The conventional wisdom is that Americans don’t buy manual transmission cars. While that’s largely true for vehicles like a Nissan Sentra, it turns out Americans do overwhelmingly prefer stick-shifts when the right car comes along. For example, 90 percent of Subaru WRX and 76 percent of Mazda Miata soft-top buyers choose to row their own gears. The purer the car, the more standard transmissions are selected. The Porsche 911 GT3 has a 70 percent take rate, while non-GT3 911 models hover between 20 to 25 percent. And then there are oddbal stats, like the fact that 78 percent of Subaru BRZ customers get the manual, as opposed to only 33 percent of Toyota 86 buyers.
These figures give us hope that the desire to learn how to drive stick will exist as long as carmakers give us cars worth driving. It might be a good time to see how we can pass this skill along (We’re assuming that if you’re reading JNC you know how to drive a manual. If not you can still answer the question; just tell us why you haven’t learned).
How did you learn to drive a manual?
The most entertaining comment by next Monday will receive a prize. Scroll down to see the winner of last week’s QotW, “What do you actually drive?”
The simple question of what car you drive received one of the most overwhelming number of responses since we started QotW. We were also quite surprised to learn that a large number of readers don’t own an old Japanese car of their own (but we’re glad you’re here anyway!).
The answers could be split up into several categories. First are the intrepid souls who drive their JNCs every day, like jamal mansour‘s Kenmeri Skyline, Negishi no Keibajo‘s Suzuki Samurai, Jim Simpson‘s Toyota Sera, F31Roger‘s Infiniti M30, or Greyfox‘s Nissan NX2000, just to name a few.
Then of course there were readers who drove modern Japanese cars, such as Dimitry Mochkin‘s 2014 Honda Fit, Rapp’s Rapp Scion FR-S, Ian G‘s Honda Element, BlitzPig‘s 2013 Honda Accord Coupe V6 manual, or Socarboy‘s 2009 Nissan Frontier. Some had even owned multiple examples. dankan‘s on his third Toyota Corolla, a 2020 model, and Mike P has owned four Scion xBs. Others turned their modern daily drivers into projects as well, like Alan‘s wickedly modified Subaru Outback or Ernie‘s bullet-like 2007 Yaris.
Then there were those who drive non-Japanese cars. Dave Pattten‘s Ford Transit Connect work truck complements his fleet of Datsun 510s. Marwin dailies a 2005 Accent to preserve his 1983 Mitsubishi Galant. CycoPablo drives a Hyundai Elantra while his CRX is under construction. Kieron enjoys the modern conveniences of a Mercedes C300 while building his Datsun 510 race car. KevinH shuffles between his Fiaat 500 Abarth, Chrysler Pacifica, and 1979 Toyota Corona. Tom Westmacott drives a C55 AMG Estate to offset his FD RX-7. My_Fairlady_ZFG drives a W124 Mercedes E300 to perserve his Datsun 240Z. And Chris has an Alfa Romeo 156 Sportwagon to pair with is Eunos Roadster S Special. Hyundais and Mercedes seemed to be the most popular non-Japanese choices.
Our favorite category were the readers who drove a modern car of the same marque as their classic. Andrew H drives a Corolla Hybrid so he can build his Toyota Crown. Ben E. dailies a 1995 Corolla Wagon while keeping an A70 Supra and RA64 Celica as fun cars. MikeRL411 alternates between his Datsun RL411 and Infiniti J30. Yuri bought a BRZ tS specifically as a future JNC to go with his A70 Supra and AE86. Speedie‘s 2010 Mazda 3 goes with his RX-8. Chris‘s RAV4 helps keep the miles off his two classic V20 Camrys. And Mr Bill has an Infiniti G35 manual to complement his S13 Nissan 240SX.
The winner this week in a very competitive field, was RotorNutcase who gave us a chuckle with his Brady Bunch-themed answer:
Jan of the Brady Bunch: Marsha, Marsha, Marsha! It’s always about Marsha!!!
Me: Mazda, Mazda, Mazda, Mazda…
Before retiring, alternated 50 mile R/T commutes between my ’88 RX-7 convertible and ’04 RX-8 Sport (both with M/T & original engines). Since the -7 only had about 5k miles when purchased, I amuse myself by keeping the odometer for both at similar mileages. Currently they’re at 76k miles.
