A Dying Passion

I read recently that only 41 of 327 new car models offer a manual transmission. That’s roughly 13%, down from 37% ten-years-ago, and way down from when I was a kid when stick shifts were standard. Even the new Corvette, the C8, is available as an automatic only because buyers weren’t ordering a manual transmission. Wasn’t worth the production cost. To those of us who have a car with a manual transmission, this news is depressing, but such is the world. Technology and convenience --think of the computer in your hand that replaced the corded behemoth we once clung to as teenagers– waits for no one. New cars, as they become more and more automated, are more and more moving entertainment centers and posh living rooms rather than simple modes of transportation.

As Sinatra would sing, That’s Life.

I have a 2009 Honda Civic Si, a hepped up sedan, that is basically a more dignified go-cart. It’s quick, agile, nice and low; the better not to flip on a tight curve, and it comes with a 6-speed manual transmission. It wasn’t terribly expensive as say a new Corvette, which my wife shot down as an inappropriate use of our limited funds. (My latest desire is for a used road grader, which my wife is also not enthusiastic about, but that’s a tale for another time…)

It’s a hoot to drive. It’s one of those cars that was made for winding mountain roads, assuming winding mountains roads don’t put the fear of God in you. If you don’t fear God, mostly, then the best way down the mountain is with a manual. It’s like being in control of your destiny; like being Steve McQueen– the actor and racer, not the film maker. Watch the car chase in Bullet.

A manual requires that you pay attention to more than just how fast to go and when to start and stop. For enthusiasts, it’s knowing when to upshift and downshift; where the most efficient RPM for moving from one gear to the other is; how best to power through a curve, stuff the average driver has no interest in.

There’s also those moments, I must admit, like stops on steep hills, that produce a cold sweat in those who aren’t acolytes in the church of the stick shift. Nothing makes for more fun that being “that guy” who continually stalls out as he frantically tries to restart the car and get moving before the light changes. That used to be a rite of passage for young drivers, but we’re less sadistic these days.

Oh, well.

Perhaps it’s for the best. Driving is hardly the joyfest it used to be, and I’m willing to own up that that might simply be a product of my growing more grumpified over time. Add the increasing automation of what cars do for us; keep us in our lanes, parallel park, turn on and off the lights, and, if some have their way, self-driving so we can fully keep our noses pressed to the phones we can’t live without. No doubt this is to the benefit of those of us concerned that our fellow drivers aren’t as attentive to the road as they should be. As for cars with stick shifts, enthusiasts can always go the hobbyist route and build their own.

Me, I’ll keep puttering around in mine… till I get that road grader. (Wink, wink; nudge, nudge.)

©2021 David William Pearce

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