The 1970s and 80s I guess were the last gasp of the "driving as an end in itself" hobby. When you think about it, it makes sense. Cars took off as something that everyday people owned in the 1950s and 1960s, and at that time people did of course, go driving as a fun activity. The kids from that time were my dad and his generation, so they continued the practice, to a lesser degree, in their adulthood. Plus in my family's case, both my grandfather and my father worked in the auto parts industry, so they were into cars and driving anyway.
My dad like his dad was "a Ford man". In Australia in the 1970s you were either a Ford man or a Holden man. My dad like his dad drove a large Ford sedan, which he was entitled to lease or buy courtesy of his employer. These were nice cars, but being the 1970s they were not a patch on cars today. They didn't have retractable seat belts or air-conditioning. As kids we would get car sick in the back, and there was no DVD system to distract us, no sirree Bob! (Mine was a deprived childhood, obviously). But they were big, and on long trips up to New South Wales or Queensland there was enough room in the back for me and my sister to curl up and sleep, moderately comfortably, against the armrests or leaning on our pillows against the doors.
My dad always took care of his cars. I don't recall ever eating or drinking in one, though we must have been allowed to on occasion I suppose. He would get mad at us for wiping condensation off the windows, or for touching the window glass at all. Dad washed the car regularly, and did the weekly oil and water checks, and kept the tyres inflated. So the car was always ready for a drive.
The best car I remember was a blue Ford Fairlane with leather seats and a white roof. I think that one had air conditioning. Which you'd think was a huge improvement but in fact often meant me and my sister sweltering in the back and not allowed to wind down our windows because the air conditioning had just been turned on and would kick in "in a couple of minutes".
But even in a nice car, going for a drive is not something that kids usually choose to do with their weekends. When Dad would announce we were going for a drive, my sister and I would groan and moan but there was no getting out of it so we'd get in the car and off we'd go.
Strangely I don't remember a lot about these drives. I remember the experience of being in the back seat of the car: playing games (or fighting) with my sister, feeling car sick, the prickle of the seat fabric against my bare legs (or the stickiness of the seat leather in the later years), the seat belt strap chafing my neck, the burning hot metal belt buckle on a summer day. I remember tinder-dry farmland and winding roads, and feeling thirsty.
The only place I loved going for a drive was the Dandenongs. I loved the tall trees, the filtered light, the quiet, and the green ferns. I didn't even mind that we never actually stopped the car and got out and enjoyed the forest up close. I just loved driving through it.
I also loved driving on the freeway, driving at night and driving in the rain. I loved the feeling of snuggling against the car door, gazing out the window at the dusk, stars or streaming rain, and listening to my parents talking quietly in the front.
Last Friday after work I picked up my kids from Mum's house but we stayed there a bit later than usual because it was raining hard, and I prefer not to drive in pelting rain if I have a choice. When I told the kids we were waiting for the rain to ease off, M was disappointed. "But I love driving in the rain," she said. "It's so cosy!"
We don't "go for a drive" these days, but we do drive a fair bit, and I do love driving. I still like driving on freeways and driving at night. So my kids will have their own "driving memories" similar to mine, I guess. But without the car sickness, sweltering heat, or the elbow burn incurred from a hot metal belt buckle in summer.