By on September 22, 2015

Hagerty PDX 02

Last Wednesday morning, I received an email about an upcoming event in Portland, Ore. held by classic car insurer Hagerty. Fifty teens and young adults between the ages of 15 and 25 would get to drive a handful of classic and vintage cars and trucks around a marked course. All of the vehicles available would have one thing in common: a manual transmission.

Furthermore, I, too, could participate in learning the art of the manual transmission, having acquired my permit the day before the press release entered my inbox.

All I had to do was head down to Portland Meadows — where thoroughbreds are the dominant form of horsepower between October and February — on Saturday.

Hagerty PDX 03“We came across a statistic a few years back [about] the decline of teenagers’ interest in getting their driver’s license,” Hagerty Youth Advocacy Manager Tabetha Hammer explained to TTAC as the morning session drew to a close. “We started looking at them, at the classic car hobby, knowing that the majority of classic cars are equipped with a manual transmission.”

Hammer said the Hagerty Driving Experience program came about to not only encourage young drivers to shift one’s own gears, but to help ensure a future for the hobby itself, adding said drivers didn’t need a lot of money or knowledge to get started for themselves; the program is free to participants and owners alike.

As for finding the participants who would one day become collectors — over 700 to date — Hammer says Hagerty conducts “a lot of outreach” in the locations chosen, from car clubs and word-of-mouth to Hagerty’s own clients with driving-age children who have an interest in the hobby. (None of the locations have been revisited since the program began in July 2011.) In turn, the young drivers can improve their skill behind the wheel while learning how to shift their own in a “controlled, low-stress environment” without their parents holding on for dear life in the front passenger seat, as would normally occur in the early stages of a given young driver learning the rules of the road.

Hagerty PDX 01

According to Hammer, Portland, the 17th city to host the Hagerty Driving Experience, was chosen for its “car-centric” vibe — the event targets highly car-centric locations in different parts of the United States where it would be best received — noting how everywhere she looked, a classic car or truck would pop up on the street. Portland Meadows, meanwhile, was chosen for its large, flat parking lot, and for being a well-known location with easy access to the rest of the city.

The cars and trucks participating in the Hagerty Driving Experience span the decades, from a 1928 Packard Phaeton, a 1930 Ford Model A, and a 1955 Porsche 356 Continental, to a 1962 Aston Martin DB4, a 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray, and a 2015 Ford Focus ST, with the flags of the United States, Germany, Great Britain, and Japan represented thus far. Hammer said the program is meant to present a variety of vehicles so as to focus more on the overall driving experience than how much or how little power a given vehicle possesses.

If you’re worried about the potential for damage by having an inexperienced driver learning to row their own in a vintage or classic vehicle, Hammer stated nothing horrible has happened in the 17 events Hagerty has run the program beyond some clashing gears, stalls, and curbed tires. In fact, the only time a vehicle had a major problem during a drive was when its engine stalled of its own accord, requiring a lot of hands to push the car off the course; it was back in the game shortly after.

* * * * * * * * *

A brief aside, there would also be an additional challenge for me regarding the manual, one which would affect my ability to engage the clutch pedal on a couple of occasions:

Cameron's Feet

I was born with these feet, which are missing not only toes, but quite a few bones, too. If this weren’t enough, my left leg is 9 mm shorter than my right, so you can imagine how difficult it would be to push the clutch pedal all the way down to the floor while my left foot struggles to maintain contact. If I could replace my feet with suitable prosthesis (and lose 9 mm in my right leg), it would be a significant improvement.

* * * * * * * * *

A brief classroom lesson about manual transmissions and basic car maintenance later, it was time for the afternoon session to start, and yours truly — who would be driving for the first time in several years — was ready for some valuable seat time. By the end of the day, I would drive every car and truck participating. All but one.

