I learned to drive when I was eight years old. My grandfather put me behind the wheel of his beloved Ford 9N tractor on our farm in Novato, CA, showed me how to depress the clutch, stick the shifter into first, engage the hand throttle and I was off.

Most kids today don’t have that same opportunity.

Bradley is now 14, and will be 15 next May. That’s the age he can get his learner’s permit in Oregon.

He has also just started 9th grade at Lincoln High School, the same school his sister Alexandra attended, and her two brothers, as well.

He tried out for and made the roster for the JV football team. His position is starting middle line backer.

By the way, SCM is a title sponsor of his team, the Cardinals. I told the school they could expect our support for the next four years. A sponsorship is just $1,200 a year, less than I spent on the motor mounts for the SCM Porsche 928. We will also sponsor performances by the dance classes there, as a nod to my history as a Juilliard dancer.

I do urge you to support the schools your children and grandchildren attend. The amounts involved are small, and the appreciation of the schools is huge.

Bradley asked me if I would support his team the way I supported his track team in the past, and his face lit up when I said yes.

This is my first experience being a football dad. I have learned that I am actually the operator of a football transit shuttle running to and from practices, games and social events.

Bradley noted to me in passing that, “Soon I’ll be 16 and I will be able to drive myself to practices and games, like the other older kids do.”

Which meant that the choice of a first car was becoming a reality rather than a hazy thought on the horizon.

He learned to drive a stick shift when he was behind the wheel of the Bug Eye Sprite I built for him. He was then 8 years old.

But opportunities to find wide-open parking spaces and places that were safe were far and few between. After he and I went on a couple of road trips in the Bug Eye, with me driving, I realized that my fantasy of having it be his first car, just as I bought a Bug Eye the day I turned 16, was no longer relevant.

Putting a young driver behind the wheel of an ancient, tiny car like that with no safety features, would have been criminally negligent.

I soon sold that car and put looking for an appropriate first car on a back burner. Now the burner is in the middle row, moving towards the front.

Of our current cars, the safest for him would be our 2002 Land Rover Discovery II. It’s got plenty of heft, as well as multiple airbags. I’m musing about that. However, it is an automatic.

Another option would be to find a decade-old BMW 3-Series with a manual. I’m thinking that $5k-$8k should allow me to buy something decent in average condition.

Alex’s first car was a BMW 320i, and after it mysteriously demised itself, we got her a 318i 5-speed with a zillion miles on it that faithfully carried her through college.

Car buyers should take into consideration the age and driving skills of the person they’re buying the vehicle for, especially if it’s a teenager who’s going to drive it.

What are your thoughts? Is it critical that his everyday driver be a stick? Should he have something large so that he is wrapped in steel? Would a modern Hyundai or similar be the best choice for safety and reliability?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts. I do know that his first choice from the current fleet would be the Lotus Elise. However, it has already been claimed by his older sister, which is probably for the better. It does have four airbags, but I can only imagine what an insurance company would quote me for a policy for a 16-year-old.

I’m not in a hurry and I welcome your thoughts.



  1. Let him buy his own car with his own money.

    • My Dad, a Depression (the real one) Kansas dirt farm boy, said earn it. I knew better and bought my son a fairly new SUV when he was in high school. My Dad was right.

  2. How about a 6 cylinder Mustang convertible with manual transmission? The BMW 3 series is an excellent choice but his future girlfriends might find the American muscle car more exciting. Also, he is the middle linebacker(you are excused being a new football Dad). Enjoy his high school years!

  3. I recommend a manual transmission. We started our girls on VW Cabrios. It did a few things. It tended to slow them down as they were thinking about shifting. Even tho the rule was that no other teen was to drive their car, it stopped others from asking because they couldn’t drive a stick. Research choices of “guy” cars with sticks and air bags. Enjoy the search. Matt White

  4. Thoughts:

    Kids should have automatics…no additional distractions are needed at this age.

    Surround him with as much metal as possible.

    He needs to earn his first car, even if you match him dollar-for-dollar.

