To hell in a(n automatic shift) handbasket

Okay, that’s final. It’s the end of civilization and proof positive that This Country is Going to Hell in a Handbasket.

Because I’m getting a little concerned that an aging Land Rover as the sole form of transport for three people, two of whom are over eighty, is not a really great idea, I went looking at cars. And since I’ve bought four Volvos in the last 30 years and all are still going strong, I pulled up my socks and went to look at Volvo’s form of SUV, which is more or less a station wagon with height.

Only to find that they don’t make them in manual shift.

What kind of bloody effete nation is this that a car like that is available only in automatic shift, with so-called clutchless manual to give you the option of third gear coming out of the mountains? I spit on your clutchless manual shift.

Weird thing is? In much of Europe, you can’t find an automatic for love nor money. Americans wanting to hire a car in England have to specify automatic, or learn a new driving skill real fast, at 85miles per hour on the wrong side of the road.

I LIKE to drive. I HATE the unresponsiveness of automatic shift.

I realize that the rest of the nation is forced to live its life on a clogged freeway, cell phone in one hand while the other fiddles with the controls on the CD deck or plug-in iPod, but damn it, I value the zen of machinery, full-body participation in an activity on the edge of disaster, and I refuse to be downgraded to an automatic shift.

I’m still looking for my new car.

(Grumble grumble.)

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  1. sinda on January 18, 2006 at 2:24 pm

    DO they make them in Europe? Volvo usually has a “special” wherein you can fly to Sweden, tour the plant, pick up your car and drive around a bit, and then they’ll ship it back for you. Their website would provide details. If that kind of luxury is an option for you…

  2. elisa on January 18, 2006 at 3:14 pm

    Great idea in the above post. You could use it as a research trip for your next book. I’ve only driven stick my whole life. I finally bought my one and only new car (out of three owned) ten years ago. I couldn’t get several of the high end features I wanted if the car came with a clutch. Clutch cars are not high end in this country. Now that Volvo is owned by Ford, I wonder just how European they will remain. At least you aren’t looking at another Rover. Back in their glory days, their guts were imported from Chevy so they looked great, but had odd drive line failures. I hope to be looking for a car soon. I’m considering a hybrid and none of them come with a clutch. I wish you luck.

  3. Anonymous on January 18, 2006 at 4:05 pm

    Here Here! I went to 6 dealerships for my last car, and found exactly 1 standard. So I bought it. I want my next car to be a hybrid, but do they even make them with a stick shift?

  4. Per A. on January 18, 2006 at 6:42 pm

    Laurie, you’re more than welcome to come to Sweden to buy a Volvo with manual transmission. It’s a pity it’s still only January, since the big Book Fair in Gothenburg (Volvos home town) isn’t until September.
    But, if I were you I’d log on to Volvos international website ( and the specifications of their products. It states clearly that both four-wheel-drive Volvos can be had with manual transmissions. Print it, slap it in the face of the car dealer and tell him to get you one. Volvo sales in the US are down right now, so they ought to be interested.
    And if he’s persists, come over here and get one straight from the factory!

  5. Per a. again on January 18, 2006 at 6:54 pm

    “If you prefer a more involving driving style, you will enjoy the smooth and distinct six-speed all-synchromesh manual gearbox.”

    Doesn’t this sound like something you’d want, Laurie? The quote comes from a list of features for a Volvo SUV at their international website!

  6. Trix on January 18, 2006 at 11:06 pm

    You might want to look at Subaru as an alternative. They’re excellent cars that go forever, have decent features for the price, and are nice to drive. I checked the US website to see that they do offer a 5-speed manual shift with the Foresters (the Range Rover equivalent). The Outback wagons do not (although they most certainly do here in Oz).

    I’m so with you on hating automatics, although I really should give these “sportshift” jobbies a test drive, since the reviewers do rave about them so much. Maybe it would still feel like what I consider to be driving, although I doubt it. Mind you, I’m biased, my car is 35 years old…

  7. WDI on January 19, 2006 at 12:05 am

    I’m right there with the rest of the “I’ll give up my stick shift when they pry it out of my cold, dead hands” drivers. Not only is the standard more fun, but it gives you much more control over your drive. I discovered this for myself as I drove my first pickup all over creation (from Mexican highways to desert tracks to Forest Service mountain roads) in all kinds of weather.