Hagerty PDX 10

1970 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray: This was the one which got away, as the owner had a prior engagement they needed to attend during the afternoon session. I wish I was able to drive this one, as it reminded me of my dad’s 1979 (T-tops, functional side pipes, 350 under the hood, automatic funneling power to the back) with its deep green color. The clutch was the heaviest of the vehicles participating, so it would have been a challenge to nail it down. Still, it would have been a dream to try. Perhaps another time.

Hagerty PDX 04

1972 Volkswagen Type 1 (Beetle): Per Hammer’s recommendation, this was the first vehicle I drove, as its clutch was the most forgiving of the group. The Type 1 is part of Hagerty’s collection, and boasted a neat wicker storage shelf under the dash. The clutch was easy to engage, and only a slight push on the accelerator was all I needed to get going until the engine’s song urged me to shift into second.

Hagerty PDX 05

1989 Ford F-250: This future classic was a bear to get going. Not because of its clutch, but because the ignition switch took more strength to turn than I had to give. Once started, the power steering caught me off-guard, having already driven the Type 1 earlier, and I couldn’t help but be enamored by the big, black shifter on the floor. For a moment, I was taken back to my youth in the Kansas small town where some of my friends and classmates drove trucks like this everywhere, playing Garth Brooks, Little Texas and Confederate Railroad from the speakers.

Hagerty PDX 06

1972 MG MGB GT: After the F-250 came this beauty, unblemished by the black bumpers which would befall the car in later years. Buckling the seat belt was an experience, and I wasn’t able to adjust the belt so I could better reach the clutch. Nonetheless, taking the little British coupe for a few laps around the course was a wonderful experience, one that one of my many editors likely knows about, as she received a 1974 MGB for her birthday last year.

Hagerty PDX 07

1962 Chevrolet C20: Unlike the F-250 from earlier, starting this classic pickup was a breeze. I was also prepared to put all my muscle into the steering, yet was pleased when I could turn the wheel with the same ease as the Ford. Again, I was transported back to my high school days, when the athletic director — who I worked for on the field as part of the chain crew for all but the varsity football team’s home games, and off the field selling programs during said varsity home games — brought me home once or twice in his fourth-gen Ford F-150.

Hagerty PDX 08

1962 MG MGA 1600 Mark II: This was my favorite of all the production cars on the course. Like the MGB, the MGA had its quirks, from pulling a lever on the dash to start the engine (after turning the key to prep the ignition), to pulling on a single cable tucked into the door panel to unlock and open the door. The roadster also had the smallest accelerator pedal of all the the vehicles, slightly wider and longer than the second phalanx of my thumb. It was also the most fun to drive, especially when taking the corners at high speed (it felt like I was going fast, anyway).

Hagerty PDX 09

1931 Buick Series 60 Racer: Last, but not least, I got to drive this rally car around the course. This one gets its own place in my heart, solely on its competition pedigree, and because racecar. Owned by Pat and Pat Brothers, the Series 60 Racer has participated in the multi-day, cross-country Hemmings Great Race rally since it first hit the road in 2011. No roof, one long side pipe on the driver’s side, and the way in — which latches closed like a cabinet — is also the way out. Driving the Buick was wonderful, as well, moving like an agile tank through the course.

Hagerty PDX 11

I couldn’t have picked a better way to spend the day before my 37th birthday than by learning to row my own in a handful of the coolest classics, future classics, and vintage vehicles around. I didn’t need to worry about traffic, or how fast or slow I was going, or even checking my mirrors. All I needed to do was figure out the clutch, when to shift, and when to brake. I can’t wait to do it again when my license is at last back in my hands.

Photo credit: Cameron Aubernon/The Truth About Cars

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23 Comments on “Shifting With The Future At The Hagerty Driving Experience...”

  • avatar

    Wow ~ fun ! .

    Can I do it if I lie and say I can’t operate a clutch ? .

    I wish I had your tiny feet , mine are size 12 and mangled so they never stop hurting and they hardly fit in older British cars….

    The Chevy pickup of course was easy to steer ” if it steers like a truck , it’s _NOT_ A Chevrolet ! ” was the sales slogan for decades .

