"4 am was usually when I went to bed, but not today. My tired eyes and fatigued body from a mere 2-hour sleep wasn't going to stop me today. I Shadow-Ninja'd myself out of bed to save myself from a lengthy rant spree from my parents. I grabbed my keys and lunged for the heavy toolbox which had those trustworthy 10 mils. If you're asking why, you haven't owned a project car yet. Gentle footsteps and sneaky jumps led me to my car in the parking below. Behold my 2001 Honda City 1.5 Exi in all its glory. I opened her hood, connected the battery, compensated for the coolant leak with a high tech Bisleri bottle of water and twisted the keys to the gates of freedom. Do you want to know what that freedom sounds like? Braaap Braaap Braaaaaaaaap, straight pipes seemed like a wise choice before I planned this sneak mission. I would totally understand if my parents get an eviction letter from the neighbours. I tried hard to not rev my Braap-mobile as I sneaked out of the gates and voila! Freedom at last! I slotted her into first and opened the floodgates to the 90 something horsepower left in her and the streets never sounded that blissful at 4 in the morning. I slammed the stick as hard as my arms can which wasn't helping the hard life it's already lived. I tried to find all my gears and 3 has sneaked away as it seems, no third gear - check. I saw an impending flyover in my path and I prepared myself for the lack of torque my soapbox with wheels had. Came down to fourth, reached for third and realized it was missing and slotted it hard into second. Built-up an army of revs and sent it. You won't read a greater flyover climbing expedition any time soon. After an hour of hooning around, I started to see a colour palette in the sky I never thought it could portray. I can't be more thankful for having a functioning fifth gear in my car as I slotted her into a gentle cruise. The sunrise seemed like a rewarding end to my tussle with this car but in the end, once you find your rhythm with her gears, you'll come out feeling like you've tamed an f14 jet, not a small 4 cylinder."
This is written by a 20-year-old me to a future version of myself 2-3 years ahead. While it might not seem like a very treasurable memory, I write this to embrace the memory of a dying legend- a manual gearbox.
My writing has rather taken a rather sadistic tone the past few days, owing to the fact that I wrote about the demise of a diesel engine and the death of the 2020 Formula One season (too soon?). And here I am writing about the eventual death of the manual gearbox. Want it or not, it is happening and you and I can't do anything about it. The fact that astonishes me is the very existence of the manual box in this day and age. You wouldn't take a spear to world war three nuclear bombarding. It's hard to believe we still move a lever continuously to control our vehicle speed. This is a throwback to the typewriters where we have to push the handle to type the next line. I am not criticizing the manual gearbox, no sir. It just surprises me many manufacturers still produce and develop manual gearboxes when automatics are far too easy to operate and have much greater demand. An automatic eliminates a pedal from your existing manual setup and that's already a third of the hassle gone. It cancels out the need to move your gear lever every time you have to shift, further adding to the convenience. And when you feel ambitious, some autos lets you, the driver, decide your next move. While you might be Takumi Fujiwara with your manual gear shifts, Sheela aunty next door isn't. Sheela aunty prefers the car to figure out everything for her as she listens to her Bi-weekly cooking podcast while driving, the CVT makes it easy for her. You could write a letter to your loved one but a simple DM would let you know she doesn't like you back, way faster. You could go to the library to find the meaning of the word 'Ameliorate' but it's easier to ask my bro Google here. (It means to make something easier and it was intended). And it's not just about the ease or the convenience, some automatics are really bloody good. If you're wondering why you couldn't keep up with a humble GT Tsi with your mighty Punto Abarth, it was gaining 10 feet each time you pushed your clutch to change gear. And to be honest, manuals don't even sell all that well, take Porsche for example. Only eight per cent of all gt3rs's sold were manuals. Why? The PDK is really bloody good, that's why! It could shift between four gears by the time you could spell the word Mississippi and that would matter if you're serious about your lap times. It knows what to do next and will do it for you which makes it drivable for even a 10-year-old. (Not recommended.)
Two of our cars in the TDH garage are Gt Tsi's, while I call them Mommy-mobiles for their easy speed, end of the day, they still do justice to the word speed thanks to the DSG. While I lust over the clicking of a gear lever when you slot it with your hand, I have to be rational about my views. I have to talk about the other side too and be unbiased about how good they are.
No. Can't do this anymore. I am totally biased.
Sure, the PDK knows what to do and when to do it. It'll plan every upshift and downshift to make every second of the lap faster. It eliminates the inefficiency of the driver shifting on its own. But that's the thing! It removes the human involvement in the process. Part of being a human is the tendency for making mistakes and that's something a manual gearbox will let you do without complaints. I am trying hard to build my revs to 7000 rpm in fourth gear but the paddle-shift gearbox nanny wouldn't let me cross 3000. Sure, I might blow my engine in the process but I wouldn't want a computer telling me what not to do. It's my engine and I decide when I blow it. A manual gearbox lets you be in control of what you want to do and there aren't many things that are in your control. Think of one, just one. If you think you can control and predict exactly how much you'll score for all that effort you put, you have clearly never been to college. A manual gearbox is your freedom to do things your way and it just adds to the driving experience. It is just part of the process of controlling the way your car behaves as you drive it.
The whole 'PUSH IT-SLOT IT-FLOOR IT' regime is the essence of commanding your own car. It makes driving not just an operation but a passion and obsession. You'll understand all these emotions when you perfectly time your rev-match as you downshift. Most people drive to places, I go to the places to drive. Manual gearboxes will be forever cherished by petrolheads around the world and you can count on us to boost its longevity. As they say, It was good while it lasted.
So long partner.
[PS: Cars with manual gearboxes can be theft-proof in the future. You're welcome....... I'll take 10 percent.]
For more potential life-hacks and tribute stories on dying automotive legends, slot into fifth, lay back and enjoy our content from The Drivers Hub.
-Aditya Srinath for The Drivers Hub.