The Manly Art Of Stick Handling

Thomas Kreutzer
by Thomas Kreutzer
the manly art of stick handling

I was browsing the internet the other day and came across a website that purports to be “A guy’s post-college guide to growing up.” Normally I avoid websites like this. I learned about the manly arts the old fashioned way, dangerous experimentation, but since I have been wrestling with an especially verdant crop of nose hair recently I thought I might find some grooming tips and so I decided to check it out. Amongst all the articles on slick, greasy-looking haircuts, sensual massage techniques and the power of positive self-development, I found this handy beginners’ guide on how to drive a stick shif t. Since it was one of the only things on the site I had any real experience with, I looked it over and decided it was pretty good. Naturally, I thought I would share it.

Like sword fighting and bare knuckle boxing before it, driving a car with a manual transmission is on the verge of becoming a lost manly art. One day soon I expect to tune into the History Channel and hear someone explain how archeologists think these devices might have worked and watch as historic re-enactors dress up in their oldest bell bottoms and tie dyed shirts in order to drive around in their automatic transmission equipped replicas while making shift noises and pretending to step on a clutch pedal that isn’t there.

You keep both hands on the wheel, Frankie. I’ll handle the stick.

OK, perhaps I am being just a little facetious here, but let’s face it, manual transmissions are moving out of the mainstream and there will come a time when only cars aimed at the enthusiast market will bother to offer them. History tells me, of course, that it wasn’t that long ago in the grand scheme of things that all cars had manual transmissions. Some people will say they also had crank starts, hand-operated chokes and manual spark advance too, and that no one ever laments the loss of those things. It is, they will say, the price we pay for progress. The old things go away, replaced with new things that serve the masses better and, despite the fact that a few people may lament their loss, the fact is that vast majority will hardly notice their absence.

That’s not going to be the case with the manual transmission. Learning to shift your own gears is a right of passage. It is something that people grew up watching their elders do and upon a child’s entry into adulthood, the skill was handed down across the generations, person to person. With few exceptions, those clever, intrepid people who had the gumption to teach themselves, every one of us who knows how to work a stick learned from someone else.

I started out the way most young people do, pretending to row the gears in an old broken down Opel Kadette in my parents’ garage and eventually wheedled a lesson from my older brother Tracy who took me out in his, then, fairly new 1978 Nova. It was a pretty little car, a red on red two door coupe that had a 250 cid six cylinder under the hood and was as utilitarian as they come. I started out shifting gears from the passenger seat to get the feel of the shift lever and by the time I slipped over behind the controls had a fairly good idea of what I needed to be doing with my hands. Learning how to work the pedals took a little longer but, with my brother’s encouragement, I eventually got the hang of it.

I won’t say the experience changed my world, but it did open up a part of it that is, unfortunately, closed to many young people today. By the time I got my first car, a slightly older six cylinder three speed manual Nova of my own, there was no doubt about my ability to work the thing and, over the years and in the many manual equipped cars that would follow, I built upon the skills my brother taught me.

Running a car with a manual transmission connects man and machine in a way few other things can. In that same way the bumps and judders transmitted to a driver’s fingers through steering wheel gives one a connection to the pavement rushing beneath their seat, the vibrations transmitted to the palm of your hand by a shift ball and the sole of your left foot by the clutch pedal gives you a direct connection to a car’s drive train. Also, because you don’t have computer managing your engine speed and choosing the best gear, a manual transmission forces you to watch your gauges, to monitor the tachometer, and to actively think about the process of driving. These things pull driver and car together and when a driver has real focus they can join with the vehicle in the way that jockeys talk about becoming one with the animal during a race. That experience is, in a nutshell, enthusiasm is its purest form.

