What The Automatic Transmission Has Done To Us

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It’s easy to get suckered by the convenient, the easy. We’re all susceptible. It is human nature to take the path of least resistance. Present almost anyone with a quart of  their favorite flavor of Ben & Jerry’s – and a sit-up machine – and it’s not a hard bet to make as far as which one most people will choose.GM hydramatic

This is the nature of the subtle evil that is the automatic transmission.

It has taken most of the effort out of driving. In particular, of learning how to drive. Accordingly, most people never do.

It has ruined the art of driving.

And it is an art.

Or, was.

Well, a skill at least.

Before the automatic came along (it happened in the ’40s, brought to us by GM through its Oldsmobile division) driving a car required more talent than being able to open and close a door, sit down – and push on two pedals.Olds hydra matic

There was of course a third pedal – the clutch pedal. When it was out, the engine was directly connected to the transmission, which was directly transmitting the engine’s power to the driven wheels via the driveshaft. If the driver did not push the clutch pedal in as the car rolled to a stop, the car would buck and finally, stall out – because the engine could not turn the pavement (or the Earth to which it was attached).

To resume forward motion, the driver had to gradually let out the clutch while simultaneously easing into the gas pedal – allowing just enough enough slippage to avoid (once again) stalling out the car. It took a bit of practice to master this delicate balance, to be able to do it smoothly. It was a right of passage, something almost every aspiring teenage driver had to learn. It was a little intimidating – as it ought to be. Driving is serious business. It’s not for everyone.

Some never did master it – and they were culled from the ranks. Washed out.

As it should be.clutch pedal graphic

Same goes for shifting gears – the next level of mastery.

Before the advent of synchronizers in the transmission, one had to time one’s shifts just so – matching engine speed to road speed. It was necessary to choreograph this delicate ballet yourself. If you failed to do so, the result was an awful grinding of the gears. General embarrassment would ensue – along with (eventually) repair bills.

So, the newbie driver had to learn how to do several things all at once: First, to engage and disengage the clutch – smoothly. Those who rode the clutch (kept it partially engaged, allowing excess slippage) burned up the clutch. Those who engaged it too soon or too abruptly made the car buck like a bronco – annoying passengers and (eventually) breaking something else.

The driver also had to know when (and how) to shift the transmission into the appropriate gear for any given condition. He had to know when to up shift – and when to downshift – in order to avoid either over-speeding the engine or lugging the engine – either of which could result in a hurt engine.driving stick

It was about being in tune with the mechanical goings-on. The driver had to pay attention. How else to know what gear you happened to be in? When it was time to shift? Which gear to shift into?

No one else was going to do it for you. And if you didn’t do it, there would be consequences. Immediate, real – tangible. The car would bog. Or stall out, roll back – and into the car behind you.

In a manual-equipped car, it’s harder to be vacuous. A himbo – or a bimbo. You’re compelled participate. To observe the progression of traffic signals, to anticipate what’s likely to happen next. The change from red to green, the ebb and flow of traffic. The wheels (in your head) turn. It’s necessary to focus on your environment, what’s going on around you. To be ready – and to know what to do. If, for instance, you need to slow down quickly – it will be necessary to do more than stomp on just the brake pedal.

Not that you couldn’t also have a conversation with your passenger at the same time. Certainly. But it was secondary to the task at hand. In the Age of the Clutch, it was less common for people to space out at red lights or in traffic, as is common today. Some perhaps did so – but they got schooled right quick.

This made for better  – because more necessarily more attentive and inherently more involved – drivers.

Automatics do the opposite.

They are like high fructose corn syrup, fluoride and other soporifics. They induce – and encourage – inattentiveness and passivity. Staring off into space. Wondering about what’s for dinner. Playing with the GPS. Gabbling on dey sail fawn.

After all, what else is there to do?

The automatic-equipped modern car pretty much drives itself. Very little is expected of the Dunsel behind the wheel – and not surprisingly – not much is given. As automatic-equipped cars became dominant and manual cars a relative rarity – and people could “learn to drive” – and get a driver’s license – without ever so much as touching a clutch – real skill behind the wheel ebbed, for the simple reason that it was no longer required or even expected.

The bar had been lowered.dey sail fawn

Today, literally almost anyone can “drive” an automatic-equipped car – in the sense that almost anyone can turn an ignition key (lately, push a button) and then push down on the accelerator pedal. Turn the wheel left, turn it right. Push down on the brake pedal. He can make it go! (Cue the Pakleds from Star Trek, Next Generation.)

But driving isn’t – or ought not to be – democratic, much less Pakled.

There are people who shouldn’t be driving. Top of the list, arguably, are those who aren’t able to master the art of the clutch. You probably know several. Certainly, we see them on the road almost every day. Before the widespread availability of the automatic, they were kept off the road. Not by legislation. Not by force. But by the same factors that keep me out of the operating suite. If you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t embarrass yourself.driving stick 2

Or hurt someone else.

Now, automatics are not per se evil. In the same way that Ben & Jerry’s is not evil. But if Ben & Jerry’s is all you eat, there might be a problem. Just as it’s a problem if all you’ve ever driven – and all you know how to drive – is an automatic.

If you want to become a better driver, learn to drive a manual.

Those who have, already are.

Throw it in the Woods? 

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  1. 3 on the tree for me when I was 11 in a ’52 Studebaker pickup flathead 6 that hadn’t been tuned up in four years because no one knew how to time it or time the points or even what the points did or adjust the brakes or put new rubber in the master cylinder. It was parked at the top of a hill and that was exactly how much room there was to start it and get it going well enough keep running while adjusting the choke, shifting from second to first, cross the creek at the bottom and making it up the other side without killing the cold engine. The battery had been history for a long time, it was just there to provide a ground path for the DC generator. That Studebaker could get stuck in two gears at the same time if you weren’t careful and the throttle linkage could stick wide open also. More than once my dad had to jump out, open the hood and grab the throttle linkage all the time that flathead six was doing its best to throw a rod. I hit a Catalpa tree when I headed downhill after I made the three point turn around at the top of the hill in our driveway because I couldn’t pump the brakes and see over the dash to steer at the same time. That was also the day I became a body man and pounded out the fender before Daddy got home.
    My worst stick experience was when I missed a downshift on our 1929 Farmall-International Harvester tractor with the rubber tires and went down a hill out of gear and up the other side. The brakes were a joke. I managed to catch a gear going up the other side and good thing because I was not good at backing the trailer I was pulling.

  2. My wife and I are in the process of getting our ’49 Suburban back into service. It has been updated with disc brakes, Clifford Research 292 with 5-spd Getrag trans, & posi rear end. We wanted to stick with the original design philosophy while incorporating improvements to safety and performance. Needless to say, driving this handsome shooting brake is a pleasure. Note I said “driving.” It requires more skill and attention than just starting up and steering. Oh, and it really gets the looks and smiles.

    • Ah, people after my own heart. During my life now and then a few Texas Tech 50’s models and then later 60’s model utility trucks used to stop in town and fuel up. They were always headed for S. America for some geological thing and I, like Jimmuh Carter, lusted in my heart for one of those old 4X4 Carryall’s.

      I thought I might some day get to buy one through an auction but probably they were sold to those with connections and never made an auction. Even when I was a student in the 60’s there I’d see those same old green trucks parked in a lot and occasionally be driven.

      So revjen, how do you like the floor starter? That was always a problem since they’d get sticky and you’d really have to put some effort into them. Now and again somebody would have a 50’s GM they’d converted to switch key start and 12 V alternator. The newer starters were well ahead of the old floor starters.

