10 Classic Cars You Didn’t Know Had a Manual TransmissionAugust 8, 2020
Illustration by Darcy MuenchrathCar and Driver
The mountain of cars offered with a manual transmission has melted away like glacial cliffs. Think about it. If years ago we said that by 2020, Chevy’s next Corvette would be mid-engine (which we totally did) and Toyota and BMW would revive the Supra you’d be excited. But if we told you they’ed use an automatic transmission exclusively? You’d probably cancel your subscription.
Manufacturers used to put stick shifts into anything they could touch with a hole saw, but that stopped when automatic transmission evolved into something good. Even the quickest cars of the last decade use some form of automatic shifting. However, when it comes to 20th-century performance cars, manual-equipped examples generally retain more of their value than automatic ones. Plus, a five- or six-speed stick of that era easily outperforms its three or four-speed slushbox alternative. These offerings aren’t as obvious when you think of the manual-trans past.
1988–91 BMW 735i
Back when BMW made cars for hardcore enthusiasts, it offered a five-speed manual in its largest and most luxurious model, the 735i. The combination was as unexpected as it was awesome, but few buyers equated German luxury with a clutch pedal, so not many were sold. It’s the one we’d buy.
2001–06 BMW X5
The first-gen X5 offered a three-pedal version for the same reason that the 7-series did in the late ’80s—BMW thought enthusiasts would want it. Clearly, not enough buyers took the “sport” part of “sport-utility” seriously, and sales were slow. Yes, we’re aware that BMW called it a “Sports Activity Vehicle.” We don’t care.
2011–2013 Buick Regal
Buick’s European-bred family sedan offered a six-speed manual in the 220-hp turbo version. Crazy, right? And the 255-hp GS version had one too. To repeat: There were manual Buicks! (Of course, that’s because they’re rebadged Opel Insignias, manual versions of which weren’t exactly rare.)
1984–90, 92–95 Dodge Caravan/Plymouth Voyager
A manual minivan might seem unconventional, but it strikes us as the perfect way to fight the blahs and teach kids the importance of a heel-toe downshift. There was even a turbo version with 150 horsepower. Don’t like Caravans and Voyagers? Well, you could get a 1991–93 Toyota Previa with a stick.
1993–94 Jaguar XJS
Before 1993, every XJS sold in the U.S. had an automatic transmission, but then Jaguar decided to unexpectedly change that. Available only with the 4.0-liter inline-six, the brand’s five-speed manual lightened the XJS and made it fun in a way an automatic never could. Fewer than 200 were sold stateside.
2005–06 Jaguar X-type Sportwagon
With two cars on this list, Jaguar is clearly unafraid to drop a manual in an unexpected place. Based on Ford of Europe’s Mondeo, which offered a manual, the X-type wagon ended up with one, too, for two years of production. Only 1602 wagons were sold, and far, far fewer were manuals.
1992–93 Lexus ES300
The earlier ES250 also offered a five-speed manual, but the second-generation ES was a far more luxurious sedan than its predecessor, making the presence of three pedals just plain strange. Still, we’d rock a stick-shift ES without hesitation. Strange is good.
2006–2014 Mazda 5
A manual transmission goes a long way to calm the humility of driving a dorky family vehicle. Did you know the secret to immortality is drinking a quart of pickle juice each morning? Awe, who are we kidding. You’re already on Craigslist looking for a manual Mazda 5 in a new tab. See you in the afterlife.
1990–93 Mercedes-Benz 300SL
A 300SL cost about $90,000 in the early 1990s and carried all the refinement you’d expect of that price. What you might not expect is that Benz sold it with a dogleg manual. While that pegs our cool meter, only 397 iconoclastic customers took Mercedes up on it.
1984–87 Toyota Cressida
Toyota used to sell oddball cars, so let’s take a moment to celebrate one of the oddest. How’s this sound? A big rear-wheel-drive Toyota luxury sedan with the contemporary Supra’s inline-six and a five-speed manual transmission. Oh, what a feeling!
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