Hagerty.com

Will stick shifts become extinct? Not on our watch

Real cars
don’t shift
themselves

I have been fortunate enough to use manual transmissions my entire driving life starting at 9 years old in a 1969 Ford Cortina on a back road. Always at least 1 manual transmission in the household. 1st day in drivers ed had us in a 4 speed Corolla. I was the most prepared so I got the most road time.

My son became proficient in a Miata at age 8 with a few trips to a local parking lot.He moved my semi truck in a field a few times at age 10. At age 15 with his learners permit, our dear friend with a 427 powered 1961 Galaxie gave him a crack at it. When he got home, we asked him if he had fun, His response was “You accelerate until you see God, then you shift !”. My son has a six speed in his Scion.

I believe a manual transmission makes for a better driver, more in tune with the driving experience, more concentration in what is happening around you. Fewer hands for cell phones, coffee mugs and newspapers when driving with 3 pedals and 2 hands.

Modern automatic transmissions may have become more efficient, reliable and easy to use. but I get a smile from seamless shift or perfect 2-1 downshift without using a clutch in a rolling 3 speed without a syncro 1st gear. The biggest smile comes from a passenger that doesn’t realize they’re riding in a car with a manual transmission.

I was tasked to teach a grand niece to drive a standard after her mother and father had spent weeks of frustration trying to teach her the sequence. I volunteered to do it in a single afternoon. I got the typical eye roll but I had a trick up my sleeve. I was going to teach her how to shift a 3 speed on the column with a '49 Dodge Coronet. The Coronet had a “Fluid Drive” clutch. You could put the car in gear with the clutch, hold the brake and let the clutch out and the car would not shudder and die. The fluid drive set between the engine and the clutch and would allow the engine to run because there was no mechanical connection between the powerplant and the drive. The secret was the niece after having success with me was more confident and more successful when she got behind the wheel with a traditional manual transmission.

You seem to be a hater of manual transmissions. That’s OK. But you don’t know that manual transmissions have very good reasons for being. Trucking for one. But for us car driver’s, it matters to some people that manual transmissions are more economical when buying a car, and in MPG’s. I know that stats show automatics being equal to or slightly better in MPG’s over several years now but the fact is that well practiced manual driver’s can best the automatics MPG’s. The strongest reason for having a manual is that they last longer. Some of the things I don’t think you know are, that automatic transmissions are currently at an all time low for longevity, and these modern automatics cost a lot of money to rebuild, easily upward of $3500. And that some of the new automatics literally can not be rebuilt for various reasons requiring factory elements. That means having to buy a brand new replacement at $5000 and up. I’m not an automatic hater. I’m marveled by the six-speed automatic in my KIA Soul, its incredible operation on the roadway, the complexity and ability to vary itself in a number of ways once unheard of, the ability to get remarkable power out of a tiny 1.6 L engine, and also to have won an industry award for the most compact six-speed transmission ever. Going back now, the best reason to have a manual transmission is the joy many of us have in driving them. I have the feeling you’re not able to partake in that.
Your references to “old school nostalgia” and your grouping of people into a category of “tiller steering, the Model T” and etcetera states you believe these people to be psychological deficient. I have never read a Haggerty Question article or people’s responses to them when at some point the past hasn’t been referenced. The past is the basis of Haggerty and the love so many have for vintage vehicles. It is not a retardation. You’re a rude boy. Understand this and bear it in mind. Thousands of older men come to this site and others for vintage cars. They are men now alone in the world because they have lost a beloved spouse of many years. Their children live far away or often they are too busy to give their Dad much attention. And a vintage car is the only thing that keeps them going. Whether having memories of the past or going to a Cars and Coffee meeting. The same with working on them, and for these men too poor to own one they have dreams that they will one day. But they all come to these sites to read about them and what we have to say. It keeps these men going. Be kind about what you say.

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In the 1970s my three kids were taught to use a clutch in the family 1973 Toyota Corolla at about age nine or ten.

When the first grandkids came along we had a 1936 Chevrolet “low Cab” pickup, a restored former farm truck from Paso Robles, CA. All the kids learned between nine and thirteen.

As our oldest granddaughter went with me for a driving lesson in 1994 at age eleven, my wife was concerned the truck could be hurt by such abuse. I assured her most farm trucks have been through much worse than a pre-teen kid would inflict on them.

