Learning to Drive a Stick Shift – in a Corvette

 

When my husband suggested about 40 years ago that I learn to drive a stick shift in his car, I figured, no big deal. He made driving a stick shift look so easy. The fact that it was a ’64 Corvette, with an 11” racing clutch, 12” Indie tires on the rear with “radiused” wheel wells, 327 cubic inch, and 365 horse power didn’t faze me. (Of course, I had no idea what all that meant and I still don’t understand some of it to this day.) The fact that it sounded like a beast when it was running made me a little queasy, but what the heck: Jerry was very patient and it would be a new adventure.

Right.

First, you have to picture me in the driver’s seat. If you were behind the car, it looked like no one was driving. (Don’t even go there.) In order to reach the pedals, we moved the seat forward as far as it would go and I still needed a pillow behind me. Some of you folks are out there saying, wow, a Corvette, cool. No. It wasn’t. But I was still ready to learn.

So the next step was learning how to use the clutch and stick shift together. Okay. Actually, after stalling the car many, many times, I kind of got the hang of it. At least I didn’t grind the gears.

So I started to enjoy driving the beast. As long as I didn’t have to shift too often. Stop signs in quiet neighborhoods were no big deal. But traffic lights in busy intersections with impatient drivers — not so great. But I stuttered through with minimal horn honking behind me.

But then there were two major roadblocks to my newfound expertise: steep driveways and speed bumps. The driveway was at one of our favorite restaurants and was easy to enter, because I just let the car drift down. But feathering the clutch and slowly increasing the gas became my downfall when I tried to get up the driveway. I swear it was at a 90-degree angle! After stalling the car several times, and cars piling up behind me, we made a radical decision. I put the car in neutral, pulled on the emergency brake, and we both jumped out of the car and switched seats. Jerry rescued me from that cursed driveway. I’m not sure who was happier: me or the cars behind me. Jerry, bless his heart, did his best to try not to laugh.

The only other major difficulty was managing speed bumps. I had no idea how hard speed bumps would be! There was a quiet street with intermittent speed bumps in what used to be El Toro, CA (now Lake Forest). I don’t know how we ended up there; I suspect Jerry was suddenly overcome with evil intent and led me there. Naturally I couldn’t just power over the speed bumps or I would have destroyed the car. So I once again had to feather the blasted clutch, while slowly increasing the gas to move over them. By gosh, I was going to figure this one out! I can’t remember if I started to crack up with laughter or if I raged in frustration. But I finally figured out how to do it. Victory!

After that time I left almost all the ‘vette driving to Jerry. I’m just not a sports car person. I can say I’m very glad he taught me. When we eventually sold the Corvette and bought our first brand-new car, we bought a Toyota Corolla stick shift for me. I could have shifted that car with my baby finger after the 11” racing clutch. Nowadays Jerry has a 370 Z. It’s his baby, not mine.

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  1. Kozak Member
    Kozak
    @Kozak

    Having a manual transmission is now a great anti theft device.

    • #1
  2. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Kozak (View Comment):
    Having a manual transmission is now a great anti theft device.

    Good point, Kozak! I’m sure that’s true!

    • #2
  3. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    That’s hilarious ! You’re not that short….:-) I have another reason to admire you –

    • #3
  4. Kozak Member
    Kozak
    @Kozak

    Tried teaching my wife to be how to drive a stick on a VW Rabbit.   After she lugged the car through a left turn from a stop starting in 4th gear ( I thought each of the 4 pistons would blow out the hood), she pulled over to the side hopped out and said ” nope I’m not doing this”.

    • #4
  5. She Member
    She
    @She

    I feel your pain, @susanquinn!  Been there.

    • #5
  6. Kozak Member
    Kozak
    @Kozak

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Kozak (View Comment):
    Having a manual transmission is now a great anti theft device.

    Good point, Kozak! I’m sure that’s true!

    • #6
  7. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Some years back – maybe 15 years ago – my daughter wanted me to teach her how to drive a stick shift so she could drive when she got back to Ireland. I thought that was a good idea, and told her it would also impress the boys.  “Yeah, yeah,” she said dismissively.  I guess it wasn’t necessary. She did go back to Ireland, and is still is going with the same Irish guy as back then. He’s more like part of the family now.

    But admit it, guys. A woman who can drive a stick shift is extra interesting, right?  (That would probably make 99 percent of Irish women extra interesting. Maybe I should stop writing.)

    • #7
  8. She Member
    She
    @She

    Kozak (View Comment):
    Having a manual transmission is now a great anti theft device.

    Several months ago, I enjoyed a lovely dinner in downtown Pittsburgh with numerous Ricochetti, including our own @titustechera, who was in town for the occasion.  (Titus, time to start twirling the Terrible Towel.  Stillers are 1-0 so far this season.)

    After the dinner I went to retrieve my car, which, unusually for me, I’d surrendered to the tender mercies of the valet parkers, mostly so I didn’t have to wander around the badly lit multi-story parking garages after dark trying to remember where I’d parked it.

    I could see the car on the other side of Market Square, and the young man with the keys, who got into it to bring it back to me.

