Driving a Stick Shift Car

Sent from my iPad In a recent trip to Europe I rented a five-speed manual shift Citroen C3. Beyond the sheer gutlessness of its 1200cc engine, driving the Citroen surprisingly reconnected me with my original sense of what it means and feels to drive a car. I am 73 and learned to drive in 1961 on my Dad’s 1950 Ford, with its spunky V-8 engine and, of course, its “three on the tree” transmission. I loved that car and the feeling of control and power it gave me, as a young, immature teenager, over my life. My Dad moved on to automatic transmissions after that, owning a 1957 Plymouth Belvedere (which he gave me when I was in college), a wonderful 1966 Chevy Monte Carlo (which was sadly stolen), and his last car, a 1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme (which I lovingly restored after his death in 1985, and continue to drive today).

When I was a young married man without any children I returned to my stick-shift roots, purchasing first a 1966 MG Sedan and then a 1970 BMW 2002. I used to drive my Bimmer, which was still largely unknown at the time, very hard, often racing Porches and other sports cars along Sunset Blvd. in L.A. That was the last stick shift car I owned or really drove for any period of time (I now own a 2014 Mazda CX-5 SUV, which gives me some joy to drive), until this recent rental of the Citroen C3.

We have been in Mallorca, a beautiful, large island off the Mediterranean coast of Spain, driving its mountainous and well-maintained roads (New York, my home state, could take a lesson here). While the Citroen often lugged up the steep hills my constant attention to the gears, rather than being a chore, directly connected me to the car, to the performance of its engine, and to the process of driving, things that are too easily taken for granted while driving an automatic transmission. In some interesting ways, driving a stick on this trip has made me a more careful and thoughtful driver. I can certainly understand why manual transmissions are a pain in city traffic, but for open road driving a manual tranny can be a joy, a way to reconnect to what attracted us to driving in the first place.

Steve Brier
from Mallorca, Spain