Dad cars: what's the best car your dad's ever had?
We dredge up our favourite dad cars from the dim and distant past.
As children, many of us have dream cars but with the entire automotive world to select from, the attention of junior petrolheads tends to fall on fantastical rarities with Top Trumps performance figures and mountainous price tags. Why wouldn’t it? We might not be able to drive until we’re 17 but we can all dream from the word go.
It’s often in the impressionable years as we approach the age where having our own cars becomes a genuine possibility that financial reality starts to dawn, and our fantasy vehicles take on a more realistic bent. And, of course, the major influence on this transition are the family cars we ride in every day – the dad cars.
Looking past the Ferraris and Lamborghinis on the bedroom wall and out of the window at whatever the old man has got languishing kerbside in front of the house is a right of passage for young car fans. Many of us will remember the cars our dads had with misty-eyed nostalgia born of long family holidays sweltering in the back seat, supervised opportunities to shift the gears and beep the horn on the driveway or comical reliability issues. Whether they were good or bad, dad cars often leave a lasting impression.
But which of your dad’s cars left its mark on you? The Auto Express team has taken a drive down memory lane to recall the best and most memorable cars that came into their dads’ possession during their childhood.
Jaguar E-Type Series 1
Tristan Shale-Hester - Consumer reporter
Annoyingly, my dad bought and sold many of his coolest cars – including a Porsche 928, two 944s and an Aston Martin Virage – before I was born. I’m lucky, though, to be here now for the best one yet – the Jaguar E-Type.
The 3.8-litre Series 1 coupe used to belong to a film production company, having featured in an episode of Red Dwarf and an Anthony Hopkins film called Across the Lake, for which it was resprayed blue before having its original green colour restored.
The old man and I have had some scary moments in the car over the years – including the engine nearly overheating in a motorway traffic jam and the headlights utterly failing to illuminate the road on cold, rainy nights – but when the sun’s out and you’re on a rural English B road, that engine note is very hard to beat.
Citroen BX 16v
Steve Walker – Website editor
My dad had company cars in the golden age of the repmobile through the 80s and early 90s. He was very much of the view that, although his firm would just about allow him to squeak into an entry level BMW 3 Series or Audi 80, he wasn’t going to do that. Instead he focused his attentions on the top echelon of mainstream family saloons on the fleet manager’s list – much to my young delight.
Memorable installations on the driveway included a Renault 21 Turbo and a Ford Mondeo ST24 but my highlight was the black (with red stripe) Citroen BX 16v. With aluminium engine from Peugeot’s 405 Mi16 in the front producing 160bhp and a 0-60mph sprint of 7.4s, it was an impressive beast by most mesures but for me, the drama was all in the hydropneumatic rear suspension that would rise up when the ignition was switched on. It felt like the future.
Hugo Griffiths – Consumer editor
My father’s Jaguar XJR will always stay with me, and not just because he announced it with the text message “Would you believe XJR?” – he’s not really one for texting, my dad.
It was a six-cylinder X306 model – itself a rare beast – made all the more unusual as it was one of the few XJRs fitted with the five-speed manual Getrag gearbox. It also looked like pure murder – black on black with five-spoke disc-style alloy wheels. The whine from the supercharger, the knowledge my dad was faster than almost anyone else on the road – few cars have made such an impression on me since. Even its number plate was cool: MI5 XJR.
Stuart Milne – Automotive managing editor
A Mk3 Cortina was traded for a B-plate Rover SD1, which at the time was still a current model. It had the base engine, a four-cylinder 2.0-litre mated to a three-speed auto. That meant it lacked the power to get out of its own way, but like any SD1 it looked a bit like a Ferrari Daytona. And to my ten-year-old self, that mattered far more.
For all the horror stories about the Rover’s reliability, it ran faultlessly for thousands of miles. Only a disintegrating exhaust on a caravan holiday and a few interior trim ‘issues’ marred his ownership. In fact, it was such a good car, he traded it for another Rover, this time an 820Si which was pretty much hopeless.
FIAT 131 Mirafiori
John McIlroy – Deputy editor
Our family had a string of FIATs during my youth; I recall my mother driving a 127 Palio, and my father had a well-used Regata 75 Super that we once drove from Northern Ireland to southern France for a summer holiday. There were also at least two Stradas, but I managed to stop him from going the whole hog and signing up for a Croma.
The highlight for me, however, was undoubtedly the 131 Mirafiori. On paper it wasn’t remotely glamorous, painted as it was in a toilet-related shade of brown. But it was relatively big for our family at the time, with me in short trousers and my sis in nappies, and it felt comfortable.