Oh… the other “Mazda, Mazda” are a ’16 CX-5 Touring (replaced a ’03 MPV) and a ’75 REPU.
In my country (like in mostly in the rest of Europe) learning to drive is done on manual cars, so i’ve learned to operate the shifter during making my driver’s license.
I know that in some countrys one can make a limited licence for driving AT cars only. It’s cheaper and gives some benefits in terms of insurence.
Got into a 3 wheeler car when it got too cold to keep riding the Vespa – you can drive them on a 2 wheeler licence in the UK. A Bond Minicar with 200 throbbing cc of power driving through a motorcycle gearbox connected by a long and sloppy set of rods and joints to a column shift. After that, driving a real car with 4 wheels and a floor or column shift was simple. Then 3 years in NZ driving a Citroen L15 with the dashboard mounted lever.
In the 60’s, there was an almost abandoned US Army base in Tomioka, just outside of Yokohama. All there was was a Special Services Skeet Shooting range & a garbage dump. My dad gave me a crash course in rowing through the gears & then turn me loose to drive around the base on my own as he shot skeet. The car was his 1965 Sea Blue Volkswagen bug & I’m putting my age about twelve. I never saw an automatic until we moved to the states when I was almost sixteen. Driving age was eighteen in Japan then, so I was shocked to be enrolled in “Driver’s Education” when we arrived in the states. My amazing neighbor, who was a Ship Fitter in the local shipyard took me in to teach me about mechanicals. He helped this “fish out of water” kid ease into a new life.
Learning how to drive a manual is mandatory here in the Netherlands as otherwise you would get an “automatic-only” mark on your driving license. So if pass your driving test in a non-manual car you are only allowed to drive cars with an automatic gearbox. This is the reason why the majority of driving schools are still teaching how to drive with a manual gearbox, even though almost half of all cars sold in the Netherlands are automatic gearbox cars.
Naturally I got my license by learning driving a manual gearbox car as I was 100% sure my first or second car was supposed to be an AE86. Learning to drive a manual isn’t that difficult, but I found it much more challenging to learn how to drive a manual properly. With properly I mean heel-to-toe and matching revs while downshifting. I still do this regularly with my modern car even though it’s completely unnecessary.
What’s funny is that the third car I bought is (I still own it) an automatic. While performing the test drive I experienced the struggle the other way around as we are not told how to drive an automatic. When driving a manual you really get used to operating a car with both feet: left foot for operating the clutch and right for gas and braking. Somehow your brain gets disoriented by the absence of a clutch pedal or perhaps your left foot really wishes to be included in all the fun: when nearing the first corner I managed to floor the brake pedal with my left foot causing my passenger shoot forwards and get caught by the seatbelts! I have lend out this car to various people and I have always taken them on a short trip around the block to explain how to drive an automatic. So far none of them have failed my expectations: they all did the exact same thing as I did and floored the brake pedal before getting around the first corner.
While in high school, I was working part time at an alternator rebuilding shop. One day, the boss calls my friend and me over and tells my friend to take me and go pick up the company truck, a Datsun 620 pickup, from the dealership it was being serviced at. It was only after we left, about halfway there, my friend asked, “you do know how to drive a stick, right?” To which, I answered, “uh, no.” Now, the dealership was only about 10 minutes away so he should have turned around and gone back to the shop to pick up another co-worker but, thankfully, he didn’t.
He gave me the only M/T driving lesson, a basic primer, I ever received on the rest of the drive to the dealership: “When leaving from a stop, rev the engine a tiny bit. Let out the clutch slowly until you just feel the truck move. Give it more gas and let the clutch out completely. Smoothly. When you go around a corner, put it in second gear. This should get you back.”
Got in the truck at the dealer and, of course, killed it first thing. Then, of course, next attempt, did a burnout. So the whole trip back, it was a series of burnouts, kill engine. Repeat. Never smoked the clutch, though.
What should have been a 10minute trip was one of the longest 30minutes in my life. They were laughing when I finally showed up. But, hey, by the time I got back, I more or less knew how to drive a stick and I WAS HOOKED.
