• Mon. Feb 26th, 2024

A eulogy for the gear stick

ByBen Low

Oct 3, 2023
A red Volkswagen Polo

In Edinburgh, most places are within walking distance and the public transport is (usually) reliable, so there’s no real need for a car. However, depending on where you end up after graduation, buying a car may well rise to the top of your list of priorities. Then you’ll face a choice: manual or automatic?

I drive a manual, but isn’t this like bringing a typewriter to lectures in an age of laptops? Most new cars (over two thirds) are automatic, and the growing popularity of electric motors (which generate instant torque, so no need for a gearbox) means we’re starting to say our goodbyes to the gear stick. But as we accelerate into a new era, without having to dip the clutch, and look back at manual cars in our rear-view mirror, I wanted to pay them a small tribute. 

Driving Dez – my 1.2 litre, naturally aspirated, 15-year-old, Ferrari-red, manual, Volkswagen Polo (for those not obsessed with cars: those credentials are not very impressive) – brings me unbridled joy. I feel as though I’m a part of the car, a cog in his unfathomably complicated mechanism. My actions are crucial to his functionality, and if I don’t match the revs to correct gear, I feel as though I’ve hurt him. But when I’m tearing down country lanes (at the appropriate speed, of course) and the gears are slotting perfectly into place with a reassuring clunk, there’s a harmony that I don’t believe you can get from an automatic. 

A Tesla has a driverless mode and a touchscreen that wouldn’t be out of place in a cinema, and all these functions take you from A to B in peace. There’s no need to find the biting point and no risk of stalling in front of your cruel brothers who laugh and laugh and laugh… but anyway, in spite of this, there’s no involvement. I might fight with Dez, but at the end of the journey, when we’ve made it to our destination together, we’re always friends again.

Whether it’s a Corsa, Fiesta, Clio, Mini or my beloved Polo, these cars have been liberators for so many young people because they’re cheap, reliable, and a lot of fun! My home is in the middle of nowhere, the bus comes once a day, the nearest supermarket is a half-hour cycle ride, and a night out always ends with a lift home from mum, so Dez gave me my freedom. I am, therefore, overly sentimental. I know electric cars are brilliant, and I’m really looking forward to a future of cleaner air and less global warming (call me crazy) but, to the manual, I just wanted to say thank you.

File:2018 Volkswagen Polo SE 1.0 Front.jpg” by Vauxfordis licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

By Ben Low