Saturday, October 02, 2010

Candy ass vol. one: automatic transmissions*

Your automatic transmission is candy ass.

How can you stand driving around like that knowing some cheese-head engineer decided what gear you should be in? What do you do if you need extra power on the highway to pass some cheese head in their automatic transmission Ford Focus as they putter along doing 73 in the left lane? What do you do in the snow?

Yes, I know manual transmissions aren't available on most models. No, I don't care.

My first VW Bug was a manual (purchased for $200 from the proceeds from the sale of my Pacer moped, which I purchased with baby sitting money and which was COOL AS ALL HELL and which I NEVER SHOULD HAVE SOLD). That first Bug (pictured circa 1981) ran for two weeks before throwing a rod and dying an indignant death that was not necessarily unwelcome (the heater was stuck on high and blew its blistering acrid air over some animal carcass that was hidden in the works, hence the car was not only sweat-popping hot, it stunk like hell). My second VW Bug was a manual, both Hondas were manual (the CRX and the Prelude--both SI models) and the Mini Cooper is (of course) a manual. (No, my Mini is not a Cooper S, and no, I don't need to hear any shit about that.)

"Three on the tree."

You don't get too many guys saying that anymore. I love that three-on-the-tree shit.

Me to my kid: "Kid, do not date anyone who doesn't know how to drive a stick shift. They're probably a candy ass."

How many people out there know what a goddamn double clutch is? You had to double clutch Dad's Willys. Try that shit while you're smoking and drinking a beer. One time the steering wheel came off in my hands while I was driving 40 MPH down Clifton Boulevard, which some might consider a safety hazard considering there were no doors or roof. Seat belts? Very funny.

"Dad," I said to him when I got home, "the steering wheel on the Jeep is a little loose."

"Yeah," he said indifferently, "I know."

Dad was like that. Dad was not candy ass. Dad was not candy ass even when he was driving the baby blue Pinto ('73?) or the Olds Vista Cruiser ('76?), both of which were candy ass (if Dad were here, he'd have said so himself [sometimes I think I use too many parentheticals]).

Dad was one of your original Beer Guys, the contingent of which is pretty much the antithesis of candy ass.

* * *

* I was going to do a simple list of candy ass items, but decided each entry requires its own post, complete with pontification from your humble hostess, so you can look forward to more of these beauties in the future.

* * *


J9 said...

Agreed! My first car was a '70 Nova 350 engine with 3 on the tree, and the damned linkage would catch necesitating my dad making an old flathead screwdriver into a hook so I could unhook it when needed. I also carried a roll of bailing wire and wire cutters as the exhaust system was falling apart. Had to wire it up on more than one occassion. Oh and it had body rot. Loved that thing! It was FAST!

Dudesworthy said...

3 on a tree? WTF?!

Listen Erin, I respect you, but I just looked that mess up on youtube and that is some nasty.

What you want a proper stick shift - there is nothing more satisfying than feathering the clutch and slipping from third to fourth just as the engine hits that perfect note (usually somewhere between 2500 and 3000 rpm) on the freeway and cruising past some ape in a hummer (or worse a beamer) with a crappy auto gearbox that leaves the big V8 with acceleration like a slug.

sarah said...

volkswagens were like that, either no heat since it had to come from rear and had notoriously bad blowers (hehehe i said rear and blower...) or heat on full blast in the summer. in college i almost ran over some friends when the brakes went out on my pickup with "three on the tree" but hit a pole instead. they are still mad at me. i am now loving my manual subaru impreza with all wheel drive. didn't shovel my driveway all last winter. anybody who can't drive one is most definitely ass!

Big Mark 243 said...

Candy a$$? Hmm... don't know if not being able to drive a stick makes one a candy a$$. I think it is more of an intensifier for those that CAN drive a stick shift...

I can't dance... but I can drive a manual transmission. Not only that, I once had a license allowing me to drive humvee's and deuce-and a-half trucks.

Yeah, being able to use a manual transmission makes you something special... more so than it diminishes ...

Bill said...

My Grandpa taught me how to drive in his Studebaker but I can't remember the year. Of course it was a stick. I was 12 years old driving on narrow roads in the Sandia Mountains outside of Albuquerque. That's part of the reason I'm not a candy ass.

Hal said...

Two things,

1. I guess I'm died in the wool candy ass, as I have never, ever driven a car with a manual transmission. An old Cleveland buddy made that an object of mirth one time, so to defend my honor and manhood, I asked him to show me how to shift his old Datsun. I couldn't get it more than 10 or 20 feet across an old Pick-n-Pay parking lot before it started making scary noises and he said, "THAT'S ENOUGH!" The thing is, my Dad hated manual transmissions and he rejoiced when the automatics became readily available back in the 50's. Every car he owned, from his first 1953 Chevy, to a Nash to a 65 Fury to a 71 Impala to a 74 Gremlin (yeah, I know) to a 78 Rabbit to an 82 Toyota Corolla to an 87 Honda Civic all had automatic transmissions, so I never had a decent opportunity to learn on a manual. Manuals seem like they'd be a real pain in the ass anywhere but rural areas where you don't do a lot of stopping and starting. So, call me candy ass, but I can kick back and worry about one less thing when I'm caught in a parking lot on the Ventura Freeway.

