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Jack Tame: Driving a manual is the real thing

Author
Jack Tame,
Publish Date
Sat, 11 May 2024, 9:46am
Photo / Getty
Photo / Getty

Jack Tame: Driving a manual is the real thing

Author
Jack Tame,
Publish Date
Sat, 11 May 2024, 9:46am

Five years. That’s it.  

According to research this week, manual cars will be essentially extinct within five years.  

It shouldn’t really come as a great surprise, I suppose. EVs don’t require a manual gearbox, and already this decade there has been a pronounced decline in the production of new manual cars.  

My first car was a manual. So was my second. The last thing I did before I moved overseas in my twenties was drive with my brother from Auckland to Christchurch, the long way. We shifted up and down, through the gears, all the way around the East Cape. Everyone I knew back then learnt to drive in a manual, unaware of the redundancy that lay around the corner.  

My dad had strong views on the subject. Automatic transmission seemed kind of posh. My friends, whose parents had cooler, newer cars than our family van (which wasn’t exactly hard) all had automatics. The first time I drove one, I left it in Drive when I switched it off, and freaked out when I couldn’t re-start it. Dad always said that a manual gave you more control. 

He was right, of course. If you learnt to drive a manual, you were connected to your vehicle and to the road in a way that was never replicated in an automatic. Subconsciously you’d read inclines, you’d assess the breadth and tightness of corners. Is that a corner for second or will I glide around in third? You listened to the car. Most obviously, you used both hands and both feet.  

I remember how satisfying it was to master a hill start in a manual car. All-four limb coordination. The way you ease the handbrake off, and perfectly balance the clutch and the gas so you don’t move an inch, and balance perfectly against the incline. How good?! 

Driving’s changed. These days most modern cars are fancy computers on wheels. They beep at you with lane assists and prompts. And the vast majority of cars which people sit their licenses in are automatic.  

I haven’t owned a manual in 12 years. But even today, when I drive over the mighty Takaka Hill, I always use the tiptronic gears. Better control. Less work for the brakes. Connection to the road.  

There’s no changing the course of progress on this one. Nor should there be. Whatever benefits there are to getting the World off fossil fuels surely outweigh the downsides.  

But it doesn’t mean I won’t miss the steady glide up and down through the gears.  

Driving an auto isn’t really driving. It’s commuting.  

Driving a manual... that’s the real thing. 

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