A new 911 GT3 and our dying plea for the manual transmission
Outright speed is a fine accomplishment, but nothing beats rowing the gears yourself.
Actually, yes, it is.
So let’s just get my standard issue disclaimer out of the way: I get it. The GT3 is a track-attack machine, and at the same time, it needs to attract a broader audience if it wants to justify its existence.
If the automatic helps it clock faster lap times while at the same time making it easier to drive to the supermarket, why not go automatic?
Clearly all logical arguments side in favor of the automatic transmission. Besides, every automotive engineer I’ve ever met tells me dual-clutch transmissions can be just as engaging to drive as manuals. That might settle the debate completely if it weren’t a blatantly false statement made by people whose very directive is to push corporate groupthink and lower costs through economies of scale.
At the very least, whoever finds an automatic transmission to be “as engaging” must have been given enough codeine-and-Ambien cocktails to have lost sensation in all of his or her limbs, heart and brain.
“But… but… manual transmissions aren’t as easy to drive!” Boo hoo! It’s a sports car -- it’s supposed to be challenging. You’re supposed to feel a sense of, “Hey, I did it!” when you get your downshift just right, just like you do when you nail the apex of a tough corner.
“But… but… it’s faster with an automatic transmission!” Were you looking for that extra tenth of a second on the way home from CVS? And fine, the GT3 may well be the ultimate track car, but its duties are primarily on the road. And its purpose? To bring a smile to your face. Race cars are about shaving nanoseconds off lap times, but sports cars are about fun.
Manufacturers of these specialty cars are, as of late, overly obsessed with lap times – with one lap time in particular, actually – and it’s turned into a sort of pissing contest that’s served to dictate the progression of technology. But has it served, necessarily, to make these cars any more fun to drive?
I swear I have more fun in my brother’s 1987 Honda Civic Si than I do in some of the mega sports cars I drive for work. Because with the capability of modern cars, it’s just not safe to test the limits and simulate a time trial on public roads.
I don’t mean to pick on the GT3, which is clearly an awesome car that will be incredible to drive. Porsche will tell you that the new GT3 is no less thrilling than its forebears, and the specs speak for themselves. It has 475 horsepower, revs to 9000 rpm, and shifts in less than 1/100th of a second. It’s a different kind of thrilling.
Slowly but surely, we’re diluting the recipe for big, dumb grins in the name of efficiency – and technology for technology's sake. And before we know it, cars just aren’t going to be any fun anymore, just a superfast, superefficient means of getting around. If there’s any car that should throw all that nonsense out the window and make me feel like a hooligan, it’s the 911 GT3. The GT3 is clearly a weekend car anyway, so who cares about broadening the buyer base and making it more livable on a daily basis?
The old GT3 was perfect with a manual transmission. For people who want to tear up the road without thinking, there's the 911 Turbo. Give me a GT3 with a stick shift for the thrill factor. I know it’s hard to market grins per mile, Porsche, but stick to your guns and give us a manual. What percentage of buyers are going to notice that it’s a few seconds slower than advertised on a 13-mile road course that they’ll never visit?
James Tate cut his teeth in the business as a race-team crew member before moving to the editorial side as senior editor of Sport Compact Car, and his work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Automobile, Motor Trend and European Car. When not writing, Tate is usually fantasizing about a vintage Porsche 911.
Well written, James. I have always contended that it should be Man Law that all men should know how to drive a manual.
I have a vintage air cooled, 5 speed 911 and totally agree with this artcle. When you get in an older 911 you soon realize why you're in what's known as the "driver's" seat. No electronic nannies, power steering or heated seats. Nothing but YOU becoming part of the connection between the road and machine. You feel all the right vibrations, hear the right noises and feel what the car is doing. When you take a part of that connection, like being able to manually change a gear away, you take away a part the passion and much of the enjoyment of driving.
Someone once asked me if I would rather have a Mustang V8 automatic or a Mustang V6 manual (and this was a long time ago when the V6 was a pretty crappy engine). I said without hesitation that I would rather have the V6 manual despite the engine because what's the point of driving the V8 if you aren't shifting the gears yourself?
He didn't understand my answer and I told him that is the difference between a driver and someone who just sits behind the steering wheel.
Except, that's not really the case. There is a small learning curve, but once you learn they really are just as easy as automatics.
We aren't talking about a sliding mesh "crashbox" transmission here (Model T vintage, etc.), or a synchroless transmission (ala classic British sportscar fame), or an unsprung clutch (drag racers and the like). Any transmission after the early 70's and most back to the 60's have synchronized constant mesh gears with a sprung clutch that take most of the work and effort out of operating a manual transmission. The only transmission that I have driven that was easier to operate was a multi-plate wet clutch sequential in a Kawasaki Ninja 250R that I used to own.
If you want a low HP & torque sports car than you can have your manual. Otherwise it will be spending more time in a garage than on the street. The engineers, drivers and designers have known this for decades and have been trying to build the best and strongest automatics. Unless you can come up with your own manual design, you might want to just understand this is called progress!
I'll take a dual-clutch trans (which by the way is NOT a "slush-box") over the upcoming fully autonomous vehicles which are right around the corner. While there is certainly something to be said about "getting the up and down-shifts just right", for those of us who can only afford one car, that "feeling" is the furthest thing from our minds when stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
A dual-clutch transmission (at least a good one!) is pretty much the best of both worlds.
If you're wealthy enough to be able to have more than one vehicle, then by all means get one with a manual trans.
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