Never Stop Driving #41: The stickshift revival

I can’t believe I’m writing this, but the manual transmission is making a comeback. The data are admittedly thin, but according to J.D. Power, 1.7 percent of car buyers this year opted for a manual transmission, compared to 0.9 percent in 2021 and 1.2 percent in 2022. Furthermore, Tyson Jominy, the VP of J.D. Power’s information network, said that the manual buyers are no longer doing so to save money or gas with small subcompact cars; instead, they’re choosing to shift themselves with enthusiast cars like Toyota Supra and Jeep Wrangler. The Wall Street Journal and several other outlets pounced on the data and surmised that the stick shift is appealing in an analog way, like vinyl records.

Several brands have added manual transmissions to their lineups. The new Integra is the first Acura in half a decade to offer a manual gearbox. Mini added manual gearboxes to four models. The new Ford Bronco has a stick. BMW, Porsche, and Cadillac still offer manual transmission models. Two new boutique supercars, the Gordon Murray T.50 and Glickenhaus SCG 004, can be had with manuals.

2023 Acura Integra A-Spec interior shifter closeup
Matt Tierney

Here at Hagerty we welcome this news with open arms. Since 2011, our manual transmission classes, which are free, have taught 4500 people how to operate a manual transmission. Anecdotally, I’m also noticing more interest in manuals. We’ve lived in the same Ann Arbor home for 23 years and there’s usually some half-apart project car within easy view of the neighbors, so I’m well known as the car nut. In the past two years several new drivers have asked me to teach them how to drive a manual transmission, in stark contrast to our first two decades when not a single neighborhood kid asked. Of course, I obliged the requests and hope you do the same.

My personal relationship with manual shifting has, ahem, recently shifted since I bought my first daily driver with an automatic, a 2018 VW GTI. I did not miss the manual as I thought I might. Am I getting old? Also, while I initially loathed the lack of manual transmissions in high-dollar sports cars like the Ferrari 458, McLaren Artura, and Corvette Z06, I’ve come to recognize that those cars are now so powerful that—on public roads—one rarely finds an opportunity to wind the engine out between gears. I’d love to own a 458 even with the automatic transmission and am less dismissive of the feature than I used to be.

2023 Cadillac CT5-V interior shifter detail
Cameron Neveu

My personal transmission flexibility is generally not shared by the classic-car market. We reported, for example, that manual-equipped cars generally command high premiums over the same model with an automatic. I think this trend speaks to both a greater appreciation of analog pursuits but also perhaps a growing realization that we will lose something valuable if we relinquish driving duties to robots.

Those robotic efforts continue to advance, albeit at a slower pace than the autonomous hype machine once predicted. In February, Waymo reported that its vehicles had covered over one million miles without a human watcher behind the wheel. Cruise, the autonomous taxi company backed by GM, announced it had reached the same milestone on February 22. Both companies increased the size of the AV operational area. Waymo driverless taxis now run between downtown Phoenix and the airport. And Amazon-backed Zoox deployed its robot taxi, which doesn’t even have a steering wheel, on public roads.

Meanwhile, Hagerty video host Henry Catchpole got behind the wheel of two super compelling new cars, the Aston Martin Valkyrie and the Ferrari Purosangue. A 1964 Ferrari 250 LM and 1935 Voisin C25 Aerodyne took top honors at The Amelia Concours, and the event also produced several auction records.

See you next week!

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    I would not make too much out of this as the real numbers are small. Also it may be those who want to get one before they are gone are just upgrading.

    Too few people know how to drive them and automakers may not be doing much with them.

    Though with an EV you could put one in with programming that replicates a ICE engine. Not much consolation but at least it is something.

    I prefer a manual transmission by far. I had to order my Jeep Gladiator, as no Gladiator in the dealership was a manual. Living in New England, I find them safer in the winter. That said, the new clutch is a big disappointment, ( they’re no way as good as my older Jeeps) but nonetheless whatever vehicle I buy next will arrive with a manual.

    People can come up with all sorts of reasons for manuals. Best to just admit you like em as everything else is very subjective.

    The truth is emissions killed the manual and the unskilled inattentive drive finished off.