Besides driving my parent’s hand-me-down A/T Plymouth Duster for two years after high school, I’ve been buying/driving stick shift cars exclusively, ever since 1979!!
It was actually my mom who taught me how to drive stick. Knowing well that I would take over driving duties whenever needed, she insisted me to drive stick.
Having seen her tame the old jeep from my hometown when I was a kid made me confident having her as my instructor. And it did pay off, didn’t really do the barefoot technique she does though.
P.S. Apparently, she prefers the feeling of stepping on the pedals directly, I just asked.
When I was an inexperienced manual driver I preferred to drive wearing my old worn out Converse Allstars. The thin soles gave me much more pedal feel instead of the thick soles of the army boots I wore daily. It also made me feel much more confident driving. After about one or two years driving I didn’t need them anymore as I was able to feel the movement of the car instead of just the pedals.
I also wear a pair of Chucks or Vans whenever I drive, I love how light yet grippy they can get, giving you just that right amount of control
Way easier for me too, as I have pretty small feet for a guy.
I learned how to drive manual when I was 13. The car that I learned how to drive manual in was a 1989 Ford Probe GL. My mom was my driving teacher.
Here is my non-award-winning answer: Driver’s Ed in 1966. The car was some kind of Chevy sedan with “three on the tree.” (three speed transmission controlled by a shift lever attached to the steering column–how quaint) I also learned that if you stall your car on the railroad tracks you can get it off by putting it in first gear and cranking the starter.
I worked at Fairfield Toyota as a lot attendant from ’89-’90. I hadn’t yet learned to drive a stick as my first car was a ’74 RX-2 with a slushbox. I remember the first car I was asked to park around the back of the dealership. It was a brand new A70 Supra turbo in white. The customer was standing inside the service lobby, watching me try to guide his baby out of the driveway. After 5 fruitless minutes, three stalls, and some nasty grinding, one of the service reps came out and kindly took over. Within a week I was proficient…and just about every car I’ve owned since then has been a manual.
Let hear it for the MOMs!
My first experience with a manual was my grandmothers ’59 Nash Metropolitan (Google it). It was a three-on-the-tree transmission, and a huge steering wheel for leverage.
Years later when I turned 16, my mom growing tired of chauffeuring my brother to all his various activities, made me an offer I could not refuse. She offers to buy me a car in exchange for unlimited taxi service for my bother, I readily agreed. We scan the classifieds of the local newspaper and find the cheapest car available, a 1972 Mazda RX2. $800 later I’m a proud owner of a beat up Mazda and could not be happier. Its a four-on-the-floor and my mom drives the car one. The drive home was my lesson and all I remember her saying that “this is easy, very easy, easy easy easy”. She mentioned that the Mazda was far easier to drive than HER first car. What did you drive mom? A 1938 Lincoln Zephyr V12 Coupe! Is that the car you drove through the neighbors fence?, yes that’s the one.
I learn to drive stick in 75 with a 75 Celica GT 5 speeds. My girlfriend (now my wife) was working for Toyota parts center for Quebec. Every year she can have a new car to lease. Since that time we never have an auto shift. We now have a 2004 Matrix drive everyday. Not to forget our 1977 Celica GT Liftback still in good shape.
It was a graduated program by my dad. 5 steps for the 5 gears our car had.
Step 1 – This required only 1 gear. Initially, it was just learning to move the car a bit forward and a bit back on the street, literally just inches, where the family car (Dark Sky Blue 1981 Mazda 929 Limited, Middle East spec) was parked. There was one time I almost took out the outside wall of our house, lol.
Step 2 – This required me to drive in second gear as I graduated to taking the car around the block.
Step 3 – Eventually, I started to do grocery runs and the grocery store was far enough to hit 3rd gear but close enough to not need to shift into 4th.
Step 4 – I was SUPER excited when my dad finally told me to drive on a stretch of road where I can move into 4th. This was a long enough stretch which was interrupted by a traffic light. After we reached the traffic light, he asked me to do a u-turn and go back.
Step 5 – Hitting the open highways of Eastern Saudi Arabia. This was BY FAR one of the most exciting times in my life, hitting top gear!!!