The first and second grandkids - sisters Jennifer and Jessica, both did well and have since spent years driving manual shift vehicles.

Frances Arlene and brother Larry were next through Papa’s Driving School. Of course, none of this was really about driving, just about how to use a clutch.

The last two grandkids, Megan and Karlie participated in 2009 at ages nine and ten, this time in our 1953 Chevy pickup.

Lizzie, our oldest great-grand learned to use a clutch in our ‘53 pickup in 2019 at age thirteen.

Most of these kids had never been in a non-automatic car and all were proficient in about 15 minutes.

CLUTCH TRAINING IS SIMPLE

  1. With only you and an eager student in the vehicle explain and demonstrate what the clutch pedal and shift lever do. Show how the clutch pedal moving up begins to engage and finishes engaging within a very short (magic) distance.

Once the clutch pedal is out and the vehicle is moving, put the clutch back in and brake to a stop. This entire exercise might take a minute. Subsequent ones are much quicker.

  1. Switch seats.

  2. Let the student do the same exercise. No throttle, no shifting, no steering.

  3. Repeat several times, until it is easy.

  4. Only then introduce shifting.

  5. At about the 15-minute point your student will mention their left leg being sore and a readiness to end the lesson.

  6. Get a picture of the student in the vehicle. They will want to post it on social media and show their non-stick shift friends.

In 1952 at age eight the car guy bug bit me. After weeks of pestering, Dad finally let me drive his 1948 Pontiac 4-door sedan with “standard" shift. We stopped at the 300 acre parking lot at Santa Anita race track and he asked if I really knew how to drive. I assured him that I had observed for years and was sure I knew how. He went to the passenger side. I slid behind the wheel with a wedge-shaped cushion to help me reach the pedals. He offered no instruction.

With a nudge of the floor-mounted starter, the big flathead straight eight started immediately. I pushed in the clutch pedal, eased the column mounted shift lever into low gear, let out the clutch and we leaped two-feet, ending with a rough stop and dead engine. There was no comment from Dad, so I restarted the engine and tried again with the same result. It seemed there was a secret to clutch operation not easily learned by watching. After several rough starts I learned to apply throttle and get moving with smaller jerks. He never said a word.

This experience led me to spend 15 minutes with each kid, grandkid and great-grandkid showing them how to use a clutch so they won’t have the same problem.

I taught my son and two daughters, first in my forgiving 1990 Nissan Maxima (“4 Door Sports Car”) and then my 1967 Jeep when they were ready for more of a challenge. My boy couldn’t be really a driver until he could drive a clutch and my wife and I didn’t want our daughters to ever be stranded somewhere just because they couldn’t drive one. Turns out most of the boys their age couldn’t drive a manual !
Currently, three of my four cars are manual; the only A/T is my first car, a 1957 Olds 88.

Eventually the old manual transmissions will only be on collectible cars. Just like carburetors manual transmission are destined for the junk heap of automotive engineering. At one time auto trans was an expensive luxury option and was though out of most of my life. Fuel injection was at one time an expensive option along with power windows etc. Now EVs will have no shiftable transmission except throwing the motors into reverse. Electric vehicles are not only the future but more than likely the immediate future. It won’t belong before EVs dominate the roads and gasoline operated vehicles will go the way of the high buttoned shoe. In fact one may need a special permit to drive one especially here in California.

Yes there will always be collectors of old cars just as they are now. In the not so distant future young people will be fascinated as to how those old fuel combustible engines work. Just think a 2020 gasoline powered Mustang or Camero will something only seen at old car shows and old car auctions. Things are changing at an ever faster rate everyday. So if you have an old manual drive rig hang on to it to show to your grandchildren and great grandchildren. They will be impressed even if they are not old car hobbyists. Only the daring will attempt to drive them. Talking about learning how to shift with a stick? This upcoming new generation will not even have to learn to drive period. It’s the near future and no one can stop. However we can all reminisce. That’s all one can do in a fast moving society of change.

