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!

5 Reader Comments

  • 1
    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!
  • 2
    Dobiejoe IN June 4, 2014 at 15:08
    Along with a couple of buddies, we assembled a 31 2dr Sedan in 1963. It was probably one of the most fun cars I ever drove. We used it to run to the beach (Lake Michigan) on Sunday afternoons. Didn't have to double clutch - just pop it from gear to gear - shift quick enough with the clutch, and never get a gear clash. The only problem was having to "plan" your stops with the mechanical brakes. Lots of fun with the car running around in the sun.
  • 3
    Ed schnurr Boston November 10, 2014 at 08:55
    Just watched this. When I was 12 I learned to drive in my dad's 1930 model A pickup. Because it was in the middle of my dad restoring it all I has to work with was a running chassis and a milk crate for a seat. I got so I could eventually catch 3rd gear across the front yard. The truck did get restored and my dad still has it 45 years later.
  • 4
    bo stewart akron,ohio December 16, 2014 at 14:12
    i'm 86 yrs old.,i learned to drive at the age of 12,on a ford mode A,i think it was a 1926 model.not sure,but,the clutch was so far worn,i would set a little time befor the car would move.i always thought,ford should bring back the model A,with a very few improvements,i think they would sell like hot cakes.
  • 5
    Rob K Indiana September 15, 2015 at 07:18
    When you started talking about grinding gears going into second, I was sure you'd be teaching him the art of double-clutching. You're not doing the full job if you don't let the clutch out between gears to slow the spinning gears down to mate up smoothly. Oh please don't mash those gears :(

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