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Jewish World Review
Nov 17, 2011
/ 20 Mar-Cheshvan 5772
A pretend stick shift for pretend drivers
Some people -- and you know who you are -- say America's decline from greatness paralleled the gradual disappearance of the manual transmission. The fact that most young American males knew how to drive, in an era when every transmission was manual, is said to have given the U.S. a great advantage in World War II.
Now, according to The Wall Street Journal, fewer than 10 percent of cars and light trucks sold in this country have a manual clutch and gear shift. But from Europe, a fountain of bad ideas, like loaning money to the Greek government, comes something called the clutch-less manual transmission, allowing the driver the illusion of man mastering machine without the actual hassle of knowing how to use a clutch.
A clutch for those unfortunate enough not to have taken, as I did, their driver's test in a '57 Plymouth with the gear shift mounted on the steering column, is a pedal just to the left of the brake. Easing it out while easing down on the gas pedal, in theory, gets the car moving. Get either movement wrong and the car shudders and jerks and then stalls, usually in front of a crowd of guffawing yokels. It was a harsh school, but did I mention we won World War II?
For an extra $1,000, rather a lot to pay for mechanical nostalgia, Ford will sell you a Focus that allows you to pretend you're driving a manual transmission, without, of course that pesky clutch and also without a real gear shift. Instead you press a button on the side of the PRND knob.
If you forget to shift when you're supposed to, the car does it for you with, one hopes, an audible sigh of disgust emanating from the GPS.
The Journal says the Focus "feels like an automatic (author's note: perhaps because it is), "except for a subtle but noticeable stutter when moving out of first gear. It's a catch familiar to someone who's driven an old-school manual -- the car is engaging a clutch. But it has provoked complaints from some buyers of the new Focus."
Invade us now, somebody. You can march right in and take over. We're a nation that can be spooked by first gear.
Instead of having the service manager slap the clueless customer around, the Journal says, "Ford has launched a campaign to educate buyers about the clutch less manual and is considering ways to recalibrate the transmission to smooth out the performance." In other words, surrender.
In the 1950s you could buy LPs -- the audio version of a stick shift -- that consisted solely of the sounds of high-powered sports cars going through their gears at Europe's great racetracks. This item shows just how far gone those days are: Porsche says 55 percent to 65 percent of buyers in this country opt for the clutch less manual transmission.
Porsche offers both standard and clutch less transmissions with seven speeds. A factory representative says the clutch less is much faster than a standard unless you're a world class driver, which any American who commutes by car can tell you is in alarmingly short supply.
There have been 11 cars with manual transmissions in my life. I've held on to two of them, basically because I like driving them and also to stay in training for a fantasy I've been entertaining since the stick shift began to disappear.
We're at a vintage auto show and on exhibit there is a Ferrari Testa Rossa, sometimes it's a Duesenberg J, in any event two of the most beautiful cars ever made. A distraught attendant shouts, "Can anybody here drive a stick shift? We really have to get this Ferrari back to town."
Your worries are over, my friend.
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