Something is missing?

Have you every had the feeling that something is missing?  I had that last night.  I was driving down the road in our Grand Caravan, and just really missed driving a manual and having rear wheel drive.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Grand Caravan.  Even if I didn’t have kids, if I needed a vehicle with space to carry stuff, I would think about getting one.

But I really miss having a manual transmission and rear wheel drive.  I miss having both, but the combination of the two I really miss.  The last manual transmission I had was in a 2008 Ford Focus.  A fun little car, but unfortunately it was front wheel drive.  The last rear wheel drive vehicle I had was a 1997 Ford Expedition.  Ok, it was really four wheel drive, but close enough since in two wheel drive it was just the rear wheel driving it anyway.

The last vehicle I had that was rear wheel drive, and had a manual was a 1985 Chevy Pickup.  It was four wheel drive, but again, in two wheel drive, it was just the back tires moving you around.

It was fun.  The engine was a mildly warmed over 350, and it was a lot of fun to drive.  Sure, with the truck transmission shifter, you weren’t going to be power shifting it, but you were still shifting it.

Plus, driving an older 3/4 ton 4×4 pickup, you feel like you could drive over just about anything that got in your way.  I know the newer trucks sit just as high or higher, but there is something about driving an old pickup that just feels like it is indestructible.  Maybe it is the fact that you can actually see the parts inside that hold it together.  It just isn’t a sea of nicely shaped plastic.

There is just something that is missing when I drive a vehicle with an automatic.  Sure, the six speed auto in my van is great, and the van has decent power.  I haven’t tested it, but from magazine reports, it runs the quarter mile in about 16 seconds flat.  But I just feel disconnected when I am driving an automatic.  I like telling the car when to shift, and I take pride in being able to shift a manual smoothly.

On shifting smoothly, it took some getting used to in the Focus, since the computer controlled throttle body would slowly shut, since it slamming shut when you let off the gas increases emissions.  But it makes it tough to drive smooth.  Go figure, we are to that level on emissions that how fast the throttle is closed affects it.

But even with that, it is nice to be in control of when and how a vehicle shifts.  There is a feeling of being connected to the car you are driving.  And I enjoy that.

And with rear wheel drive, there is more of a sense of balance.  Sure, you don’t have as much traction in the winter (for those of you who are down south, I live in Minnesota where snow makes winter driving “interesting”).  But that is part of the fun also.

It all depends, do you want a car to just get you from point A to point B?  Or do you want to have fun getting there?  To me, the drive can be more fun, in the right car.


Something is missing? — 10 Comments

  1. The Aussies say ; “two turning, two burning” (see the May 2012 edition of “Wheels”, pg 12).

    My Plymouth Valiant is a rwd automatic but my 1981 Triumph TR7 is a rwd with a 5-speed manual. Both cars are modified, with rear wheel disc brakes and limited-slip differentials (Strange Engineering for the Plymouth and Quaiffe for the Triumph), which may spoil the experience for some, but I’m happy with the outcome.

    The same fate awaits my Moskvitch ; believe it or not there is a factory limited-slip differential available, although these are rare and fairly expensive (€ 800). I mean to modify the АЗЛК-2140 front discs and install them on the rear axle, and tune the УЗАМ-412 engine to produce about 2/3-rds more power (goal – about 125hp). I’m still undecided whether to use a ВАЗ 5-speed manual transmission (wrong gear lever location in comparison to the original 4-speed) or compromise on the soviet tech and use a Ford Sierra 5-speed.

    But that must wait until the conversion from a 4-door saloon to a 2-door coupé is finished.

    • Nothing wrong with improving the brakes, since that is a major safety feature. And there isn’t much sense in making more power if you can’t get it to the ground.

      In going to a 5 speed, extra gears are always a plus. As to which one, do you want to keep it with the soviet tech and keep a theme, or do it easier? Unfortunately, I don’t know anything about Soviet era cars, one doesn’t come across too many of them here the US.

