To Drive A Manual Is to Learn a New Language
Driving a stick is like learning a language.
Rowing one’s own gearbox engages the driver directly into the automotive equation. Whether it’s the satisfying mechanical ‘snick’ that comes with the metal gate of a Ferrari, or the light flick of the Miata, the stick connects a driver to a car in a way automatic, sequential, paddle or Doppelkupplungsgetriebe transmissions simply cannot.
It can be an arduous process, learning how to sing with a car. The action of depressing the clutch, disengaging the motor, moving the lever, shifting a set of spinning cogs and gently letting out the clutch again while feeling the motor engage is a bio-mechanical duet that, in a V12 Ferrari on a crisp fall day, the song can swell to operatic levels.
Of course, like any form of speech, there are those that take pleasure in conversation and those that do not. For many years, drivers didn’t have a choice—every car had a manual transmission. Nowadays, if you want to speak with your automobile, the transmission lever is the only way. It’s direct communication; removing the computers, the wires, the decision-making software. You can drive angrily, and the car will be there with you, shrieking and howling…or you can drive smoothly, the wind gently flowing through your hair. The tone of the conversation is up to you.
These days, the stick is an anachronism, an ode to a different era. The very notion that a vehicle requires actual effort has become a foreign concept to the vast majority of drivers, which means fewer men and women will ever learn to enjoy the sublime joy of a new language.
Too bad—it’s the only language I know.