When I first came of age, and was pondering what kind of car I would ultimately own and drive. So many parameters flashed through my mind – brand, colour, tyre size, audio system, etc., but if there was one parameter that was already set in stone, it was that the car had to be an old school manual transmission, a stick shift. It was also during this time when automatic gearboxes started to make its presence felt, gaining commercial success, and was ultimately starting to flood in the new cars being launched… Yes, that’s the good old late 1980’s to the early 1990’s.
This article is part of the Going Old School series. If you landed here out of nowhere, then click here to go to the beginning. Otherwise, please continue reading.
This was also the time when automatic transmissions was only available in the higher-end variations of any given models. So when people see you shoving your hand into and out of the individual cogs when driving, the first thought that came in mind was “Poor thing, he couldn’t afford to buy himself an automatic car!”
But to me, there is a joy of being in control of the drive, being in control of a high-powered, beastly machine, called “car”. I never really liked to surrender my control of which ratio to use for what driving condition, to a little piece of silicon-chip. When enquired the reason of my preference, I could always whip up a long string of technical excuses on why I prefer a good old manual stick shift over an auto one, like how the average fuel consumption was higher for AT’s, slower acceleration when you need it (like when overtaking on a highway), and a whole lot more.
Of course, technology has since overcome the differences (if there was any to begin with), and many manufacturers have even dropped the manual gear option completely for newly launched models, as they don’t see a market big enough to support the sales.
And if there ever was a gear-head (like myself) who insist on having “control” on which cog to engage during any given phase of the drive, the manufacturers would come out with offerings like manually-selected ratio via a different “mode” to tell the little piece of silicon-chip which cog the organic lump of muscles and bones thinks is most efficient for that particular phase. Of course, the little piece of silicon-chip would oblige (within “safe” zones, as determined by the myriad of sensors built into the car).
Try telling the car, “Downshift to second-gear”, and the mechanical voice replies “No, it will exceed the safe operating RPM range of the engine. We shall stick to the current third-gear”. It’s like, “What the heck?!… Am I giving up the control of my car to that little piece of silicon-chip?”
Then there are also those technophiles that tries to sell you the idea that modern auto “boxes” are superior to the good-old, hand-cranked shifters. They’d tell you that the CVT (Continuous Variable Transmission), with its infinite gear ratios are even more fuel efficient, and should you ever want to have a mechanical gear-to-gear physical linkage, there’s always the DCT (Dual Clutch Transmission – essentially two mechanical gear boxes working in tandem via computer controlled automatic shifting), which boast of ever faster shifting times.
Sigh!… When will they ever learn that speed is not everything. I’m not always trying to drag-race at every opportunity. I often disengage the gear, leaving the engine on idle, while I approach a turn, engaging a suitable gear only as I enter the turn, to slowly accelerate away from it. See?… I don’t need a 7.5 millisecond upshift and 9.8 millisecond downshift. It is quite the opposite. I prefer to slowly disengage and then reengage the gears over several seconds. Sometimes when situation and safety permits, I’ll even coast down the road with the gear disengaged completely…
But there’s always a silver lining on every cloud. Manual transmission isn’t dead, it’s just not as widely available as I’d like it to be. There still are new models being launched that are only available in manual gears. Unfortunately these tend to be super-expensive, high-performance sport-cars…
In the mean time, those gear-heads like me, would probably stick a sticker (like the one on the left) on their rear bumpers, with words, with words that say “Real Men Drive With Three Pedals”
All things being said and done, there’s nothing wrong with wanting an effortless drive with an automatic transmission car. But driving one is about as exciting as driving an electrical kitchen appliance. The only thing you can control is whether you want to throw the switch to the “On” or “Off” position, and the appliance will do whatever it is that it was designed to do.
To me, driving is an extension of oneself. You get into the driver seat like wearing a glove. You feel the wind in your hair as you drive. You feel the road, pot-holes and all.
I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t want my drives to be as exciting as dropping sliced bread into a toaster, and waiting for it to pop out when it’s done… No… That’s too drastic a comparison. Well, I suppose it’s as exciting as driving a bumper-car on the actual roads.