    Good luck with the search!

  8. Anonymous on January 19, 2006 at 1:47 am

    What she said.

    I believe, however, that you can solve this problem by buying a Porsche. 😉

  9. Sam on January 19, 2006 at 1:48 am

    I’m another one with you. I detest a car that tries to think for me; I think better than any automatic transmission ever made.

    I had a similar adventure early last year when my ten-year-old Mercury station wagon died for the last time, and I went looking for another car. If you’re at all curious, I wrote about the experience here. And yes, I got just about exactly what I wanted, including responsive handling and a peppy, punchy little engine.

    Oh, yeah. And a stick shift.

  10. Anonymous on January 19, 2006 at 6:13 pm

    I completely agree with you about manual shifts!
    I (until recently) drove a 2000 Subaru Outback LE which I LOVED, and which I got with a manual transmission, here in the States. Recently, when our other car gave out, we got a Honda Odyssey mini-van (we have two small children and all their gear to haul), which is unfortunately an automatic. I like the Odyssey (for a mini-van), but the way the car “thinks” for me in shifting is annoying. I can think for myself while driving, thank you very much! Unfortunately, they don’t come in manual shift. Sigh. We still have the Subaru, so at least I can still drive a manual if I miss it too much!

    I would suggest looking into Subaru (in agreement with the previous commenter)….I’m not sure they still make the Outback station wagon in manual, though they did in 2000. And it also has all-wheel drive, which gives the safety that automatics tout, without the sacrifice of driver control.

    By the way, I love your books, and your blog. Thanks!

  11. Anonymous on January 19, 2006 at 9:44 pm

    I finally switched to automatic two cars back because my knee was giving me trouble (not in shifting per se, but if it’s a problem in other areas, why not). If you’re planning on keeping the car a long time, you might want to factor that in, however dull it might be. Of COURSE we are all going to live forever in perfect health ….

  12. Mary R on January 19, 2006 at 9:50 pm

    Yes, almost every car is made both ways. Try to find someone willing to order it for you. I knew someone who wanted to buy his wife a little read sports car. She refused to drive manual, so he ordered one of the three automatics made that year. Grown men wept when they learned that car was automatic.

    On the other hand, there have been multiple instances of car-jackers being aprehended when they try to jack a manual drive car, only to be unable to drive it.

  13. CarrieR on January 19, 2006 at 11:38 pm

    Another vote for Subaru here. Great cars and a socially responsible company. I have a ’99 Outback wagon (which I love), but would probably buy a Forester if I were in the market for a new car this year. According to the Subaru website both Forester and Outback are available with five-speed manual transmissions.

  14. mrsatroxi on January 20, 2006 at 12:29 am


    Ms. King, I just wanted to say that I have read almost all of your books, and I want to thank you for them. Folly helped me realise I am not the only one who ever made lists. The Mary Russell series has made me laugh, made me pull out the dictionary, and I actually said “Hello, Peter!” out loud when he popped up in Locked Rooms. And Martinelli is still one of my favorite detectives.

    Anyway, I always feel really dumb whenever I leave a comment anywhere, so I’ll just say thanks again.

    (Oh, and I love my little Subaru. Although I’m not sure if my opinion counts for much, as I am one of the accursed ones who cannot drive a manual.)

  15. mrsatroxi on January 20, 2006 at 12:45 am

    Not Locked Rooms! That’s the one I just finished.

    A Letter of Mary!

    I’m sorry, I told you I was dumb.

  16. 2maple on January 20, 2006 at 4:24 pm

    Having had a Subaru in the past, I’e2’80’99d vote for them too. Great bad weather car ‘e2’80’93 gets through anything’e2’80’a6very common car in Maine as opposed to Volvos.

    Right now I’e2’80’99m happy to have an automatic, as I have teenagers learning to drive. This way, they can concentrate on driving not shifting. This doesn’e2’80’99t mean they won’e2’80’99t have to learn how to drive stick (I think everyone should know this). Once they get the basics down, they will – on our old pickup truck’e2’80’a6ye-hah!

