Thursday, September 27, 2012

My Take on the Death of the Manual Transmission

I know it has been done, but I will go ahead and share my opinion on the death of the manual transmission.  Let's start at the top. Go ask your friends, check Facebook, check Twitter, or just walk around a normal American parking lot.  No one owns a manual anymore.  I understand the luxuries of an automatic, so don't get me wrong. For some people who deal with a lot of traffic an automatic is just easier.  But it is more than just car buyers not selecting a manual over an automatic.  Most drivers are not even learning to drive a stick, which to me seems almost silly.  Just for emergency situations it is worth the time for every driver to at least understand how to drive a manual.  It may never happen, but it is easy to at least imagine a situation where a manual vehicle is the only choice to drive yourself or a loved one to a hospital or flea a zombie apocalypse, whichever scares you more.  There are also some obscure reasons to drive stick.  Statistics show that manual cars are stolen less due to the fact that car thieves can't drive stick.  Friends are also less likely to borrow your car.  Big plus if you drive a truck because everyone wants to borrow it to haul whatever they have that won't fit in their Prius.  "Can I borrow your truck man?" "Sure, can you drive stick?" Your friends feelings are spared, and you seem like a hero not a jerk because let's face it you weren't going to let them drive your baby anyway.  

This situation is not just the car buyers fault though; car makers are to blame, too. In Europe and other parts of the world, small inexpensive cars are more common with manuals.  However, I am directing this post to fellow American drivers. We have much fewer options to even buy a manual transmission.  This biggest insult and tale of the times comes from Motor Trend magazine.  The top three contenders for their latest Best Drivers Car competition had no manual.  In the past there was no such thing as a Drivers car without having a manual between the seats.

Why pick a manual over an automatic?  Well there are actually several reasons. In most cars a manual gets better miles per gallon fuel economy.  I don't think anyone will cry over a few extra bucks in their pocket.  The biggest reason I drive a manual though, is the control I have over my vehicle.  Automatic transmissions are designed to up shift as much as possible to save on fuel economy.  In some situations such as merging into traffic or passing that's a terrible thing.  I need my vehicle to hold that gear so I have those extra revs and horsepower the revs give me.  The worst feeling I get from automatic transmission is when I am cruising down the interstate and all of a sudden the transmission down shifts because of maybe a hill, or my foot slightly pressing on the gas, or a ghost; the engine will rev up and then the car will jerk as it will then again pick the top gear.  That doesn't happen in a manual.  The car stays in the gear I want it to be in until I tell it to change. I am driving the car and in complete control; not the machine.

As of the time of this post, the last savior of the manual is Porsche.  Last year Porsche announced their all new seven speed manual.  I will admit that transmission makes me grin with giddy joy.  When competitors like Ferrari have done away with manuals altogether, and Lamborghini buyers must special order a manual from the factory if they want to row through their own shifts. So what's the future for drivers looking for more fun and control in their ride?  The double clutch transmission appears to be our compromise.  Both Ferrari and Porsche are bragging on the improvements to fuel economy and lap times this new technology produces for their products.  Motor Trend picked Porsche's new 911 for their best drivers car with a PDK on board. This type of transmission is not limited to the high end cars either.  Volkswagen offers the double clutch in the very affordable GTI.

If you still have a manual please hold on tight as you move from third to fourth.  Enjoy that left leg pain you feel after an hour in bumper to bumper traffic.  You can tell your grandchildren about how things were so much harder back in your day when you actually had to drive your car. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Some Awesome Automotive Apps for IPhone

Like any modern car guy on the road I like to stay in touch with my hobby.  With the invention of a certain mobile device I have the power of staying connected anywhere I roam. I realize not everyone has an IPhone or even wants an IPhone but many of you still will have a smartphone of some type and many of the apps I will mention are offered on other operating systems. The first must have app I use not just daily but almost hourly is the Autoblog app.  There is nothing fancy about this app really. More or less it is just a link to Autoblog's website but it does take a lot of the advertising out off the screen and makes it much easier to view on a smaller scale.  Msn Autos, Car and Driver Buyers Guide,, and Edmunds are all apps that pretty much do they same thing.  Ever see a car in a parking lot and you just need to know more about it? Happens to me more than I like to admit.  So these apps give you the information your brain is craving.  I really can't say one is better than the rest. They all have their limits and their strengths. If you are a person that likes to shop for their perfect garage then the apps you need are Autotrader, Cars, and Ebay Motors.  All three will take you to cars listed for sale on their respective sites.  Maybe you actually are in the market for a vehicle or maybe you just want to see what a certain car can be picked up for in the used market. Either way these apps are easy to use and a lot of fun to search.  So now you have researched your car, you have found and bought you car, where do you drive your car? BMW has an app to help with that. Yes BMW. Their UltimateDrive app uses your phone's GPS signal to map out the best driving roads in your particular area based on input from other driving enthusiasts.  Then, one you have found your ultimate driving road, use Rev Lite to track your cars performance.  True, there are several apps out there that can track your cars performance but Rev Lite happens to be free so its the one I use.  Maybe if you like Rev Lite and you see the benefit of a paid app then go for it, it's probably worth it.  All these apps that I have talked about here are free so please enjoy hope you get as much hours of wasted time out of them as I do.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Must Have Car Guy Books

Welcome to the brand new Carmichael's Automotive Culture Blog.  The idea behind this blog is to share ideas and trends in the automotive world. My opinion is the automotive world is more than just a market where products are bought and sold and it's more than just a hobby.  I believe there is an actual sub culture than spans the entire globe consisting of men, women, and even children that have a passion in the subject of cars.

