I once met an auto-enthusiast who claimed he could make music with any vehicle, as long as it had a standard shift and a hole in the muffler. And while we all have different taste when it comes to music, I tend to agree. I can take pleasure from the sound of just about any machine making its way through the gears, as long as the driver knows how to use a clutch. And the muffler isn’t too noisy.
But the part about the manual transmission is non-negotiable. Even those of us who are tone deaf know that shifting by hand makes driving more engaging and fun.
Thirty years ago, my drive was a rusty old Austin Mini. It was on its last legs. The brakes were bad, the engine smoked, and there were so many holes in the floor driving through a puddle was like sitting in an oversized bidet. I don’t miss that part. But those Brits could engineer a beautiful transmission and that car made lovely music. Given the chance, I’d go for an encore performance at the drop of a hat.
That’s highly unlikely, though, because you can’t buy an Austin Mini anymore. At least not a real one. And I can see the day is coming when you won’t find a manual transmission in any car. The vast majority of new-car buyers choose to spend the extra $1,000 for an automatic. So American automakers have all but given up. And the Japanese and Europeans are giving in. It’s been years since you could buy a Ferrari with a clutch pedal. Shocking. Isn’t that why God gave us left feet?
But the truth is most people don’t care. They’re content to lean into the driver’s door, elbow against the glass, right hand free for coffee and texting. Heavy sigh.
On the other hand, I can’t help but wonder if I’d be whining the same way if I was around back in 1912, when Cadillac became the first car maker to offer electric start. I can see the opening paragraph: “For heaven’s sake, people, what’s happening out there?”
In any case, some people must have felt that way. Because hand cranks remained on the scene for at least another 50 years. Just ask Jack Kearsey. He’s been working on cars and trucks, as a profession and as a hobby, since the 1950’s. Today, he owns a 1963 Morris Minor with a hand crank. And as he shows us in this video, he knows how to use it.
And for the record, that Morris also has a 4-speed manual transmission. With perfect pitch.