In America, much like many other first world countries, learning to drive is a sign of your coming of age. Buying your first car and going out on your own makes you feel like your own man, ready to take on the world and do what you please. You can drive! Now the world is your oyster, as long as you have the gas you can go anywhere! No parents to tell you to slow down, no time restrictions to stop late night escapades, just you and your car. The feel of the shifter in your hand as you slot into 3rd, pulling the clutch out to execute a perfect upshift on your favorite country road, turning into the quick right hander and nailing the gas to roar down the pavement.
This isn’t what people think about anymore though. People merely think about getting from one place to another. “I use my car to go to work and the store, not for my own enjoyment.” The common view of automobiles is that they are appliances, a means to an end, not a source of enjoyment. What else explains that 10 percent of the vehicles on the road have a manual transmission, down from 35 percent in 1980. People view cars the same way they see their fridge or microwave, just another tool they need to buy to make life easier. It’s a shame to see really, but it explains why vehicles are mostly shapeless grey blobs, and why the Toyota Camry looks like a Honda Accord and a Nissan Altima. All mid size sedans, and they all look very similar, because they all market to the audience of people who buy for transport not excitement. There are a few outliers, some companies that put fun first on the checklist of requirements for building a car. Mazda, Lotus, Ariel. These companies all build cars centered around the driver. But, it is sad that once proud driver's car companies like Porsche and BMW have gone the way of their contemporaries, in building cars for the bottom line and to reach certain sales numbers, rather than ones that can provide the experience a driver is looking for.I learned how to drive on a 2008 Mazda 3 with a 6 speed manual transmission and didn’t drive an automatic until I had driven stick for 7 months. When I first drove that car, (a Kia, I think) I couldn’t believe how easy it was. I needed one arm and one hand, that's it. You could be half a person and drive an automatic. Cakewalk. But a standard, that takes talent. All four limbs need to be working in concert to make it a successful drive. Then to do that quickly down a country road, that takes real focus and skill. Ask yourself when the last time you went for a drive was. Not anywhere, not for anything, but to drive. To absorb yourself in the sensations of you and your automobile. I drive a 2002 Chevy Tahoe. I know I know, far from a driver's car. However, it has a bunch of go fast goodies that make it handle like it shouldn’t and sound much louder than it has any right to. So, I can go for a drive and enjoy the time with my vehicle. Hear the engine screaming toward redline, yanking the wheel to make this beast slide around another corner. No matter your vehicle, I challenge you to take it for a drive. Not even to go fast. Just drive, and enjoy the experience. I leave you with a quote from the great Jeremy Clarkson “ It’s what non-car people don’t get. They see all cars as just a ton and a half, two tons of wires, glass, metal, and rubber, and that’s all they see. People like you or I know we have an unshakable belief that cars are living entities… You can develop a relationship with a car and that’s what non-car people don’t get… When something has foibles and won’t handle properly, that gives it a particularly human quality because it makes mistakes, and that’s how you can build a relationship with a car that other people won’t get.”