29 August 2011

A 'Clutch' Driving Experience: Learning to drive stick on a Model A

If you’re going to learn to drive a manual transmission, you may as well do it right. Watch as Hagerty Marketing Account Executive Ben Walmer masters the art of the stick shift on a 1930 Model A, then read on for his thoughts about the experience.

My interest in learning to drive a vehicle with a manual transmission did not arise until recently during a visit to a client’s collection. I revealed that I did not know how to start his 1967 Pontiac GTO, seeing it was a manual transmission. From that point on, my Hagerty coworkers nicknamed me “Clutch.”

At age 27, I have begun a mission to salvage what is left of my manhood by learning how to drive a manual transmission on a 1930 Ford Model A Tudor under the supervision of co-worker Jonathan Klinger. It may sound crazy to start with an 81-year-old vehicle, but then again, how many people today have the opportunity to learn to drive on a vehicle this old? And the mystique of learning how to drive on a vehicle that Henry Ford himself oversaw from design to production is a thrill in itself – especially for a history buff like me.

Getting behind the wheel of the Model A for the first time was a little intimidating. I learned that to start the car it was not just a turn of the key but a series of steps: Push the timing lever up, move the throttle lever down slightly , push the clutch in, step on the starter button, briefly pull the choke out, when the engine turns over let the choke go and push the timing lever down. Once I understood the starting sequence and had the engine running, I thought I was on my way to driving a manual until I could not locate the gas pedal − a rookie mistake.  It was cleverly disguised as a small decorative knob by the starter button on the floor.

I spent the next hour learning to go from a dead stop to first gear in an empty parking lot. It was difficult at the beginning, with the Model A moaning and groaning as I worked on getting the timing right to engage the clutch. After a couple of stalls and multiple stop/starts I was ready to see what the mighty Model A had in store for me on the open road. 

Once we found some less-traveled roads, the A was cruising at a comfortable speed in third. I was amazed at the ease of driving the car and enjoyed the smiles and thumbs-up from passing drivers. The only problem I encountered was near the end of my lesson: When I stopped at a light I stalled the car. I blamed it on nerves − the pressure of a car behind me and being on an incline got the best of me.

Learning to drive a manual transmission on a 1930 Ford Model A Tudor has been an amazing experience that I have gladly shared with anyone willing to listen. I still have much to learn before I perfect the art of driving a manual, but with the help of a patient instructor and a well-built Model A, I am on my way to success.

Next step … starting on a hill without rolling backward!

18 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Bob Schmiechen Wisconsin September 11, 2011 at 21:19
    Are you double clutching? How do you manage downshifting? Being a novice myself, I am looking forward to more shared experiences. Bob
  • 2
    Brenda washington state September 13, 2011 at 16:25
    Keep up the good work! It is all about coordination-between both feet and hands getting all of the steps down in sequence, especially on a hill! I have been driving my 29 closed cab pickup for almost 30 years (plus a few years in restoration) and learned in an old rusty 30 coupe before that. Bottom line-Have Fun with it!
  • 3
    Gerry Mills Oklahoma City, Oklahoma September 13, 2011 at 08:50
    Keep practicing Ben. It will come to you. It is all about coordination. One main important thing to remember is always put the clutch in when stopping and do not panic. I own a 1928 Model A Ford Panel Delivery (78A) which is a very rare car.
  • 4
    Michael Pacific Northwest September 13, 2011 at 11:52
    In Europe, if you pass your test on an automatic your licensed to drive only an automatic. Embarrassing when your friend tosses you the keys to the 250 GTO...
  • 5
    Bob Wisconsin September 18, 2011 at 22:13
    I am new at driving a model "A" too! Are you double clutching? How do you down-dhift when taking a turn? (I'm always grinding gears) Looking forward to the next installment.
  • 6
    Joe Niemer Michigan September 20, 2011 at 09:36
    This is very cool. Thanks for the story.
  • 7
    Bertha You got to push it-this essneital info that is! September 22, 2011 at 12:48
    You got to push it-this essneital info that is!
  • 8
    Wanita I feel satifised after reading that one. September 23, 2011 at 12:25
    I feel satifised after reading that one.
  • 9
    Dennis Pabst Encinitas, California September 28, 2011 at 23:16
    I am learning too. How much ineptness can those transmissions take?
  • 10
    Lorin Boom shakalaka boom boom, prolbem solved. October 1, 2011 at 05:49
    Boom shakalaka boom boom, prolbem solved.
  • 11
    Libby I can already tell that's gonna be super hlepufl. October 1, 2011 at 10:47
    I can already tell that's gonna be super hlepufl.
  • 12
    John Cargill Illinois, United States October 4, 2011 at 20:26
    My first lessons in driving stick were in a 41 GMC cabover tow truck. Having not informed my new boss that I had never driven stick, when he told me to put it away, I had to learn fast. Later he had another employee teach me double clutching etc. My children both had to learn stick before I let them drive. They both own sticks today.
  • 13
    Janisa I ralely couldn't ask for more from this article. October 5, 2011 at 18:17
    I ralely couldn't ask for more from this article.
  • 14
    Lucy Ah yes, nielcy put, everyone. October 6, 2011 at 09:00
    Ah yes, nielcy put, everyone.
  • 15
    Brandy Shoot, so that's that one supspoes. October 11, 2011 at 23:48
    Shoot, so that's that one supspoes.
  • 16
    Chris This article ahceived exactly what I wanted it to achieve. January 11, 2012 at 01:43
    This article ahceived exactly what I wanted it to achieve.
  • 17
    TERRY L WALKER Indiana USA October 3, 2012 at 12:02
    If you want to really be confused try to drive some of the early (1960s) foreign made 4 cylinder cars. I took my driving test in a 1960 Simca and it had a 4 speed manual with the shifter on the steering column. It was actually easy to learn except for reverse you had to push the shift lever into the column and then go forward and down. I am 62 and still like to keep a manual vehicle.
  • 18
    melyssa Oregon July 4, 2013 at 11:56
    Thanks for this! My heroine in my third book is learning to drive a 1931 Rolls-Royce Phantom and this was very helpful!

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