“Driving the Jaguar had to be one of the most unexpected experiences I’ve ever had. By unexpected I mean every time I thought the car was going to do something it managed to surprise me. Even by the time I thought I had mastered the car it managed to do something new.
From the way it moved and turned to how fast it felt like going, no two presses of the gas pedal were the same, even if the roads were.
When I first took a look at the Jag I knew it needed to move, it just had that impatient feeling to it. So when I sat as the driver for the first time I shouldn’t have been surprised when it jolted forward at what felt like 100 mph.
It was easy to go fast but it was hard to keep myself from letting it. This car is one of a kind and it wasn’t meant for the backlot storage place we were in; I can’t wait for the next big adventure in this car — or any car my dad shows up with.” – Bradley Martin, after driving the SCM 1971 Jaguar V12 coupe automatic for the first time.
I have been teaching friends to drive stick-shift cars since my sophomore year at Reed College in Portland, OR, when friend Tina Johnson (now married to Dennis Etcheverry at Norman Racing), learned to use a clutch on my 1963 Alfa Romeo Giulia Spider Normale. I recall there was no small amount of crunching and lurching involved on her path to competency.
My efforts with my own children and stepchildren have left quite an automotive debris field.
The various cars that my children have brought to their demise include a Fiat 124 Spider that had the front end knocked off by a drunk driver who ran a stop sign, and a BMW 320i that did a 360 when it hit ice on the freeway and managed to slap both guardrails. Then there was the 1965 VW Beetle that mysteriously rolled over “when a dog ran in front of the car and we tried to avoid it.” The empty beer cans in the back seat were an interesting component of the incident.
In all of my previous training sessions, I have taught kids how to first drive on a manual shift car. It was the “manly way” to do it.
Then I read an article in the New York Times that had data to back up the assertion that kids had fewer accidents when they first learned on an automatic. Once they had basic driving skills under their belts, they added shifting to their multitasking challenges.
I’ve taken a different path with Bradley. He will be 15 and eligible to take his driving permit test in two weeks. So far he has had seat time in five of our automatics – the Jag, the 1991 Alfa Spider, the 2000 Land Rover Discovery II, the 2004 Mercedes SL55 AMG and our 2021 Hyundai Sonata.
His driving sessions have been in large, abandoned parking lots on weekends.
In contrast to previous episodes when my child was trying to master three pedals along with gear selection, turning, stopping and accelerating, our time together has been simple and pleasant. Without having to worry about shifting, he can focus on just being comfortable behind the wheel. We practice starting and stopping, going around turns, and backing up into parking spaces.
Not once have I become aggravated or lost my cool during the process. That was not true in previous teaching situations, when a clutch pedal and my emotional stability were intertwined.
Bradley is forming his own opinions about the way each car speaks to him. He is fortunate to be exposed to so many automotive languages and have to decode each one.
Once he has his permit, I will gently introduce him to driving in quiet neighborhoods, where he can learn about stop signs, intersections and sharing the road with others.
He is eager to learn to drive a manual, but he knows that time will be coming soon enough.
In one of my automotive fantasies, Bradley will be on our tours, driving the 1965 Giulia Spider Veloce or the 1967 Duetto. I will get to be the proud dad watching him develop his classic-car skill set.
He has cast covetous eyes on the 2006 Lotus Elise, but my daughter Alexandra is having none of that. Turf wars are turf wars, after all, and in this case she has cast her claim.
Bradley will be one of the few kids his age who has had experience with analog cars. He knows what a choke is and how to use it, and he practices watching the oil, temperature and battery gauges while driving the Jaguar.
I have no idea how his life and career will play out. I don’t have expectations that he will be involved with automobiles. His heart will guide him as he grows and finds out which beacons call to him.
But me, I am having the time of my life. Our driving sessions have been conflict-free and rewarding. When finished, we always go to a nearby McDonald’s where he can get a Quarter Pounder with Cheese. Of course, we both eat our meals in the cars.
There may be points deducted at future shows when they find dried-up French fries under the seats, but I’m good with that.
I’m hoping he has his permit in time to do some driving on the SCM 1000 in July. When he turns 16, my assumption is that his first solo trips will be behind the wheel of the Hyundai. It is our safest car, by far, and for young, inexperienced drivers, safety is everything.
I’m looking forward to his first encounter with the manumatic (BVH) gearbox in the Citroën, and how this peculiarly French experience will speak to him.)
I’m seeing the automotive world through the eyes of a 15-year-old, and it is a strange and wondrous place indeed.