    That’s what summer’s are for.

    Most kids somehow wreck their first vehicle, even if just a slight fender bender. If he saved to buy it, it will really sink in and he will be much more careful.

    Football gear takes up space. So do football players. I recommend an SUV.

    You can always buy him his insurance, cheaper with your existing policy, or personalized license plate.

  5. I have been working this issue myself with my daughter. She loves my SRT-10 truck and hearing stories of my first car a 67 Mustang. Which led us to start looking at maybe a newer, but still older Mustang (05-10). Of course I was attracted to to the GT’s. However, last winter we were forced to drive the wife’s car to run a errand in the snow. I realized that my dream for the Mustang was based on that small town in So. AZ that I grew up in. We talked about that on days like that she may not be able to drive, just for safety reasons. So, we shifted and I found a one owner 1991 Ford Ranger 4×4 Ext Cab, we had plenty of money to ensure all of the mechs were taken care of and now becoming a tug of war knowing that she will be past the permit and in possession of a lic in a few months. I can not tell you how much we have had with this little truck and the joy of doing what work I can with her by my side.

  6. Keith,
    I bought my girls the cheapest new Subaru Impreza’s with a manual transmission I could find. I liked the fact that they had all the newest safety equipment, would be reliable, were underpowered and would be good in the seattle area weather. Also I thought it was imperative they all learned to drive a stick.
    I also felt that a manual transmission keeps you more engaged in driving.
    All 3 of my girls prefer a stick to automatic to this day! They were always cool in high school cuz they “could drive s as stick”
    Good luck with your search!

    I am looking forward to your 1000milia details for summer 2022! I have a white ‘67 Alfa Romeo duetto that my favorite uncle bought new at Ron Tonkin Grand Tarisimo.

    Roger Allen

  7. My first car was a Sprite, but that was in 1972. As you say, putting a 16yo in a car like that would be very poor judgment indeed; glad you decided not to do so.

    I would suggest a manual-shift Mercedes diesel, or a Volvo. Something very sturdy and a bit slow. Safety first. Carrying capacity is important, but you don’t want it TOO big, as the chances of accidents go up the more teenagers are in the car with the teenage driver. Finally, it isn’t your responsibility to put him in a car which attracts young women. He can and will do that on his own. His biggest problem with girls will be that they will want to kill each other over him. And that’s his problem, not yours.

  8. My perspective on this might be somewhat unique. On one hand, the car enthusiast and SCM reader side of me says “get him a new Corvette” or some such. On the other hand, my day job is that of a school guidance counselor, so I am constantly confronted with the deleterious effects of parents who overindulge or try to “live” their children’s lives. All told, I would say you are probably best giving Bradley something simple and safe, something along the lines of that which the average amongst his peers is probably already driving. Your involvement with cars throughout all of Bradley’s developmental years has “planted the seed” as much as is reasonably possible. Beyond this, if Bradley is to be a “car guy” long-term it has to be something that he finds, he funds, and he values in and of itself. I am not the “car guy” that I am because of anything my parents gave me, but because it is an interest that I developed myself. I suspect that this is also probably true for you and in many, if not most, cases.

  9. Congrats on making the JV football team. His smile says it all.
    I would start him out on the Land Rover that you already have, and he may prefer to keep driving it, since it will fit his friends. It will also be a good learning experience when it comes to maintenance and repair. If the LR become too much of a PITA, and he proves himself to be an attentive driver, a used Golf with a stick is a good next car.

  10. Help him buy a Miata of his choice & let him “mess” with it!!

  11. GTI
    Nothing more

  12. long before you buy him a car, spend the equivalent on driving schools. (Not racing schools.) The weight of the vehicle and the number of air bags fades in comparison to the brain behind the wheel I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, so please get him extensive training first. Learning how to read traffic and avoid accidents is paramount.
    And with that said, what about a Honda Civic? Reliable, modern safety and thrifty. And some had sticks.

    I learned on 3-on-a-tree manuals and and still am thankful for that introduction to how cars work.

