Journal: What Classic Would You Prefer With An Automatic Transmission?

What Classic Would You Prefer With An Automatic Transmission?

By Andrew Golseth
June 24, 2016

Please, as civil human to civil human, don’t chuck that keyboard-lit Molotov cocktail of a hot take my way. We can discuss this without me ending up impaled with a virtual pitchfork, right? I’ll be the first to declare: I prefer a manual in almost every circumstance. But we’re here, right now, to discuss the possibility of buying a slush box classic.

Now, one of the biggest reasons we’re all so infatuated with outdated automobiles boils down to the way they deliver driving. Classics engage the driver that numb modern vehicles can’t hold a candle to. A firm third pedal and wobbly shifter directly connect the wheelman more than any other feature. Though I’ve seen too many try, you can’t really half-ass drive a manual vehicle.

The machine needs you. Gridlock traffic or not, there’s no cop-out available. But that’s the beauty of it, right? You can’t just slap it in “Drive” and zone out like the rest on the roadways: you’re forced to constantly judge braking and up/down shift—which, arguably makes you a more tentative driver.

Aside from the requirement to shift in a manual, if you actually want to go anywhere, it’s just good old fashioned fun. Quick rev-matched downshifts and screaming redline upshifts are actions that make you feel in control, which is why so many gearheads treat automatics as autotragics. But there has to be an exception, no?

Of the dozens of vehicles I’ve had the honor of owning, only one has been self-shifting: my 1984 Toyota Century. Granted, Toyota abandoned the manual for its flagship as soon as they mastered the AT gearbox…in 1975. The plush sedan was built for hauling dignitaries, not for carving canyons, despite my attempt to prove otherwise.

The Century is perfectly suited with a smooth shifting auto. In fact, it’d be a little ridiculous with a manual. Personally, I feel most luxury automobiles are better suited with a drive selector (column shift preferred) because it fits their posh personality more appropriately. But what other types of vehicles would an automatic be preferred?

Grand Tourers come to mind. Primarily built with the idea of comfortably carrying two-to-four at an efficient pace, these distant journey cruisers are meant to missile down the motorway—a forum that doesn’t often offer optimal manual shifting activity. I’ll take an automatic Citroen SM, please.

I suppose someone could make an argument for trucks, vans, and big-body sedans. Which classics do you prefer with an automatic transmission?

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3 years ago

A 1961 Lincoln Continental, of course…

3 years ago

Picture shows a citroen CX, not a XM, but still good choice, for me a good Mercedes SL with a 5 liters , and a V8, will do. I will keep the fun of driving my oldy and goody Morgan +8 for shorter drives.

Victor Van Tress
Victor Van Tress(@2vt)
3 years ago

‘Nuff said?

John Weaver
John Weaver(@John Weaver)
2022 years ago

Even though I once worked for a company that manufactured manual transmission swaps for this model, I can’t imagine the Jaguar XJ-S V12 with a manual gearbox. Smooth engine with smooth shifting is part of the allure, giving it that train-engine like swell of acceleration. A manual transmission in the 6-cylinder version is a different story. It really opens the car up.

5 years ago

I have two V8 cruisers – a 450SL and a MarkVIII Lincoln. Both have slush boxes. They are both Boulevardiers which are, by nature, self-shifting. The Mark really shines when you’re eating up miles at triple digits, while the Merc rarely gets driven with the top up, making the auto a necessity as I have my head on a swivel, especially in summer.

Jere Urso
Jere Urso(@jere-urso)
5 years ago

The first E30 I ever saw is now my car and it’s automatic. I actually almost didn’t purchase it because it was an automatic. It was so clean and perfect, nothing was wrong with it. I take this car on huge trips now and it is my weekend cruiser. The automatic is smooth for how old it is and and it’s not a M3 so it’s no racecar or anything. I put the top down and just enjoy the ride. Sometimes if I get a little frisky I’ll keep it in 3rd on the gear selector and go through some sharp corners in the rev range of that gear. Some automatics aren’t so bad after all.

5 years ago

Every. Benz. Ever.
(Except the Evo II)

Joe Means
Joe Means(@kraftwerk-joe)
5 years ago

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for large, American land yachts, even if they aren’t as refined as some of the European cars I lust after. With this being said, I long to own a mid-60’s slab-side Cadillac. This is one a friend of mine owns, and it’s a perfect survivor. Something about just casually cruising around, steering the over-boosted power steering with one finger and suggesting it where to go is as close as one can actually sail over land.