      Every now and then my mother used to call me and ask me to come home and start the pickup since I was the only one with the “touch”. You had to pump the gas a bunch of times, hold the choke open and hit the starter and know when to pump the gas some more but it would fire up. I had anywhere from 1-3 batters on it at a time with 2 in the bed. I don’t recall my dad ever buying anything for it but used tires. I drove it all the time so he put the onus of making it work onto me. I was 12 or 13 when the brakes finally went completely away. I got my first lesson in changing brakes. Well, it all made sense but I had to ask how to change the axle seal and that was a real education. Later on I’d get to change the pinion seal but I was nearly a certified mechanic(just for that)by then. When I was 13 the highway patrol stopped me, didn’t ask for a license I didn’t have and said I’d better have some lights on it next time they saw me. I went to the parts store and charged a bunch of wire and bulbs and connectors and then cut everything loose and took it all loose from the fusebox and grabbed the whole bundled and walked all the way to the trash barrel with it and finally stuffed the highly broken and burnt wiring in there and started from scratch. A buddy dropped by and said he hoped I knew what I was doing. Easy/peasy I said, just a hot wire and a ground to everything…..and brake lights and running lights all worked when I was through and had enough charge in the battery to power it. I was proud of the whole thing till some of those brake cylinders I’d “honed” began to leak and ruin my new brakes. Lesson # infinity, just buy new cylinders and forget the kits. Ah, those were the days.

  3. I learned to drive in the mid 1950’s in an Army REO truck. Was sent to Germany where I purchased a MGA. Had it shipped back home when discharged. Real fun driving up and down Flatbush Ave. in Brooklyn in second gear. Sold (traded) only after I got married and had a child for a Corvair Modza 4 speed MT. A good car if you knew how to drive. Needed a new fan belt every 10,000 miles, the only problem.
    Had a ’89 Ranger pickup which I had to replace the clutch at 208,000. Dealer asked if 2 or 3 clutch. When told that this was the first replacement he didn’t believe it until he looked up the records. That’s knowing how to drive a MT. Gave truck away at 255,000 when I bought a Mustang Convertible. Back to open car driving, MGA style. Real drivers don’t give up on a manual transmission.

  4. I learned how to drive a stick when I was 14. My dad used to take me out on the backroads and teach me to drive his little Plymouth Arrow (with a 5 on the floor) back in 1977 and 78. (Illegally of course, but my dad was pretty cool back then!) It was almost a rite of passage if you were a boy back in those days. You weren’t a real driver, nor much of a man if you didn’t know how to drive a manual. Most girls didn’t know how to drive manuals, (like my mom) but that was expected, but if you were a guy and didn’t know how to drive one, you had something wrong with you. Of course there were exceptions to the rule as well, my cousin Cindy knew how to drive a manual back in those days, which I thought was pretty cool. I’ve had several manuals since then, the last one being a Chevy S-10 pickup which I junked a few years ago. All my manuals have been 5 on the floors. I never did get a chance to try the 3 speed on the column like the one on my dad’s old Rambler, and I probably never will, I don’t think they make those anymore. I’m sure I could figure it out if given the chance though, if you can drive one manual you can drive them all. Ah yes, those were the good old days!

    • Ha! Loved your post, Patriot1. Especially this, “(Illegally of course, but my dad was pretty cool back then!) It was almost a rite of passage if you were a boy back in those days. ”

      The 70’s was a Great! time to be young. I Can relate.

      For what it’s worth, I learned how to drive a stick shift when I got my first motorcycle. …. Same danged thing.

    • I forgot too mention: In talking to my Millennial nephew who cannot drive a stick shift, I told him it’s like in the film, ‘Star Wars’: you have to use ‘The Force’ and just ‘feel things’ in order to drive a stick shift and know when to shift… (if you can’t be bothered to RTFM.) …Many People today, they can’t relate to ‘The Force’. “That’s, ‘Old School”” they say.
      Thankfully, the Millennial nephew likes ‘Star Wars’ and maybe picked up on a clue. ?

    • Dear Patriot,

      The three on the tree shifters were often pretty lame. Sloppy feeling. Lots of backlash. The position and angle made it far from ergonomic. Hard to apply leverage compared to a four on the floor. One sometimes felt rushed to complete the shift before the car started to lose forward momentum.

      I drove a few that belonged to others. But mostly I drove floor mounted four and five speed sticks.

      • Ah yeah, good description, Bevin. I drove one a couple of times, a GMC truck. I Did Not Like It.
        Nor the girl who owned it.
        Crap, you’re taking me down a memory lane I’d prefer not to go down.
        Three-on-the-tree, yak, yuk, ugh, shudder.

        [Think about granny gears, ,,, Think about granny gears. Low and slow. … Or maybe that V-8 Chevelle? Now That Was Fun! Even If I didn’t own it. … Or, that Dautsun 280Z while doing unexpected 360 degree doughnuts on Mayflies on the road in the middle of the night. We laughed our asses Off. …The days of freedom and youth.]

        • 3 on a tree was just regular in my country till the late 60’s when most disappeared. My best friend and I were with his dad in their couple year old ’62 Ford pickup that he and his sons and everyone including me gave holy hell since it was a sick sumbitch with a 6 on propane. His dad change from 1st to second one day and the shifter came off in his hand. With some under the breath cussing he jammed it back on and I later pushed the pin all the way through which wasn’t a permanent fix but nearly. I drove lots of cars and pickups with 3 on the tree.

          My dad bought a 55 Chevy pickup with a 4 speed hydramatic(fancy, wrap around back glass, pinstripes on the wheels) that went something over 100K and then got a granny 4 speed you couldn’t hurt. That was a tough old Apache.

    • Hi Patriot,

      That was my experience also. The ’70s were a great time to be a kid! Some movies capture the era really well, among these Detroit Rock City. There was Authority, but it was benign and almost silly compared with the kill-you-over-nothing insanity that’s become commonplace in today’s cammo-worshipping, badge-licking, flag-wrapped sicherheitsstadt.

      Tonight there’s gonna be a jailbreak…

      • Eric, have you seen the US version of Life on Mars? If you get as wistful about the ’70s as I do, you should check it out. I felt like I had entered a time machine as they somehow captured the atmosphere of the ’70s as I remember it.

        • No, but I will check it out – thanks for the tip!

          PS: Speaking of the ’70s, see today’s rant, just posted….

          • eric, when I think of the 70’s it brings to mind 200 Motels, the Last Movie and while technically not all necessarily of the 70’s, the spaghetti westerns with a good degree of anarchy, “leave me the fuck alone” mindset, a novel way of thinking back then in regards to westerns and also not quite the 70’s, Easy Rider. Although the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers came about in ’68 they were going strong in the 70’s. And not to be forgotten, Barbarella, yowzuh.

            • Hi Eight,

              I can almost touch that gone world in my mind’s eye. Recall being 7 or 8 and free to roam all day; to run around with my friends, on our bikes, not wearing helmets.

              It was real.

              I know it was…

              • Morning eric. And to think what should be an unthinkable hazard for kids that age, getting gunned down by the cops, is right up there with other “perceived” threats.

                If you’d given me a helmet at that age I would have worn it. I would have been the envy of all the kids since helmets were leather and “cool”(think Marlon Brando). And I did wear a leather helmet, had forgotten it, for years about that age. It was a football helmet I wore in the winter to offset my straw hat in the summer…..and wore tenny diggers in the summer and cowboy boots in the winter. My typical attire was overalls year round.

                  • I’ve heard ‘overhauls’ many times. Rural people might use some strange terms for things.

                    As a kid, when I’d bitch and have a fit my aunt would say she was gonna get me a fur-lined pee pot. Never quite figured it out except it was an insult. When someone would buy a fancy something she’d say it was the Horse Badordies and never figured out what a badordy was either. She was a good role model in lots of ways. If there was something you said you couldn’t do, it wouldn’t be long till you’d be doing it. She wasn’t a big believer in “can’t”. She wasn’t a big believer in “won’t” either, that was just asking for it in her book.

                    And “never”……Boy, you’ll ‘never’ find me back in the oilfield again. A couple years later, how did this happen when I said it wouldn’t? After the 3rd time I vowed to keep my silence and not mention the oilfield and ‘never’ in the same sentence. Won’t and never are almost not in my vocabulary.

