Teaching the classics: how young drivers are discovering manuals

May 18, 2017

When Danielle Clayton pictures her next car, she doesn't think of luxury SUVs or even anything made this century.

"I want a Volkswagen Bug," the 20-year-old college senior said. "It's a fun little, unique car. All my friends...have brand new cars. I want the car with a story behind it."

Just one problem: She doesn't know how to drive one.

She's not alone. A report last year from U.S. News & World Report suggested that fewer than 1 in 5 drivers know how to drive a car with a manual transmission. It's likely that the number of young drivers who know how to navigate a manual is much lower, too.

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That's part of the reason Hagerty, the classic-car insurance giant, organized a nationwide tour to teach young drivers basic car care, maintenance, and how to "row their own."

"It's a little intimidating," Clayton said. "I drive a Camry, so I'm not used to that at all."

Danielle's father, Rich Clayton, is an avid car collector who heard about the event, which was held in Golden, Colorado, on May 13 at the Colorado State Patrol test track. Rich Clayton owns a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air, albeit with an automatic transmission.

"This was her idea," Rich Clayton said. "She asked and I said, 'Absolutely.'"

This is the sixth year the insurance agency has sponsored the event, according to Rachel Ventimiglia, youth advocacy coordinator for Hagerty. So far, they've taught roughly 1,000 young drivers how to drive a manual. For roughly three hours, teens learn about the cars in a classroom, and then transition to the track to drive several cars, including a 1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS.

2017 Hagerty Teen Drive Golden

2017 Hagerty Teen Drive Golden

Local Hagerty owners supply most of the cars used at the event, such as William Taylor's classic 1966 Lotus Elan Series 3. Taylor, who lives in nearby Littleton, Colorado, is an avid car enthusiast, journalist, and classic car owner who uses the events to not only teach youngsters how to drive his lightweight British roadster, but also to reinforce good driving habits.

"I'm horrified by some of the habits that teenage drivers have. It's important that they're here," he said. Some of those bad habits? Crossing up their arms around corners, riding the clutch, or even rolling stop signs. "They're starting to listen to the motor here...a couple of them have picked up on that. I'm here to offer a car that's direct to the driver."

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Derek Prechtl, who is vice president at Hagerty and runs the office located just outside of Denver, said he spent his day in the classic Camaro walking drivers through the challenges of driving an iconic muscle car and hopefully kindling the passion he had as a teenager for cars.

"As we grew up we treated our driver's license as freedom. Kids today have changed. The sense of freedom has shifted and the sense of open road has gone away. We're here to remind kids that driving is something you participate in; it's a sport, it's exciting," Prechtl said.

2017 Hagerty Teen Drive Golden

2017 Hagerty Teen Drive Golden

Danielle Clayton hopped behind the wheel for her turn in the Camaro with Prechtl in the passenger seat. When she arrived after her lap around the state patrol facility her smile was just as bright as the May sun in Denver.

"You get a little more confident with each stop—pulling out of the lot was terrifying. The more you feel it and listen to it, the easier it became," she said. Near the end of the day, she waited patiently for her turn in the Elan.

"This is so cool," she said.

For more information about the Hagerty Driving Experience, including dates and locations in the U.S. and Canada, go to hagerty.com/drivingexperience

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