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Hemmings Motor News has been around since 1954. We're proud of our heritage, but we're also more than the Hemmings full of classifieds that your father subscribed to. Aside from new editorial content every month in Hemmings, we have three monthly magazines: Hemmings Muscle Machines, Hemmings Classic Car and Hemmings Sports and Exotic Car.

While our editors traverse the country to find the best content for those magazines, we find other oddities related to the old-car hobby that we really had no place for - until now. With this blog, we're giving you a behind-the-scenes look at what we see and what we do during the course of putting out some of the finest automotive magazines you'll ever read.

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Open Diff: Paying It Forward

Posted December 10, 2015 8:00 AM by dstrohl

From the time I was old enough to push a Matchbox car across the rutted concrete retaining wall that held our backyard in check, I knew this: I wanted to learn to drive. By age 16, having mastered tricycles, bicycles, minibikes and even two-stroke motorcycles, I was ready to advance to automobiles. First came cars with an automatic transmission and later, at my urging, my father patiently taught me the first steps of the three-pedal shuffle in our four-speed 1967 VW Beetle.

Though I never became fast enough to make a living (or even support a hobby) racing cars, I practiced technique as often as I could, on road and track. While still no Zen master of the five speed, I could rev-match on the downshift with the best of them, even if my heel-toe skills lacked polish and precision. Over the years I taught several friends to drive a manual transmission, but one sticks out in my mind.

Teaching others to love the manual transmission, on Hemmings.

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Re: Open Diff: Paying It Forward

12/10/2015 10:06 AM

My (late) wife was not only athletically inept, she also suffered from left-right dislexia (pointing and saying 'left' when she meant 'right', and vice-versa), and had a poor sense of directions. But she was part Scottish and true to the stereotype, was excessively frugal. So once when shopping for a car she realized that stick-shift cars were cheaper to buy and maintain than automatics. At that point she was determined to learn how to drive stick. And we bought the car she wanted, with the manual transmission.

He first attempts in an empty parking lot were typical. Stall. Stall. Stall. Screetch. Stall.

Then I realized she was worried about burning up the clutch. I reassured her the clutch would be fine; it was designed for many thousands of miles of use, so the few miles it took her to learn wouldn't cause any damage. I suggested she ease the clutch out, then as soon as she felt the car start to move to push the clutch back in. Then ease the clutch out some more. Et cetera. After a few tries, I had her ease the clutch out and hold it for a sec when the car started to move.

After a few tries of that, she became more and more comfortable working the clutch and learning how to ease the clutch when starting and shifting. Within an hour she was shifting like an old-timer. We kept that car for years and put over a hundred thousand miles on it, with no transmission problems.

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Re: Open Diff: Paying It Forward

12/10/2015 11:10 AM

Good advice on the clutch. You can learn the finesse next week.

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Re: Open Diff: Paying It Forward

12/10/2015 3:27 PM

I tend to drive 'trucker style' whenever I'm in a stick shift vehicle.

Drives some people nuts when they realize I'm not clutching between gears because it seems wrong to them.

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Re: Open Diff: Paying It Forward

12/11/2015 1:52 PM

I'd get the same looks but for a different reason - when I was first taught - it was via the double-clutching technique. And a year and some change later, I shipped off for the Army. After years of driving old Duces and 5-Tons under load and seeing that they responded much better to that technique than the single-clutching fellow Soldiers were doing - it just became 'the right way' in my mind and the only way I've ever done it.

Edit: Except on motorcycles, since I learned how to drive them after, the guy teaching me damn-near kicked my butt the first time I tried it.

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Re: Open Diff: Paying It Forward

12/11/2015 10:00 PM

Do it all the time on dirt bikes. That way you don't have to loosen your (death) grip on the handlebar to pull in the clutch.

I've done it on street bikes but the dogs don't like it much unless you really do it carefully and usually only on the closer ratios. A lot street bikes have a fairly large jump between first and second and with neutral in between makes for a dicey shift. The upper gears, not so bad. I wouldn't try it with the Box O'Rox transmission on my Buell. My Honda street bikes shifted a lot smoother.

About 12 years ago, I drove my '87 Jetta home about seven miles and eight stoplights with no clutch when the little lever that pushes the clutch pushrod in split right at the splines. I thought (hoped) it was a broken cable when my foot went right to the floor but it was inside the tranny. I found it was smoother to start the car in second gear. Starting it in first caused a lot of bucking on start up. In second gear, I had to crank it longer but then it just glided off nice as can be. It was good thing I had practiced this shifting technique years earlier just for 'fun', never realizing I would have to do it for real. Saved the cost of a tow.

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