                    A couple years ago I was asked if I wanted to truck in the patch, long times away from home and lots of foul-mouthed roughnecks to live with. Well, BTDT, let’s go for it.

                    • Never heard of the fur-lined pee pot, but my Grandpa used to say “so and so would gripe if he was hung with a new rope.”

              • Dear Eric,

                How in the world did it happen?

                Never mind. That was a rhetorical question.

                My head knows perfectly well how it happened. Government did what it always does.

                It’s my gut, and heart, that can’t believe a nation that was arguably the freest in the world, became a totalitarian police state in our lifetimes, before our very eyes.

                Ever wonder how patriotic Romans must have felt watching their nation fall?

                Wonder no more.

      • 70’s Movies like Canonball Run and Smokey & the Bandit openly showed disdain for authority. A whole generation was raised to be scofflaws because of the 55mph nonsense. We are all better people because of it too. CB radios and radar detectors sold like hotcakes for one reason only… to break the law.

        Every tyrannical action has an equal and opposite black market reaction. It’s a law of the universe.

  5. I still believe auto trannys to be the work of Satan when equipped in anything smaller than a 7 series. My favorite saying “there’s a special place in Hell for the engineer who decided to put that gearbox in that car”. Almost three years ago I decided I wanted a clean, low mileage BMW E36 coupe. It took 6 months to find one here in the western US with a manual. I think 80% to 90% of the BMWs in North America are automatics…pathetic.

  6. On another related matter…

    I owned a 1989 BMW 535i with a limited slip differential (LSD) and the rear end broke free VERY easy. So easy that I would be fearful of letting my mother drive it in the rain but… I LOVED it and slid the read end around every chance I got. It helped me learn the science of driving in the rain. When the rain starts the road is VERY slick as the oil gets lifted. As the rain progresses for a few hours grip returns as the oil is washed away. And just after a storm when the road dries out you experience the maximum grip. Similarly, when it rains (or snows/ices), I also recommend coming up to stop lights and purposely braking harder until traction breaks so you know the limits of adhesion at any given moment. The best ABS is a well trained foot that knows intimately what the road conditions are at any given moment. It’s all a part of driving safe.

    • I also owned a 2000 328i 5sp and was saddened to learn that BMW had abandoned the LSD in favor of a conventional diff. NO fun any more and when the rear end did break free it was very sudden, unannounced and harder to control/modulate. So much for “the ultimate driving machine”….. uggh.

    • Hi GC,

      My old muscle car – ’76 Trans Am – has a limited slip (solid) axle) and – feeding the power of 7.4 liters (that’s 455 cubes) of vee ate through 15×7 wheels – the back end flops around like a just-landed trout at the least provocation. I love getting it sideways – semi-under control – and managing (somehow) to get it straightened out to the accompaniment of the howl of the Quadrajet’s secondaries sucking air….!

  7. Pakleds… isn’t it obvious? They are led by the pack… followers of followers. Jesus Christ made a very Darwinist statement when he said: “Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.”

    We need to stand back and let the clovers cull themselves to a tolerable number.

  8. I drive a ’97 Ford Mustang GT with a 5-speed manual tranny and love it, although there are times, like being stuck in gridlock commuter traffic on I-80, when I would prefer not having to stand on the truck-like clutch pedal until my leg starts to shake like a flea-bitten dog. I also have a ’71 Citroen DS21 Pallas with the semiautomatic (hydraulic) clutch – no clutch pedal, but you still need to shift manually. This is very nice & rather elegant, but not much different from an automatic, really. It also has a manual choke, and an unusual starting procedure, which would eliminate most modern drivers from figuring out how to start it, let alone keep it running. I hope the manual clutch will never die. I just saw a used Dodge RAM V-10 pickup with the (cast-iron) Viper engine for sale, with a manual. Now, that would be real fun!

  9. Can’t argue with the main point of the article.

    But still, a manual sucks in stop-and-go commuter traffic, inarguably.
    There is no fun in that, only chore.

    As to the GT3, that must be some sort of PDK-type auto-manual?
    Doesn’t change your point, but still.

    One funny thing:

    have had three DSG VWs in the last 6 years.
    With every generation, it became less noticeably manual-like, on the current CC, thought it didn’t even have the DSG at first.
    Even the shift-speeds by rpm-needle flick seem less quick, though that might be colored perception.

    Dealer told me that people had been complaining about the manual-feel of the earlier iterations (esp. standing up-slope at a light, now it just holds unbraked, before, more the typical (very) slight roll-back/apply-clutch/roll-back, etc…

  10. It’s funny though, you’ll notice in movies and TV shows they still show people who are just learning how to drive lugging it and chirping the tires, with the front end bouncing up and down, even if the car is an automatic.

  11. On a Hagerty Insurance-Ford of Canada sponsored event, my car enthusiast daughter got to drive a series of MT cars including a rh drive Brazilian Mini, Mustang GT and Supra. I thought she was getting the hang of it. So, at her insistence, last week I bought a 2014 Focus MT. (Her mother said automatic.) Mom was right. (Sigh.) I guess I’ll invest in some more lessons.

    Jason Flinders, I took a long test drive in an Austin America back when they gave you the keys and said return it when you’re ready. Bought a ’70 Cortina instead. I can sure pick ’em!

  12. First things first – I got here via LRC, not as an auto enthusiast. So that’s where I’m coming from, both literally and metaphorically.

    Now, what I would like to say is this:
    I would never drive a manual transmission because it is antiquated. The market has given us something better. The glorious AUTOMATIC. Using a manual outside of some extremely demanding application such as racing is as silly as using an abacus to do math to weed out the “clovers” who are bad at math, climbing 18 flights of stairs to your job because the journey up gives you some time to think, or using a horse and buggy because newfangled cars were only invented for people too weak-minded to get the hang of riding a horse or driving a horse team.

    And all this stuff about the “joy” of manuals? LOL. Anyone who says that has clearly never driven through a traffic jam. And for the people above who said that automatics cause traffic jams by allowing more people to drive – don’t be silly. Do you seriously think that half of the driving population would be deterred by manuals? No, we would just have a bunch of people driving with the cell phone on speakerphone – distracted, dimwitted dolts still behind the wheel, except now they’re driving something even farther beyond their capabilities than before, and hence even more of a danger to others.

    So, you can keep your eternal, tiring hand-and-foot dance in traffic jams “because I can go from 5 to 10 mph and then back to 5 mph in .00005 fewer microseconds than I could with an automatic” and I will keep my automatic which, just like power steering and windshield wipers*, enables driving to be a fun and enjoyable experience where I can truly watch the road and pay attention to the scenery which I am driving past without having to do the upshift-downshift dance.**

    *Yes, windshield wipers. Just think – if driving a manual forces you to pay attention, why not go the extra mile and not make it even more unnecessarily inefficient, annoying and time consuming by making steering like going to the gym and forcing people to lean out and wipe the windshield off with a towel?

    **And I won’t have any of this “clover” talk directed at me. I am not overly risk-averse and I take great pride on paying attention to the road when I am driving (and not to the upshift-downshift dance!)

    • Hi Ben,

      Actually, modern automatics often give an advantage over a manual in terms of both economy and performance. But my argument is not with the merits of the thing as a device. It is that automatics encourage Clovers. I’ll lay a case of Freon on the table that says a given driver, who learned to drive in a car with a manual transmission, is as a rule a better driver than the person who never learned to drive a car with a manual transmission.

      The same rule-of-thumb applies with regard to motorcycles – especially sport bikes. If you can ride one of these things, you almost certainly have more natural skill (coordination, reflexes) than the average person. If you can ride it well, even more so.

