McKeel Hagerty on driving, daughters, and becoming one with the Deuce

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McKeel Hagerty daughter driving lesson manual coupe
McKeel Hagerty

There is always one person or fictional character that kids identify with. Mine was James Bond. I liked him because he could, quite literally, do everything. Ski off a cliff, then pop open a Union Jack parachute and glide to safety? Check. Tilt a car up on two wheels to escape down a narrow alleyway? Check. Leap crocodiles? Jump a speedboat? Get the girl? Check, check, and check.

I didn’t know the term at the time, but Bond was a Renaissance Man, and that’s what I wanted to be when I grew up—someone who could do just about anything. I haven’t reached that point yet, but I’ve tried, and along the way, I’ve come to believe that life is about adding tools (read: skills) to your toolbox, both mental and physical.

Which brings me to the subject of daughters, driving, and what we car lovers pass on to the next generation.

I’m blessed with three daughters, all of whom share (or possibly just tolerate) their dad’s life-is-learning philosophy and are thus good-natured about me teaching them things. This summer’s project was driving a manual. My middle daughter, Sophia, learned to drive an automatic last year, but as a member of a car family, she understands that driving a modern automatic car isn’t a full driving experience. Real driving is about feeling like you and the car are one. It’s about mastery of a mechanical object. And freedom. And being in control. And tight corners. And long straightaways. And a whole bunch of other things, as well.

Or so I see it.

So, we decided her classrooms would be a 1930 Deluxe Model A roadster and a 1932 Ford hi-boy roadster hot rod. (Access to cool, old cars is a perk around here.)

We began with the Model A, because it’s a challenge from a braking, handling, shifting, grinding-gears, and “OMG I broke Dad’s car” standpoint. If she could handle the A, she could handle anything. And she did. She quickly got comfortable clutching the three-speed while puttering along the orchard-lined country roads where we live.

Before long, Sophia wanted to go faster, so it was on to the Deuce, a.k.a. the Tommy Fitzgerald Roadster. Like many hot rods built in the style of the late 1950s and early 1960s, Fitzgerald stayed true to the Ford flathead V-8, although he added Eddie Meyer aluminum heads, twin Stromberg 97 carbs, and an original S.C.o.T supercharger.

Sophia didn’t know or care about all that, of course, but she did think the Deuce looked cool and could probably go fast. “Can we finally try that high-speed-axle thing?” she pleaded after mastering the clutch, referring to the two-speed Columbia rear axle I’d been teasing her about.

“It’s too much for the first drive, sweetie,” I said. Of course, I relented after we found a safe, empty stretch of road, because that’s what dads do. We didn’t really go that fast, but we did go faster, and she was thrilled. Her ear-to-ear grin was of the “Hey, I just learned something new and pretty cool” variety.

It was a priceless daddy/daughter moment. I hope you seek out chances to help the next generation put new skills in their toolboxes. That’s how confidence and self-assurance grow. It’s also how our beloved hobby lives on.

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