29 August 2011

A 'Clutch' Driving Experience: Learning to drive stick on a Model A

If you’re going to learn to drive a manual transmission, you may as well do it right. Watch as Hagerty Marketing Account Executive Ben Walmer masters the art of the stick shift on a 1930 Model A, then read on for his thoughts about the experience.

My interest in learning to drive a vehicle with a manual transmission did not arise until recently during a visit to a client’s collection. I revealed that I did not know how to start his 1967 Pontiac GTO, seeing it was a manual transmission. From that point on, my Hagerty coworkers nicknamed me “Clutch.”

At age 27, I have begun a mission to salvage what is left of my manhood by learning how to drive a manual transmission on a 1930 Ford Model A Tudor under the supervision of co-worker Jonathan Klinger. It may sound crazy to start with an 81-year-old vehicle, but then again, how many people today have the opportunity to learn to drive on a vehicle this old? And the mystique of learning how to drive on a vehicle that Henry Ford himself oversaw from design to production is a thrill in itself – especially for a history buff like me.

Getting behind the wheel of the Model A for the first time was a little intimidating. I learned that to start the car it was not just a turn of the key but a series of steps: Push the timing lever up, move the throttle lever down slightly , push the clutch in, step on the starter button, briefly pull the choke out, when the engine turns over let the choke go and push the timing lever down. Once I understood the starting sequence and had the engine running, I thought I was on my way to driving a manual until I could not locate the gas pedal − a rookie mistake.  It was cleverly disguised as a small decorative knob by the starter button on the floor.

I spent the next hour learning to go from a dead stop to first gear in an empty parking lot. It was difficult at the beginning, with the Model A moaning and groaning as I worked on getting the timing right to engage the clutch. After a couple of stalls and multiple stop/starts I was ready to see what the mighty Model A had in store for me on the open road. 

Once we found some less-traveled roads, the A was cruising at a comfortable speed in third. I was amazed at the ease of driving the car and enjoyed the smiles and thumbs-up from passing drivers. The only problem I encountered was near the end of my lesson: When I stopped at a light I stalled the car. I blamed it on nerves − the pressure of a car behind me and being on an incline got the best of me.

Learning to drive a manual transmission on a 1930 Ford Model A Tudor has been an amazing experience that I have gladly shared with anyone willing to listen. I still have much to learn before I perfect the art of driving a manual, but with the help of a patient instructor and a well-built Model A, I am on my way to success.

Next step … starting on a hill without rolling backward!

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