TalkingTech: Learning Manually

By Jordan Cameron Remeljej, Owner, Modern Aircooled

I’ve been with my girlfriend a while now, long enough to have a few firsts. We’ve had the first fancy dinner together, the first trip outside of Houston, the first time we drove across the country to camp for a week in a forest with thirty thousand like-minded music fans, etc. We’ve even had a couple more serious milestones, the first funeral of a family member, and more happily, the day she moved in with me.

Looming over our relationship until recently was a bridge we hadn’t yet crossed, the first time she drove a Porsche (there was a cheeky little highway stint in a Cayenne diesel but I’m not going to count that!). Recently that changed when I began to teach her a fundamental of driving that is ever rarer in this country, the manual transmission.

We in the Porsche community, and the wider automotive enthusiast community are lucky enough to share a passion that in many cases makes a manual transmission an essential part of our daily or recreational routines. My last two daily drivers have been the last Turbo S to be offered with a do-it-yourself-er, and currently the 96’ Carrera that is the test mule in this case. These two vehicles have braved many a long expedition or grueling grind through on of Houston’s insufferable traffic jams.

The years of sticking it out (pun intended) because of cost or availability are gone.

Automatics

Today’s automatics and dual-clutchers are faster, more efficient, and often similarly priced or mandatory on anything you can buy. Those of us who are shifting ourselves in 2018 are doing it out of a passion for the vehicle, and for driving.

While my girlfriend has taken to my passion for automobiles of all kinds enthusiastically, she is no enthusiast. She is a competent driver, has a great little runabout with an auto in it, and unlike me, learnt to drive in a country that doesn’t put as strong an emphasis on younger drivers learning all forms of transmissions they might come into contact with.

Australia Driving Rules

In Australia, where I grew up, we are required to have a learners license for at least two years and log 120 hours of driving with a licensed adult in all road conditions prior to being eligible to earn a provisional license when we turn 18. Once the hours are logged, you are able to sit a driving test, where you have the option to test in a manual, or an automatic vehicle.

If you test in a manual you are rewarded with a driver’s license and lower insurance rates. If you sit in an automatic you receive a restricted license, with a large AUTOMATIC ONLY condition on it, something that very much frowned upon by our peers.

Recently though, with us living together there is a stronger push for her to be able to drive or move my car safely if the needs arise. This is why on a quiet Saturday morning I took her out to an abandoned mall parking lot, made her jump in the drivers seat, and began explaining all the little things that so many of us do so naturally every day to make the car move.

My 993 test car.

My 993 would be the “Teaching Car”.

But Why

For those readers who have had children, or nieces, nephews even siblings, you might be familiar with a child’s tendency to play the “but why” game. Where no matter the answer you give to the original question, it is always followed with a “but why” and almost always ends in frustration.

Step-by-Step

This is how I began to feel explaining the manual transmission, how it works, how to use it, and then “why” we use it. She’s smart, my girlfriend, but she has never had a foundation knowledge about how a car works. She knows it has an engine, doors, a pedal to make it go and a wheel to make it turn.

This is why my explanation of horsepower and torque curves, and how to gearing, engine load, and acceleration, was met with a quizzical look and a “but why” response. I did my best to explain how a clutch was different to a torque converter and made sure not to mention planetary gearsets Vs synchros and idler shafts or any of that witchcraft (happy Halloween 2018, everyone).

She took away the knowledge that unlike in her car, if she didn’t separate the engine from the wheels / transmission with the clutch pedal, the engine would stall and I considered that a win.

Ready to start learning!

Onto the Exercises!

First I had her sitting in neutral, engine idling, asked her to shift into first, and slowly without any accelerator let the clutch out and start rolling. She promptly asked where first was. I’d forgotten that part. H-pattern explained, she just as quickly let the clutch out, lurched, and stalled. One down, many to go. After a few attempts, she started to feel the engagement point, and with a little slip and patience was in first and rolling along at idle.

I asked her to do a slow loop back to where we started and to stop. She safely navigates the parking lot, hits the brakes, and stalls. I’d forgotten to remind her about that part too. After a morning of loops in first gear, and eventually shifts into second we were both a little frustrated in the process and called it a day.

In about an hours instruction, and two hours in the seat she had managed to learn to take off, brake, and change gears, and the stalls became more and more sparing.

I’m confident if need be she could move the car around as needed, but I’m hoping after the next couple of lessons and some more practice she would be able to drive the car from A to B in an emergency or if required.

We Both Learned

I did as much learning as she did that morning.

I spend my days at the shop explaining in much more technical depth different repairs, modifications, etc., but when I do that I am dealing with someone who loves their car, and understands enough of the basics to comprehend what we are discussing. In this case I was teaching someone from scratch, and I really had to tone back and find more general equivalencies to make myself understood. It’s difficult to teach anybody anything, and harder still to set realistic expectations.

At the time we were both a little disappointed at how frustrated we became, but have since talked about it and understood that it went as well as it should have. She now understands the mechanics, the controls, and importantly the why, all without hitting anything or harming the car in any way.

Now when I’m driving I will often have her narrate my actions as I drive: “let off throttle, clutch in, change gear, clutch out” or “let off throttle, brake, clutch in, downshift, clutch out”. That is something that is really helping her establish a pattern of behavior required by the car.

It was a very proud moment for me to teach her, and I’ll be prouder still when I’m able to send her off to the shops in the car by herself and know she will make it back in one piece. The proudest of all will be when she’s asking for my keys instead of hers to do the mundane shopping run, that’s when I’ll know she’s become an enthusiast of driving as much as the cars. Between then and now though, will be many lessons, miles, stalls, slips, and maybe even that lightweight clutch and RS flywheel I’ve been eyeing!

dead-clutch

This is a clutch we pulled out of a car that someone bought to learn manual shifting. It lasted 12,000 miles. No, this is not from the car she trained on!

2018-11-01T19:08:35+00:00