  13. I’d suggest a used Mazda Miata. Fun, not too fast, relatively inexpensive, and reliable. Plus, that way Bradley can only take one passenger at a time and lessen the chances of getting distracted by his friends, unlike with larger vehicles. Plus I’d make sure Bradley paid for at least part of it so that he has more of an appreciation for what it takes to buy a vehicle.

  14. Great that he learned to drive a manual first. That means he’s really learned to drive in a way that is more likely to fully engage him when he is driving. You might consider the idea of making sure Bradley has some skin in the game by telling him you’ll multiply his contribution by (2, 10, whatever works) up to a certain budget.

    When I went through this with my daughter, the budget was less than $10K. We found a nineties Jeep Grand Cherokee with the five speed and the 4.0 six-cylinder. New enough to have power door locks and airbags. Slow enough to keep lead-footing temptations at bay. Friends and I talked a lot about the “tank theory” of teenagers’ cars–you do not want to be in the lighter weight car in the event of a collision. Agree with James Rosenthal on that.

  15. Well, my first car was a 1959 XK150 OTS…..with that B-W slush box. Worst investment I made until my first marriage!! I was 21, didn’t want to drive until I had a car. (My parents never owned a car!!) Avoid any fast mover, and multiple airbags are a must….I avoided any crash in the Jag, but roads are busier now. I learned to drive a stick on a Pinto SW!!! Since it seems he can already drive a stick , a smallish SUV would be my suggestion….all automatics I think, but safe. He can always practice shifting in friends; cars.

  16. E46 or E90 3 series M54 or N52 six cylinder six speed
    E53 X5 M54 3 liter six speed

    All have plenty of air bags and good handling and braking. All are simple enough for DIY maintenance.

    I believe Tire Rack’s Street Survival Program should be mandatory to learn vehicles dynamics in a friendly one day setting (streetsurvival.org)

  17. Had the same problem and brought my daughter a Honda CRX two seater. Great car lasted through high school to college graduation. Now the choice would be a Toyota Scion IQ. Two seater with all the safety featues.

  18. Anything safe, slow and cheap. A first car should be disposable since the likelihood of a newly minted driver hitting something is much higher than later in his/her driving life. That’s why it should also be safe. Agree with the others who recommend driving school. The life of the first car will probably be extended if the driver has a financial interest in it.

  19. Not very exciting but a good first car, with lots of options and safe. Ford Explorer

  20. Honda Civic or equivalent Asian product..
    Maintain them and they run without drama.

  21. Volvo C30 with a standard – looks cool, safe, has space, reliable. My daughter Alex had one – indestructible.- unlike her Mini.

  22. Robert (Bob) Smith

    Volvo 740 auto, with the headlining falling down ( they all do !). Cheap, reliable, fast enough, can load his football mates in, cool enough in a quirky way, super safe…..

  23. Something reliable and safe at this age. I’d say 2015 or newer, in order to have more up-to-date safety equipment. If he already knows how to drive a manual, great. None of his friends will likely know how, so they won’t be driving his (or your) car. So, maybe an Accord, Civic, Corolla, CRV or Rav4? Can’t go wrong with a Honda or Toyota.

    Agree he should have skin in the game. My dad went in 50/50 on my first car, a ’78 Ford Fiesta. He paid for insurance, but I paid for any increase if I had a ticket or accident. I did accumulated a speeding ticket and, yes, I paid the overage after that (ouch!). I also had to pay for gas…which meant I used my Fiesta mostly for school and work, but not on weekend joy rides with friends…I didn’t want to pay for the gas the gas (even for a Fiesta)!

    One more thing….have him sign a driving contract. I did this with my three kids. It stipulated that they had to maintain above a certain GPA in school, not allow friends to drive the car, they have pay for gas, cover insurance overages due to traffic tickets or accidents, not drink and drive/no alcohol in the car, no drugs, etc. Any violations of the contract terms meant loss of driving privileges for a period of time. I can email you a Word copy of it if you’d like. Sure seemed to work with my kids to incentivize them to stay out of trouble.