Let’s talk about manuals


Heres the thing,

A whole lot of people, including our own Shawn Sampson, have talked about manual transmissions, and their slow demise into an old relic of cars, like manual brakes and manual steering, having to wait for your fuel pump to pressurize before starting up the car.  Letting your carb warm up a bit before driving off, and it’s all because of technological innovations.

Photo credit vintagemx.net

First, some background, my first legitimate experience with a clutch, was when my dad went and got me an older 250cc dirtbike. I was 14 at the time, he taught me how to work it. It was a pain because it was difficult for me, but I was able to transfer the knowledge of how it works directly to a car, so in that case it was a bit easier for me. The first time I drove a car with a manual transmission, it was my friends 1988 Chevy Camaro. And surprisingly, I didn’t do half bad, but it was still a bit scary, it was a V8 equipped car, and it was my first time in a car equipped with a manual.

So when my dad got me my first car he wanted to make sure that it was a stick, so he got me my Honda, and for a while that is exactly what I drove, and I got used to it, I learned to love it. Learned that there is so much more control for me with a car when I’m rowing my own. The next car I drove regularly was my wife’s 1998 Chevy Cavalier. Honestly it had about the same horsepower and take off as my Honda, but the thing was just so, boring. Every day I drove it, it was just about A to B, and that was it. I never got excited about driving when we owned only that.

Once I finally picked up my 944, I fell in love again with rowing my own, and this time it was in a sports car that was designed to drive like how I wanted to drive. And to be honest it was everything that I imagined, the control, the feel, the drive, all of it. That’s when I really decided that the only cars I really want to drive are ones with manual transmissions equipped. Easier said than done today. Even though cars equipped with manual transmissions is on the rise, it’s still very low, as of 2012 only 6.5% of new cars were manuals. As the link above says, the manual may not be dying as everyone previously thought. Because for as long as people buy them, and it’s a profitable endeavor, auto manufacturers will still make them.

But the question is still, why is that number so low, when in the past it was so high? Well, a contributing factor may be that according to car and driver, as of 2008 only 30% of 16 year old’s are getting licenses (What?!!!). And most people don’t want more control over a car, they just want to get from point A to point B, and that isn’t a bad thing either. My wife drives a Chrysler 300, and all those cars are automatics. She isn’t into cars like I am, and doesn’t even want to learn how to drive a manual, because for some people, a car represents exactly what it is to them, a tool, to ferry them to and fro.

Driving a manual is becoming more and more an enthusiast thing, because as time goes on, it will become cheaper to manufacture automatic transmissions, and you can cram more gears in an automatic, like Chrysler’s new 9 speed transmission. So not only do they have the benefit of allowing you to simply cruise, they are now surpassing manuals in gas mileage as well, which as prices go up, will become more and more important.

Honestly, in my opinion, what it really comes down to is the fact that automatics are more plentiful and in better shape, so when it comes to teenagers getting their first car, more likely then not, it’s going to be an automatic. Older manuals tend to either be owned by people who don’t care about the car, or enthusiasts, with exceptions of course. Which means that in both of those cases, they usually get beat up on a lot, and become less desirable for people who just want a car, and since automatics are seen by us enthusiasts as boring cars not worth our attention, we tend to leave them alone, and they end up in the hands of regular commuters. It seems to be an endless cycle, we only seek out the manuals for the most part, while regular people seek out whatever will fit their needs.


Photo by Porsche

And then you have the extreme end of one spectrum, racing. When it comes to racing, it is all about time, and let’s be honest, automatic transmissions gear faster then we do. That’s why Porsche put a new type of dual clutch transmission in the 911 GT3, the PDK. More and more it seems, the only place those red headed step children known as the manual transmission go to, is the enthusiasts, the nostalgic folks that want something from yesteryear. But as with all things, the manual most likely will eventually die out, but for the time being, it seems to be becoming almost exclusively an enthusiast piece of equipment, someone who chooses it because they want it. It doesn’t get the most gas mileage anymore, and cars today are so technologically advanced that the power loss is becoming less and less, but it’s still just so fun to drive a manual.

Car and Driver have a grassroots campaign to try and save the manual, and while it’s great, I believe it misses the point. When we try to force people to drive manual, and chastise them when they do not, then we miss the whole point of what it is to drive one. It’s about the freedom, the control, the passion. And it has to be willingly, if someone wants to drive a manual, that’s great, we can hit the mountain roads together, but if not? Well, more for me, and that person will never know the enjoyment of downshifting in a tunnel.

And that, that’s my take on the pending apocalypse of manual transmissions.