2. Do you have a picture of yourself sopping wet while eating a mammoth burger while washing the car? It would give Paris Hilton a run for her money.

Erin O'Brien said...

Hal, I have seen your back. You are not a candy ass.

Ms Amanda said...

Mmm, manual transmissions. My first car was a 71' bug in a lovely shade a pale, sun bleached blue. It ran like a dream, smelled of the original seat stuffing and often fit 6-7 people. I loved that car. When I first met my husband I was shocked, stunned, flabbergasted that he didn't know how to drive a stick. I was the one yelling 'That's enough!!!' after he assaulted the poor transmission with his sorry attempt at driving her.
Yes, I married him anyway and no, he is not a candy ass.

alphadog said...

Having a sport or performance car with an automatic transmission is like going to an orgy with a limp dick.

Anonymous said...

LOL,, gots to love me some Erin, had the three on the tree and my big ole Diesel Dodge has a 5 speed, but the BMW is auto all for a purpose. If that damn BMW had a 6 speed my insurance would cost a fortune. Kind of glad Erins Mini BMW is a stick, I like a girl who can work both legs.

James Old GUy

Shaina said...

i need to learn stick :-( but my dad won't let anyone but my mom touch his car, and my brother was SUPPOSED to teach me on his old car but never got around to it and NOBODY touches his new one. my now-ex-bf drove an automatic so he was no help. someday...

philbilly said...

Man, I love it when girls talk cars...

Erin, got a four on the tree in my shop now, with freewheel and overdrive. Told'ja I live in the

The hottest onscreen dissertation ever is Maris Tomei in "My Cousin Vinny" testifying as to the difference between the tire marks left by a '63 Skylark solid axle and a '63 Tempest rope drive swing-axle.

Now that's porn.

VW Beetle's had excellent heat when they left the factory. 10 years in the rustbelt and hack mechanics pitching parts they did not comprehend, fugged. My 914 "Porsche"(also a VW) had stainless steel heater boxes and could warm up coffee on road trips.

The art to driving stick is shifting without touching the clutch; you must become one with the powertrain. And be lazy.

Glass Houses said...

My current vehicle is automatic, but that's only because I just bought what I could afford, and I couldn't afford to be picky.

My ex-boyfriend's brother is a car guy, who once teasingly offered to let my ex borrow his manual transmission car except damn, ex didn't know how to drive stick. Ex's brother was incredulous when I piped up that I could drive it.

"YOU can drive a stick?!"
"In stiletto heels, buster."

sarah said...

i meant to say a candy ass, not just ass.

ms. amanda, that original vw seat stuffing smell brings memories flooding back.

philbilly,i drove said vw for 2 weeks without the clutch. i became one with the powertrain out of financial necessity...

Anonymous said...

A very entertaining piece.

After years of driving straight shift pick ups I now find myself with an AWD Mercury with a Continuous Variable Automatic Transmission that defies rational description and was likely the cause of the collapse of the U.S. auto industry. Yes, it was my fault. Sorry.

Dear Shaina. I would gladly give you driving lessons if you would teach me hebrew.

Dear Shaina. Run like the wind. I am a lecherous old man who has unpure motives.


Amy L. Hanna said...

My mother owned and drove a white VW Bug until I was about 6, before converting to Datsuns and then Camrys.

I drove stick ONCE while test driving an '85 Civic Hatchback 16 years ago via a Honda dealership. ONCE. And what a gracious salesman I had to have bravely chaperoned this virgin endeavor.

(Slightly off-topic, but you really need to put the brakes on your abuse of apostrophes when not employing a contraction.
Just sayin'.)

philbilly said...


Driving a bug everyday with a snapped clutch cable is muy macho.

No digital powertrain management system could ever compete with the fuzzy logic and control strategies needed just to drive downtown in morning rush hour. If you were also drinking coffee and scraping the windshield, bonus points.

Vince said...

Yellow beer = yellow snow ya baby.
Why don't you just get a yard of plastic pipe and a funnel. :D

Daniel said...

You raise a damn fine statement there...

I intend to never buy an automatic vehicle again. My first car (while not as awesome looking as yours) was an automatic and I hated how it drove with a passion. You step on the gas. Then you wait... and it'd eventually start rolling.

Regardless, it was still quirky enough to where I thought it a fine first automobile (an '87 Chevy Spectrum that I paid $500).

Since then, I've only done manual transmissions. And I have to say, I only date ladies that can drive stick. It's a requirement.

Anonymous said...

2006 VW Jetta. 5-speed. In the house.

jonas said...

Swine, I'm right there with you with a 2003 Jetta.

Back in the days of high school, driver's ed students were taught how to drive standard transmission cars. But, when my turn came for the summer driver's ed such luck. So instead, I had a prom date try to teach me, on case I had to driver her later. That did not go well. But it worked out ok in the end: she's an Army nurse, living in Hawaii, with an Army doctor.