Crucially, though, it had a glorious connection to motorsport, via the fabulous 131 Abarth that scored numerous victories in the World Rally Championship. And for a boy who regularly boiled the paint off his Matchbox model cars, to then relivery them in motorsport colours, this sealed the deal.
Fiat Panda Mk1
James Howe - Content editor, DrivingElectric
My dad’s car history is best described as eclectic: a two-tone green Toyota Tercel 4WD, magic-carpet Citroen Xantia and troublesome P38 Range Rover all left their mark on me as a young car enthusiast. None captured my imagination like his Mk1 Fiat Panda, though.
Resplendent in limited edition Sergio Tacchini trim – complete with acid green upholstery and pinstripes – the Panda was a cheap runabout with sticky front calipers to dad, but an object of boxy wonder to me. In stark contrast to the cosseting Ford Granada Scorpio family car, every journey in the thrummy Panda was a tiny adventure.
BMW 5 Series (E34)
Richard Ingram – Editor, DrivingElectric
My dad’s list of anonymous three-box saloons stretches longer than my arm. He’s had countless BMWs, Volvos and even the odd Jaguar – and in my early days he proudly paraded around in a bright white Vauxhall Carlton.
But one of my earliest motoring memories is his dark grey E34-shape BMW 5 Series. It was his first Beemer, and was undoubtedly the car that got me hooked on the Bavarian brand. So much so, I now own a tatty square-light ’76 BMW 2002.
Despite being the relatively lowly 520i, I can still remember the sound that silky straight-six made under full throttle. It was so smooth, in fact, that my dad regularly reminds me of its powers to send me to sleep after only a few miles. They just don’t make them like the used to…
Alex Ingram – Staff writer
One of the first cars I remember my Dad owning was an H-plate Renault 19 Prima in Bleu Ozone (pale metallic blue, to you and me). It isn’t his favourite because it was the fastest or best-equipped. It’s because it was indestructible.
From memory, the 1.4-litre ‘Energy’ petrol spent its entire Ingram tenure being ruthlessly thrashed, but it never complained. A Ford Escort driver rear-ended it, ruining the Ford’s bumper, yet the 19 didn’t have a scratch. Just before the 100,000-mile mark, Dad traded it for a brand new Mk1 Megane. Within six months it had needed two new gearboxes...
Steve Fowler – Editor-in-chief
I never really forgave my Dad for turning down the opportunity to buy a Cortina 1600E with a sunroof (a cracked rear light did it for him). So over the years we made do with a Fiat 850, Fiat 124, a tank-like Vauxhall Victor that pretty much wrote off a Triumph Herald in a low-speed parking incident, a Datsun 160J, a Mazda 323, Datsun Sunny, then a couple of company-provided Vauxhall Carltons – I could go on. He even had a Jag XJ for a while – a dream come true!
But for reasons that I can only put down to a mid-life crisis, a white Vauxhall Calibra turned up on our driveway one evening. Due to my mother’s disability, we had to have an auto and the only model that came with an auto at that time was the entry-level 8-valve model. So it didn’t exactly go as well as it looked – but boy, was it a looker.
Still is in my eyes. Those narrow headlights are very much of today, while the sleek coupé body style was ahead of its time, too. Shame the interior came from the Vauxhall Cavalier, but I’ll never forget our Calibra and neither will my Mum - she still says it’s the best car they ever had.
Honda Civic Type S
Alastair Crooks - Content Editor
My dad isn’t exactly a petrolhead. This is best evidenced by the fact he’s owned not one but two Mk1 Mercedes A-Classes (the tall ones with the reputation for falling over). Growing up then, there wasn’t much on the driveway to inspire me to love cars.
One car stands out however, a facelifted 2005 Honda Civic 2.0-litre VTEC five-door. Since he sold it in 2007, I’ve seen only a handful on British roads - a peculiar occurrence when you think of the Civic’s evergreen popularity.
Most of our childhood experiences of cars originate from sitting in the back seats and this is where the Civic won me over. A completely flat floor always amazed me and made me question why other car companies couldn’t replicate this as the added rear legroom for rear passengers was such a bonus. It was also the first car I ever drove, having a cheeky go on an airfield while my older sister was learning to drive. The gear-lever’s dashboard location probably wasn’t ideal for a beginner like me, though.
‘Fully imported’ V6 Toyota Camry
Jordan Katsianis – Content editor
You’ll doubtless enjoy reading all about the lucky offspring of fathers who owned interesting cars in this list, my memory is perhaps a little less impressive. My story is based in mid-90s Australia. European cars considered mainstream on this side of the world were both expensive, and rare, so what was the middle class ride? A V6 Toyota Camry, and it’s important to note the ‘V6’ comes first.
