Keeping The Clutch Alive One Kid At A Time
Classic car insurer Hagerty sponsors a teen driving program that’s unlike any other. Forget defensive driving maneuvers, this school teaches kids how to drive a stick shift — and does it in absolute style in classic cars.
By Charlie Shulman
The “Stick”ing Point
These days you’re more likely to find dealership lots full of cars that warn you when someone’s in your blind spot or cars that parallel-park themselves rather than cars equipped with a good old-fashioned manual transmission. I know, I know, for most people this is a relief. But there are still those of us – car enthusiasts, classic car owners and those old enough to be nostalgic – to see the death of the third pedal as the loss of one of the true joys of driving.
Hagerty Insurance Agency, the world’s leading insurance provider for classic vehicles, has paired up with Ford and local classic car owners to revive the soon-to-be lost art of driving a manual transmission. Together, they’ve created the Hagerty Driving Experience, open to all ages of licensed drivers. They’ve designed a travelling “road show” event that stops off in select cities, including Houston, Denver, Las Vegas and Orange County, California as well certain cities in Canada starting with Toronto. In every location, Hagerty offers both morning and afternoon sessions.
Pick Your Poison
I attended one of their morning events at the Scottsdale Auto Park in Arizona. We began with an information session located in a local car collector’s warehouse housing an eye-popping private collection of over 40 classics, including priceless Ferraris, Mercedes, Alfa Romeos and award-winning racecars. Each session begins with a 30-minute presentation that covers the ins and outs of how a manual transmission works, along with a few tips on basic automotive maintenance and safety.
After the presentation, we headed out a to a track that Hagerty had created exclusively for us. On this particular day, there were four classics ranging from a 1969 Corvette Stingray to a 1958 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spyder Veloce and along with two 2013 Ford Mustang GT 5.0s, and one 2013 Ford Focus ST, all courtesy of some of Hagerty’s most valued customers in each city. For those of you who take the word “classic” seriously, a 1928 Ford Model A pulled in for the afternoon session as I was leaving the event.
After another quick briefing, we met the owners and got to choose which car we wanted to start in. Having driven a manual transmission since I was tall enough to reach the pedals, I was less focused on the ABC’s of driving a stick and far more interested in the enthusiasm and teaching skills of the classic car owners as well as the Hagerty instructors. I was utterly impressed at how composed and friendly these owners were as students stalled and jolted their cars for the first twenty minutes. God knows I wouldn’t have been kind if someone was doing that to my car, and I drive a 1964 VW Beetle Rat Rod.
Once we got the hang of it ¬– and everyone did – we were able to hop into any car we pleased for a few laps with a clutch. Hagerty designs its events so that drivers can get a feel for the difference in a classic car versus a modern-day clutch. It’s incredible how smooth and easy it is to shift a modern car’s manual transmission versus the older version.
What To Expect
The morning session lasted from 9 a.m. to noon immediately followed by another session that would end around 4 p.m. Hagerty provided parents and guests with a shaded rest area full of refreshments and snacks along with a full lunch and debriefing session afterwards.
After watching participants hop out of these classics with smiles from ear to ear I thought I’d give it a go and see what all the excitement was about. Having driven a manual my whole life on multiple cars I was very unprepared for the excitement and challenge that followed. Getting to drive the Corvette Stingray’s gearbox and feeling how lightly you had to push down the clutch to engage gears was astounding, especially after hopping into the 2013 Ford Mustang afterwards which provided me with more a calve workout than anything else.
I tried to drive as many of the cars as possible to get more of an idea of how manual transmissions of classic cars differ from those in modern, computerized models. The owners were very laid-back, unlike my father when I was learning to drive a manual, allowing me to focus more on perfecting the shifts rather than trying to make the owners cringe less. Each owner shared with me their own story of how they learned to drive a manual as well as various tips and secrets they had about the perfecting the technique. It was really satisfying to see classic car owners be so enthusiastic towards complete strangers, all because they truly care about giving back to younger generations who share a passion for cars. I got the chance to speak to a few of these owners and learned that no one forced them to come out to the event, but rather they were genuinely excited to show off their classics and teach people how to drive them properly.
So right about now you’re probably saying to yourself, “what a great idea, sounds like a blast but how much?” Here’s the amazing part: Hagerty created their event as a way of giving back to the community and getting to interact with the youth and fellow classic car owners/clients for everyone’s favorite price… free. To sign-up for the Hagerty Driving Experience nearest you, visit its Facebook page or website at www.hagerty.com/drivingexperience. Maybe I’ll see you there because I’m absolutely going back!
Charlie Shulman is a sophmore at the University of Arizona and a certified car nut.