While it’s far more likely that most of us learned our first auto-related factoids from our fathers, the first cars many of us remember in detail were owned by our mothers. For all the times I went to the repair shop or car dealer with my father or asked him what a turbocharger does, there were many more rides to the doctor, the grocery store or out for a fun day of hookie with my mother.
In most movies, and among most of the upper middle class families around me, matronly motoring was solidly based around the station wagon until the latter half of the ’80s. It wasn’t until the very late ’80s and early ’90s that the minivans which came to define the mothermobile for many of us became ubiquitous. Now that we’re in 2014, it would seem they had a rather brief moment in the spotlight, with the SUV and crossover boom seeming to enjoy unending popularity. When the current Caravan is succeeded by a rumored Journey replacement, it will truly be the end of an era.
My own mother never had a minivan, however, and kept the same 1986 Accord in daily use from the time I was two until I turned fifteen. My older sister and I therefore spent long trips fighting over the center armrest in the modest rear seat, but now I realize we failed to appreciate what good taste my parents had. At one point, the same could have been said of my mother-in-law, who once locked her keys–along with her then-newborn son–inside the 300ZX she owned in the late ’80s (after a long succession of other interesting machines including an Opel Manta and Renault LeCar). That incident led to the succession of more family-friendly Isuzu Rodeos, which my partner remembers much more clearly. But many of us who were born before minivans and SUVs took over can associate any number of fondly remembered, genuinely cool cars with our mothers.
A certain trend I recall, during the peak years of divorce in this country, was the substantial portion of single mothers dropping their kids off at school in the sporty coupes of the era. For as many classmates as I saw dropped off in Buick Estate Wagons, Ford Country Squires and Volvo 740s, there were nearly the same number arriving in Celicas, Probes and even Subaru XTs. Mustangs and Camaros were also well represented. You don’t see that kind of variety in front of your average elementary school or pediatrician’s office today. If one were so motivated, he or she could even extrapolate some greater meaning from this shift in automotive trends (i.e. are women today expected to be more domestic than they were during my childhood twenty-five years ago? Or do such shifts in automotive taste have no greater implication?).
At any rate, if I was jealous of the more kid-friendly rides of the era, I could still tell plenty about my classmates based on the habits of their parents’ consumption. I knew, for instance, that a new Windstar LX signified a classmate with too many Crayola markers whose mother was always around for field trips, and I had a sense of pride in having a mother who had a career to build. Perhaps my snobbish judgment unknowingly identified a large image problem of the minivan. After all, they were relentlessly functional devices, cool in their own way, but have obviously fallen out of favor as the default family hauler.
These days, of course, making a healthy profit on a car has become increasingly difficult and a good number of manufacturers base their model line on a small number of platforms, most of which are conceived with a nice, big crossover in mind. Those of us whose youth was spent in a more diverse automotive landscape, however, were introduced to a number of interesting vehicles by way of our mothers, running the gamut from full-on domestic conveyances like the Town and Country wagon to that famous anticar, the VW Beetle. Which cars do you, dear readers, forever associate with Mom?