Joy of The Stick
The percentage of cars sold with a manual transmission -- a stick shift -- now stands at about 7%, according to a story in The Wall Street Journal. That's down from 35% in 1980.
I learned to drive on a car with an automatic transmission, but my high school buddy had a beat up 1950 Ford someone had given him, and I learned to drive "stick" on that car.
When I was dating my wife, she had just bought a used car -- an old Saab -- with a manual transmission. I taught her how to drive it, but even after she learned she still did whatever she could to avoid hills with a light or a stop sign at the top.
For me, getting started in first gear on a hill was an exciting challenge. On a trip to San Francisco many years ago, I asked for a rental car with a stick. It was a great way to add an element of excitement (or danger) to the normal thrill of driving up and down that city's crazy hills.
The last stick I had was a little Fiat 850 Spider convertible. It was a terribly designed and engineered car, but it was great fun to drive. The stick gave me a feeling of real control over the engine -- a feeling of oneness with the car. You could feel the engine revving, ready -- asking -- to be put into the next gear. And you feel the reverse thrust, as you slowed the car down for a curve or a stop by down-shifting.
A benefit of a stick shift in today's cars is safety. If you have one hand on the wheel and the other on the shift, it's hard to text or dial a cellphone. Too bad only 7% of cars today have sticks.
But those who've driven them look back fondly, I'm sure.