      • Well, sure. But consider all of the difficulties inherent in driving the first cars – drum brakes; if you get in an accident, you’re either going to be OK or get cut in half by the engine block; steering is like the automotive version of wrestling a bear; thin tires with relatively poor traction; etc. All of those things would make better drivers, probably much better drivers, but no one would (or at least I don’t think anyone would) want any of those features in a car based on that alone. Of course, manual transmissions offer significant advantages for people in some situations, such as mountainous areas and those who like performance cars, but for others, such as city driving (even when the road is relatively free of cars), having a manual is a nightmare. It’s one thing to be able to make the engine do just what you want. It’s another thing entirely to have to make the engine do just what you want every thirty seconds.

        For what it’s worth, however, I think that this whole trend of having 15 different screens such as a backup camera, TVs, a GPS, etc etc etc, in a car is absolutely horrible. I have GPS on my phone, but the only time I EVER use it is if I am going to an unfamiliar part of town at night, which would make slowing to look for street signs inconvenient.

        Just my $.02.

        • I don’t think we disagree fundamentally, Ben.

          I am not advocating that everyone drive manual-equipped cars. But I do believe that learning how to drive in a manual car encourages/imparts better driving, even if the person never drives a manual-equipped car again.

          Just my $.02!

  13. My parents made my brother, sister and I learn to drive a stick before we could obtain our licenses. I’m truly thankful for that.
    I’ll buy manuals for the rest of my life, if possible, for several reasons.
    Most people can’t borrow my car. If they can drive a stick, I’m much more comfortable loaning it.
    In slick weather, I can always downshift and, at least, slowdown.
    Driving is more fun with a stick.
    If I had teenagers, they’d be driving a stick. It’s nearly impossible to shift and text, babble on the phone, etc.

    • Yep, ever try to heel and toe with an auto? Push start one with an auto?(well, some you could like old Powerglide’s.) Braking hard and downshifting into a curve, not done with an auto anything close to the manual.

      The old Hydra-Matic’s would shift out of 1st at 5-10mph. For the life of automotive pleasure and performance as well as fuel mileage and all-around driveability, I could never understand why those old tranny’s didn’t have an OD instead of that super-low gear.

      Back in my day, you couldn’t get an OD that would hold up to V-8 power. The Jag transmission wasn’t good for 350 HP and up. I always wanted to install a Brown-Lipe gearbox for OD in every gear but once again, they weren’t strong enough. What WERE they thinking?

      • I learned to drive on a Ferguson 30, when I was about 12 (don’t remember exactly). And shifted it, even though it was not ‘synchro’ and only (theoretically anyway) to be shifted with it stopped.

  14. Usta be that U-Haul trucks had predominantly (if not solely) manuals. There’d always be someone moving who rented a U-Haul but couldn’t drive it. But nowadays, the U-Hauls are automatic too.

    Another thing: With a manual, you will *have to* replace that clutch. That’s typically $1,000 to have done. With an automatic, you’ll have to replace the fluid, but that’s not $1,000. So, in the long run (assuming no failures with either transmission) the automatic is more economical.

    One last thing: I’ve done 3 things that have immensely given me skills on the road: 1) Drove a 25ft box delivery truck as a summer job, 2) Drove the Autobahn, 3) Rode a motorcycle . If I were supreme emporer, I’d make everyone do those things before being licensed to drive!

  15. The advantage of an automatic is that you only need one arm and your right leg to drive. With a manual transmission, if you lose the use of a single limb, even temporarily, you’re stuck at home.

  16. made myself get a MT car for my second vehicle just so I’d learn how to drive ‘stick’.

    had so little experience with MT that I couldn’t even figure out how to put it in reverse when I picked it up @ the dealership – fortunately it was parked facing uphill, so I just depressed the clutch and let it roll backward out of the parking space.

    the first week driving it was an adventure…

    got rid of it after nearly 15 years when the spouse made it clear they’d never bother to learn to drive stick (so we couldn’t swap vehicles if one needed to go into the shop)

    i agree with everyone else that MT is tedious for a typical city commute.

    with better mileage from AT nowadays I doubt I’ll ever buy a MT vehicle again.

  17. I taught my daughter to drive a MT vehicle when she was twelve-years-old.
    The vehicle she learned in was an old Volkswagen Golf diesel. Diesels are more “forgiving” being in the “wrong” gear.
    Within 15 minutes, she mastered the concept and has been driving MT vehicles ever since.

  18. Speaking of the last picture of the column….did anybody notice the left foot of the driver ? Wearing flip flops , especially on the clutch foot ???…..a recipe for disaster.

  19. Things change. We have to get used to it. AT’s get better performance and mileage. The higher number you see on the sticker for the MT was not obtained by a normal human driver.

    • Hi Roddy,

      Actually, in most cases (nowadays) the automatic-equipped version of a given car will get better mileage than the same car with a manual transmission.

      Still, the manual is more fun – and demands more of the driver, which arguably makes him a more attentive and better driver.

    • AT’s get better performance and mileage. 

      Gotta strongly disagree with you on that one. Of the two vehicles of comparable size and performance out of the four that I own, the 5-speed manual gets far and away the better fuel mileage and has lower maintenance demand.

      • liberranter,

        It depends on the vehicle you have.

        In general, AT from before about 2005 do worse than the same engine/car with MT. Today, some of the newer AT do the same or better than MT.

  20. The best car to learn to drive in is a good old VW bug. Additionally, when you learn to drive a stick first, you train yourself to use only your right foot when you drive an automatic instead of your right foot on the gas and your left foot on the brake as some do.

    • Agree.

      My left foot is only used when I drive a manual.

      When I drive a loaner or rental with an AT, I brake by lifting my right foot off the accelerator and applying it to the brake pedal.

      I never drive an AT equipped car by leaving my left foot on the brake pedal. That’s a bad habit in my book.

    • I’ve already told my grandson that when he reaches driving age in five years that I’ll teach him how to drive AND even consider buying him his first (gently used) car – but it’s gonna be a stick, and that’s what he’s gonna learn to drive on.

    • @ Mark I too learned on a VW Bug, it taught me to be alert to the road and my surroundings, I also learned how to drive in snow with that car. With a set of snow tires on the back, she would get most any place any time. It was also fairly easy to work on, and parts were everywhere for them too.

    • Believe it or not, about a year ago I seriously thought about going through the training to become a long-haul trucker – until I heard that most of the new semis out on the road had automatic transmission. That caused me to abandon the idea completely.

      Big rigs with automatic transmission? Are they fucking kidding?

  21. Learned on a Dodge Omni with 1.6L VW engine, 4 speed manual. Got good enough to chirp the tires on start.

    1st bought car was a Subaru XT with a 4 cyl boxer and a 5 speed manual. Also had the 4WD “ejector seat” button on the shift lever. Still miss that one today. GF at the time always wanted to drive it because she loved driving a stick (still miss her, too).

    FF a few years and the new job required me to drive an F-550 diesel “bucket” truck (aerial lift, AKA cherry picker). 6 speed manual transmission. If you didn’t get the stick in the gate you could easily snap it off thanks to the lousy attachment, something I was constantly reminded of when anyone else would drive it. Because I had to drive it to telephone poles I got fairly good at getting it un-stuck.

    If I hadn’t learned to drive a stick I never would have been able to handle that bucket truck. Working on a ladder or gaffs and trying to get the same amount of work done would have been impossible. You might not think it’s a useful skill now, but you also never know what will happen down the road.

  22. Dear Eric,

    I’m proud to say that I’ve never purchased an automatic transmission equipped car or truck in my entire life. And unless they stop making cars and trucks with manual transmissions altogether, I never will.

    I simply cannot imagine driving an AT equipped car as a matter of routine. I’ve had to drive AT rentals or loaners of course. But I merely endured it knowing it was temporary. Very temporary.

    The prospect of having only two pedals and no shifter, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, boggles my mind. I don’t see how anyone can stand the boredom. There is simply not enough for the driver to do.

    Never mind the loss of control when hurtling downhill on the far side of a mountain and not being able to shift into a lower gear to take advantage of engine braking.

    Thank god enough people still want MT in sports cars and pony cars. Otherwise I’d be SOL.

