(SALON) — Ever since I first watched my dad drive his chocolate brown Datsun 280 ZX back in the early 1980s, I’ve been inculcated to believe that driving — true driving — can only be performed with a stick shift. From that childhood experience, I came to see the manual transmission as a birthright passed down from my grandfather, to my father, and eventually to me via a series of tense, stall-filled lessons when I turned 16. In my case, after ripping apart the transmission one too many times, my dad went barking drill sergeant on me, eventually teaching me that a stick requires a special kind of focus, and that I needed to ease up more slowly on the clutch in order to get into first gear on those damn inclines. Through the experience, I learned to consider my stick-shifting skill a special talent with transcendent value.
Yes, of course, in the intervening years I’ve had the chance to drive an automatic transmission. But that has always felt a bit like playing a post-Konami Code game of Contra — a bit too easy, a bit too idiot proof, a bit too, shall we say, inauthentic. On top of that, the automatic always seemed like a wasteful luxury because it always was more expensive and less fuel-efficient. That difference consequently added an ascetic populism to the inherent machismo of the engine-revving manual transmission.