In 1977, in my Dad’s Toyota Corona wagon. I am surprised the clutch lasted– it took weeks of Saturday morning practice sessions before I could coordinate left and right feet to do a smooth takeoff.
Decades later my dad decoded to teach my then-14 year old son how to drive in his Samurai. Surprisingly he picked it up right away– although that was the only time he has driven a stick! My dad then taught my nieces how to drive stick in the Sammy. With 17,000 miles on the odometer, the Sammy still has the original clutch…
For me it was completely trial by fire. I did not know how to drive a manual, but really wanted my first car to be equipped with a manual gearbox. I found a 1987 Ford Ranger 5-speed 3 hours away on the other side of the state, and bought it. I then had to drive it all the way home while learning how to drive stick by myself. Of course at my first stop light, the car behind my ends up being a highway patrol car. I stalled the truck four times, then finally just said screw it, and brought the revs up and dumped the clutch, doing a very sad one wheel burnout in front of the cop. I think he understood what was happening by that time and completely ignored me. By the time I got home, I could get it going without stalling, and was able to switch gears easily despite it not having a tach. By the end of the week, I could start from hills.
I owe a lot to that little Toyo Koygo E57 gearbox. It took the brunt of the abuse so none of my future cars had to.
Learn to drive on an automatic. I guess just kind of fell into it. Bought a new 1972 Celica. Parents took me to pick it up at the dealership. Was a “car kid”, so knew basically what to do. Just needed to get familiar with the clutch. All good! :o). Still have the car.
Back in the 70’s, Mac McGinnis, founder of the McGinnis School of Driving in Albuquerque insisted that all his students learn to drive a manual. Both “3 on the tree” Mavericks and 4 speed Mustangs were in his motor pool…all in familiar light blue livery. Even though the state of NM did not require proficiency with a manual trans, Old Mac wouldn’t give anyone a diploma until they could row their own gears.
I learned at an old age. Growing up I had no access to a manual transmission. My first attempt was when my cousin and his friends were too drunk to drive, and I being the only sober one was elected to drive his girlfriend’s 95 Civic sedan 5 speed home. We got there, but the less said about it the better. I was 16 or 17 then.
Fast forward to something like 2013 and I’m well into my 30s. A local car dealer was auctioning off their back lot cars on Ebay at the end of the year. I bid on 2, a ’95 Dodge Stealth R/T and a ’92 3000GT ES figuring my bids were so low I would win neither. With only a few minutes left in the auctions I was still high bidder for both. When the final bell rang I had won the ’92 for $1,200 or something.
It was blue with no spoiler and it had a 5 speed. That was all I knew about it really. When I went to pick it up I got the full picture. Yup, bought a $1,200 car without looking at it first – I really thought I would be outbid and it wouldn’t matter. Anyway, the clear coat was burned off most of the top half of the car, the interior was more beaten up than the photos showed, and it was smoking. I asked what the deal with the smoke was and the sales guy I was talking to said it was oil burning off from sitting. Another guy, familiar with 3000GTs who worked there looked it over and said it wasn’t smoke. I felt obligated to take the car since I agreed to buy it and it was my responsibility to check it out before.
ANYWAY, so I paid for it, went back to pick it up after they closed so I could drive home late with fewer cars on the road. I proceeded to stall it in the parking lot for 15 minutes before I was able to get it rolling and on the highway. I managed to get it home and for the next few days I drove it around the neighborhood. I just couldn’t get the hang of 1st. Plus by now the smoke was pouring out of the engine and I figured out it was steam from the pool of coolant in the valley.
Every other gear I could manage but I couldn’t figure out how to smoothly get going from a stop. That was, until I needed to reverse it slightly for whatever reason. I slowly let off the clutch and noticed it would start rolling by itself. So I thought I would try it in 1st and it did the same thing. I had been trying to time the clutch/gas perfectly up to this point that letting out the clutch until it started to grab was a complete revelation. And, while I’m still not great with a stick (I currently don’t have any again) I can at least feel confident that I won’t stall at every light. I also secretly think someone who is an expert would laugh at the way I drive.
I only had the 3000GT for a few weeks because I reached out to the dealer and took a stab as asking if they would help me out with the parts prices for the new water pump and timing belt it needed – figuring they would tell me to pound sand. To my surprise they offered to give me a refund and take the car back if it would make me happy. I decided to take them up on it and eventually I got my money back. But, it was that car that got me confident that I can drive a manual.