    • In my many years of living in Europe during the 80s and early 90s, I noticed that very few people owned or drove cars with AT. Almost all cars were manual transmission. Then again, few Europeans own what we Americans would call “Standard” size vehicles or larger, so I suppose that makes sense. I learned to drive a “stick” while living in Europe (in Greece, of all places; if you can learn to drive and survive in Athens, you can drive anywhere!). Like you, I try to avoid owning AT vehicles whenever possible, but it’s all but impossible to find manual transmission as an option on larger vehicles (something like my Dodge Ram 350 diesel).

      • Automatic transmissions were very uncommon on imported cars in the 1950s and 1960s, which back then meant mostly British and European vehicles. If they had any kind of nod to the idea it was usually in the form of an automatic clutch or some kind of semi-automatic.

        Surprisingly the first small 4-cylinder import to sport a fully-automatic transmission was the MG Sport Sedan and later the Austin America (basically the same car with 1300cc instead of 1100cc, generically known as the “ADO16”). This was quite an advanced setup for the mid-1960s: a fully-automatic transmission in a transverse front drive package, rack-and-pinion steering, and hydrolastic independent suspension.

        Unfortunately the transmission was in the sump and shared oil with the engine, and as the saying goes “hilarity ensued.” Most did not make it through the warranty period without the transmission failing, and the automatic transmission was their biggest sales feature. This was above and beyond the usual British Car Syndrome of general unreliability and poor overall quality. Then there was the rust, the cars would practically dissolve on salted winter roads within a few years.

        About 60,000 or so of these cars were imported to the U.S. through 1970. I’d be surprised if even 30 years ago there were more than 100 left in the entire country.

        • Addition: I meant to say that this was a fully-automatic 4-SPEED transmission in the ADO16 cars, which was quite a technical accomplishment at a time when many domestic U.S. cars still had only two-speed automatics. Too bad the execution of the idea was so poor.

  23. When I first learned to drive a manual transmission car, I hated it. It didn’t help that I had to learn it on one of the worst cars ever made, my dad’s economy 1986 Renault Alliance with only 4 gears, in our heavy traffic area in the suburbs, Ugh. So I rarely drove it, and thought that manual transmissions were some stupid obsolete automotive thing of the past.

    Fast forward a few years, I am housesitting for a friend. He had a Isuzu Rodeo SUV. He said, make sure you drive my truck a few times, so it will start up when I get back. So I go in the garage, and open the door. Uh oh, stick shift. Ugh, but I promised I would. So I put the key in, start it up and drive it around the block a few times to get used to driving manual again. Hey, more gears!

    And I liked it! A lot actually. It was a fun little truck. It was quick, but because you shifted it yourself (I imagine the AT version sucked, because it was a pretty small 4 banger engine). But with the stick shift, it became a fun little truck to drive. Wasn’t too bad on gas either, considering what it is.

    Worked out good too, because my mom’s car needed a new transmission, so I loaned her my car, and I drove that Rodeo.

    Gave my friend a standing offer, if you want to get rid of it, let me know. He never called, his son wanted it, and as far as i know he is still driving it.

    SInce then I have driven a few more cars with manuals. Even a Porsche 911. I just hated that crappy Renault and its oddball manual (it was a weird car overall), not manuals in general. If I ever manage to own a “fun” car it will be a manual. The plus of it means most of your friend and relatives will never even want to drive it, ha ha.

    • Yeah, the Alliance was a real piece of crap. (So much for the credibility of Motor Trend’s “Car of the Year” award.) They were even worse dogs with the 3-speed automatic transmission. The older AMC cars, while technologically obsolete even 30+ years ago, at least were reliable and easy to work on, and (with a few exceptions) most could at least get out of their own way.

      I learned to drive stick shift on a 1st-generation Corvair, which had only a 3-speed transmission. I don’t recall if 1st gear was synchro or not. At least that was a six-cylinder engine; certainly not a rocket but as I recall power was adequate. Automatics on those were not so hot, a clever transaxle version of the 2-speed Powerglide.

      I prefer the control of a stick-shift but infirmities of age have me driving with an automatic most of the time these days. I do still like to get into a car where I can row the gears every once in a while, as long as it’s not in heavy traffic. I would agree that if someone does not know how to drive a manual transmission they really don’t know how to drive.

      • I wrote about the Alliance (blechhh!) in my book, Automotive Atrocities. It richly deserved the turds tossed in its direction. It was a turd. A steaming, coiled, peanut-flecked and corn-festooned pile o’ shit. But damn, I often wish I could time-travel back to that era. Reviewing cars would have been much more fun!

        • Eric:

          I’m curious as to why you think that reviewing cars in the 80’s would have been more fun than today. I was a big fan of Car and Driver at the time and certainly look back at that era with a certain fondness (perhaps through the nostalgia of hindsight), but I would think that because cars are just so capable now it might be a bit more exciting (although perhaps they’re too homogeneous).

          Do tell.

          • Hi Mr. L –

            Because cars were still (often) crappy – and what could be more delicious, from a writer’s point-of-view, than describing automotive scheisse such as the Renault Fuego? Or perhaps a Plymouth Champ? The Aries K “Hemi”?

            It would have been a blast… .

          • Well, Eric, I lived through that era (as an adult) and there were definitely some crappy cars around! This was a time that was the last gasp at meeting the EPA thugs’ mandates with a carburetor, and build quality of the U.S. makes at least was quite low.

            Many cars had engines buried under miles of vacuum lines connecting crude power and efficiency robbing emission devices. Road tests back then frequently had “driveability” as one of the parameters as one could not even be assured the engine would run properly under commonly-experienced driving conditions without bucking, surging, or cutting out.

            A lot of this stuff did start getting sorted out towards the late 1980s as fuel injection became more common and overall quality improved.

            I guess these days it’s hard to find a new car that is truly craptastic, from what I gather even the most lowly could probably be described as “competent.”

          • @ Eric

            “The Aries K “Hemi”? ”

            Ha! My father charged me with getting a reliable used car from my grandmother on a very slim budget in the early 90’s.

            I thought I outdid myself by scoring a well maintained 87′ Honda Accord right on budget. My grandmother complained about that car incessantly for the next six months(I was living in Cleveland at the time and she was just outside of Detroit). I ended up having to drive all the way back(4 hours or so) to address some of her concerns. The big one was that the battery “would die” every time she took it out. I turned off the dome light/door function, problem solved. (first thing I noticed when I got to her place was the door wasn’t shut all the way)

            The second complaint I could never address: she said it was too low for her to easily get in and out of….lol

            Next time I returned a few months later she traded it in for a K car….what a POS compared to the Accord. You know what though?

            1. It never left her stranded
            2. It had quite a bit of interior space though the car itself was small and had bench row seating front & back with a much higher ride height so she didn’t have to “fall” into it to get in(and pull herself back out)….all things super important to my grandmother and she loved that ole POS.

            So as a car aficionado I learned young how POS’s like the K car can survive on the market even though they were substandard is so many ways that were unimportant to people like my grandmother.(gutless engine, handling, build quality, etc.)

            • Good stuff, Nick!

              And – you’re right about the K cars. They had their merits. 40 MPG (in the ’80s) and I dig the three-across bench, too!

        • Yep. Back then there was much less government and market imposed homogeneity.

          There were indeed some Dark Days back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. By the late 80s however, electronic fuel injection was beginning to show up. Made a world of difference. And some decent, interesting cars began to appear.

          Wish I had a mid 1980s Supra. Did have a 1989 Turbo Supra that was fun while it held together. But that model blew head gaskets at the drop of a hat.

  24. “All that comes to mind is Clarkson yelling “SHIFT” at the Aston Martin he is driving on an episode of “Top Gear”. See, the car wouldn’t do what he wanted, it wasn’t programmed to. Even with ‘manual mode’ these cars lock people out from driving the way they want to.”