  2. I’ve upgraded the brakes on all of my project cars. Not sure though that the soviet rear discs will make a big difference. They’ll have to be adapted from the fronts. I was just told I have a chance at getting a 80mm crankshaft, which will increase the engine size to 1,9litres. But it’s pricey – € 400. I don’t have to take a decision about the transmission yet. Perhaps next spring.

    I suggest you take a look at the socialist car scene. You’ll find some real surprises. I’ve seen a Trabant with a Ford V4 that looks quite impressive, and another with a Wartburg 3-cylinder 2 stroke. Also, a V8 Wartburg (1st generation). I’ve also seen a Tatra 603 that’s been modernised, and several GAZ-21s that look quite impressive. Ultraunique. Just my style..

    • If nothing else, going to rear discs usually help reduce weight.

      I will have to look at that aspect of cars that I haven’t looked at before. Who knows, I may even come across one in real life some day.

  3. Pat, this is soviet tech. The front disc brakes from a Moskvitch 2140 are surprisingly heavy. The VAZ-2121 (Niva) used rear drum brakes made from duraluminium, which were lighter than the front discs. Socialist era cars from Europe are a weird and (in some terms) wonderful world. None were particularly good. Check out the Top Gear videos on “commie cars” on You Tube. I’m sure you’ll enjoy them. This site is also a gold mine of information, with many hard to source photos ;

    The Italian is better than the English, but the English is understandable. More to the point, it gives the open-minded reader some insight into the fall of communism ; how consumer industries simply stopped investing in product development. There was no lack of engineering talent in the automotive industry there ; governments simply took a decision that in the face of huge deficits of consumer goods at home there was simply no need to invest in product development, thereby falling ever further behind the west. In the 1960-s Moskvitch exported 1/3-rd of its production but by the 1980-s their cars were virtually unsellable ; only some genuinely dedicated communists in Italy would buy them.

  4. I had forgotten about the Yugo. Given how many jokes there were about them, if the rest of the communist cars were the same level, that would explain why no one would buy them if they didn’t have to.

    I will have to look at that site more once I have more time. I always like learning about new things.

  5. The Zaztava Yugo was marginally better than average. The Lada (a Fiat 124 built under license) was perhaps the best among them, especially those built for export. The Zaparozhets was cribbed from the Fiat 500 but with an air-cooled V4 engine (the configuration being determined by the fact that most were maintained in garages with dirt floors and a flat-4 would have exposed the open valve train to more dirt). The Dacia 1302 (a Renault 12 clone) could have been the same had more attention been given to build quality. The interior fittings were particularly poor (like Chinese toys of the time) and the coolant over-flow was simply a 5-litre glass bottle used to sell ready-made soup in supermarkets. At least the Roumanians made some effort to diversify the model range (with a 2-door and a pick-up). The Skoda was perhaps the best and a fully home-grown effort but limited by its rear-engined layout (which, some say, was cribbed from the Renault 8). Later, the Favorit, was designed by Bertone. I’m sure you’ve heard something of the Trabant, but the larger Wartburg was larger, with 4-doors but only marginally better than the Trabbi.

    • Yes, I think just about everyone has heard of the Trabant. Hopefully this weekend I will have time to watch the Top Gear episode on the Communist cars.

      It sounds like there was a lot of potential innovation that was missed/ignored in those cars.

  6. The Italian site is also a gold-mine, in my opinion, although it hasn’t been updated in quite some time. Especially some of the prototypes made by Skoda and Moskvitch that were canned by the ever-so-wise politicians. Skoda made a prototype that could have been an Audi competitor at the time, and later Moskvitches showed strong Saab influence. Strangely, there is very little information available on the development of these socialist cars, especially the prototypes that never went into production.

  7. Could be that there isn’t much interest in the cars, so no one bothered to dig up the information, or it is just really hard to find.

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