My neighbor who I bought his 92 Integra GS taught me how to drive manual transmission. Actually after I got the car, i tried on my own. Basically I understood the logic and step how to drive the manual, but no luck, I kept stalling the engine in first gear. I was trying to find a driving school to learn. Driving school no longer did this in mid 90s. My friend kept breaking his promises to stop by. One day my neighbor noticed I had not been using the car and asked the reason. I explained my problem. He offered to teach me.
In the late winter weekend, we went to section of town where had a lot of warehouses. He instructed me to clutch, shift to first gear, slightly gas while releasing the clutch slowly – he specifically said “Don’t worry about the wear of clutch!”. I followed his instructions, and still failed to launch with several attempts. Very discouraging and disappointed. Then we were a second road with slight downward slope, I was able to launch and then 2nd and 3rd. I was driving. By other few minutes I was able to drive the Intrega around the blocks. Suddenly, there was a police vehicle flashing behind. We were stopped by the corp. After checking our licenses and explained what happened. He told us leave the area because some security guards from one of warehouses called about a strange vehicle around. My short lesson ended.
In the next few weeks, I practiced on my own, and realized downshifting from 2nd gear to 1st gear could be tricky. I kept grinding the gear for unknown reason. But I learned by tapping the brakes to slow down the car further could help. This could be difficult in traffic if I was going to stop then had to move again from 1st gear while the car was still moving. Actually, I never know the exact reason. Someone said the synchro of the first gear was wore out, or I never mastered the manual transmission techniques. —I never learn and use double clutch. I owned that car for 6 years.
Actually the first vehicle I had operated was also a 1982 Toyota HiAce pickup with column shifting manual transmission. Someone in China then tried to teach me how to drive. But I was not properly licensed, we gave up after 30 minutes to avoid troubles.
Even more strange is I has several dreams i was driving the same Dodge WC51 with manual transmission and doing double clutch. I could not explain why I kept dreaming the same Dodge.
My dad said I should try it. I did. Only knocked over one potted plant.
While I had a few stints at driving manuals when I worked as a tire changer at Sears in my youth, it was not until I was the ripe old age of 24 that I learned how to properly drive one. It was 1987 and I was in my second year of college when my friend Rick called me up and asked if I wanted to buy his 76 Celica GT Hatchback. It was rusty and most of the interior was missing but I was poor and really needed a reliable set of wheels. It had a five speed manual but Rick assured me he could teach me in five minutes how to drive it. So I took the red line train from Boston to Quincy where he met me at the station, in what would become my new set of wheels. He drove us to his cul-de-sac neighborhood and told me to take over. First thing he did, which is what I do with all the drivers I teach, was to push in the clutch, put the car in first gear, and to slowly let the clutch out without using any gas until the car started to move forward. It was a great lesson in getting to know where the clutch contact point was. After a few rounds of that he then had me shift into first then into second and finally third. His neighborhood did not have any straights long enough to get into fourth or fifth. Once he was convinced I knew what I was doing he said it was time to call it a night. It actually took an hour not five minutes. I paid him the $300 dollars we agreed on and I proceeded to drive away. Over the course of the next year I got pretty good driving the Celica around the City of Boston until one day the clutch would not go into first gear. I was forced to drive the car home starting in 2nd which was something the old clutch made sure I knew it was not happy with. I barely made it home swathed in the lovely cologne of burnt clutch. I enjoyed that first experience so much that all my cars since, with the exception of a family wagon, have been manuals.
My dad taught me in his busted up Green Dodge Omni. Then in 89′ I owned an 87′ Pllymouth Horizon 5 speed. The road to work was mostly straight with no uphills, the car gave me my love of imports. (Caught fire in my parents driveway).
In our 1977 Ford F150 4WD at the age of 14 my father took me to the TOP of a MOUNTAIN in a forest and told me I have to drive us home. It was TERRIFYING to say the least trying to figure out how to work the clutch properly without killing us as we rolled DOWN HILL. Don’t BURN UP THE CLUTCH! The clutch on that old truck had a VERY LONG throw and was VERY FIRM making it very difficult to learn on. Somehow we survived that day, and after that I could drive the truck great. He ended up giving me the truck when I turned 16 and it became my first vehicle. We restored it together.