    I didn’t see that program, but totally believe you. British automotive technology is pretty primitive. It wasn’t till about 20 years ago that they managed to figure out how to make their headlights stay on.

    The fact that Aston Martin can’t make a reliably shifting automatic does mean that Teutonic companies cannot.

    Just like variable shock and steering settings, the best automatics will be programmable for “performance,” or “economy ” modes, and several gradations in between.

    I’ve owned a CRX Si, and an Acura TL ( still do,) with MT, so I appreciate a great gearbox. But if automatics with better acceleration and economy had been available, that would have been my choice.

    As to this “attentiveness ” issue, there will always be two arguments. You say a MT forces a driver to pay more attention to what they are doing. I say that operating a MT is a distraction, that diminishes a driver’s ability to pay full attention to road conditions. Either way it’s a minor point.

    From now on, if an engine has adequate torque, the “driver” in me will always demand an automatic.

    • MikePizzo,

      It wasn’t till about 20 years ago that they managed to figure out how to make their headlights stay on.

      Your statement does not make sense to me. Is this statement supposed to be a type of joke?

      Using a MT was challenging at first. Once I became familiar with my MT, I did not find it distracting.

      • Hi Mith,

        Mike was making a joke that referenced the notoriously unreliable electrics in various Brit cars built back in the ’60s and ’70s.

        Here’s another weird Brit-related vehicular reference for ya: Tickle the Amals

        And no, it’s not sexual (though it could be frustrating!)

          • A lot of younger folks are not familiar with the clusterf*ck that was British Leyland, a company whose attitude was basically “You don’t seriously expect a car to start under those conditions!”

        • I can attest to that unreliablility: I bought a new MG 1100
          in 1965. Several months later I was stranded in the Blue Ridge Mountains with a dead electric fuel pump. I dumped it the following year and bought a 1966 Barracuda with Hurst 4-speed mt; one of the most enjoyable and reliable cars I owned.

  25. One of the key things I love about my Miata is the manual transmission. There’s nothing like being able to wind her out if I want to or just take off softly, then shift smoothly and quietly through the gears. Engine braking is a big thing too; especially when you want to scare the pee out of a recalcitrant tailgating clover. The first car I drove was a stick and I had to learn on gravel roads which present their own challenges. The first two cars I owned also had manual transmissions. The one and only reason I have an automatic in my Wrangler is if I go offroad and get in a jam, a manual transmission will tend to let you break things in the driveline a lot quicker due to that positive connection with the motor. A torque converter gives you “cushion” that a clutch doesn’t when you put things in a bind.
    A lot of other “wheelers” have proven this theory for me (see, I can learn from other peoples mistakes).

    I equate the proliferation of automatic transmissions on the highway to the proliferation of “sit-down” Personal Watercraft on the water. Initially the Kawasaki Jet-Ski and the Wetbike were all that were commonly available. Both require high order skills to master. The Jet-Ski especially, because even though you can ride it on your knees (or dragging behind on your belly), it will “porpoise” and you can’t reach it’s full performance potential like that. To wring everything out of it you have to stand up, which requires good balance and athletic ability. Riding a “real” (i.e. stand up) Jet-Ski all day (or even just an afternoon) will wear you out even if you’re in good shape; fat people and the non-athletic need not apply. But any pudgy video game addict can plop their porcine hiney down on a Waverunner, Seadoo or the like, push the button, point and shoot…right into the nearest boat, dock or sandbar; no skill required. Hence the increase in PWC collisions and the attendant regulations that followed, essentially stifling the original sport. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see some HFCS fattened bonehead texting while riding a sit-down PWC.

    I see texting and talking on the “sail fawn” regularly by drivers in town, even in heavy traffic, precisely because their cars are equipped with automatic transmissions. Having to shift gears really would make them put that infernal “sail fawn” down and actually drive; it’s virtually impossible to do both (at least without causing an accident). The same applies to motorcycles; even though there is plenty of evidence on the web that motorcycle cops text and ride. At least they do have to put the phone away when they pull up to a light or stop sign. The more “clover proof” cars become the less people will actually have to “drive.” So we probably will end up with driverless cars sooner than I’d like to imagine simply because most folks will acquiesce because it will be “safer” and of course easier. Why would anyone drive themselves to the grocery store when your car can do that for you, while you mindlessly post on FaceBook that you’re going the grocery store, for all your “friends” to see?

    I guess it’s only a matter of time before they have sofas that automatically stuff chips in their faces and toilets that wipe for their fat butts for them too. This whole thought train renews my resolve to buy a Kawasaki H2, strip it down and build it into the most vicious streetfighter ever seen. Then I can wheelie past all these Ritalin addled, sail fawn addicted, flouride dulled, fructose fattened lazy clovers in their politically correct “safety cars” and leave them in a cloud of blue smoke. Eric, I fear guys like us are headed the way of T. Rex.

    • Dear Boothe,

      “Hence the increase in PWC collisions and the attendant regulations that followed, essentially stifling the original sport. ”

      Yes. This is the real shame of it all.

      A big part of the problem is the existence of the “public sector” and the fact that it is charged with addressing the problems that arise from irresponsible behavior on the part of individuals.

      The next thing you know, clover is demanding more public sector powers to solve the problems it allowed to materialize in the first place.

      If, on the other hand, waterways, like roadways had been private to begin with, private sector solutions could have and would have nipped the problems in the bud.

      For example, one does not have a clover lane hog problem on race tracks. These privately owned and operated mini-road systems have privately agreed upon rules of the road. As a result, they are as safe as humanly possible.

  26. On the flip side however – I know several lady folks who just simply wanted to ride a scooter, but were required to get (or try to get) a full blown MC license – in reality they would be to scared and lacking in confidence to actually ever ride a “real” motorcyle (nor should they have). Seems like there should be “Scooter” Option.

    Personally I advocate that anyone getting a DL license should be required to not only learn (and pass) on a manual transmission, but should also be required to drive a large truck (32,000 lb or more) with a split axle through rush hour traffic in a downtown area and around someplace like the DC Beltway before they are ever allowed to actually be licensed.

    Once they have experienced and seen incompetent driving behavior from behind the wheel of a large truck that can’t stop so quickly – they might (MIGHT) put away their phones and lipstick and wake the F**K up!

  27. Sorry Eric, but you have never been so wrong.

    Modern F1 race cars use automatic transmissions exclusively. Do you think that is because those drivers are lazy, and too incompetent to use a clutch?

    No. They are the most talented drivers you can find. Totally dedicated to getting maximum performance out of their car. And to do that, they have found the automatic transmission to be superior. Oh, they still control gearshifts with paddles on the steering wheel. But no clutch.

    In fact, F1 designers have actually created an even more automatic transmission, that shifts for itself, offers launch control, and more. But these transmissions were outlawed by FISA because they are too expensive, and create an UNFAIR ADVANTAGE.

    As recently as 2005, most of the points in your post were valid. But in light of auto trans improvements, manual transmissions are becoming obsolete…an impediment to optimum driving performance. This includes high performance road cars too.

    Why do you think Porsche offers the 911 GT3 in automatic only? To make it a “lower performance” car that is “harder” to drive fast? I think not.

    You say that stick shifts make one a “better driver ?” Well I guess that is sort of true……in the same way that wearing heavy boots to basketball practice makes you a “better player.” But when it’s time for maximum performance, those clunkers go back into the locker.

    • Let me know when the garden variety transportation appliance operates like an F1 car and has said transmission programmed like that of an F1 car.

      Simply that will never happen. And should super car type ATs trickle down at some point their programming will be geared to the clovers. It won’t because it shifts faster and better than any human can to get a better driving experience, it will be to get another 0.2 mpg or less.

      A race car has an AT that is designed to do better than a person can. Or at the very least take the performance of the best driver ever and do it with the repeatability of a machine. This is not what will happen in a street application. It will enforce the ideals of insurance companies and Claybrookians. Oh you must not exceed 0.02g acceleration…. In the future I won’t need an MT car to out perform most drivers, just my bicycle.

