About ten years ago, anyone lucky enough to afford a performance car would almost certainly have it with a manual gearbox. I mean think of what the alternatives were back then. A Ferrari 360 Modena with a jerky “F1” gearbox or a nice open-gate shifter. A Maserati 3200 GT with a six-speeder or a four-speed torque converter. Let's not forget the Aston Martin Vanquish with an automated manual gearbox that was as reliable as British Rail. Nearly all performance cars were better off with a stick-shift, not just because they were more reliable, but it made the driving experience that bit more fun. These days, however, new performance cars with three pedals are becoming a rare breed.
It’s not all bad though, there are still plenty of cars available with manual transmissions – BMW, Porsche, and Aston Martin all offer some of their cars with stick shifts. Ferrari though, has given up on the stick all together. Their website says you can get a California or a 599 GTB with a manual, but browsing through used car websites in Europe and North America, I didn’t come across a single one with this mysterious manual gearbox.
Many manufacturers are slowly but surely phasing out the clutch pedal for their high-end models in favour of dual clutches, fast-shifting automatics, or smoother automated manual units. But what super sports car was responsible for starting this trend? The Volkswagen Golf.
The Mk4 Volkswagen Golf R32 was the first road car to have a dual-clutch transmission, but it wasn’t until the Mk5 Golf GTI that other manufacturers realized there was a lot of potential from using this type of gearbox. The likes of Porsche, Ferrari, and BMW just couldn’t have their expensive sports cars seeming crude in comparison to a hatchback.
The latest progression in automated gearbox technology means that it has hit the right spot for high-performance car buyers, giving the right blend of fast shift times and smooth gear changes. The fact of the matter is, the only reason why manufacturers are phasing out manual gearboxes is because an overwhelmingly large number of customers (us) spec their cars with these gearboxes. As a result, manufacturers see no point in making a transmission that no one or a very small number of people will buy, so in business terms it makes a lot of sense to offer just one. Add to the fact that manufacturers are able to get lower fuel economy and CO2 figures, a complete reversal from a few years back, and the future for manual gearboxes looks grim.
So with a very high chance of the manual gearbox going extinct in high-end sports cars, and ever increasing electronics controlling the way they handle, it’s hard not to think that the driver will indeed end up being just another passenger. Happily there are still a few car enthusiasts left who prefer the manual gearbox, and with cars like the Shelby GT500, Subaru Impreza WRX STI, Corvette Z06, and Porsche 911 GT3 coming strictly with a manual, there’s a chance the stick shift will last throughout our lifetime. Imagine a muscle car or a Porsche 911 GT3 with a dual-clutch gearbox - seems wrong somehow.