A Father's Day remembrance: Distracted driving wasn't an issue for dad

With all the in-vehicle technology available, I wonder what automakers really sell now: transportation or entertainment.

I'd say a little of both, but more so the latter.

Any automobile can transport a person from one point to another. Most modern purchases are based on a buyer's style preference — or liking the bells and whistles one vehicle offers over another. That's why Ford Motor Co. is working to be a technology leader with such things as Sync and MyFord Touch.

But as Father's Day nears, I'm reminded of a time when folks chose cars for many other reasons.

My dad relished the experience of driving. And he was passionate about the engines.

In the early 1970s he had a turquoise Ford Gran Torino with a big V-8 engine that he loved to drive. And it was OK with him that the car didn't have air conditioning. He would just roll up the windows so people would think it did.

Later he inherited his father's 1975 Ford LTD two-door sedan. My dad babied it to preserve the memory of his parents, who were so proud the day they bought it new. He kept the engine pristine. He even got historic plates for it in the 1990s.

We had a blue Oldsmobile Delta 88. It was a powerful beast with a big V-8 engine.

I used to sit behind my dad in the backseat, pretending I was the one driving.

I learned to drive years later on my dad's 1978 Cadillac Coupe Deville. He boasted that its souped-up V-8 engine made 500 hp. He put more than 200,000 miles on that car. I remember he snapped pictures of the odometer both times it hit milestones.

In the late 1990s he bought my Nissan Altima from me. He'd notice small features such as overhead hand grabs and chuckle, "Those Japanese think of everything!" That was quite a statement coming from a World War II veteran.

What he marveled at most, though, was how the Altima's small 2.4-liter engine produced such snappy acceleration. He got a kick out of shifting the five-speed manual gearbox after years of driving automatic transmissions.

He later traded the Altima for a Ford Taurus. He never asked the Ford salesman if the Taurus had a five-disc CD player. He didn't care. He did ask to see the engine though.

As he aged, it became apparent he shouldn't drive anymore. That was a tough talk. I'd drive him places and he would put his hand over mine on the gear shifter. This time he was the one pretending to be driving. I wish I could have let him.

He did sneak the keys once and go for a last drive.

Afterward a friend asked him: "Did you have fun, Bob?"

He beamed a broad smile and said: "Oh, yeah!"

He is part of a generation that didn't care about navigation, cell phone connectivity, a USB port, a DVD player or an in-vehicle Internet connection.

For guys like my dad, a car was transportation and then some. It offered a sense of freedom. Distracted driving was never an issue for him because he was all-consumed with the joy of driving.

Those were the days.

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