I know that I’m getting older. Our bathroom mirror tells me so every morning. I have to remind the mirror that it shouldn’t gloat, because it’s always 30 minutes behind the message I get from my back when I get out of bed.
Despite my premature ageing, I’ve always been pretty young on the roads. I consider myself a Driver and from my experience, most Drivers are young in their road attitude (even if they’re also mature about it).
I wonder if I’m starting to age in this area, too, though.
Except for the 1986 Saab 900 Turbo I bought around 10 years ago, I’ve only ever owned cars with manual transmissions. I guess you could say I’ve also had a couple of automatic Saab 9000s, but they’ve actually belonged to Mrs Swade, so I’m not counting them as my own, even if I’ve spent a lot of time behind the wheel.
I’ve always felt that changing the gears yourself was essential to a true Driving experience. It’s part of the semi-organic connection between man and machine, part of being an automotive grown-up. There’s nothing quite like the feel of a good gearbox, the way it snicks into place and unleashes another rev band for you to explore. It really can make or break some cars.
The best feeling gearbox from a car that I’ve owned myself was in the Mazda MX-5. It’s a shame it didn’t have another 20hp or so to go with it, though the light chassis weight still made the car a lot of fun to drive.
The best feeling gearbox I’ve ever driven was in a Koenigsegg, but let’s keep it real, shall we?
The best feeling gearbox I’ve driven in a car that I’d ever have a chance of buying was in a Porsche 964, owned by my friend Mats, in Sweden. It really does have that rifle-bolt-action feeling and the car responds like the pedigree champion that it is.
As you know, I’m currently car-less. I’m looking at purchasing two cars this year, an everyday runabout and something more…. special…. for the weekends. The surprising thing for me is that for the first time in my life, I’m considering buying a car with an automatic transmission.
There are a few reasons for this.
Since we’ve been at our current address, I’ve owned a Viggen, a Saab 900, a Mazda MX-5, two Alfa Romeo 33s and a Saab 9-3 Monte Carlo. Forget the Viggen, one of the Alfas and the MX-5, all of which had short ownership stints at this address. The remaining three cars, all of which I owned for a year or more at this address, all had to have their clutches replaced during my ownership.
Maybe it’s just coincidence, but I think it’s got more to do with the driveway angle, as seen in the image to the right. Early morning starts at the bottom of this driveway seem to make my clutches tired and angry.
The 900, one of the Alfas and the Monte, all with expensive clutch jobs and all in a relatively short period of time. Frankly, I’m a little sick of it. And whilst I’ve tried to talk Mrs Swade into moving to a more car-friendly abode, that particular conversation doesn’t seem to be progressing well at this stage.
So, the plan I’m contemplating is to get my little manual runabout, maybe still the Subaru Brumby (which has the advantage of low-range 4WD) or maybe something else and park it on the street, if necessary.
Behind the Alfa in the photo above is a garage, and in that garage is where I’d put the fun car. Current thinking suggests that car should be a comfortable, V8-engined, automatic cruiser. A car strictly for the weekends. The garage would not only provide safe storage, but it would also give the car a nice gentle lead-up to the big hilly driveway.
I’ve never owned a V8, so I’m curious about that, for starters. I also like the idea of paying my wife back (a little) for all the patience she’s exhibited over the last few years by exploring a number of the wonderful day trips we could do here in Southern Tasmania – in a comfy, sporting GT cruiser of my choosing, of course.
But still, in the back of my mind there’s a question: Can you really have an enjoyable, engaging driving experience with an automatic transmission?
I know the answer’s “yes” for more modern cars. Today’s automatics have flappy paddles and double-clutch thingies that seem to get all the motoring scribes excited in ways that I’m yet to understand. I won’t be considering a modern car, however. I don’t have the money. Mine will (hopefully) be a modern-for-the-time V8 with what will basically be an old-school automatic, though hopefully at least a 4-speed.
So can you have fun with an automatic? Or am I chasing after some sort of mythical beast that doesn’t really exist?