John campbell
John campbell(@campbelljj)
5 years ago

That’s easy. 1969-1970 w109 6.3 Mercedes. I will never forget my fathers 1970 and the awesome torque of that m100. I grew up in the Midwest and I remember one UP Michigan trip where we pulled our small sailboat from Illinois. My dad mistakenly pulled out into traffic in front of several cars (probably forgot there was a 20+ foot trailer with a boat immediately behind us) when my mother yelled. My father did what any of us would have done and mashed the throttle. Well we smoked the tires through atleast two gears maybe three and shot off like a rocket ship. Oh and there were five of us in the car too. Oh good memories. I’m 52 and remember that like it was yesterday.

Sean Whelan
Sean Whelan(@marveh)
5 years ago

An automatic transmission is something I seldom think about, which I guess is the point of auto boxes in the first place. To me the question is like asking, if you could have ice cream flavored from any vegetable which veggie would it be?
So my initial thought would be a 1963 Lincoln Continental because they are so freaking cool. Upon reflection, however, cool isn’t good enough to suffer a slush box.
If I’m going to have an auto transmission I want it in something I can use that has such intrinsic value the selfless shifter doesn’t matter. With that in mind, I would take a late 60’s station wagon, preferably a 1967 Ford Ranch Wagon.
I know this will make me a heretic but I’d want my wagon without any fake woodgrain, but I’m an apostate who prefers his British sports cars with steel wheels instead of wires as well.

Dan Picasso
Dan Picasso(@foiledagain)
5 years ago

A mid-50s Oldsmobile and a slant-pan Hydramatic go together like Virginia tobacco and a Dr. Grabow pipe.

Frank Anigbo
Frank Anigbo(@fanigbo)
5 years ago

An automatic transmission in a classic car? Horror of all horrors!

That was my feeling until my mechanic called me up to come by the shop to see a car he thought I might be interested in. The car in question was a perfect, 100\% original 1978 Austin Mini with only 21,000 miles. It was right-hand drive like my wife always wanted in a mini, but it was also an automatic which neither of us want. So I respectfully thumbed my nose at it. When I mentioned to my wife that “we” weren’t interested because it had a slosh-box, she smacked me at the back of the head and reminded me that it was her car, therefore her decision. To make a short story a bit shorter, we bought the car.

Thing is — I love that car, 4-speed auto-box and all. And with my rather long legs, there is no way I would have been able to drive it had there been 3 pedals instead of 2. I still would not choose an auto over a manual in every car I still have on my list but I’m glad my… I mean, her mini is an automatic — because I get to enjoy it too.

Nicolas Moss
Nicolas Moss(@itsnicolas)
5 years ago

I dunno, the GT argument is a bit thin… if you are missile-ing down the motorway, you won’t be shifting anyway. As I see it, automatics are good if you are spending a lot of time in stop-and-go traffic. In which case, you will want a modern, fuel-effiecent, clean-burning modern car. I mean really, is subjecting a classic (and the public who have to breath the dirt from the tailpipe) to regular heavy commute traffic “driving tastefully”?

Cameron S
Cameron S(@chester-sing)
5 years ago
Reply to  Nicolas Moss

Hi Nicolas,

I live in Manila and there is no way to drive anywhere without suffering traffic – 365 days a year, 15 hours a day (6 AM to 11 PM). I work 6 days a week and I spend Sundays with my family. Therefore, if I want to actually drive my classic instead of just looking at it at home, unfortunately, I have to subject it to traffic.

Is that driving distastefully? To some people, perhaps. To me, I do not think so.

Beauty, the presence of taste, I think, can and should be made present anywhere – in ideal situations and in less ideal situations. In less than ideal situations, enjoying something beautiful, I find, is even more relevant.

Xxx Xxxx
Xxx Xxxx(@flyxnite)
5 years ago

Of all the cars, you picked THIS one; the Toyota Century. Oddly, one of my favorites. V12’s and Japan are not synonymous, yet Toyota came up with a V12 for this Japanese version of the boat. In the unflashy world of Japanese business, this is about as ostentatious as it got before the European invasion. You see this and you know the boss is reviewing the troops.