    This sounds and looks like a fun time .

    Agreed , VW Beetles are the best driver drainers : once you master them you can easily drive anything .


  • avatar

    Congratulations on getting your driver’s license Cameron, and welcome back. It’s good to see your byline here again!

    • 0 avatar

      Thank you! However, I only have a permit right now; the license will come soon.

      • 0 avatar

        Ironically it sounds like if you simply broke federal law like so many others they would simply issue you a licence without a permit period.

        “Twelve states and the District of Columbia enacted laws to allow unauthorized immigrants to obtain a driver’s licenses. These states—California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Vermont and Washington—issue a license if an applicant provides certain documentation, such as a foreign birth certificate, a foreign passport, or a consular card and evidence of current residency in the state. Eight of these states extended driving privileges in 2013. In 2015, Delaware and Hawaii enacted legislation to give unauthorized immigrants driving privileges.”

  • avatar

    Douglas Bader, British WWII flying ace, lost one leg above the knee and one leg below the knee. He drove a modified sports car with – of course – a standard transmission.

    The modification consisted of switching the brake and clutch pedals so he could use the leg with the knee for clutch (I think). The mechanic who drove the car back to him said it was the hardest thing he ever drove, till he crossed his legs and did it that way.

    Minor foot issues are no bar to driving a standard transmission.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Congrats on the license.

    I assume everything there was a floor shifter? A column-shift manual might have been a nice change of pace, but they also haven’t been sold new in the US for 30 years.

  • avatar

    Glad to see you back. Driving a stick, just takes practice. That being said, as you discovered, some are easier than others.

  • avatar

    Too bad about the Corvette. Happy 37th birthday.

  • avatar

    Nice to read you again Cameron; and nice photos too.

    PS Most dealers used to be able to add riser blocks to the pedals to accommodate various ergonomic requirements, and they’re not ugly or chunky like those old tricycle ones. I’m pretty sure they’re still available.

  • avatar

    During my time with a ’75 Beetle I found the biggest stick-challenges to be in traffic, getting into gear on hills wasnt really the issue as much as the constant upshift-downshift in stop and go traffic, it certainly wears down our local ricers pretty quick.

    I still view Manuals as nothing but an “option”, like Automatics, AC, Casette-CD players, tis a matter of preference.

  • avatar

    I’d love this, I genuinely want to learn stick but don’t know anyone with a stickshift car.

  • avatar

    I hope they do this in Portland again, my son needs to learn and all I have is a slushbox car and a motorcycle. He does have a tiny bit of clutch experience courtesy of Harley-Davidson and their rev a bike on a roller “experience”. He didn’t stall it so there is hope.

  • avatar

    Thanks for the pics of such wonderful trainers. That MGA & B… 72 was a better year than it seemed at the time.

  • avatar

    As I’ve opined in this space before, I can get started from a stop, feel the engagement point of the clutch, etc. My problem is that once in traffic, my left foot and right hand cannot coordinate themselves!

    (Tried to learn on my brother’s Acura Integra GS-R long ago, and if you can’t master a Honda ‘box, better let the car shift for you. Then again, a buddy of mine with the patience of Job recently acquired a cherry ’08 Civic LX with a stick, so who knows?!)

  • avatar

    Ways to make me nervous:

    1) Hand me keys to a valuable and gigantic manual Packard.

    You didn’t drive that one though, the one I wanted to see most of all!

  • avatar

    There was one of these events at the Kansas Speedway in Kansas City this year as well, which I attended. These are an excellent opportunity, I would advise strongly to go if the event is coming to your area. I was able to drive all the cars short of a Ferrari 308 GTS (too many people were in line for me to have a chance to drive it) and a 1941 Cadillac Fleetwood (the gentleman who owns it volunteers at the Kansas City Automotive Museum with me, and had said prior to the event I could drive his Cadillacs anytime I wanted, so it wasn’t a priority). The Cadillac was a three on the tree.

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