It was navy blue with gold badges, and although the very definition of bland, it’s likely still on the road 20-odd years later. There was also an element of pride in the Camry being a ‘fully imported’ version from Japan, an oddly important factor of a deathly bland car. Regardless, this replaced a Porsche 944, a trade my father was bizarrely happy about…
Porsche 930 911 Turbo Cabriolet
James Brodie – Senior staff writer
If there’s one thing I enjoy discussing with my dad, it’s cars, given the fantastic scope of things he’s owned both during my lifetime and before I was born. Early highlights before I arrived on the scene include a Mercedes SL 230 Pagoda which he reminisces about dewy eyed to this day, a succession of Ford Capris and MG Bs, but also a Lotus Europa Special, which he hated and couldn’t wait to get rid of.
In my time, a few of my dad’s cars really stand out. The Aston Martin Rapide S he’s currently the very proud owner of and a slick looking, black Peugeot 306 turbodiesel included. However, it’s the white Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet tucked away in our garage when I was about four years old that takes the win. This car excited me and terrified me in equal measure, and it absolutely stank of petrol. My two most vivid memories are of tears after banging my head on the back of the seat thanks to a spat of turbo lag, but also sulking alongside my brother when one day we saw it being loaded onto a trailer, ready to be taken to its next owner. Mum was delighted.
Morris Minor 1000
Pete Baiden – Web producer
My dad bought a Morris Minor 1000 in 1961 when he was just 18 years old. For its first proper road trip, he drove it around the UK with his best friend Dave, covering over 1,000 miles. Looking back at the 1000’s performance stats now – with a 0-60mph time of over 30 seconds and a top speed of 75mph – it must have taken him some time to cover those miles, although, as he still likes to point out, the roads were much quieter back then.
It was also the car he had when he met my mother, and he drove her home in it after their first ever date. Years later, it was tales like this that made me love that car, even though it never really left the garage when I was growing up – and often spent more time used as storage space than as a vehicle. I remember it being a magical occasion whenever he did take it out on the road, like we were stepping back in time.
But all good things must come to and end. My dad owned many other cars over the years, but the 1000 was always around until he finally sold it in 1997. It was a sad day.
BMW M3 CSL
Sean Carson – Chief reviewer
From a young age I was bitten by the bug when it comes to cars – mainly, due to my old man’s obsession that was impressed on to me. He enjoyed rolling his sleeves up and getting stuck in, so his formative years were spent fettling Lotuses. They invariably needed it.
A family arrived, so British sports cars made way for more practical hot hatches and super saloons, but everything conspired to create the perfect scenario for me in 2003: the perfect car at the perfect time.
He bought a BMW M3 CSL – the brand’s stripped out hardcore track car – a few years before I learnt to drive, so time spent in the passenger seat taking in the 3.2-litre straight-six’s hard-edged induction roar breathing through a carbon fibre airbox and the thump of the SMG II automated manual box’s vicious changes (paddle shift transmissions have come a long way) had me concocting notions of one day being able to get behind the wheel.
That day finally came – and it didn’t disappoint. The engine revved incredibly hard and the noise meant you always had it wound round the clock. The lightweight coupe clawed the tarmac with aggression, generating supercar levels of grip for the time – in the dry, at least. In the wet, for a wide-eyed young driver, the Michelin semi-click Cup tyres were sketchy to say the least…
Saab 9-5 Aero
When the Saarinen family moved to Denmark several years ago, the family VW Passat was swapped for a brand new 2005 Saab 9-5 Aero Estate. The dark grey wagon with 256bhp was my first impression of a proper family car and quickly left its mark, to the point that it’s a model I’m now looking to own one day.
The most memorable trip in the car was a wintry midnight dash across Sweden with just the old man and me. An empty road at night was the perfect excuse to stretch the Aero’s legs and press the infamous ‘Night Panel' button adopted from Saab’s fighter planes. The whole cockpit went dark apart from the green speedo while the northern lights danced above us.
Nissan GT-R (R35)
This was the first car that truly terrified me. Unrelenting performance and physics-defying dynamics, I had never experienced speed like it. Sitting sweaty-palmed in the passenger seat it was easy to see why the GT-R won favour with the motoring press. Since my dad collected it eight years ago, I can’t say the fear factor has ebbed away, I don’t think the choice upgrades taking it past 600bhp have helped.
One memory of Godzilla, though, will stay with me. After my constant demands to try launch control, for the first time, my dad acquiesced. So violent was the acceleration, that it left my dad pale and light-headed – an amusing moment I treasure!