    . . . . Long Pause . . .  Several minutes pass . . . .

    Then, the walkie-talkie crackles, and another (older) guy is seconded to go get my car.

    The second guy, praise be, knows how to drive a stick shift.

     

    • #8
  9. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):
    That’s hilarious ! You’re not that short….:-) I have another reason to admire you –

    I AM that short–and shrinking! It was those darn bucket seats!

    • #9
  10. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter
    @JimmyCarter

    I learned in a ’71 Chevy Pickup with “3 on the tree,” the stick being on the steering column. Friends riding with Me were perplexed asking, “what are You doing over there?!” They thought I was changing gears between D, N, L….. the whole time.

    • #10
  11. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Kozak (View Comment):
    Tried teaching my wife to be how to drive a stick on a VW Rabbit. After she lugged the car through a left turn from a stop starting in 4th gear ( I thought each of the 4 pistons would blow out the hood), she pulled over to the side hopped out and said ” nope I’m not doing this”.

    LOL!!!!!!

    • #11
  12. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    That ’64 would be worth a pretty penny today – in good shape they go for $60k, the same as a brand new Vette.

    My dad taught me stick in his Porsche 944 Turbo, and boy was that intimidating!  So much torque and such a small car…  I stalled it many times while learning, but he was very patient with me.  By the time I got out of high school I could drive that car with relative ease, and he’d let me drive it to school at times.

    When I was first married, I had a manual Toyota Celica, and taught my wife how to drive stick in that.  As it wasn’t at first a necessity, though, she didn’t really pick it up.  2 years later, though, and we had to ferry our newborn daughter around.  Since my wife was still in law school, and the car seat didn’t fit in the back of the Celica, she had to force herself to learn how to drive it so I could have the van and ferry our girl around while my wife was in classes.  She got really good as the western suburbs of Philly are nothing but hills.

    • #12
  13. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    I started learning when my dad bought the ’65 VW Bug when I was five. I would do the shifting while Dad worked the clutch. I drove the same car for my driver’s test eleven years later.

    • #13
  14. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    My wife is deaf and finds driving a stick to be a challenge because she can’t hear the engine.  But my observation is she drives quite well with the stick. I like that it keeps her from texting so much.

    When our daughter was due to be born she informed me that I would have to sell my Porsche.  Yeah.  That didn’t happen.

    • #14
  15. jmelvin Member
    jmelvin
    @jmelvin

    I think I had my first crack at a stick shift car on my dad’s old 81 Ford Fairmont before I ever got my license.  However, that was just an introduction.  My learning didn’t take until I bought my first car, in high school:  An old Porsche 924.  The car was a ’79 model and this was 1996.  Since my parents didn’t have the money to buy me a car it was up to me to buy one, insure it, and keep it up.  It only took a few days of practice and I got decent at running those gears and using that clutch since that was the only way I was going to be driving my own car.

    A few years later I met my first girlfriend (now my wife) and she drove an old stick shift Honda Accord.  The old Porsche and that old Honda are long gone, but we both now have hundreds of thousands of miles driving stick shifts and 2 of our 3 vehicles now are stick shifts by design.  If someone offered a stick shift version of a full size van, that would probably be my choice once my car finally gives up the ghost or we hatch more kids than we can carry in a single vehicle.  It is hilarious at times to have people turn down offers to have our vehicles loaned out, because they don’t know how to run a clutch and stick.

    • #15
  16. Chris O. Coolidge
    Chris O.
    @ChrisO

    This is great. Junior and senior year of high school I had a “zero hour” class that started at 7:10, so I got a car: 1983 Volkswagen Rabbit. It was sort of a cream color, or, as a fraternity brother dubbed it, “Desert Storm Yellow.” Anyway, learning the stick with Dad was an exercise in patience and I didn’t have it at the time. It wasn’t the clutch that frustrated, it was the repeated instruction. At one point I exited the vehicle and walked home. Not my best moment…but funny to think of now. Thanks for bringing back memories!

    Our next car is going to be a manual, regardless what lengths we have to go. I want my wife to learn, partly because I prefer it, but mostly because once you can drive one manual transmission, you can drive any vehicle in the world.

    • #16
  17. Pony Convertible Inactive
    Pony Convertible
    @PonyConvertible

    When I taught my wife to drive my car, it wasn’t the manual transmission that gave her problems, it was the lack of power steering or power brakes that were difficult for her to adjust to.

    • #17
  18. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    Loved reading this, Susan. Education takes many forms.

    I learned in a 76 Honda Civic. Bought it brand new for $800.

    I had the opposite problem – it was like putting on a coat. Not unlike Bubba Smith in Police Academy. My head hit the ceiling. But it was a great car. Great on ice and snow. Loved taking it on late night runs at 80 mph (at least going down hill) up to the lake house with all the hills.

    The city I lived in had lots of hills. So that was the only real trick. Being stopped at a stoplight going up a hill is common. And it took me about a half dozen times before I got the hang of it. I practiced on my driveway. Took it about halfway up. Came to a complete stop and then got going again.

