Like a lot of you, I spent the rainy and chilly spring fretting about the amount of time my suddenly stay-at-home kids spent on screens. How, I wondered, could I get them into something else without feeling like a camp counselor and driving myself insane?
The oldest of our three kids, 17-year-old John, is not the car-crazy nut his old man is but has a burgeoning interest in driving and wrenching. I’ve been an imperfect mentor because I tend to be too precious about my own ragtag used-car fleet. For example, our 1995 Mustang might be a perfect canvas to let him tinker, but it’s a cream puff with only 40,000 miles that we can only make worse by ripping apart to cure boredom.
Miata to the rescue. John surprised me recently by declaring how much he likes the little Mazda roadster. We had two of them, first-gen cars, when he was younger—one I raced and a red one for the street. The street car was imperfect but clean, worth only a few grand; when my attentions turned elsewhere, rather than sell, I lent it to a friend who had more time to enjoy it than I did. That was eight years ago.
Since then, a series of mishaps left the car with a dented fender and a suspected blown head gasket, among other deferred maintenance issues. My buddy didn’t have time to mess with it, so he was happy to return the car for a high schooler’s first project. The best part was that my friend used to be an auto-shop instructor and offered to help teach John. Aren’t car people the best?
I’m giddy thinking about everything John will learn: the diagnostic aspect of finding the root cause of overheating, the problem solving, and, simply, how things work. Plus, I’ve long said that all of my kids will leave the house knowing which end of the screwdriver to hold.
Of course there are risks. I’m now sharing my temple, the garage, with a teenage boy who has different ideas about what an orderly home shop looks like. I’ve already found lost tools in the basement and coolant puddles on the floor. We might clash.
Those are minor frustrations. He has his own car to make mistakes on without me looking over his shoulder. I’m a believer in the mental benefits of car work, which is a section of our book, Never Stop Driving.
John has already made some progress. Pressure-testing the cooling system revealed hairline cracks in the radiator, which he replaced. Miatas are relatively easy to work on, the closest thing to an automotive Lego set. Parts are cheap and plentiful.
So we’ll see how this goes. I’m optimistic and thrilled a Miata is back in the family fleet. They tend to get overlooked, the penalty of being so good and also ubiquitous. There’s a reason for the saying, “The answer is always Miata,” and that’s because they’re one of the greats. I hope that you too have found ways to make the best of this COVID-19 time. I’d love to hear about it, and we now have the perfect venue for you to share your stories, at community.hagerty.com. Please join the conversations. We are, after all, stronger together.