At this time of year, gift lists are all the rage. The more insufferable of them usually start off with a ridiculously expensive watch, and then end with some kind of high-performance car, or totally unfeasible luxury vacation. Oh sure, right, I'll just pop that on my list shall I? I'm sure Santa can jam a Ferrari in my stocking. Or two first-class tickets to Montenegro.
Look, Christmas is for the kids. Or, in my best Helen Lovejoy impersonation: “Won't somebody think of the children?” If you happen to be a gearhead mom or dad, here are twelve ways you can share the joy of Christmas with your kids (while secretly having a pretty good time of it yourself). Tuck these beauties under the tree, watch little faces light up on Christmas morning, and then send the kids to bed early and have a joyous Noel yourself.
A bit obvious as a stocking stuffer? Of course it is: but sometimes a cliché is just a really good idea that's been a good idea for so long we've forgotten how good that idea was. (Yeesh, that's some sentence.)
For right around a buck, a folded-and-taped Hot Wheels makes a perfect addition to any child's stocking, even if that child is in his mid-30s and has a mortgage. If I don't get at least one, I will be sad.
Halfway between wooden building block and Tonka truck is this educational toy that – okay, don't let the word “educational” throw you. These things are awesome.
Each Automoblox is sturdily built, so it'll bounce happily off the baseboard, and you can mix and match wheels, roofs, bodies, and passengers, which is good for hand-eye coordination, problem-solving and just plain having fun. At your local toy store.
Green Toys Dump Truck
Depending where you live, it'll either be a bit damp, or a bit snowy, or a bit too close to zero degrees Kelvin to have much fun playing in the sandbox. However, nil desperandum – spring will be here soon enough, and that means a return to outdoor pursuits, and a need for sturdy outside toys.
Green Toys, as you might expect from the name, sells sturdy little machines made from recycled plastic. They're actually mostly made out of melted-down milk jugs, and are tough as anything. Brightly coloured, with paint that won't chip, and metal that won't rust, they're the perfect weather-proof backyard toy.
Power Wheels F-150
No harm in going a tiny bit nuts – the Power Wheels F-150 is super cool, super tough, and bound to make the neighbour's kids super jealous. You'll probably also be a little bit jealous, simply because you can't fit in it. No matter how many times you try – oh, let's just give it another go.
The Power Wheels version of Canada's favourite truck is huge, sturdy, and while it's meant for little kids, is big enough for older ones as well. How tough is it? Ford managed to lower a real 2,000-kg F-150 onto the roofs of four Power Wheels – no problem. That oughta put up with a four-year-old's abuse for at least, oh, several weeks.
Fisher-Price Service Garage
Did you have one of these as a kid? Even if you didn't, your preschool possibly did. The original Fisher-Price parking garage unleashes a wave of nostalgia for a time when trying to find parking was a fun game, rather than a soul-destroying nightmare.
The modern equivalent is a little taller, a little more complicated, but still brightly coloured and lots of fun for little ones. It'll doubtless become a big part of their memories.
For the slightly older kid, why not a build your own racecar from the ever popular Lego. These won't be out until next year, but you could always wrap up a pre-order: Lego-ized versions of the Porsche 918 Spyder, Ferrari LaFerrari, and McLaren P1 are all coming soon.
If your kid is up for a bigger challenge, why not an off-the-books solution? Independent builder RoscoPC has created amazingly accurate models, and the plans are for sale on his site (http://roscopc.it/). You can buy the individual parts separately from Lego.
Playsam Saab Roadster
Oh, if only this thing wasn't so dratted expensive. Modelled in high-density plastic with wood trim and leather seating, this ride-on version of the original Ur-Saab is art-deco excellence. It's lovely... and six hundred bucks.
However, there is an alternative – one of the brightly coloured, rubber-wheeled cars from Playforever. Basically indestructible, these make for great take-it-everywhere toys for a toddler and can be launched down concrete steps without too much damage. Field tested by yours truly, and available at Toytoise.com
The Little Red Racing Car
As the sort of person who will read an owner's manual cover-to-cover, reading is very important. Reading with your child helps with brain development – but they won't often sit still for a chapter on intermittent windshield wipers.
There are plenty of car-based books for kids, but one of the coolest picture books of recent years has to be Dwight Knowlton's The Little Red Racing Car. Beautifully illustrated, it's the tale of a father and son restoring a barn-find Maserati. Knowlton is at work on another story, this one featuring Stirling Moss and the '55 Mille Miglia. Take that, Hop on Pop.
Slot Car Track
This is a slightly old-school gift, but one that'll tear the kids away from their iPads and laptops for five dang minutes. Building a racecourse among the discarded wrapping paper and then hitting a corner too fast and scaring the cat is practically a Christmas tradition.
At a higher level, slot-car racing can be a full-fledged hobby, with aspects of modelling and racing. Your local hobby store can help you out with this one.
Model Car Kit
Speaking of modelling, here's one for the more patient kids out there. Building a model car from a plastic kit requires skill, patience, and possibly a band-aid or two.
Teach your offspring the importance of slow, careful work, and they could be at this pastime for ages.
Racing games have advanced to the stage that Nissan actually even uses them as part of finding new racing talent. However, lots of games are still just good fun, especially the much-loved around the autoTRADER.ca offices Forza Horizon.
Dial up the fun factor with a racing wheel, such as (budget dependent) the Mad Catz wheel-and-pedal combo, or the less-expensive Thrustmaster force feedback wheels. If you really want to go whole hog, there are even full racing seat simulators – but good luck convincing your spouse that it's only for little Timmy.
For a real thrill of speed, why not a real thrill of speed? Go-Kart tracks can be found pretty much everywhere, with various levels for almost any age. There are even side-by-side karts so you can give your kids a ride.
Of course, there is just the chance that they'll beat the pants off you in a straight-up race, so be careful not to get cocky. In fact, you should probably cheat – just don't let Santa see you doing so.