    Have fun buying your car. Last year when I bought my car, I took one of my teenagers with me, figuring it would be a good life lesson. Since we only buy used cars, we were dealing with used car salesmen. I’e2’80’99d learned to haggle in the bazaars or Egypt and Israel, where buying anything, even cab fare, is as much a form of entertainment as a financial transaction. Oh, did we have fun with them. I was definitely not what they expected from a middle aged housewife 🙂 !!! And, in the end, I got what I wanted for what I wanted

  17. Anonymous on January 20, 2006 at 4:58 pm

    Following up on the foiled car-jackers who can’t drive manual shifts: do you have potential backup drivers who can use one, in case it is you, and not the older household members who needs to be rushed somewhere?

  18. Anonymous on January 20, 2006 at 5:03 pm

    I just wanted to reply to mrsatroxi’s second post: you are NOT dumb just because you named the wrong book!!! You just made a mistake which is quite common among people who read a lot of books in any one series. Keep posting comments, and don’t feel dumb about those either.

  19. Anonymous on January 20, 2006 at 5:38 pm

    Why not just buy a newish used Volvo with manual transmission, if you’re that stuck on the idea? I have a son who is an aerospace engineer, but insists on roll-up winsows rather than automatic ones in his car. Go figure! I don’t use a cell phone or other gadgets in my car … don’t eat while driving, either, but I am perfectly content with automatic transmission. I don’t think it’s about the transmission, I think it’s about adjusting to change.

  20. Linda C on January 20, 2006 at 7:11 pm

    Personally, I’m not fond of the Volvo SUV…drove on in Hawaii last year & was not at all impressed. Steering much less responsive than I’m accustomed to, visibility not great & the leather seats were very uncomfortable.
    Call me a (non)stick-in-the-mud, but I love my (automatic) Voyager minivan, and this from an ex-rally person & former owner of 2 different 914’s…

  21. Cate on January 21, 2006 at 8:44 pm

    Just happened across your blog and since I’m currently reading “A Letter of Mary” and love your books, thought I’d post a note and say just that!!! Keep up the good work!

  22. Anonymous on January 22, 2006 at 1:05 am

    I have a good friend who works for Volvo in Sweden and she will get you the car you want! Even pick you up at the airport and take you to the factory. What a treat (and trip!!) Go ahead! you will never regret it.

  23. Margaret on January 24, 2006 at 9:50 pm

    I’m with those folks who suggest the trip to Sweden, it’s a lovely place, but just in case that isn’t in your plans for this year, may I suggest the Volvo V50 wagon? It’s smaller than the SUVs, but not too small, has AWD, and a tricky gear that can be auto or manual. I love mine, bought last year. It’s peppy, gets reasonable gas mileage, looks good, and is — a Volvo. (We have had three, one of which is approaching 200,000 miles.)

    And I’ve just finished Locked Rooms, which was wonderful reading. I’ve read them all. Thank you for many hours of pleasure.

  24. on February 24, 2006 at 11:50 pm

    Hello I’m Chet. I’ve read all the MR/SH stories. TMRoW is just barely in the lead for Chet’s Choice. The reason LRooms is pushing JHall out of 2nd is because of a small event in S.F. When the elderly woman told Sherlock that she didn’t like to crane her neck did he wonder where he’d heard that before. I’m dying to see Lily’s reaction to Archie’s reaction to Mary. Tut, tut, don’t bother with strenuous denial. I smell a Wolfe. I can’t wait to see what excuse Holmes uses to visit NYC!

  25. Mary Nuttelman on October 15, 2019 at 3:34 pm

    I’m late to the manual shift reply, but since it was mentioned in the latest blog entry I just had to add my two-cents worth. I’ve only ever owned manual shift cars. I am the original owner of my current vehicle; a ’92 Toyota 4Runner, four cylinder manual, with 126,000 miles on it. I’m told by my brother, who knows about such things, that “those things will run to at least 200,000 miles, maybe even 300,000.” Since I’m in my early 60s, the vehicle may well outlast me. I hope I don’t ever have to make the choice of settling for an automatic, for all of the reasons listed in previous posts.

    • Laurie King on October 16, 2019 at 11:46 pm

      Agreed, manual shifts just keep on ticking.

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