MAKE IT A MANUAL

A LOT CAN HAPPEN IN 15 YEARS. BABIES BECOME LITTLE ADULTS, SUPPRESSED NATIONS TRANSFORM INTO WORLD SUPERPOWERS, AND TECHNOLOGY REINVENTS ITSELF AT SUCH PACE THAT BUILT-IN OBSOLESCENCE NOW APPLIES TO COMPUTERS, NOT CARS.

Nathan Ponchard

Yet here I am, bashing away at a keyboard with the same four fingers I’ve always used, wondering where the flippin’ heck time went. Down the gurgler along with Saab, Oldsmobile, Hummer, Pontiac, Daewoo, Rover, MG, Plymouth, and fax machines apparently.

machines apparently.

But hopefully not the manual transmission.

Speaking to Tobias Moers from AMG the other day, he said to me “no one misses the manual gearbox”.

Um, I’m sorry, mate, but that’s bullshit. No one misses a column change without synchromesh on first, but many people still love a great manual.

Mazda’s new SkyActiv-MT in the 2, 3, CX-3, base CX-5 and new-gen MX-5 is such a tactile delight it somehow manages to take the shine off the similarly impressive SkyActiv-Drive auto. Then there’s Porsche’s sublime six-speed manual in the Boxster/Cayman, and even the sweet little manual in Volkswagen’s sadly departed Up.

After nearly 50 years of driving, my 67-year-old mother has never owned an automatic. She may be mother has never owned an automatic. She may be the exception to the rule these days, but I’ll take to the streets and protest if the manual looks like going the way of Red Tulip After Dinner Mints.

It’s almost laughable what we didn’t take for granted in bread-and-butter cars back in 2000.

Air-conditioning, power windows, cruise control, ABS brakes, more than two airbags and even traction control, not to mention ESC.

For years, I disabled every electronic driver aid in everything I drove, simply because I knew how rubbish most of them were if push came to shove, and I rated my own chances of performing a rescue a whole lot better – especially in Korean cars.

We were used to having cars slide and slither about, which was really good practice for throttle control. To that end, my 1966 VW Beetle with 15-year-old Michelins, drum brakes and rear swing axles keeps motoring real for me… until it one day flips over and bursts into flames.

My multi-hued, unintentionally rat-rodded Beetle reminds me of why I love cars. Obsessed as a child by air-cooled anything, especially drumbraked Beetles and Kombis with domed hubcaps, I hearted the original VW so truly, madly, deeply that I once kept a short-sleeved blue polo shirt knitted by my Aunty Val (it was the mid-70s) for years after it no longer fitted me, simply because the three top buttons were little plastic Beetles.

Thinking back to some of the turgid shite I’ve Thinking back to some of the turgid shite I’ve driven over the last 15 years, like the N16 Pulsar sedan, the first Rio, several non-Ralliart Lancers (and the actual Lancer Ralliart, which was terrible), they’re the reason many people simply don’t enjoy driving modern cars. Colourless, personality-deprived, low-brow appliances.

But for every beige-mobile Swiss Family Robinson GLXi, there’s an underdog with a sparkle in its eye, like Suzuki’s scorned-frombirth Celerio, which is so much better than any of us expected it to be, despite some (now fixed) braking issues.

And that’s what still keeps me interested.

My VW Beetle keeps motoring real... until one day it fl ips over and bursts into fl ames

Ferocious feedback

MY DEBUT Wheels piece – a breakout on the history of the WRX for the May 2000 Subaru Impreza 22B cover story – coincided with Cristian Brunelli’s debut (he shot the 22B feature). Big Gull and I had both escaped from Hot 4s magazine in Sydney’s western suburbs, each driving loud, heavily modifi ed cars.

In my fi rst few months on staff at Wheels, someone wrote in saying “send him back to loud fours and stereos where he belongs”, which John Carey told me was a compliment: “If you don’t get at least three letters complaining about something, you’re not doing your job properly.”