(All story photos courtesy of the author)
I rue the day back in 1990 when I sold my 1978 Datsun 280Z. The “Z” car was a hot car from its debut in the U.S. market in the fall of 1969 as a 1970 model until they completely changed the car in 1979. It remained a popular hot car, but it was considerably posher and more luxury oriented than its predecessor.
During my recent visit to the 2019 New York Auto Show in Manhattan, Nissan (formerly Datsun) celebrated the 50th anniversary of this game-changing car from Japan. Prime examples of the car now fetch between 25 and $50,000! Where, oh where are you my 1978 love?
I guess the most important thing is not how much loot my pristine 280Z would be worth today, but how I—an impending dad—sold my beloved two-seater for a pre-minivan-era dad-mobile, a station wagon. And a Volvo station wagon at that! Yes, my fun life was over, but my daughter Eden would travel in the safest box on the roads back then. Once Eden was old enough to leave her child safety seat behind, I still bought my cars based on safety, but they were a lot more fun to drive! Can you say Audi S4?
So what’s a 21st century TravelingDad to do? Is there any hope for a safe but fun motor vehicle in a highly safety oriented, highly regulated world for drivers and for our kids?
Do I Have to Trade Safety for Fun?
Now I’m not going to tell you to go out and buy a 1965 Ford Mustang, a hopped up 1970s Pontiac Firebird or Chevy Camaro, or even a 1980s hot car, the Buick Grand National. If you have one, that’s fine. But, these are not very safe choices to haul you and your kids around in no matter the age.
Safety regulations from the United States government, and manufacturer willingness to offer consumers the highest levels of safety, have improved markedly over the past 30 years. Safety leaders like Volvo, Mercedes-Benz and even late model Fords now have serious competition. The Korean brands Hyundai, Genesis and Kia offer safety that rivals the European manufacturer’s long-held supremacy in that arena. Toyotas, Hondas and Nissans are no longer tin cans. Subaru also offers award-winning safety.
Okay Brian, I get it! You’re sold on safety, as am I. But can a dad have a little bit of fun? The answer is a resounding “yes!”
Hot Cars That Work for Dads
Here are some outstanding choices for hot car fun, while offering a high level of safety equipment at the time of manufacture. These are listed in no particular order, and prices will vary as of course, a brand new car is generally more expensive than a used one (with my Z being an exception!).
Kia Stinger GT – New or used, you cannot possibly have this much fun driving for less than $45K. The Stinger GT is will handle three child safety seats, and carves up the snow in all-wheel drive trim, is available with a manual transmission, and earns dads much respect from car nuts half your age.
Porsche Boxster – The Boxster is formally known as the 986, 987, 981 or 718, depending on the year, but can be had for less than $10K for a 2000 986 model, to more than $59K for a brand new 718. With Porsche’s legendary handling DNA built in, and an easy to operate convertible top, mom will surely want to join you on top down, back road, romantic “date night” drives.
Mazda Miata – This tiny Japanese built sportster has rewritten the “Fun to Drive” book. Every weekend, more amateur, semi-pro and pro racers in the U.S. are on racetracks in their Miatas (also known as the MX-5). These Mazda convertibles offer crisp handling, legendary reliability, and sheer driving enjoyment. Keep in mind that this is a very small car, so tangling with Dodge Ram trucks is not advisable! Tuners offer tons of hop up parts to make them sportier and faster.
Acura NSX – This Japanese supercar has been around since 1991. For 2019, it offers world-class acceleration and superior handling in a package that’s so well styled, you’ll be California Dreamin’ every time you are behind the wheel. Need a back seat? Toyota’s reprise of the legendary Supra is also a worthy addition to the dad hot cars dream portfolio.
Muscle Cars for Dads
Chevy, Dodge, and Ford – Re-live your true hot-rod days with offerings from American brands Chevrolet (Corvette and Camaro), Dodge (Challenger and Charger) and Ford (several versions of the iconic Mustang, from turbocharged four-cylinder to savage Shelby Cobra V8). These so-called “muscle cars” have a long legacy of raw performance and street cred here in the ‘states, and the level of standard and available safety equipment gets better each model year. Jeep even makes a muscle SUV called the Trackhawk. Buy the newest one you can afford, and relive your childhood fantasies! Prices for used to new will range between $8K and $88K!
European Automobile Refinement
The Germans, Brits, and Swedes – Choose a BMW M, Audi S, Mercedes AMG, Jaguar R or Volvo R model, and you’ll have premium levels of fun, with well-known European safety. Yes, European cars are more expensive to operate, so if you are on a tight budget, Japanese sportsters like the Lexus F Performance cars, the Subaru WRX and Infiniti G37/Q60 series are great choices. New/Used prices range from less than $15K to well over $100K.
Worthy for Worthy Bank Accounts – Let’s face it. Some of us dads may discover that they have more discretionary income than the rest of us. For you dad, perhaps an Aston Martin, Lamborghini, Ferrari or even a $2 million Bugatti would fit the bill.
So there you have it, TravelingDad. As they say in our acronym-filled world, YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary). One thing is certain: You are no longer doomed to driving a minivan until college graduation for the kids! Take a few of your hard earned coins, and live your life. So turn on the air conditioning, or drop the top and head for a rodeo in Texas or Arizona, or a beer garden in Ohio. There are open roads ahead!
Stay tuned as Brian Armstead details his own TravelingDad hot car purchase!