    I followed an idiot into two round a-bouts tonight. The first he stops at the yield with no one coming. The second he again stops at the yield with no one coming. Then enters the circle then stops for a car that had yielded and just sat to look at him.

    These same people can not manage a manual shift let alone hardly drive an automatic.

    Driver skills are at an all time low.

    Sadly most people would crash a car with a clutch.

    Yeah, hyperV6 has a point: a couple of tenths of a percent are hardly earth-shattering. I’m not sure what to make of the whole thing, other than to suspect that when people find out that you actually have to “learn” to drive a stickshift, and that there is a degree or two of difficulty involved, they will generally turn back to automatics. Who wants to actually have to work at this driving thing? That’s why we’re told that people are clamoring for touchscreens as opposed to analog knobs, dials and switches, right? That’s why folks are demanding autonomous vehicles. If I’m hearing all the hype correctly, almost no one wants to actually put any effort into anything anymore – they want it all done for them (e.g. – have an AI chatbot do your writing for you). So it follows that almost nobody wants to actually have to use the brain-and-muscle power required to coordinate foot-and-hand to operate a clutch-and-shifter! 🤨

    Actually with the shortages of chips and other issues it may not be a trend of the shifter but just added availability.

    A shot bump is not a trend. Emissions laws are going to kill the manual as well economics of building such small numbers.

    I hate to say it but the time is coming it will end.

    Even most medium duty trucks and school buses used to be manual. But today they are automatic.

    I remember sitting and watching the driver shift gears and clutch. This is how I first learned how to shift gest on the school bus.

    I remember the first time I took my son out in a Corvette he asked me why I was moving the lever so much. It struck me then that all their busses were automatics and he had never been in a Manual vehicle.

    With so many young people today oblivious to cars I really see manuals are done for even if we did not have zero emission laws coming.

    After decades of Toyotas and Hondas most are not interested in cars other than transportation. Yes there are pockets of youth still involved with the hobby but it is no where like it once was.

    One other factor that hurts manuals too are FWD. The Tremecs are great as they have the internal rails for shifting but too many FWD rely on rubbery shifters that you can’t tell 1st from 5th at times.

    This took a bit of the fun from some cars too.

    Perhaps the stick resurgence is influenced with the ever-growing popularity of outstanding track events such as the SCCA’s Track Night in America. An auto on the Streets of Willow Springs?? Better check your mirrors!! Rick L is correct. Back in the late 60’s & early 70’s you didn’t win a “run what you brung” with an auto! Just say’n

    For the pure enjoyment of driving, I certainly prefer a manual. I have a ‘23 ZL-1 on order and even though many are quick to point out that the 10 spd auto is a fraction quicker, I absolutely and enthusiastically ordered the 6 spd manual… it’s hard to explain to the inexperienced, but those who know – just know.

    I love the stick shift- as long as it is not on the column. It makes me feel I’m in control. However, for almost any application, the automatic transmission (or automated stick-shift in big trucks) does a better job. And, this has been true now for a number of years. I used to hate automatic transmissions, but in creeping rush hour traffic they earned by grudging respect. Better yet, my hybrid creeps along in EV mode and I’m conserving petrol, as well. Instead of wearing out my arm (and the clutch) shifting, I get to chill with ZZ-Top.

    I dream of the day when I’m in a crowd and someone yells, “Does anybody know how to drive a three on the tree?”.

    We got a new 2020 Dodge Challenger and chose it because it had a stick. It just makes it more fun to drive. It will probably be the last new car we get as we personalize it and know we will never buy hybrid or electric.

    Yes it is great to see a come back! My first car that was a hand me down was a 62 Valiant with 3 on the tree. Later I converted it to a 4 speed. Later the the first car I purchased, just out of high school, was a 69 Z/28 which was of course a manual. Over the years I have had a sprinkling of manuals. When I met my X she had a manual Mustang convertible. About twenty years ago after I was given a divorce, I missed my Trans Am project cars. Had to sell them. So, I bought a 88 Fiero with a 5 speed. I drove that car for 120,000 miles. My last leased vehicle was a 6 speed manual and my current leased car is also a manual. When I was selling automobiles I actually sold a car to a young lady, that I found out later didnt know how to drive a manual, and when she and her mother came to pick it up her mother said “now you can teacher her how to drive a manual”. LOL She did real well. I taught one of my sisters how to drive the Valiant. LOL Speaking of the Valiant. Back when I was about 14 or 15, my grand parents lived out in country. We had to take a road north until it ended and turned left. Dad would get out of the car and we would switch places and for the last mile to the grand parents place I learned how to drive.