Ford Cortina 2.0L
Not the best but definitely the earliest memory was my dad’s white Ford Cortina which he owned whilst we lived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, when I was just a kid. He affectionately called it ‘the beast’ which I fully embraced and whenever we had a trip out in it I loved the sound of the clunky loud engine. Don’t think I’d share the same enthusiasm for that racket now but it is a nice memory nevertheless.
If your motoring career is defined by the first car you travel in, mine was doomed from the start. My post-birth transport was a 1975 Vauxhall Victor, which I vividly remember from my toddlerhood. Many weekend hours were spent watching Dad brazing pieces of old tobacco tin into the front wings – it never truly recovered from sitting axle-deep in a particularly high tide during a day in our Mirror dinghy. Also memorable was the Victor's vinyl upholstery, which would scorch my infantile flesh on a sunny day.
The Victor was later replaced by a hand-me-down Cortina. From there Dad's fleet history took a slightly upwards trajectory, eventually reaching the giddy heights of a Mondeo Ghia X 24v. I'm pleased to say that I heavily influenced his most recent purchase – a 2003 BMW 540i that he bought from me 12 years ago when I sold cars for a living. I'm sorely tempted to persuade him out of it when I can afford to run it myself.
Mitsubishi Evo 6 Tommi Makinen
Massive spoiler, dustbin lid sized exhaust and bright red rally-inspired livery was pretty much the ultimate formula for a car in my 6 year-old mind, and that was exactly what my dad’s Evo 6 Tommi Makinen edition offered. Back in the early 00s the old man worked as a general manager at a Mitsubishi dealership up in sunny North Yorkshire, and as it was the golden era for Evos back then he had a string of demonstrators which did wonders for the school run.
The Tommi was by far my favourite, but its pièce de résistance was that its number plate read ‘Y NOT’, which, coincidentally was my father's reasoning every time he decided to unleash his inner Makinen...
1955 Ford Popular drag racer
Dean Gibson – Content editor
The one car that my dad had which will always stick with me was one that I never saw move under its own power, but it still had a pretty big impact on my love of cars. When I was little, my dad had a double garage at the bottom of the garden of our west London semi, and in one corner there sat his Ford Popular. However, it wasn’t your typical post-war transport, as my dad had transformed it into a drag racer.
My dad bought the Pop in 1965 from a scrapyard for £10, then sold the engine and gearbox on for £10 (so it was effectively a free car!) and then went about turning it into a quarter-mile terror with go-faster parts and lessons learned from reading Hot Rod magazine from the US every month.
He first fitted it with a Jaguar XK straight-six and then a ‘proper’ 302 cubic inch (5.0-litre) Chevy V8 running on methanol fuel, which was good for 500bhp. The front wings and bonnet were replaced by a fibreglass flip front, there was a Jaguar four-speed gearbox and the rear axle came from a Land Rover, while the front wheels came from a Lotus single seater and the rear tyres were used Formula One rubber, bought from a mate who worked at Goodyear’s racing tyre division.
The interior was stripped and fitted with a central driver’s seat and there was a rudimentary roll cage, but it was the purple metalflake paint job (as applied by my granddad) and the name, ‘Wild Thing’ (after The Troggs’ hit), that were the parts that I really remember.
By the late 1960s, Wild Thing could cover the quarter mile in 11.5 seconds with a top speed of 122mph, and it beat AC Cobras and Jaguar E-Types in the process. There was the potential for it to go even faster, too, but money was tight, and then I was born, so Wild Thing was retired to that garage in west London. My dad sold Wild Thing in the 1990s, and that was the only time I saw it move, when it was being towed to another garage in west London.
It then disappeared, being passed through a number of different owners who rebuilt and modified it to their own needs. So when my dad found it again a few years ago, it was nothing like the car he’d built. I think he still regrets selling it. I think I do, too.
Ford Escort Estate 3-door
Ben Hodges – Carbuyer deputy editor
Throughout my youth my dad’s car ownership stuck firmly to one constant theme - Ford estates. All were company cars, plucked from Ford’s greatest hits with a Mk4 Cortina, a pair of Sierras and then back to back Mondeos which were mainly used to ferry around copious amounts of musical instruments to gigs, and a much younger me to school, etc.
In the middle of this plethora of unremarkable large Blue Oval estate cars, though, was the rarity that was a three-door Escort estate. It arrived at the end of 1981, and despite only having a 1.3-litre petrol engine, it saw-off freezing winters, daily M25 commuting and summer holidays to Weymouth with ease.
Only being around five-years old at the time, it took me nearly three decades to realise that this small Escort estate was rare back in the early 1980s, let alone in 2020 where I’m disappointed to find that very few examples are left in existance.
Has your dad owned any notable cars? Let us know in the comments below...