View Full Version : Stick shift driving's extinction is no fun

04-25-09, 08:54 AM
Bob Bestler | Stick shift driving's extinction is no fun
Bob Bestler - For The Sun News

According to a story this week in The Sun News, stick shifts are going the way of black-and-white TV and fast becoming the dinosaurs of the auto industry.

I guess that makes me something of a dinosaur, too.

I learned to drive a stick shift automobile - a 1941 Dodge, as I recall - and I confess that mastering the intricate timing of clutch and accelerator was no easy feat.

I failed my first driver's test because I could not negotiate the clutch and gas pedal while trying to parallel park.

That was in the mid-'50s and most of my friends were learning on newer models with automatic shifts. Not many failed their driver's test, of course.

To me, a car with an automatic transmission seemed like a toy for grown-ups. All you have to do is steer? Where's the fun in that?

I'm not sure younger people today even realize that all cars once had clutches - and that you had to let the clutch out at the same time you stepped on the gas pedal. Dare I tell them that their favorite NASCAR driver knows exactly what I mean?

Eventually I became an expert with the stick, able to peel out on command.

For a couple of months in the Marines, I had control of a Jeep because I was one of the few in my unit who could use the vehicle's stick shift. Driving around the base, delivering and picking up mail and envelopes - well, it was just another important part of the fight against godless Communism.

My wife is also a fan of the stick shift and for years we bought nothing else. It meant that all three of my kids learned to drive a stick shift, going through the same fits and starts and general angst that we once did.

Eventually, it became more and more difficult to find a stick shift and we had to resort to automatics - old people's cars, in my mind.

Today, I'm guessing it's almost impossible to find a stick shift without special ordering. Last year, according to The Sun News story, manual transmissions accounted for 7 percent of new car sales.

I've always deplored the trend. Stick shifts were generally less expensive than comparable models with automatic transmissions. They got better gas mileage and fixing them was easier and cheaper, especially in the days before electronic trouble-shooting. They also force drivers to keep their attention focused.

Frankly, I think one of our troubled auto companies could do worse than build and promote stick shifts as economical and cool - as cool, for instance, as the cars driven by Jimmy Johnson or Danica Patrick.
Contact BOB BESTLER at 222-7590 or bestler6@tds.net.