He did the same thing when I first learned how to ski. He took me to the top of the TRIPLE BLACK DIAMOND run with HUGE MOGULS and left me standing there. He forced me to learn how to get down. He thought ski lessons were a waste of time and money.
My father always believed you learn best when you overcome a challenge. It worked although it was terrifying at times.. I survived my youth with many important life skills he helped me to achieve.
When I got my license as a teenager in the mid-’80s,I wanted to learn to drive stick, but we only had automatic cars. A couple of years later I got a few lessons, first from my older sister who had a late model Toyota pickup, then from an employer at my part-time job at a print shop where the owner wanted me to make deliveries in her 1979 Mazda GLC. I didn’t last long with either — their patience ran out, and neither really had to teach me (there was also a 1978 Olds Delta 88 available for the deliveries.) Plus, I didn’t have my own car to continue practicing. Fast forward a few years and I took matters into my own hands — I decided to buy a brand new 1995 Honda Civic EX with a 5-speed. I signed the papers, one of the salesman gave me a quick lesson in a ramped parking garage, and sent me on my way. I wasn’t very smooth, but I made it home in the new Civic without any damage! Now I had to learn, and in a couple of weeks I was pretty comfortable with it. One of the best automotive decisions I ever made!
Learning to engage first gear and truly driving a manual transmission car are two separate things. Yes, I learned how to get my aunt’s ‘91 Honda Accord sedan, champagne with rouge interior, into first then second in my neighborhood in 9th grade. But much to my father’s dismay; he didn’t teach me to drive a manual transmission car.
I was 22 when I learned. A close friend of mine pressured me to learn in his ‘93 Honda Accord sedan, forest green with grey interior. I seemed to always buy an automatic car unintentionally and more out of necessity and timing. My friend started me in a parking lot having me engage 1st and reverse with no accelerator input what seemed like 200 times until I could absolutely feel the clutch engagement point. Then, on that same day, he drove me to the steepest road he could find (that wasn’t busy), got out of the car and told me to get into the driver’s seat. He then instructed me to “find that same engagement point a couple of times while holding the brake pedal” and to “press the clutch pedal all the way in as soon as the car started to stall”. Piece of cake! He then ruined my day. My friend proceeded to tell me I was “going to hold the car on the hill with only clutch engagement.” It took me two tries. I was absolutely amazed at his method. He then told me I was driving us home, 10mins away. It was horrible, I didn’t stall out, and I learned so much from him. So, I learned the basics in an Accord but my first manual car was a ‘91 BMW 318i.
I ragged that poor BMW out, but I learned so much. How do donuts, slide, save a slide, burnout, and just generally drive like a jackass… I mean Hoonigan? Obviously the BMW also exposed me to the addiction that is RWD. The first day I owned the 318 my aforementioned friend brake checked me with his Accord and peeled out. I didn’t know what gear to be in so I went from 45mph to 5mph in the same gear, 4th. After that day I paid attention to optimal gear selections and eventually learned to properly downshift. When we got back to our apartment complex he rolled out of his car laughing and said he “knew I didn’t know what to do!” He did praise me for not stalling out though. I cussed him out!
I thought I was a seasoned manual driver with the BMW until I bought the ‘79 Corona Wagon. The Corona was stock with a 20r and a w50 5spd. I daily drove the Corona, autocrossed it, and learned from that car for a year. Then I had to relearn how to drive a manual after I almost quadrupled the power with the drivetrain swap.
I’ve been driving manual transmission cars for 16 years and I’m still learning new things. I learned to heel toe in the Abarth 5 years ago. I learned to left-foot brake in the Corona 7 years ago. Hopefully soon, covid willing, I will learn how to properly drift. My daily is a manual and because of what I learned from the BMW and the version-20r-Corona, I will always desire a manual as my daily driver.
It was time for me to start helping out on the family farms, so Dad taught me how to drive a manual with his 1972 Datsun pickup. Sis was taught at the same time. She was 14, I was 9. I actually did better. This would have been 1976.