    (As an aside, I’d love to be the stoplight salesman for this city. I’m sure whoever has the account is a multimillionaire if not a billionaire. If there’s an intersection in this city, it’s got to have a stoplight. And that includes in the middle of shopping centers.)

    I moved away (out of the country) within a year of getting the car and my brother inherited it. It finally bit the dust when my mother decided to take for a ride down through a ditch and through a farmer’s field. She walked away, but the Honda didn’t.

     

    • #18
  19. Yudansha Member
    Yudansha
    @Yudansha

    Chris O. (View Comment):
    learning the stick with Dad was an exercise in patience and I didn’t have it at the time. It wasn’t the clutch that frustrated, it was the repeated instruction. At one point I exited the vehicle and walked home. Not my best moment…but funny to think of now. Thanks for bringing back memories!

     

    I heard an episode of Car Talk years ago, in which one of the brothers told of how his daughter learned to drive a manual transmission.  After a couple of mutually frustrating hours of continual instruction and failure, he handed the daughter off to the other brother.  Brother #2 handed her some car keys and said, “Come back when you can drive a stick shift.”   15 minutes later she returned, able to drive a stick hill starts and all.

     

    Too much coaching can be worse than too little.

     

     

    • #19
  20. Dominique Prynne Member
    Dominique Prynne
    @DominiquePrynne

    Kozak (View Comment):
    Having a manual transmission is now a great anti theft device.

    We are also considering a manual as a great anti-holding-your-phone-and-texting-and-driving-device for our teenage drivers!

    • #20
  21. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    I love these stories!! To this day, my husband likes to play “race car driver” around curves. He speeds into the curved ramps getting on the freeways in his Z–I keep the eye on the speedometer. I think he knows how far he can push it–at least I think he does!

    • #21
  22. Dominique Prynne Member
    Dominique Prynne
    @DominiquePrynne

    I learned to drive a stick from my best-guy-friend in high school on his 1971 Opel GT.  Of course, he owned 3 Opels, one which ran and two others that didn’t for parts.  Later in college, I go a job at a country club waitressing at the pool.  I noticed that the parking valets made more in tips and, furthermore, only a couple of them could drive a stick.  I asked to valet the next event and pitched my stick shift driving abilities to the GM, but that was a non-starter.  Apparently, no girl valets allowed.

    • #22
  23. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Dominique Prynne (View Comment):
    starter. Apparently, no girl valets allowed.

    Boo!

    • #23
  24. SecondBite Member
    SecondBite
    @SecondBite

    My poor wife had to learn to drive a stick under duress:  we had been camping and stretched our stay an extra day, going short on food as a result.  When we left to drive home, I was so hungry I was feeling ill and light headed, so she had to drive.  The car was a ’61 Corvair, the shifter was two or three feet long, and the linkage was sloppy.  You could feel like you had shifted from second to third while, in fact you were down-shifting to first, which she did repeatedly.  In spite of the trauma (forty years later she has nothing good to say about the car, though I loved it), she achieved competency and to this day we both prefer manual transmissions.

    • #24
  25. Songwriter Inactive
    Songwriter
    @user_19450

    I learned the stick shift as a new teen driver (1969) in a borrowed VW bug on an empty parking lot one Sunday afternoon.  All my first cars were sticks.  It wasn’t until I tired of the sheer work of constant shifting in the stop-and-go traffic around Dallas in the mid-80s that I decided to go for an automatic.

    My last stick was a 4 on the floor Ford Explorer purchased in the mid 90s.  That was fun.

    • #25
  26. Songwriter Inactive
    Songwriter
    @user_19450

    Susan – Your story of learning to drive a stick in a Vette is gonna make a lot of us guys very jealous.

    • #26
  27. Trink Coolidge
    Trink
    @Trink

    Susan Quinn:  . . . .feathering the clutch . . . .

    OK.  I am impressed.   I learned to drive Dad’s VW Bug and nobody mentioned feathers :(

    (Speaking of feathers – Jerry sounds like a good egg :)

    • #27
  28. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Songwriter (View Comment):
    Susan – Your story of learning to drive a stick in a Vette is gonna make a lot of us guys very jealous.

    ;-)   ;-)

    • #28
  29. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    It’s so funny. After the Corolla, we didn’t buy a stick shift for many years for the reason @songwriter gave–too much trouble shifting in CA traffic. But I encouraged Jerry to get a car he wanted, and he decided on the used 370Z. He hesitated when he saw it was a stick shift, and I could only say, are you kidding?? You’re going to love it! And he does. We are rarely caught in traffic in FL.

    • #29
  30. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Trink (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn: . . . .feathering the clutch . . . .

    OK. I am impressed. I learned to drive Dad’s VW Bug and nobody mentioned feathers ?

    (Speaking of feathers – Jerry sounds like a good egg ?

    I didn’t remember that word Trink! When I let Jerry look at the OP before I put it up, he added all the impressive statistics, and the “feathering” too. I could have cared less about the terminology–I just didn’t want to stall the darn thing! Yeah, he is a good guy, and he was so patient with me.

    • #30
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