STICK WITH THE STICK: The drive to save the manual transmission

1963 Jaguar Red_6705

 

Barrett-Jackson has a history replete with great cars, an admirable heritage and a culture of driving enthusiasts. A large proportion of those enthusiasts won’t hesitate to tell you that a vehicle with a manual transmission is often preferred for the driving experience, increasing safety and awareness – not to mention sheer fun.

Many of us learned how to drive on a stick shift, grinding and stalling our way along back roads. With a little practice, we learned to harness the power and control a manual can provide, as well as (in many cases) the increased performance. Many a driving enthusiast was born through the frustrations of learning to drive this way.

63 Corvette Split Window

Heading to the auction block at the 2018 Scottsdale Auction is this 1963 Chevrolet Corvette 327/340 Split-Window Coupe with a 4-speed manual transmission.

Devotees will tell you that piloting a manual also makes for increased awareness and safety, since the driver is actively involved in the process. After all, it’s not easy to text, drink a coffee, find your tunes and shift all at the same time. Here’s another bonus: a manual transmission seems to be one of the better anti-carjacking measures. Case in point: the brave young woman who, in July 2017, thwarted her would-be kidnappers by tossing her 2009 Scion into neutral and diving out when they drove through a crowded intersection. The car, travelling at about 35 mph, rolled into some bushes and the kidnappers fled on foot because they weren’t able to operate the stick shift. Not surprisingly, that woman says she’ll be driving a manual transmission for the rest of her life.

63 Corvette Split Window

The interior of the ’63 Split-Window Corvette on the docket for the 2018 Scottsdale Auction.

Back in the day, manual transmissions were so much the norm they were called “standard” transmissions. Today, they’re anything but standard. While remaining tremendously popular in Europe, the stick shift in America has been experiencing a serious decline in recent years. According to a study by Edmunds.com, 47 percent of new models offered in the U.S. in 2006 were available with both automatic and manual transmissions. By 2011, the number decreased to 37 percent, and by 2016, it had dropped to 27 percent. Actual sales figures were even lower, with reportedly only some 3 percent being manual vehicles.

The reason why this is happening is fairly simple. Automatics are nearly as easy to drive as a golf cart, and fewer people than ever before are capable of driving the challenging alternative.

Alarmed by this turn of events, American automotive journalists began a crusade. In 2012, for example, Car and Driver started a “Save The Manuals” campaign. Motor Authority initiated a #GiveAShift effort, accompanied by a tongue-in-cheek emotional video urging us to save the stick shift – a parody of those imploring us to save endangered animals.

08 Ford Shelby GT Prototype

This 2008 Ford Shelby GT Prototype crossing the block at the 2018 Scottsdale Auction is powered by a 4.6-liter V8 mated to a 5-speed manual transmission.

There is hope on this horizon. The “power wars” – the new high-performance wars – seem to be bridging the gap, creating a fantastic opportunity for younger drivers to discover a love for the manual driving experience, as well as encouraging enthusiasts to remember and return to their first love. While automatic technology is fast and amazing, the new manual transmissions are equally impressive.

Consider the 2018 Camaro ZL1 1LE with its good ol’ American manual gearbox, which smashed Nürburgring in June 2017 with a blistering 7:16.04 lap time, besting some pretty stiff competition and placing the Chevy at the 14th spot on the ’Ring’s Top 100 leaderboard. Porsche, which had been phasing out manuals, caved to pressure from its customers and decided to offer a 7-speed manual gearbox option for the 2018 911 Carrera GTS (as well as a dual-clutch automatic).

08 Shelby GT prototype

The interior of the ’08 Shelby GT Prototype.

In the collector car world, cars with manual transmissions – because of their rarity and high-performance – can bring added value. “The last year of any car with a stick shift in it is going to be a future collectible,” Barrett-Jackson Chairman and CEO Craig Jackson said recently. “As many high-performance automakers phase out the sticks and go to F1-style, double-clutch transmission – which are a joy to drive – there’s still a certain segment that misses the three pedals and running the Ferrari through the gates.” His tip? “Buy the last year of the cars with a stick.”

As a group of car enthusiasts ourselves, we at Barrett-Jackson firmly stand behind the movement to save the manual transmission. You can do your part by buying them, driving them and teaching the younger generations the unbridled fun and feeling of mastery that comes with driving a stick.

 

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