Today I want to share a few books that are in my personal library that I feel every car lover should read and understand.  The first one I want to mention is The Encyclopedia of American Cars.  When was the last time someone told you to read the encyclopedia?  This book is by the nerds, I mean auto editors, over at Consumer Guide.  I'll be honest its a nerdy book but that's why it's great. It is a history lesson of American automotive manufacturers from the 1930's all the way to 2006.  This book goes into amazing detail with stories of why our favorite cars were built and why they were successful or why they weren't successful.  If you're thinking it only covers the boring Big 3 automakers, well you would be completely wrong.  Even the most learned car guy would be blown away by the detail in which this book covers lost and forgot brands and models.  Every major North American brand has it's own chapter which tells the story of the company.  At the end of each chapter is a well laid out table of different model years, their sales numbers, and even the engine options for each model.  Don't ever go to another car show again and be stumped at what you're looking at.  Fill yourself with the knowledge of the car and where it came from and what it was like when it was original.  This book it also full of amazing original photos straight from the manufactures as well as new color pictures of perfectly preserved gems that we dream about.  Yes so often we car guys are nerds and this book will fill that nerdy brain with knowledge that will bore all your friends even more than you already do.

Now for something completely different. One is The Driver by Alex Roy a legendary long distance illegal street racer.  The other is related and must be read first because it actually inspired the works of Mr. Roy.  It is called Cannonball! World's Greatest Outlaw Road Race written by famed automotive journalist Brock Yates.  Yates takes us back to the 1970's when the speed limit was 55 mph and speed and horsepower were more evil than drugs, rock and roll, or cigarettes.  Then as now many did not recognize our culture in the world.  Most saw cars as only a means of transportation that simply replaced the horse and buggy and cars would eventually be replaced by something else.  Yates saw government nannies stepping in and controlling how cars were made and how they drove.  Yates sets out to prove that these state regulations were not making cars safer but making drivers more dangerous.  He puts out a challenge for himself and all other car lovers to cross the United States as fast as possible without stopping.  What happens next sets off an icon that continues to this day.  The book covers a better part of a decade where the best drivers and the best cars on the road gather to push themselves to amazing limits.  This book is not only a memoir of his account but other participants are included as well.  Probably the most important is none other than racing legend Dan Gurney.  Reading about Gurney's skills behind the wheel of a Ferrari Daytona is inspiring.  Fair warning, you will speed after reading this book for at least three weeks.  The words will run across your brain even if its just a short drive to the grocery store or to work.

The Cannonball races of the '70's inspired several to keep the race alive even after Brock Yates publicly denounced such races.  I think a few bad movies and some worse copy cats ruined the excitement for him and made him reconsider the effects on public safety.  One individual to pick up the torch of the original Cannonballers was Alex Roy.  In his book he does more than just tell an impressive story of continental racing but examines where the joy of car culture originates in a person.  No one is born a car guy they are made that way. For Roy is comes from his father, a Porsche 911 aficionado.  Most of the beginning of the book talks about Roy's relationship with his father and the hurt he felt when his father past away.  In many ways Roy is trying to keep his father's memory alive and he does this behind the wheel of a very famous BMW M5.  The book as several important features that will attract many car guys to it but actually the most important chapter of the book has nothing to do with cars.  Roy is a native to Manhattan and much of the book takes place there.  On September 10, 2001 Roy makes a lap of the island in an Audi faster than anyone else every had before.  He started his lap at the World Trade Center.  The very next day Roy and so many others saw first hand what most of us only saw on television.  Why is Alex Roy's account of Sept. 11 so important?  When the Spanish first arrived in the New World many kept journals.  These journals are now priceless because no other record can be found of what happened during that world changing event.  In the same way Roy is not a famous politician or public servant. He was a normal New Yorker living through a world changing event.  Today those Spaniard journals are read in every high school in the country and in a hundred maybe two hundred years I think students will be reading Alex's account of Sept. 11.  That chapter aside the rest of the book is pulse pounding rush of adrenaline where Roy takes us inside of his M5 at speeds well above 100mph facing down danger and most of all police.

So here are a few books that you can surf through Amazon and find.  Trust me all will be shown proudly in your library as they are mine.