Learning How to Drive Stick Shift with MAX

| 8/6/2009 9:42:37 AM

When I showed up on the doorstep of Kinetic Vehicles earlier this year to check out the high-mileage DIY car known as MAX (see Update No. 22), my aura somehow communicated “car enthusiast.” 

Although I took my first road trip in the back of a Corvette at 2 weeks old, my father’s passion for automobiles has not rubbed off on me. I have never waxed my rig, checked the tire pressure or paid any attention to the confusing maze of gray intestines under the hood of my car. As far as transportation goes, I prefer to focus my energy on the power and strength of the human body. 

Learn to drive stick shiftI had read about MAX in my days as a MOTHER EARTH NEWS intern. But now, given that I live in Oregon (like Jack McCornack and the Kinetic Vehicles team), I had the chance to actually see this unique creation in action. What I didn’t expect was that this encounter would bring about a long overdue engagement of mind, body and machine: learning to drive a manual transmission. 

At first, MAX made me think of a big kid version of a bumper car that had escaped from the state fair. But this image vanished when my Pontiac Sunfire convertible couldn’t keep up with MAX on the drive back to the shop. I can attest that MAX is definitely a real car … except with more personality than any car I’ve ever known. 

When I jumped into the driver’s seat, it wasn’t the five-point safety harness that made me nervous, it was the stick shift. MAX is dear to Jack, the Kinetic Vehicles team and the editors at MOTHER EARTH NEWS, so the last thing I wanted to do was ruin the transmission or clutch.

In the passenger seat, Jack began the lesson. MAX is probably the best manual transmission to learn on because it won’t die if the driver messes up while coaxing it into first gear. Regardless, as soon as the clutch would start to engage, my feet would freeze until MAX putted along. 

Jack McCornack
8/7/2009 3:21:57 PM

Good story, Katherine, I'm glad you enjoyed your visit. The thing that makes MAX such a pleasure as a stick shift trainer is the light weight of the car, the relatively heavy flywheel, and the remarkable low rpm torque of low revving diesels. At idle on flat ground, MAX is difficult to stall, no matter what you do with the clutch. Let the clutch up smoothly and MAX accelerates smoothly to about 2 miles an hour and idles along, chugchugchug, at a leisurely walking speed. Let the clutch up fast and MAX bolts out of the blocks, accelerating instantly to...about 2 miles an hour and idles along, chugchugchug, at a leisurely walking speed. I think the reason Katherine was slow to respond to my 'stop' commands was that MAX was darn near stopped already. But in 100 starts, she only stalled MAX once--not bad for a student driver.

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