      • Clover cars like Corollas and Sentras will always have slush boxes geared for Clover owners. But soon enough, BMWs, Mercedes, even V-8 Mustangs and Camaros will provide superior automatics for their most dedicated buyers.

        Modern automatics can offer better acceleration and economy…and are beginning to offer superior vehicle control, in vehicles where that increment of superiority is desired.

        Now if Eric wants to recast this as a “freedom of choice” issue I’m all aboard. Anyone who wants to buy a manual transmission should be able to do so.

        But clinging to obsolete technology as a solution for driver inattentiveness is backward, at best.

        • All that comes to mind is Clarkson yelling “SHIFT” at the Aston Martin he is driving on an episode of “Top Gear”. See, the car wouldn’t do what he wanted, it wasn’t programmed to. Even with ‘manual mode’ these cars lock people out from driving the way they want to.

          The programming will be for fuel economy and the insurance cartel and the government, not for the driving enthusiast. That’s what will kill the MT. Not because the computer can get a better 1/4 mile time. AT’s have been better than most enthusiast car drivers at that for decades. Not people who do it for living for the car magazines and such, but people like myself. The better 1/4 mile has never been enough to get me out of an MT and neither will be what it will offer in the future.

          As to driver attentiveness, the manual enforces or at least encourages that in street driving. Race driving has many things to enforce it. Street driving has been set up to build a better idiot in north america. To reduce the amount of attention required to get from a to b to almost nothing. There’s no paying attention to the apex of curve, or optimizing braking/acceleration. These people drive the same route every day and don’t even notice how the lights are timed relative to each other. There’s nothing to encourage them to do so. An MT would go a long way to that end.

        • Hi Mike,

          It’s true that the latest-gen automatics are more efficient (and in many cases, perform better) than manuals. That said, manuals are more involving – more fun.

          And as regards race drivers: Well, they’re race drivers. Their skills are orders of magnitude above those of average Joes.

          And – bet your bippie – they all know how to drive stick and learned how to drive in stick cars.

        • AT is fine if all you need is commuter transport in suburbia.

          Come live out in the sticks for a while and you notice some things;
          most people (long timers not new arrivals) have at least one truck (me 6, neighbour 9) and usually it’s four wheel, manual hubs and gearbox, 10+ years old and well used. Also they are generally the ‘user serviceable’ variety with few bells and whistles. The exceptions are the ‘horse’ people’ who all have AT duallies for towing, but most of them have a MT truck they use when not towing.

          The biggest advantage of the manual is control. No matter how good the computer (to date) they still cannot anticipate that hill which I can see a mile ahead, the patch of ice halfway up that will require lifting BEFORE I spin a wheel on it, nor that I need to be in 3rd not 5th for the decent on the other side to avoid over using my brakes..

          Unfortunately now, because every suburbanite wants a truck for the 2 hour pavement commute, all trucks have been wussified to suit the needs of the majority of buyers, flatland cruising soccer moms. AT, push button, luxo barges.

          Last I checked, the only full size truck available with manual bits was the heavy Dodge and only if you got the Cummins. Sad.

    • Mike, I think Magnussen and Button would probably debate F1 cars having no clutch with you since clutch issues took both McLarens out at Bahrain. I think all the F1 drivers would also like to know what the lower paddles and the (clutch) Bite Point button does on the wheel. F1 cars indeed have clutches though they’re only used (by the driver directly) at the start and when pitting. Listen to the radio during P1 and you’ll hear chatter about adjusting the clutch bite point; it’s typically one of the first things teams do in P1.

      That being said, unlike many technologies that do tend to favor the more well-funded teams, this sort of dual-clutch transaxle has not been outlawed in F1. Traction and stability control, sure. Active suspensions, yes. Many technological regulations in F1 are introduced for two reasons: cost containment and competition, the latter often being introduced to in efforts to create more passing opportunities, like grooved tires.

      An advantage isn’t “UNFAIR” in racing if it’s within regulation and is the result of inventive engineering and development. Is Mercedes decision to split the turbine and compressor in the turbo “unfair”? Variable valve timing is common on the cheapest economy cars now but at one point could have been considered and unfair advantage in its infancy in F1. “Unfair” is a very leftist term; I prefer “competitive”. In the early days of Audi’s TDI endurance (Le Mans) cars, the weak point was the transaxle. They couldn’t figure out how to resolve the issue so they engineered the transaxle to replaced very, very quickly, during the race. Is that unfair because it made the win possible that had eluded them?

      The closest F1 got to an “automatic” was pre-programmed downshifts for critical corners on the track.

      Personally, the differentiator for me between “slushbox” and manual is the presence of a torque converter. If it’s got one, it’s an auto, I don’t what you call it, TipTronic, Sportshift, or whatever. The PDK replacing a conventional manual in the GT3 doesn’t bother me. Neither do most of the dual-clutch transmissions or transaxles offered in many “sporty” cars. In many cases, it’s the best of both worlds, except for longevity and maintenance, but they’re getting better. Except for the enjoyment one might derive from the nuances of stirring the gears yourself, I’m perfectly OK with many of the dual-clutch offerings today and would take one in a heartbeat. As you can probably tell, I consider them to be automatically controlled manuals, as opposed to manually controlled automatics. (Back to the torque converter…)

      I don’t know that driving a stick will make a better driver but I think an argument can be made that it forces more engagement with the driving process. I think you need to anticipate traffic, turns, etc. more actively than with an automatic and, whether the driver realizes it or not, gains an layman’s understanding of power delivery, gear ratios and traction. On the flip side, shifting gears is one more thing to do while you’re trying to text, eat, find something on XM, etc.

      I do agree that some enthusiasts hang onto certain artifacts in the automotive world… Manuals being one of them. Visit sites like jalopnik and you’ll hear all the jalops cry out for RWD, diesel, manual, wagons. When one happens to become available, nobody actually buys it. Should we all be tooling around on bias ply tires? How about the dimmer switch on the floor? How about the old 4WD hubs you have to get out in the mud to engage? Conventional motor oil?

      I’m with you in accepting dual clutch boxes as a good thing but… sorry… had to correct the inaccurate representation of F1. Speaking of… Montreal is still a possibility. Might be doing an impromptu road-trip…

      • Good stuff, Late Apex –

        I will, however, quibble with you over one thing: The floor mounted dimmer switch. I find it much more ergonomic than the stalk-mounted type now ubiquitous. In part because most stalks are “multi-function” – with the result being one often turns on the windshield wipers when activating the high beams. No such problems with the floor-mounted dimmer.

      • ” How about the old 4WD hubs you have to get out in the mud to engage?”

        I like them. Things have improved recently but for many years trucks with a 4wd switch were notorious for not engaging 4wd when the button was pushed. My 1994 Chevy was the worst of the offenders in that it had a lever for 4wd on the T-case but the front axle engaged automatically (sometimes) when it got around to it. I never knew if it was really in 4wd. Plus many systems drag the front axle ( and some the front driveshaft) around while disengaged. No fuel consumption or part wear help there. Manual hubs free the axle entirely and are either engaged or not. Everything from the T-case to the hubs stays stationary.

        As for getting out in the mud to engage them? Well, if you get to a point where you need them and have not already engaged them, you likely were not paying enough attention to the conditions.

        • My ’98 Nissan has manual locking hubs – love ’em. Simple, effective. No problems to date – and the truck is not far from 20 years old.

  28. Couple of points. First, concur with the value of the manual transmission. Learned on a ’65 C10, with a 3 on the Tree. That was a real manual. Motorcycles keep the manaul transmission alive, although I suspect we’re going to see more CVT’s on bikes in the future. My kids both run dirt bikes, so they have to learn the nuance, and as my oldest starts driving this year, he’s learning on a manual. Albiet not a 3 on the Tree.