My next experience was on the job: landscaping. The boss/owner wanted me to head over to some woman's house for a bit of weed whacking. Yes, I just typed that, in all seriousness. He said "here, take the pickup (a little, early 90s Ford POS)...uh, you know how to drive stick?" I replied in some vague, unconvincing affirmative. "Eh, you'll be fine...its like ridin' a fuckin' skateboard..." I’ll never forget him saying that, and for the life of me, I had no idea what that meant...other than to imply the ease with which I'd figure it out. As it happens, he wasn't wrong. And I’ve never skateboarded.

My next experience with a “straight shift” (as I’ve learned people call it in these parts), working for a drywall company. Being COMPLETELY unskilled meant that I got to do cleanup on sites. So, from time to time, I drove a 4.5 speed, dump-body, old as shit truck (you know, the kind with an "overdrive" gear, in case you go over 50mph). One job site in particular was a lake front job, right down town. I had to fill up the back of the truck with all the drywall scraps from the condos they were building. Funny thing, a former g/f's parents now live in this development. Anyway, I filled up the truck and prepared to go back to the shop. However, being on the lake meant being at the bottom of a hill = red light hill stop. No f'in way was I going to try to start this beaten old monster on a hill with people behind me. So, I waited at the 4-way intersection just parallel to the street I needed to turn onto until the light went green...then hammered it. No one died. I was very proud of both my safety and problem solving skills that day.

I got my 1st 5spd in 1999...a 1997 Jetta GL. She was a real bute. Replaced that with the current 2003 Jetta, who just turned 50K miles. The VW “2.0 Slow” is lots of fun.

Now, my wife bought herself a 2008 Jetta 2 yrs back...automatic. She's only ever driven a stick (yes, just typed that too). So in a conversation with a friend about the car one day, she explains her rationale for the automatic: "well, you case the babysitter doesn't know how to drive a stick...." Um..excuse me? We have no kids. Hell, we weren't even married when she dropped that little piece of knowledge. Was that ever mentioned to me when she bought the car?? Noooooo. Needless to say, eyebrows were raised.

All in all tho, I gotta say…automatics do have their appeal. Although, those are mostly related to non-driving activities. Well, passengers’ non-driving activities. That is to say, um…you know…uh…various forms of whatnot and such.

That’s all I got.

Anonymous said...

I've been a VW man all my life. I've only had the best of luck with all of them. They've been workhorses for me.

My '06 Jetta's tire blew out at 75 mph two years ago, and I swear to you I had no goddamned idea until I smelled it. There was literally no change in steering, no vibration, NOTHING. Goddamn Schwein engineering. You can't beat it.

Erin O'Brien said...

I love this comment thread.

Bri said...

A good friend of mine in high school had a 57 GMC pickup truck (just like the one in the song) with three on a tree and an ooga horn. You don't see many of those (he also had a horn that sounded like a cow, we used it to, well, call the cows)

I've always had a manual car, starting with my 65 mustang POS (that does not mean point of sale, btw) that had a three speed.

I've never owned a beetle or a VW but maybe someday, you never know.

hypnotist collector said...

My first car was a 5-speed Chevette.
Unfortunately, there is no cool "Three on the Tree" "Four on the Floor" handle that goes with a 5-speed...

philbilly said...

Chevettes are amazingly damn good cars, actually Australian Holdens.

Very hard to kill, harder to love, and you set the cam timing belt alignment with a 1/8 drill bit.

Automatics are acceptable to me under the following conditions:

It is a Turbo-Hydromatic in any convertible Cadillac that also came with the 472 cid V-8.

I am slouched down low and left, diggin' the scene with a gangster lean.

A very hot woman has one hand on my right inner thigh, and the other deftly brushing her long hair from her eyes in the summer breeze.

Motown should be on the AM/FM,
gas should be $0.85/gallon.

Steve Cook said...

1st car was a 1967 Chevrolet Biscayne Station Wagon with the 250 6 cyl and three on the tree. It had zero options and power nothing. Of coarse I got it in 1977, so it was all broken in at the time. I added one of those audiovox in dash 8 track radio combo units, and I was ready to cruise. Oh, did I mention it was Chevy gold? And yes, if I got lazy with my shifting, I had to get out and do that little thing on the steering columb. Great Car.

Me said...

Oh dear.

I drive a Ford Focus with an automatic transmission.

I always *knew* there was something wrong with my ass, but I just thought I needed to work out a little more. Now I know the truth - I actually need to ditch the car. ;)

Bill the Wrenchbender said...

I've had several manuals, 88 Omni, 77 F100 with 3 on the tree, my wife actually asked me if that was safe to operate, and my current daily driver is an 88 Chevy C1500 V6 5 speed, no air, power nuthin.
My hot rod has an automatic, but that may change someday!
I like rowing gears myself, the trucks at the race track I work at are mostly manuals, gotta love the granny gear in the tow truck could pull a house down!