Classic cars and young drivers get a lesson in manual transmissions – The Denver Post

GOLDEN —  How do you teach teenagers to drive a stick shift? Take them to a secluded 1.4 mile training track in Golden on an idle Saturday where no one else is around. Teach them about the clutch, gears and emergency brake. And then hand over the keys.

And for kicks, convince a handful of vintage car owners to loan their manual wheels because after all, it’s no longer easy to buy or even rent one of these cars.

Nerve racking?

“I wore a diaper today,” joked Joe Gonzales, owner of an old-timey 1955 Chevy pickup, which not only is manual, but it has a column shift manual transmission. “This was my first car. It’s what I learned to drive on. I want to teach them how to drive clutch because once they know that, they can drive anything.”

More than a dozen car owners showed up Saturday to instill the passion of driving manually at the Hagerty Driving Experience, a one-day event sponsored by Hagerty, the Michigan auto insurer specializing in classic cars. During the week, the track is used for training by the Colorado State Patrol.

About 60 young drivers, ages 15 to 25, also gave up sleeping-in on a Saturday morning because “I thought it would be cool to drive,” said Haley Graham, 16, who does have her driver’s license.

And maybe, just maybe, Graham’s parents might let her drive their classic vehicles, a 1968 Ford Mustang Fastback and a 1965 convertible.

“I think their cars are really cool,” said Graham, who drives an automatic Toyota 4Runner. “I get to ride in them. But whenever I think about doing the clutch and changing gears, it’s confusing.”

Haley Graham, 16, learns to drive a 1955 Chevy pickup with Joe Gonzales in Golden on May 13, 2017.
Haley Graham, 16, learns to drive a 1955 Chevy pickup with Joe Gonzales in Golden on May 13, 2017.

Hagerty, which has an office in Golden, built a mini empire for classic car enthusiasts. Besides offering insurance — most of Saturday’s car owners are also Hagerty customers — there’s the Hagerty Classic Cars magazine and valuation services.

But the company felt it needed to do more to encourage the younger generation about what it means to love automobiles, especially vintage ones. Its research found that while 60 percent of millennials would like to own a classic car but 69 percent felt they never will because they don’t know how to drive one. The Golden event was Hagerty’s 26th training session nationwide since 2011.

“We put the program on to get young drivers get excited about classic cars and teach them the necessary skills in order to drive the cars. It’s all about the interaction of the car owners and the young students and passing on the love of the automobile,” said Rachel Ventimiglia, Hagerty’s Youth Advocacy coordinator. “All of the cars are brought here by local car owners who are behind the mission to get young kids excited about driving in classic cars. They’re here to volunteer their vehicle and time and are sacrificing their clutch to be here today.”

Driving in a BMW convertible, Kimber Burns was a little nervous even though she has driven her father’s manual Mini Cooper around her neighborhood.

“I’ve been driving for years, but this is a whole different experience than automatic,” said Burns, 24, who lives in Castle Rock. “I’m just not completely comfortable doing the stopping and starting again. It’s like learning to drive all over again. It’s that nervousness of the first time.”

And start, stop and stall Burns did several times in the BMW owned by Jimmy Aretakis, an amateur race car driver. But after a few times around the track, the stalling dissipated, the smoothness became more consistent.

“Yes! That was it,” Aretakis shouted, raising both arms in victory after Burns got going again after stalling twice. “Put that in your memory!”

Aretakis, who said he wasn’t nervous about letting young drivers try out his car, said this was the second year he volunteered. He’s passionate about automobiles and older cars and hopes to leave the younger generation with a sense of what it’s really like to drive.

“Driving on a nice mountain road with a stick shift is much more fun than a Subaru with automatic,” the Morrison resident said. “And I know. I have one.”

 

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