    The real issue with drivers now in my opinion is the number of distractions they have demanding their attention. Radios were one thing, but now we seem to feel like we have to be continuesly connected. How can I go five minutes without checking Mary’s facebook update? The onboard video, GPS, smartphones, all demand our attention, preventing us from focusing on what’s important, driving! As a motorcyclist I’m deathly afraid of anyone driving while talking on the phone. If you’re going to get cut off, or forced off the road, it’s almost always by someone on the phone.

  29. Unfortunately traffic today makes manual transmissions impractical for the most part. When I graduated college I treated myself to a Mercury Capri, an affordable sporty 4 speed manual. At that time my commute was mostly creep and crawl, including a couple of long hill climbs. After the second clutch replacement it was time to throw in the towel and go with the auto, though they’re a far sight better now than back then. Now that I’m retired I still might give in to my late life crisis and get a Mazda Miati if we ever move to someplace where it would be fun to drive again.

    • What makes today’s traffic? The AT. The creep, the battle for inches, etc all come about from the AT. There’s no effort penalty with the AT.

      A traffic jam in country where the MT dominates is much more pleasant for the MT driver.

      • Indeed. I would imagine that a hypothetical outlawing of AT and a mandatory return to manual transmission (my personal dream world) would eliminate at least 80 percent of the human speed bumps now possessing drivers licenses, thus eliminating most of the traffic congestion and leaving the road free for real drivers to use. It probably also goes without saying that the current accident rates would drop by at least three quarters of the current rate.

  30. To make matters worse, today’s driving environment, specifically creeping along in traffic almost everywhere, means sticks are Just Not Very Practical. Not fun, either. The same is true when it comes to air conditioning. To make a long story short, features which were once luxuries are now necessities.

    • This is very true. I’ve settled into the fact that I have to have a “daily grind” vehicle, and then an enthusiast vehicle that comes out when the timing is right(no kids, wife, little traffic, etc.).

      Well, that’s what works best for me anyway.

    • Bryce: I totally agree. Even many people in their 60’s learned to drive on automatics. My mother had a manual , was always riding the clutch and taking car to the shop. Got rid of it in a short time for an auto one. Anyone born back around 1920 had no choice but sticks if they wanted to drive. Few owned cars then. With traffic today shifting gears isn’t practical. Air cond., CD players, satellite radio, usb ports, butt/backside warmers come standard on package deals even on Nissan’s, Kia’s and Hyundai’s. It isn’t cost effective to make manuals (little demand) and will be phased out completely, (like the wringer washing machine or VHS player) , if not already.

  31. For the curious – the Pakleds were a race that the Enterprise encountered that were criminally stupid (as in: not above a little kidnapping to get their ship repaired by someone smart). Their best quote was “It is broken, can you make it go?”

    Look for the episode “Samaritan Snare”

  32. Not to mention that you simply have less control over an automatic vehicle. From a stop there is a significant lag in throttle response and if you are in the process of accelerating and need to make an emergency stop you have to lift your foot off the accelerator first and then depress the brake. With a clutched manual, you can immediately cease acceleration by depressing the clutch with your left foot which terminates your acceleration as you are moving your right foot to the brake.

    There are many other diving benefits as well such as engine breaking and being able to select the most appropriate gear for your current driving conditions. I also mastered heal-toe shifting and incorporated it in my daily driving. This technique provides maximum control over the vehicle and makes driving particularly rewarding as it causes wonderful mechanical harmony.

    I learned to drive with a manual and would not ever consider buying an automatic during the first 15 years of driving. However, I started buying more luxury related sedans which are almost exclusively automatic. I really miss the sense of control and will likely replace it with a nice manual GTI soon.

      • “It breaks my heart that the top-performing Porsche – the 911 GT3 – is now automatic-only.”

        Truth be told, I’m not surprised.

        When I lived in LA, most Porsche owners of my acquaintance were not dyed in the wool car enthusiasts. For them it wasn’t about the vehicle’s mechanical merits.

        They were like Arnie Becker, the Corbin Bernsen character in “LA Law.” Sure, they owned Porsches or Bimmers. But their ownership was never about genuine appreciation for the technology.

        It was all about the brand. Owning a Porsche or a Bimmer was no different that wearing a Pierre Cardin suit or carrying a Louis Vuitton briefcase.


        Some real motorhead coworkers who drove Detroit iron, who rebuilt their own engines, quizzed some of these Porsche and Bimmer owners on the engine and chassis specs.

        Never mind engine displacements and horsepower ratings. Some of them didn’t even know how many cylinders their engines had! Or what type of suspension systems their vehicles had. Double wishbones. McPherson struts. No clue whatsover.

        Porsche and BMW engineers may have had a certain type of customer in mind. But the actual customers turned out to be Yuppie mechanical illiterates who saw their cars merely as status symbols.

        No wonder the top of the line Porsche now only comes with an AT.

        Ferrari and Lamborghini are if anything even worse off. Nouveau riches types buy them and crash them driving off the lot.

        • Hi Bevin,


          Now – for the sake of Mike, et al – I know that the PDK automated manual in the 911 gives quicker (and consistently quicker) acceleration, that it can mimic exactly the perfect shift timing of elite race car drivers and so enhances the performance of the car.

          It still takes a great deal away from the fun of driving car.

          I mean, taken to its logical conclusion, why not just make it so you get in and push the button – and then do nothing more? Dial up (or just tell the car): Zero to 60, maximum performance! Or: Fastest lap time! The car then does the deed for you while you sit back and watch.

          Like a roller coaster ride.

          Yeah, it’s fast. But you have nothing to do with it. You are a passive spectator. Something important has been lost.

          • Dear Eric,

            “Yeah, it’s fast. But you have nothing to do with it. You are a passive spectator. Something important has been lost.”


            A tennis ball machine can presumably make perfect serves every time.

            So instead of spending years practicing and perfecting one’s serve, including paying expensive tennis pros for lessons, why not just sit back in a chair at courtside and watch as the tennis ball machine smashes one perfect serve after another into the opposite court?

            The whole point is to participate. Driving is a sport. As the Brits call it, “motorsport.” Learning to do it the hard way is the point.

          • I disagree slightly about having fun in a PDK Porsche Eric.

            First of all, I learned how to drive “stick” at 17 when I got my first car way back in the mid 80’s. I like shifting and I have had a few cars with manuals in them. Shifting is second nature to me and comes very easily. I could do it in my sleep.

            I own a 2014 Porsche Cayman S that has PDK with paddle shifters. I drive the car 98% of time in manual using either the paddles or the shifter to change gears MANUALLY myself. I still have a lot of fun shifting with this car. The rev matching on downshifts and the sound it makes via the sport exhaust is awesome. Yes my left leg has nothing to do anymore but the car is still a lot of fun. Thank god I have a built in laser jammer and radar detector to keep the tax collecting thugs at bay.

            • Hear you, Jack!

              I just spent a week in a Cayman S (review’s on the main page). Mine was a six-speed, but – either way – that car is glorious.

  33. Eric,

    Good article.

    I think it makes a fair point.

    Although I think the bigger issue is the lack of attention paid to one’s driving. (As you correctly note, Automatics are not necessarily evil, but they do make it easier to focus on other things besides one’s driving.)

    Not be legislation. (near the bottom of article by picture of steering wheel)
    Do you mean:: Not by legislation.

      • If you want to know about typos, you should have had “rite of passage”.

        Back on topic, what do you think of the system some European cars had, in which there was a manual transmission but the clutch operated automatically in response to moving the gear lever? Or the system that seemed obvious to me but as far as I know was never tried, having a torque converter combined with a pedal operated system to select a high/low/reverse gear range much as in a Ford model T? (The clutch on that was operated by partly engaging the parking brake!)

        • Hi PM,

          Yup. As O.J. says, “it happens!”

          Wasn’t the semi-automatic VW used in the old Beetle like that?

          In any case, my argument is that learning to drive in a car with a manual (with a clutch) makes one a better driver regardless of what one drives later.


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