Kiwi Hayden Paddon is a rising star in the top level of real-cars-on-real-roads motorsport, the World Rally Championship. And he has some surprisingly good advice on what to look for when you buy your first car.

Paddon’s advice could not be more basic or straightforward, but I’m surprised at how often I see people who want to build up a car for fun get this stuff wrong.

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Paddon is also gearing his commentary for anyone thinking about getting into rallying, but this all applies to any gearhead’s first car decisions pretty well.

  • Buy something that won’t break all the time.
  • Buy something with low running costs.
  • Buy something with easily available parts.
  • Buy something with either front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive. Leave off all-wheel drive and stick to the basics.
  • Buy something slow and simple. Learn to outdrive your car, don’t let your high-level car drive you.
  • If you want to build a career as a fast driver, go FWD.
  • If you just want to have fun, go RWD.
  • Enter your car in autocrosses and gymkhanas to build up your skills.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re driving one of these,” Paddon says, gesturing to his WRC car, “or one of these,” he says pointing to a sponsorship-friendly 1980s Hyundai Pony. “You can have just as much fun.”

I can’t argue with that.

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