As a fat, hairy, old-school ape man, I have a special disdain for the “self-improvement” media and magazines that try to tell young men what it means to be a man while, at the same time, attempting to sell them a plethora of products to make them ever softer and ever more sensual, but this time I think they nailed it. Perhaps driving a manual is no longer a skill that every man must have, but it is a skill that every man – and every woman, really – should aspire to. It doesn’t matter if you learn if from your brother or a magazine, just get out there and learn it before it’s too late.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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  • Art  Vandelay Art Vandelay on Mar 24, 2014

    My mother can drive a stick. Real manly. So how many of you manly men can drive a non synchronized manual?

    • See 2 previous
    • Rpn453 Rpn453 on Mar 25, 2014

      Compact cars with manual transmissions were so common in Canada when I grew up that I would guess that most Canadian-born women older than 25 can drive a manual transmission. So many of the hottest girls drove beater manual-transmission compacts in high school. My mother, sister, and most of my ex-girlfriends have owned manual transmission vehicles. Even looking back at all the girlfriends that my buddies have had, I can think of only a couple that have never owned a manual. Most even owned manuals when I met them. But we're engineers, so maybe we attract an unusual subset of the female population.

  • ReallyRandy ReallyRandy on Mar 26, 2014

    I am one of the self taught ones. An '81 vw rabbit diesel, in '95. I rarely ever drive a manual anymore, but just today I had to get into the mother in law's '86 nova (corolla) that she refuses to part with, and drive it across town. You never forget, and you never lose the love for driving a manual.

  • 3SpeedAutomatic Auto insurance renewal every six months. Ten year old car, good driving record, own my own home, excellent credit score, no teenagers on the policy, etc, etc, etc.Yet, I pay thru the nose!!!!!Adds on the morning news brag about $500k settlements.I paid less when I lived in New York State.
  • Jim Bonham Full EVs are not for everyone, they cannot meet all needs. Hybrids do a much better job of providing the benefits of EVs without most of the drawbacks. I have a hybrid sedan with plenty of room, plus all the bells and whistles. It has 360 hp, AWD, does 0-60 in just over 5 sec.(the instant torque is a real benefit), and I get 29 mpg, average. NOT driven lightly. I bought it used for $25k.Sure, it's a little heavier because of the battery, motor, etc., but not nearly as much as a full EV. The battery is smaller/lighter/cheaper and both the alternator and starter motor are eliminated since the motor assumes those functions. It's cool to watch the charge guage show I'm getting energy back when coasting and/or braking. It's even cooler to drive around part of the time on battery only. It really comes in handy in traffic since the engine turns off and you don't waste fuel idling. With the adaptive cruise control you just let the car slowly inch along by itself.I only wish it were a Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV). Then, I'd have A LOT more EV-only range, along with even more of that instant torque. The battery would be bigger, but still a fraction of the size of a full EV. I could easily go weeks without using much, if any gas (depending upon my commute) IF I plug it in every night. But I don't have to. The gas engine will charge the battery whenever it's needed.It's just not as efficient a way to do it.Electric companies offer special rates for both EVs and PHEVs which lower your operating cost compared to gasoline. They'll even give you a rebate to offset the cost of installing a home charger. You can still get federal (up to $7,500, plus some state) tax credits for PHEVs.What's not to like? My next daily driver will be a PHEV of some kind. Probably a performance-oriented one like the new Dodge Hornet or one of the German Hybrid SUVs. All the benefits, sound, feel, etc., of a gas vehicle along with some electric assist to improve fuel economy, performance, and drivability. None of the inherent EV issues of cost, range anxiety, long charging times, poor charger availability, grid capacity issues, etc. I think most people will eventually catch on to this and go PHEV instead of going full EV. Synthetic, carbon-neutral eFuels, hydrogen engines, and other things will also prevent full EVs from being 100% of the fleet, regardless of what the politicians say. PHEVs can be as "clean" (overall) as full EVs with the right fuels. They're also cheaper, and far more practical, for most people. They can do it all, EVs can't.
  • Ron rufo there is in WaSHINGTON STATE
  • ToolGuy @Chris, your photography rocks.
  • ToolGuy No War for Oli.If you have not ever held a piece of structural honeycomb (composite sandwich) in your own hands, try it.
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