in a manual-shift car. The fact that the Bugeye has a “pull starter” was an even greater benefit. For the rest of his life, he will view a pull-starter not as weird or odd — but just the same kind of starter his first car had.

His sense of independence was palpable. He was in control of his automotive destiny. Personal mobility was his. (At least so long as he stayed in the parking lot — and in 1st gear.)

I look forward to the next steps in this adventure, including up-shifting into 2nd gear and achieving the impossibly fast speed of 20 mph. Teaching him to downshift into a non-synchro first will be an adventure — there was no one around to help me when I first attempted it.

Once Bradley has mastered the Bugeye, it will make every more-modern car he drives a piece of cake.

Best of all, I’ve managed to record the magic moment of when Bradley first took the wheel for his first four-wheeled adventure.

There are many more to come.

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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5 comments

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  1. That is so awesome Keith! That was a pleasure to watch and surely brought me back to my first time behind the wheel if my Dad’s 71 Valiant.
    Thank you for sharing.

  2. This is your best blog entry ever Keith!
    Fourty years ago I attempted this with my young sister and she was driving a vintage FV, then a Audi S4 year later.
    Bradley’s experience is clearly what we are all after, it’s great he gets it this early.

  3. My dad insisted that his kids had to “qualify” on his stick-shift Ford pickup before we were allowed to drive an automatic. My mom never figured out how to drive with a clutch and he was bound and determined NOT to have any of his offspring be automatic-only bound. To this day, all three of us prefer and own manual transmission vehicles, so it worked. Since Alex seems well versed in manuals, keep up the good work.

  4. My grandpa let me drive his 52 Ford truck on a dirt road by a wash outside Las Vegas when I was 11. I will covet that memory for as long as I live. (Along with my uncle taking me on a ride at 100 mph -also in the desert in his XK120.) I was hooked. Well done Keith. Bradley is now forever a gear head.

  5. Great Story Keith, a perfect car for Bradley to start on. For me it was in a ’49 Jeep on the dirt roads of Nantucket. That was two years after Mom had taken me 100mph in her ’56 Lincoln!