I was six. The shifter in question lived in a late 60s VW Beetle that my Dad had purchased from one of my brothers whose eye had wandered to a new mechanical love. The faded green paint, white interior, rusted floorboard and that knob on the end of a stick…I loved that car.
Being the only girl and the youngest in a family of five kids allowed me certain privileges with Dad. We ventured the streets and byways of our hometown in northern Illinois in that car and Dad taught me to shift. He would clutch and I would shift left-handed. I can drive in Europe thanks to him! Timing my tiny hand with his size 11 shoe became a fun game that we “didn’t tell Mom” about. In a house full of men, there were a lot of things we (namely me) “didn’t tell Mom” about when it came to riding in cars and on motorcycles. That car still brings fond memories to mind as I write this blog post. It was my first true car experience as the driver, or as close as a six-year-old could get…power like that at such a young age corrupts.
78′ Rabbit was the next VW product to drift across the driveway. I was sixteen and wanting some independence. Our next door neighbor was a VW mechanic so in my Dad’s eyes that sealed the deal on another VW in our house. Spending a whopping $800 on that orange beauty was a bargain…I paid half, Dad the other. Funny, all that shifting left-handed did me no good as I rode shotgun on the way home from purchasing the gem. Sitting in the driver’s seat was a bit different from a Sunday drive with Dad at the helm. A few driving lessons later on the National St. hill and he was done. My tutelage was left to a friend who had mastered her own stick shift via the Mazda wagon of about the same year as my VW. Manuals have peppered the landscape of my life and I currently enjoy my Subaru Legacy very much while I do some downshifting and passing on the B and C roads of life.
While I talk of the love of a manual transmission, it makes me wonder where we will go…people like me who love to drive…when cars are more autonomous. I’m not alone in my despair, the reality of it is here. More and more features on today’s new rides have minds of their own. Many are for safety, others for convenience. Today’s cars will be on the road at least 15-20 years. I’ve got awhile before we go completely autonomous.
One thing I do know…as long as this exists (photo below)…there will be drivers of manual transmissions. Maybe I should get into racing…looks like fun to me!
I bet Dad would have enjoyed it too!
Keep shifting my friend…