Listen to a child (or adult) playing with a toy car. Chances are the child will not only make vrooming engine noises, but also shifting noises, with the engine rpms rising and falling rhythmically. That’s because even a child knows that for optimal acceleration, you should shift when the next higher gear produces more torque than the current gear you’re in. It’s innate in all of us.
So how should we shift gears in a car? More and more sports car manufacturers believe the best way is with a dual-clutch transmission (DCT). Think of a DCT as a manual transmission that can shift automatically. It has some of the advantages of both a manual and automatic transmission. At 0.100 seconds, it can shift faster than a human driver (0.250 – 0.500 seconds), and still be able to shift automatically in stop-and-go traffic. There are switches or paddles on the steering wheel if the driver wants to shift the DCT up or down a gear.
It can incorporate features such as launch control, which lets you take off from a standing start like a pro drag racer. It also prevents missed shifts, keeping you from over-revving your engine. It’s all rainbows and unicorns.
Ferrari stopped making manual transmission cars years ago and sell their production cars only with a DCT. Lamborghini’s last production vehicle with a manual transmission was a special limited run of 50 Gallardos last year. Porsche introduced the new 2014 911 Turbo and Turbo S models only with a 7-speed DCT (PDK, or Porsche Doppelkupplung, in Porsche parlance).
And with each iconic sports car that’s released with only a DCT, my inner child dies a little more.
“Get up, stand up, Stand up for your rights.
Get up, stand up, Don’t give up the fight.”
My favorite cartoon as a child was Speed Racer. I watched him shift his car, the Mach 5, to adventure and victory. My favorite cartoon as an adult is the Fast and Furious movie series, where a simple drive to the corner 7-11 requires more shifting than a Nürburgring 24-hour race.
This is how I learned cars should be driven. You don’t simply step on the gas, but shift your way up through a gated shifter. Every turn or curve is a dance as you heel-and-toe your way around it. And it doesn’t matter if you’re in a Yugo out for a drive in the country or in an Aston Martin racing a crazy, strong-legged Russian brunette in a Ferrari 355, as long as you can shift gears yourself.
Because Famke Janssen is Onatopp in a Ferrari
I can make up reasons to drive manual transmissions, like “control” and “gas mileage” and “connection to the car” and “real men drive manual transmissions” or even “fun,” but these are all just pretenses. A DCT can be driven to have these advantages as well. I know I would be faster on the race track with a DCT over a manual transmission I shift myself, but I’m not a real race car driver, just a pretend one.
And that’s the key for me. By knowing how to shift, I can pretend to be special. As I shift my way through a little track like Waterford Hills, I can pretend that only seat time and money prevents me from joining the Big Race. As I shift my way onto the freeway ramp, I can pretend to be chasing Steve McQueen’s Porsche 917 down the Mulsanne Straight in the 24 Heures du Mans. And as I go through the gears in a forest while cutting down trees with my special rotary saws before driving underwater, I can pretend to be Speed Racer in the Mach 5.
The Mulsanne Straight in the rain
So yes, I live in a fantasy world. In my fantasy world, I’m not in a Subaru station wagon, but maybe a Porsche 959 Rally ready for the Paris-Dakar race, or some other fast car that requires me to shift. At least it used to be that way. Now only a few cars still have a manual transmission. The non-turbo Porsche 911s, the Chevrolet Corvette, SRT Vipers still let you shift yourself. The Subaru WRX STI only comes with a manual transmission, as God intended, while the Mitsubishi Evo X has been sissified with a DCT.
What’s special about a car with DCT? Nothing. Anybody can drive such a car. My grandmother could probably get into a Nissan GT-R with DCT (because that’s all it comes with) and start lapping as fast I do. No special skill is necessary. I can’t pretend to be better, because DCT is a big equalizer. We could all be good in a DCT car.
I know I’m just tilting at windmills. Manual transmission usage has been dropping in the U.S. since 1970s. Last I saw, less than 10% of vehicles sold in America have manual transmission. The car market has weighed the manual transmission in the balance and has found it wanting. There are only a few of us driving enthusiasts left who still worship at the Temple of the Clutch.
And this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.
I see the day coming when the film camera, the tube TV, and the manual transmission will only be seen at the Smithsonian Institute as relics of our ancient technological past. It’s probable that mankind will eventually forget how to drive manual transmissions, much like we’ve forgotten the ancient alien technology used to build the pyramids. So while I won’t miss TVs with images like bad YouTube videos, you’ll have to pry my sweaty, racing-gloved hand off my shift knob.
As protest against sports car manufacturers getting rid of the manual transmission, I am refusing to buy the new $181,100 Porsche 911 Turbo S. Unless I win the lottery.
 For the 2014 Corvette, 38% of buyers are choosing the 7-speed manual transmission. The other 62% hate cars.↩
Crankiness Rating: 11 out of 11 (This is serious stuff.)