If you’ve never tried to drive a car with a manual transmission, go and do so as soon as you can. Before you know it, the manual transmission will be confined to history books and replaced exclusively with the efficient, the ever-improving, the boring, automatic transmission.
Automatics are by no means a bad thing. The technology is improving every year, and are now more efficient than manual transmissions when it comes to gas mileage. That said, it takes away an aspect of driving that is paramount to the enthusiast: the driving. When you’re driving a manual car, you have total control over what gear you want to be in. You can go into 4th at 30 mph, or you can stay in 1st and keep your car at redline. It’s entirely up to you.
Manual transmissions are medieval and they’re not going to last much longer in new cars, especially when they only amount to 5% of all cars sold in the US. Manual transmissions are lighter, less complicated, and cheaper to fix and buy than automatic transmissions. They are, however, more complicated to operate and that, coupled with the advancing of automatic transmissions, is waging war against the manual.
For those of us enthusiasts still clinging to this century-old technology, there are a few cars left that have manual transmissions and thankfully, they are all the correct cars. You can get a manual MX-5, BRZ, Mustang GT350, Corvette, and even a brand new Challenger. What if you don’t want to spend new-car money, and still want the fun of a reliable, nimble and smooth manual transmission? There are a couple of options for used cars that have proven themselves as more than capable.
No, Getrag is not a car. It’s a German transmission manufacturer, and it’s on this list because any car lucky enough to be equipped with a Getrag should go down as an essential manual transmission car. Getrag transmissions are used in E30 and E36 (1987-2002) BMW 3 Series cars, and in the Mk IV Supra Turbo. They are proven as reliable and robust, and if you’ve ever driven a manual transmission BMW you know the slick, buttery shifting that should be a listed feature. Couple a Getrag with some BMW gear oil and you’re set for one of the most pleasurable shifting experiences you will ever have.
Again, not a car but a transmission. This one is made by Tremec and can be found in the modern Camaro ZL1 as well as the Dodge Viper. For older, cheaper cars, you can find it in the 2007 Mustang Shelby GT500, and the second generation Cadillac CTS-V. This transmission is special because Tremec took the T-56 and gave it an aluminum case, housing, and clutch housing, and improved the shifter throw to be shorter, which means it takes less effort to shift gears, which have been replaced with beefier compounds in order to handle the transmission’s claimed torque limit of 600 lb-ft.
Short shifting transmissions are ideal, as they require much less effort than stock long throw shifters. For instance Hondas and Minis, when you go to shift gears, the motion is interrupted while passing through neutral. In a car with a short throw shifter, the action is seamless.
It’s tough to recommend a Japanese transmission because they are somewhat known for being unreliable. Honda transmissions don’t last very long and Nissan's eventually start grinding gears at a time. The only Japanese transmission that seems to do okay is the one in the Toyota Camry. With proper maintenance and driving, a manual transmission which is again, less complicated than an automatic, can last forever. The only thing you need to worry about is the clutch. Automatic transmissions are a gamble in that they could break, but if they don’t require much less maintenance than a manual. Again, it all depends on how you drive it.
Avid Formula 1 fan and motorcyclist, I enjoy chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and long rides to the beach.