2006 Mazda MiataEnlarge Photo
There’s been a lot of press lately over the demise of the manual transmission, with some fighting tooth and nail to retain the row-it-yourself gearbox and others seemingly indifferent about its passing.
On cars equipped with a dual-clutch automatic transmission (like Porsche’s PDK, or VW/Audi’s DSG), there’s no denying the fact that an automatic transmission shifts faster and smoother than a human operator, resulting in lower lap times. Purists will argue that something is lost in the translation, and that few things behind the wheel equal the satisfaction of a properly rev-matched downshift.
There are other benefits to mastering the manual transmission as well. Rent a car in another part of the world, and chances are good it will come with a manual transmission. Develop a passion for cars of the past, and you’ll soon realize that most pre-1950 automobiles came with manual gearboxes.
Hagerty Insurance recognizes this, so the firm recently sponsored the inaugural Hagerty Driving Experience at Dearborn, Michigan’s Automotive Hall of Fame. The event coincided with Collector Car Appreciation Day.
Aimed at drivers between 16 and 20, the day began with classroom instruction on the art of manually shifting gears. Students then got to apply what they learned in the classroom, testing their clutch mastery and shifting skills in cars ranging from a 1928 Packard to a 2011 Ford Mustang GT. While most had floor-mounted shift levers, a few (like a 1940 Buick Super Convertible) had column mounted shifters, which required a bit more practice to master. Students also learned basic car maintenance, essential to keeping older cars in running condition.
If sports cars were more to your liking, there was a 1955 Porsche 356 Cabriolet (with its very patient owner) on hand for driving, as well as a Lingenfelter Performance Engineering-tuned 2011 Chevy Camaro SS.
The day was a success in two regards: a new generation developed an appreciation for cars of the past, and some 35 drivers got their first lesson on how to drive a manual transmission. For Hagerty Insurance, they’re betting that some of those 35 become future car collectors, and (more importantly), Hagerty customers.