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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Switching gears--literally: Save the Six-Speeds

So, I started riding motorcycle when I was 8 years old. Changing gears--the act of operating a clutch and a shifter mechanism was second nature to me by 9 years old. Hopping in the car with my dad, three pedals on the floor of the car and a shifter between the seats made sense to me.  I think I was about 13 years old when my dad taught me how to drive a stick, just so I could pull the cars in and out of the driveway for him. Driving a car meant shifting gears. Now granted back then a manual transmission meant better gas mileage and a lower cost car, but admittedly, today's automatic transmissions are more efficient and shift quicker than a manual transmission. Still, a manual says you are driving.


Now, remember I am just old enough to have been around when cars did not have cup holders, power steering, air conditioning and automatic transmissions were an option and when you rolled up the windows, you really did roll them up with a handle that inevitably you broke at some point in the ownership of your car. So what? Quite a bit really.

When you learned how to drive in a 4000 pound behemoth with no power steering, you fully understood the importance of getting your parallel parking done in one back up. Combine this steering struggle with having a 3-speed on the column (if you don't know, don't even ask) or a 4 speed on the floor (no six-speeds back then) and you have a recipe for full attention on the car and the road. And this friends, is what is missing from cars today.


People learn to drive in cars that park for them, have power steering, brakes, windows, cruise control, 8-12 speaker stereos and a voice system that reads their Facebook to them. The only connection they have to driving their car is when they reach down to turn the seat massager on. Yes, they are luxurious, comfortable and incredibly safe compared to cars of yore. But, I still maintain everyone should learn to drive in a prehistoric beast to get the understanding and connection to driving.

Then, when you go buy a car, chase down one that still comes in a six-speed. Drive for the experience of coming into a corner, downshifting to just the right gear to power through, click an upshift at redline as you head into the straight and for just a few seconds, feel like Mario Andretti in a race car. In my Challenger R/T, there are days when, for no reason whatsoever, I just bang the 1-2 shift to hear the rear wheels chirp and listen to the engine pull. Its a glorious symphony of internal combustion, exhaust sound and tire shriek. Just as nice doing in from 2nd into 3rd, but that might involve breaking some speed laws, so lets just say I imagine that its fun.

Yes, in California, New York, Boston or Chicago traffic a manual will suck--big time. But for those miles of no traffic and having control of your car, the manual transmission is a thing of beauty. Try it, you'll like it, or at least connect with your car and you can help save the six-speeds.