    I went off to college in a 61 Valiant, but recall the 3 speed being on the floor. Were it really on the steering column “tree” as you suggest, it must have been quite a challenge to add and maneuver that 4th gear!

    Some of us think the driver should be paying attention to where they are going and how they are driving rather than massaging the mechanical needs of the powertrain.

    Can’t do both? I’d wager the screens, hands-free systems, and semi-autonomous driving “aids” do more to diminish driving involvement (and thus driver safety) than a manual. A manual makes you actually *pay attention* to the car and what it’s doing. It doesn’t lull you into a false sense of removal from the machine.

    I noticed several references to “fun to drive.” Shape up, you are not here to have fun; shut up and engage Cruise Control. so that the “insurance company” Black Box can keep track of your revs, rides and emission releases.

    It’s ALL there.

    When the muscle car wars were really ranging late 60’s early 70’s a stick shift car was typically faster than an automatic. Growing up just a mile from Lebanon Valley (upstate NY) during that time so many of the drag cars were manuals especially the street/strip cars. My Dad drag raced a 69 Hurst SC/Rambler in F/Stock and that class was 20 some cars all vying for a 50 cent trophy. The F/S automatic class was just about non-existent. Now, the automatics are so good that they are faster.

    However, I still find it extremely satisfying to get out and power shift my 84 5.0 Mustang, although it is slower than a lot of the SUV’s of today. Oh well…progress. I will keep driving it until they pry that shifter out of my cold hand…. Motion is Lotion, Rest is Rust.

    Way back in the eighties, I taught my sister-in-law to drive a manual in the morning and had her autocrossing that afternoon!! Rewarding day for both of us!!

    I recently bought a 2009 Corvette LS3, Z51. This is the third Corvette I have owned over the years. All the others were manuals but I struggled deciding on this one. There were so many more automatics for sale than sticks and one in particular had the color and all options I was looking for. I kept thinking about some traffic jams we regularly get into when we visit our favorite vacation sites and the ramifications of driving a stick in that stuff. But then I recalled the joy of shifting and that rush of power hitting that next gear. So I decided to go with the stick and I’ll deal with traffic when it comes.
    After making the deal I had the dealer do a detailing job. When I went to pick up the car it was still in the detailing bay. The saleswomen and I went there and he told them to bring it out for me. A couple of the detailers huddled for a minute and then one came over and said the only one of them that could drive a stick left for lunch. More funny than that was that the saleswomen, an older lady knew how to drive a stick and she got in and drove it out for me. Funny stuff.

    My first car had a DOHC-6, 4 speed with overdrive, and 4 wheel disk brakes. That was some time ago and automagics were mainly 2 or 3 speed, slow shifting, and heavy.
    Since then my race and autocross cars were always stick (nothing like coming into a pylon hot, grabbing a lower gear, turning abruptly while dumping the clutch for 4 wheel steering). Meanwhile tow cars had automatics.
    Today Judge has a Muncie but is the last one left, rest are five or six speed lockup automatics. Orlando traffic has changed a 20 minute trip to old town to over an hour. Since I’ve been here the population has tripled with too many lifted pickups and ginormous SUVs that take up two parking spaces . I keep buying 150db air horns because my roadsters are invisible in the next lane.
    First Crossfire coupe had a six speed manual that was a lot of fun. current one is a five speed automagic with slap shift.
    And so it goes.

    While driving a manual can be fun and spirited, I think you hit the nail one the head. Where can most of us truly enjoy being able to use a manual to its fullest potential. Most of us drive in traffic every day and using that clutch while sitting in traffic is not very appealing to me any more.

    I have a ground up restored ‘69 AMX Hurst 4-speed, a 1988 Porsche S4 manual, a 2012 Audi R8 manual and a Porsche 911 Carrera S Cab with PDK. Guess which one I drive daily to work…the 911

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