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Automatic transmissions keep improving, but the manual trans still holds a special place

Saving The Stick: Proof that some technological advances do not actually move us forward

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OK, I don’t intend to be mean when I say this, but automatic transmissions aren’t all that cool. That’s not to say they don’t have their place but it would be hard to argue that a classic with a four-speed isn’t more desirable than one with a TH350. Why is this? The automatic is certainly easier to live with and nicer in many instances, stop and go traffic for example. But when we see a Chevy with a stick it just seems to get bonus points.

For a long time, the rule of thumb was a cruiser got an automatic while the high-performance, track capable ride (aside from drag racing where the automatic is still the favored flavor) got a manual. This was because the driver was much better at rowing the gears, performing driving tricks like heal toe shifting (rev matching) and knowing when to be in what gear than the earlier automatics. And that’s not even getting into the engine braking component. But, as time marched on, the automatic transmissions kept getting “smarter” and better at road course work. Today, we have the 10-speed automatic in the Camaro ZL1. From all accounts, it’s actually better at shifting than a human with a manual. It knows when to rev match and when to downshift. It’s just faster than a human could ever be at doing everything.

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But, better isn’t always better. For enthusiasts like us, part of the hobby is becoming one with the car and when ripping around a course the automatic takes part of that away. I want to try and nail that perfect shift, even if I blow it from time to time. I want to hit that rev match perfectly. Being a bit slower in exchange for having more fun is a tradeoff I can live with. I can appreciate the advances in automatic transmission design (my daily driver has an automatic), but for me working a clutch and stick is a big part of the experience of having a performance car.

I remember when you paid more for an automatic. Nowadays I’ve seen where they actually charge more for the manual. I imagine that’s because they sell far less of them than they once did, which is sad in a way. One would think the manual is doomed, but there’s hope. Years ago, Porsche ditched the manual altogether in favor of newer technology, but they brought it back for the 2018 911 GT3. Add in that the new Corvette will be getting a seven-speed manual and it’s not all doom and gloom for those of us that prefer the joys of a stick shift. Besides, given how few younger folk know how to drive a stick it makes for a great theft deterrent!

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