|Photo credit: Myles Davidson, stock.xchng|
I have mixed feelings about what seems to be the inevitable demise of the stick shift. The first car I drove regularly was an automatic Honda Prelude. It ran and ran, but other than a sunroof there was absolutely nothing fun about the car. It wasn't until I bought my first car (you know, one with my name on the title) that I finally had a stick shift that provided much more driving fun. I had attempted to drive stick shift a few times before that, but in all honesty the people who were "helping" me were too busy shouting and acting like an ape that had been stung in the ass by a bee.
Once I bought my very first car with a stick shift I knew I needed to learn how to really drive it. I could drive stick fairly aggressively with no problem, revving the gears and popping the clutch hard. I also knew that driving my car that way all the time would be hell on the clutch and transmission. I needed to learn how to drive a stick smoothly. Instead of turning to the screechy teachers, I was determined to just teach myself. Fortunately I had a sloped driveway, so I pointed the nose of my car uphill and practiced driving it up the hill, popping the car into neutral and letting it roll back down the hill, and then driving it back up the hill again. I did this for hours until I could get the car going without the engine stalling or the tires chirping. Once I had starting from a standstill down, I drove around the city for hours to perfect my transitions between gears.
Sadly I haven't had a stick shift in a while. Most bigger, nicer cars don't seem to have them even as an option anymore, unless you're buying a sports car or GT. I have to admit that driving with kids would make a stick shift a little much. But I really miss the fun of determining when the car switches gears. My Saab had a function that allowed me to shift gears manually. At first I was skeptical, but over time I learned that it was the next best thing to having an actual stick shift. Still, I would have loved to have had the ability to pop the clutch in that car and spin the tires like crazy. Downshifting from third to second spooled the turbo to a fury, rocketing the car forward with a mighty burst of speed. I can only imagine with a stick the fun that could have been.
Since then I have test driven some stick shift cars, most notably a MINI Cooper. The guy at the BMW dealership where I drove the MINI was a little scared when we pulled out of the parking lot. I thought he was concerned I was cornering too fast (those cars really do hug the turns, which I loved). After driving a few blocks he made a comment, something like "Wow, I'm glad you can actually drive stick. Most people claim they can and then they either grind the gears like crazy or stall the engine out!"
Driving stick is definitely a dying art form. I have a notion to buy a small old car with a stick and restore it, just so I can keep up on my skills and so I can teach my children the joy of popping out the clutch while revving the engine just so. Plus learning to drive stick means a person can drive pretty much anything, which can be a huge advantage in a pinch.