Save the Stick

Muscle Car Review - - Editor's Note - Drew Hardin mcreview@sbc­

When a press re­lease from the folks at Amer­i­can Pow­er­train ti­tled “Save the Stick” hit my in­box, it re­minded me of one of my fa­vorite “Last Page” col­umns Tom Shaw wrote for us, when he cel­e­brated the four-speed (Nov. 2015). For those of you who missed it, here’s a sam­ple—and a re­minder of the tal­ent we lost when Tom passed in 2016.

Up from the car­peted floor­boards rises a tall, cold steel shaft. It’s strong and pol­ished, and there’s not a fin­ger­print on it. The deep chrome shines brighter than any­thing else around it. It pre­sides over the floors be­neath it like a glassy sky­scraper tow­ers over the plain brick build­ings far be­low. The com­pany that built it was so proud of it that they spelled out their name on the side in the largest let­ters that would fit.

At the very top, where a sky­scraper’s most valu­able floor, the pent­house, would sit is a han­dle. The han­dle could have been made from a lesser metal, but it’s made from alu­minum to keep weight down. It’s an odd shape be­cause it’s de­signed to fit the closed hand that grips it.

Like so many things of ex­cel­lence and renown, its ex­te­rior beauty con­ceals a deeper strength. There’s much more to it than what meets the eye. The shiny chrome shaft extends down be­neath the floors into dark­ness, a place of in­tense heat and noise and tor­ment in­com­pat­i­ble with hu­man life. Here, heat joins va­pors not fit to in­hale, sounds loud enough to wreck your hear­ing, parts mov­ing with enough force to break bones, and the rocky sur­face of the road whizzing by inches be­low. This is the shifter’s home.

I grew up driv­ing a stick shift. Had to. My par­ents didn’t own a car with an au­to­matic trans­mis­sion. To be hon­est, learn­ing was a pain, es­pe­cially in the hilly Bay Area town where I grew up. (So hilly, in fact, that par­al­lel park­ing wasn’t in­cluded in our town’s driv­ing test. Park­ing on a hill—and knowing which way to curb your wheels— was.)

Once learned, though, that skill was like a su­per­power. I could drive any­thing! For years all my cars had man­ual trans­mis­sions, and I con­stantly prac­ticed my shift­ing tech­niques on the wind­ing mountain roads around home, from dou­ble-clutch­ing to heel-toe dou­ble-clutch down­shift­ing and even learn­ing how to shift my old VW with­out us­ing the clutch (gin­gerly, very gin­gerly). I made sure all my kids knew how to drive a man­ual, too.

Over the years I have owned some daily driv­ers with au­to­mat­ics, but I have al­ways re­turned to the man­ual—and loved it. No, it doesn’t make much sense in a crowded, con­gested place like Los Angeles. There’s no ques­tion that driv­ing with an au­to­matic trans­mis­sion is eas­ier, and that goes for ev­ery­thing from com­mut­ing to rac­ing. But to be fully en­gaged with the ma­chine, you re­ally need to be in com­mand of that vi­tal func­tion of when and how the en­gine sends power to the driv­ing wheels.

Very few peo­ple, at least among non-car peo­ple, feel the same way. The per­cent­age of new cars sold with man­u­als has fallen to the sin­gle dig­its. That’s why Amer­i­can Pow­er­train mounted the Save the Stick ef­fort. If you’re not fa­mil­iar with the com­pany, it makes con­ver­sion kits to trans­plant mod­ern man­ual trans­mis­sions and other driv­e­line com­po­nents into vin­tage mus­cle cars.

Save the Stick started as a so­cial me­dia hash­tag to high­light “the slow death of the man­ual trans­mis­sion in mod­ern cars,” read the press re­lease. Matt Graves, Amer­i­can Pow­er­train di­rec­tor of mar­ket­ing, was quoted in the re­lease say­ing, “It’s crazy how this just took off. The skele­ton im­age with the hash­tag [#savethe­stick] just con­veys some­thing to our cus­tomers. It re­ally goes to the core of what they love about hav­ing a stick in a mus­cle car or clas­sic. Our cus­tomers ap­pre­ci­ate the fact that they can up­grade to a mod­ern over­drive trans­mis­sion, but still get the thrill of driv­ing with a stick. There’s just more fun with a stick.”

We couldn’t agree more. So even if your car and your tastes run more to Mun­cies, Top Load­ers, and A833s than Tre­mecs, we think this is a wor­thy ef­fort to get be­hind. Visit amer­i­can­pow­er­ to or­der your Save the Stick shirt, hoodie, or other merch.

On a re­lated topic, let me know what you think about this month’s story about mod­i­fy­ing a vin­tage mus­cle car to per­form daily driver chores. Is it time for us to work in some driver-ori­ented tech along with the restora­tion-fo­cused sto­ries we do?

“That skill was like a su­per­power”

“There’s just more fun with a stick”

n Feel­ing shifty? Buy the shirt.

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