Every auto enthusiast who can drive stick has a story about learning to do so, some messier than others! We recently asked readers on Facebook about the first vehicle they learned to drive with a manual transmission. As it turns out, not only does everyone have a story about this, in many cases that story is so memorable that it’s worth telling – and hearing – many years after the fact.
Some people had a rough time at the beginning. Roy Zucca tells us: “Hold on to your steering wheel… I learned on my brother’s ’60 Renault Dauphine. Not exactly a sturdy vehicle. I managed to break an ignition key off in the ignition, dented the fender by leaning on it and many more problems. I was driving only two weeks and borrowed the car to pick up my date for the senior prom in mid January (yes, we had January graduation in those days). I drove in a snow storm, and we got there and back with no injuries and no car problems! Unfortunately the car wouldn’t start the next day and my brother needed it to go to college in Staten Island… He was not happy with me that day.”
Sarah R. Alexander’s experience wasn’t any easier. “We were in an Opal Kadet (a small wagon),” she recalls. “Dad took me to the parking lot behind the middle school down the street. I couldn’t coordinate the gas and clutch and kept killing the car. We had my dad’s hunting dog in the back and I got him sick. Dad doesn’t let me forget about it.”
Others’ first tries may not have been as frustrating, but they’re still certainly memorable! Andrew Meacham Hitchcock learned on his dad’s Pontiac Firebird. “I was on a hill in front of a bus,” he recounts. “Dad says, ‘Give it a little gas and let the clutch out slowly…’ The resulting burn out was 500 feet long!”
Roger F. Stacey learned how to drive stick overseas. “I learned in a 1966 MGB that I took delivery of at the Morris Garages in Oxford, England. When I expressed some trepidation about driving it out into the Oxford traffic ‘on the wrong side of the road,’ the technician pulled himself up to his full height, looked down over his clip board and said, ‘I’ll thank you not to make moral judgments.'”
Some drivers faced some serious challenges at first, but ultimately gained from the experience. Darrell Hanson’s dad was in the tree trimming business, and let his son learn on the big old pickup he used for work. “To make things more interesting,” he says, “a piece of the clutch disk had broken off, making the shifting process sort of like spinning a roulette wheel. But the upside was that once I’d mastered driving that quirky old beast, any other manual transmission was a piece of cake.”
John Dreger’s first manual transmission caused its fair share of difficulty, too. “I learned on an old orange Case tractor… Non-synchromesh transmission, three speeds, foot throttle as well as hand throttle, and vertical exhaust stack that made all the right noises while I was learning to double clutch, and even to shift WITHOUT the clutch.” It wasn’t all bad, though. “That paid off many years later when my car snapped the clutch cable on a trip back from Kincardine. I just kept driving and fixed it myself when I got home.”
Others had to learn under pressure, like Patricia Klein. “I learned under the gun in a (1972?) Ford Courier mini pickup when my boyfriend hurt his leg water skiing and couldn’t drive home from Lake Havasu, Arizona to the Los Angeles area, a trip of over 300 miles. My first car was a used 1970 Datsun 510, which was also a stick,” she remembers.
Admittedly, some drivers took on that pressure quite voluntarily. “I bought a 1972 mustard yellow used four door Volvo with a manual transmission,” recounts Joan Quirk. “I brought a friend with me and he took it out for a test drive. He told me he thought it was a good deal, so I bought it. I had a friend drop me at the dealership and after all of the paperwork was signed, the salesman and I went to the lot. He said thanks and good luck and thought he was done. I asked him for a favor… Show me how to drive a stick. His jaw dropped and he said, ‘You bought a car you can’t drive?!’ My reply: ‘Sure, how hard can it be?’ It was sink or swim! It took me about 20 minutes longer than usual, but I got home in one piece!”
Finally, recalling this important time in life can bring on the nostalgia. Anna Price Carlin remembers, “I learned in a Honda Accord (don’t know the year). I️ distinctly remember when I️ was first learning and wasn’t yet used to when to shift, a home in our neighborhood had construction workers in the front, and they all turned and yelled ‘Shift!’ to me.”
Mark Hacker still has a material connection to his first time driving stick. “It was in a 1950 Dodge Ram pickup,” he says. “It was my dad’s truck, and he would take each of us kids out into the field to learn as soon as we were tall enough to reach the peddles. After he died, we kept the truck. Still have it, too.”
What about you? Tell us your story in a comment, here or on Facebook.