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When there’s a clutch, a manual is required

Joyce Walter writes about driving a standard
Reflective Moments by Joyce Walter

Is driving a standard transmission vehicle much the same as riding a bike in terms of once-learned, never-forgotten skills?

I suspect I’m being led down some garden path by the person who told me that I would never forget the talent for driving a standard shift. He advised that I would always know how to ride a two-wheeler, and that same philosophy could be applied to vehicles with clutches.

Many years ago I did learn to drive by carefully depressing the clutch then shifting into the proper gear and moving forward and backward. The trick was to not ride the clutch but to gradually apply it when necessary. If the car didn’t bump and jerk like a saddle bronc at a rodeo, the driver was considered something of an expert.

The expertise of clutching techniques was as ingrained in my age group as knowing how to send text messages is in today’s youngsters. We had no choice because for many years only the rich and famous could afford cars without that extra foot pedal.

And then the parent could afford an “automatic” and much of what I learned about gears was put on the back burner, until I obtained my own vehicle, an English Anglia that had a clutch and, horrors, gears in opposite positions to what I had learned. After some practice it was as though I’d been driving that car forever, with only a few bumps and jerks.

Over the past 40 years all the vehicles in our possession have been clutch-less and so when a car showed up in our driveway for carsitting, I looked at it with interest and counted the pedals — yes, gas pedal, brake and indeed-y, a clutch.

The owner of the car handed me the keys and told me to take his beloved Corvette for a drive — if I wished. But I knew he wished I wouldn’t, but was too polite to say so.

It wasn’t so much the clutch that held me back. It was the fact the car was so very low to the ground, ensuring I would have trouble getting in, and even more trouble getting out. Being so low to the ground was the best sort of security against theft carried out by older drivers who have difficulty bending and getting up from the ground.

And so it sat in our driveway, unmolested except by the eyes of neighbours and passersby who did a double take upon seeing such a carriage in our possession. Some even wondered if we had bought the Vette, going into our second childhood and no doubt slapping a mortgage on the dwelling to do so.

I was so loathe to damage the vehicle that I refrained from wiping off leaves, dust and bird droppings, not wanting to be the one to smudge the paint job or leave a minuscule fingerprint behind.

While disappointing not to have driven it at least around the block, or even sitting in it, there was a certain amount of relief when the owners came to claim their belongings.

There’s been no letters from lawyers claiming harm and mischief to the Vette so I’m assuming the bird droppings came off without a trace and the leaves safely blew away. 

Could I have found the gears and used the clutch properly? Possibly, but if I ever want to practice, I’ll convince a salesperson to let me take a test drive in a vehicle with a clutch. Then I’d better hope a manual is provided.

Joyce Walter can be reached at

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.  

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