By Gerald Yuen
I have to admit that settling into a car with a manual drivetrain proved to be a rather daunting task three months ago, since the last time I handled a stick was under a driving instructor’s supervision, where having freedom to maneuver the Civic was the last thing on my mind filled with information overload. It didn’t help for the subsequent four years, when I didn’t have the chance to manhandle a stick shift. There’s a newfound appreciation behind manual gearboxes, given more wheel time. And here’s why.
The 1 Series M Coupe was the car that taught me that driving fast does not necessarily equate to fun, however immensely ironic it may sound. I was greeted by an empty stretch of tarmac, and it seemed only logical to plant my right foot down, but I didn’t in some subconscious fashion. Do I want to feel the shove of 450nm, or do I want to work each gearshift to analyse the mechanical beauty behind each shift? I would definitely be lying if I told you that I didn’t want to experience what the straight six aided by two fully functioning angry typhoon fans could do.
I would love to execute both at the same time, but my inability to make both ends meet was a blessing in disguise. In step my left foot, which had been way too lazy for the past four years, and out step my right, which seemed to have a mind of his own in the past – “Mr Right” only wanted to press on without thinking of the consequences. Every subsequent movement from the lower limbs was nothing short of a bundle of joy. I’ve been told that driving a manual transmission in Singapore was impractical and tiring, but they had never ever crossed my mind (think Bangkok streets, and drivers bordering on the limits of insanity). Of course, the M’s slick short shifter added to the sensation, but this school of thought was ditched out of the window when I tried other cars in the subsequent months, namely the Suzuki Swift Sport, Megane RS 250 Cup Monaco GP Edition and the Citroen DS3 1.6 150THP.
We have to go more than skin-deep to understand how to make use of all four limbs to the best of our coordinating ability, to inch every bit of emotion out of every little input that you make, be it shifting or depressing the clutch. Every imperfection during early execution stages will be a step forward for the driver to find gratification in future shifts – and the reward will be Huge.
I had been a petrolhead ever since the days where I crashed my first decked-out Tamiya car against the kitchen door, but understanding how others find joy in driving toys for big boys was a challenge at that immature stage of growth. Fast forward a decade and I’m certainly privileged to comprehend the excitement when enthusiasts talk to me about the beauty of utilising a stick shift. It’s better late than never. I urge fellow petrolheads, whom like me, grow up in an era where numbered gear knobs sounded ancient, to dispose of lightning quick dual clutches, and hop into a good ol’ manual car, and you will never regret and forget the sensation derived from having full control of the machine, at any point in time, at any speed. If you have a Class 3A license (automatic-only license in Singapore), enroll in manual driving lessons and I assure you that you will find more joy behind the wheel.