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Mark Phelan: Driving a stick isn't dead — and this Michigan company proves it

Mark Phelan, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Business News

Who cares about manual transmissions?

You might be surprised.

Technically, manuals rank somewhere between an anachronism and an affectation. They're slower and less efficient than the best automatic transmissions. Feet held to the fire, even manuals' biggest fans would have to admit they're a nuisance in heavy stop-and-go traffic.

But a diehard sliver of the population loves them anyway.

If you're one of the 95+ percent of the U.S. population who doesn't seek them out, a manual transmission requires the driver to shift gears with a lever, with simultaneous fancy footwork on the accelerator and clutch pedals to match the engine's revolutions per minute (rpm) to the speed the wheels are turning.

Success brings smooth starts and daring dives into curves. Failure brings the tortured sound of grinding gears and embarrassment of stalling in traffic.

Like waltzing, doing it well brings a feeling of grace and accomplishment that few feats match. Also like waltzing, fluency requires regular practice.

And as Detroit's Woodward Dream Cruise loudly approaches, it's worth considering that many of the classics and performance cars on parade are undrivable for those who can't drive a manual.

Learning to drive a manual

That's part of the reason Traverse City-based Hagerty Insurance, the largest insurer of classic cars, has taught 2,500 high school age kids around the country how to drive a manual transmission since 2011.

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