Save The Manuals… And A Struggling Buff Book

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

Car & Driver’s endearingly awkward Editor-in-Chief Eddie Alterman took to the interwebs today, with a “viral-style” video imploring enthusiasts to “save the manuals.” And though Alterman can’t help but sell the faux-sincerity, the message is brain-hurtingly mangled by his attempt to be the Old Spice Guy of the car world.

Yes, manual transmissions are a dying breed, and yes, they’re fun and prevent distracted driving, but how in the bang box is buying an old BMW the solution? Wouldn’t buying a brand-new car with a manual transmission be the best way to voice your opinion to the product planners? The problem is that Alterman isn’t as interested in saving the manual as he is in saving his magazine… and it should come as no surprise to find out that three tools of Alterman’s Manual Front include commenting at C&D, emailing C&D, and “liking” C&D’s Save The Manuals Facebook page. Oh yeah, and writing your congressional representative (“Will it make a difference? Uh, maybe?”).

Last but (hopefully) not least, Alterman suggests teaching someone to drive a manual transmission. One might have hoped that this, and not funneling traffic to the C&D website, would have been the focus of Alterman’s mock-crusade. Instead, the slow-motion tragedy of manual transmission disappearance is being quasi-ironically exploited to boost readership at a flagging buff book, further marginalizing the manual into its enthusiast ghetto.

Meanwhile, there’s an another, equally tongue-in-cheek way to do this: seriously proposing legislation that makes manual transmissions mandatory for all new cars sold in the United States… under the rubric of safety, of course. After all, politics isn’t about asking people nicely to save junkyard clunkers and “like” you on Facebook, it’s about forcing the other guy to argue against something undeniably good… like safety. Do you like what distracted driving does, Senator? Are you in favor of unintended acceleration? Do you now, or have you ever owned an automatic transmission-equipped vehicle?

The problem is that, like most MT enthusiasts, our motivation to save the manuals is ultimately about fun. Unfortunately, times have changed, and far more people now seem to associate cars with commuter tedium than fun. Meanwhile, transmission and drivetrain technology are making manuals less and less necessary (witness the fact that most automatics get better mileage and/or acceleration than their manual counterparts). You think Ferrari is about to break down and re-embrace the manny-tranny just because Alterman makes puppy dog eyes in the direction of Maranello?

It’s a sad truth that people who drive for fun, buff books like C&D, and manual transmissions are all becoming increasingly marginal phenomena in the iPhone era. Of the three, I’ll miss stick shifts the most.

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  • Not even DSGs are better, in terms of fuel economy, than a manual transmission with the same ratios in the real world. A DSG box is a big, heavy piece of equipment, and that takes its toll on economy. It's not as bad as a traditional torque converter automatic, but still a tick behind the manual transmission in terms of economy... though it provides 99% of the economy of a manual with much faster shifts and more convenience. CVTs are definitely more economical (if you have the right kind... a dry system without a TC...) but the most economical CVTs I've driven have also been the most fragile (Honda, I'm looking at you...). Still... new ATs are so convenient and allow the driver to focus more on actually, well, DRIVING, that the dip in economy is a small price to pay for the loss of the three-pedal tango.

  • 97cavy22 97cavy22 on Nov 26, 2011

    I am surprised by the number of auto enthusiest on this site who honestly feel the manaual transmission has no place in a modern car. Europe has similar rush hour traffic, and more city streets than america, so why do they sell so well over there? Because Americans are so damn lazy they cannot get over having to push a clutch pedal, it's to much "work" Therefore most will never give a manual the chance to wow them. It's a same, but thats the direction our society is heading in, why go outside and play baseball when I can play it on playstation? Why walk down the steps and ask my brother for something when I can just call his cell phone? Why would I push a clutch pedal when my transmission can do it for me, and allow time for me to text and play with the radio?? lazy, lazy, lazy.

  • Jeff S Years ago Kentucky issued a license plate with a horse running with the words "Unbridled Spirit." The religious right objected and did not want the plate because they believed it encouraged people to go to the race track and bet on horses. Anyone who knows anything about Kentucky knows its famous for raising horses and yes there is Churchill Downs where the Kentucky Derby is run but horses in themselves are not sinful. It got so bad that the state issued a blank sticker to put over the horse and the logo. Kentucky also issued a plate for those who were offended stating "In God We Trust." The latest KY plate has no logo and nothing. I always picked the horse because I thought horses were something to be proud of and associated with Kentucky.
  • Old Scold As a Marylander, I got those plates assigned to me when I purchased my car in 2016, 4 years after the so-called anniversary. I figured they were using up NOS, and it never occurred to me to check out the URL. I still don't care. It's a stupid issue, but I have my tag number memorized should I need it.
  • Hpycamper I drive a car with automatic braking and have nothing good to say about it. It has activated going around corners on mountain roads when the hillside is close to the road, when lawn sprinklers turned on and sprayed the car, and driving past cars on the shoulder that are making right turns. Luckily these phantom brake activations have not caused a wreck. The systems are just too dumb.
  • SCE to AUX How long until that $90k yields a profit for my grandchildren?
  • Ajla I do wonder what the legacy of the Alpha Camaro will be. It was higher performing than the Zeta but lacks the pop culture imprinting of that gen or the earlier F-body. And somehow it managed to be less comfortable than the Zeta. I guess it depends if this is really the last traditional Camaro.