In response to dkcfinancial, you can push-start an automatic, IF it was made before 1960! Most of those old slush boxes had a rear pump, and if the battery died but the generator still worked, you could get a friend to push you fast enough to spin the driveshaft which turned the pump which spun the torus (early term for torque converter) which then turned the engine which rotated the generator to supply the coil with enough voltage to fire the plugs! My second car was a 1959 Chevy Brookwood wagon and it taught me to be a better motorist because if I neglected to check the water in the battery on a regular basis, it would be dead on a regular basis.

When my knees say “NO MORE”, I’ll find a doc who will give me NEW KNEES!

I’ll never stop driving stick. I have more automatics than sticks but that’s because the guy who ordered the car new , ordered a Powerglide. Be that as it may, my 1959 Bel Air still has it’s original 3 on the tree. Someday I hope to install an original 3 speed Overdrive Transmission. All the perks of a 4 speed but still have a place for the cup holder.

I had to wait an additional 3 months for my new Mazda 3s Grand Touring to be built in Hiroshima because I wanted the manual 6sp. When I take it to some car washes, the kid gets in the car to move it and can’t, so the boss has to come over and move it. Then the boss points to me and teases his employee about “that girl” who can do it! My Corvette and all the other cars I’ve owned have been manuals. Save the Manuals!

I consider my standard transmission as part of the theft deterrence system. None of the thieves today know how to shift gears - It isn’t taught in prison. They just move on to a paddle-shifter with no left pedal.

Learned with a stick on the steering column, aka - Christmas Tree.

I learnt to drive (on private farm roads) in a 1934 Austin 7 Ruby when I was 7 years old. It had a three speed floor shift, and Reverse was directly opposite Third in the gate, with little or no detent between them. Years later, when my older brother owned the car, he wrecked the gearbox by trying to change up from Third into Fourth, which was, of course, Reverse. The car juddered to a halt with the engine stalled, and a huge pool of oil and broken bits of gearbox on the road underneath. I have taught my wife and both of my daughters to drive in stick shift cars, and now drive both an automatic Range Rover Classic at the weekends and a five speed floor shift Seat Ibiza saloon as my daily driver.

I had a 1959 Chevrolet Brookwood 6 cylinder, three on the tree. I upgraded it by installing a 283 V8 with a two speed Powerglide transmission, still operated from the tree. All this whilst a Ford Student Apprentice at University. Wish I still had that Gull-Wing, it would be worth a fortune by now, but it was stolen and totalled, for which I received the princely insurance payout of £150.

I learned to drive a 1966 Corvair with a 110 HP engine and a 4 speed in 1973. A little bit of a difficult car to get rolling, quite a bit of technique required to zip around briskly in the mountains. I still have the 1965 Corsa with the 140 HP engine and 4 speed I bought to replace it in 1978.

I’ve continuously had a stick as my driver. My current car is a 2015 VW Passat diesel with a 6 speed. That’s interesting because of the diesel power band but I can get 50 MPG on the highway. I’ve taught 3 kids, one grandson and soon a grand daughter how to drive a stick. My wife’s first car was also a stick. Her dad was a truck driver. I did replace a couple of clutches after the younguns learned how to drive a stick.

Now, my technique to teach them how to get rolling is to go to a parking lot and get the car rolling without touching the gas to get the feel of the clutch. This after my son nearly did permanent damage to my spine and trashed clutch #1.

I think having a clutch keeps you in better touch with what the car is doing and overall makes you a better driver. Yes, traffic is a bad place for a clutch but you can get through it. I plan to drive my Corvair to San Diego next year so I’m practicing in LA area traffic now. That’s the reliably worst traffic I’ve seen.

My left knee and right shoulder still work OK, and I intend to keep driving theft resistant sticks for the foreseeable future, making my small contribution to keeping them around.

My “alternative” vehicle is not electric powered. It’s just an alternative to my other cars that have automatic transmissions. My 1979 Corvette is my only car with a stick. Ordered the car new with a 4 speed, then in 1987 installed a Doug Nash 5 speed and a matching Hurst shifter. Best mod I ever did to that car.

3, 4, or 5 speeds are easy but a good start. Master a 9, 10, 13 ( my favourite) or 18 speed and you own the world. How about a 2 stick with main and auxiliary transmissions, shifting both at the same time? Driving has become less complicated and somewhat boring with an automatic.

Where did you find a C8 with a manual transmission? Now such beast! Dual clutch automatic only