Standing on the Chevrolet stand at the Detroit motor show for the reveal of the new Corvette Z06 brought me back to a pair of fantastic cars that I drove in 2013. I attended the press launch of the Porsche 911 GT3 in Germany in July and the Aston Martin V12 Vantage S in California in October.
Both cars offer insane performance, wonderful engine notes, and are arguably the best driver’s cars introduced last year. Both the GT3 and V12 Vantage S also lack a feature that is quickly disappearing from the market, a manual gearbox. Ironically, it seems to be the Americans — who only buy around 7 per cent of new cars with a manual — are the ones who are trying to save the three-pedal gearbox.
Unlike the Aston and the Porsche, Corvette engineers fitted a 7-speed manual as standard in the Z06, with an auto on the options list. The beauty of this setup is the 625bhp-plus sports car is no longer just a track-focused, niche car for Chevrolet. The purists can buy the manual and fit the ‘Z07’ performance package, adding upgraded Super Sport Cup tyres, carbon-ceramic brakes, and an aero package.
Meanwhile, Corvette has a large number of older clients who have been buying the American sports car for ages. The optional automatic allows both that legacy customer and Porsche PDK-loving younger buyers to shop for the Z06. Obviously, we’ll see how GM’s new 8-speed torque-converter automatic ends up performing. Chevy is claiming upshifts that are quicker than PDK.
Chevrolet isn’t the only American car company carrying the manual torch. Chrysler's latest SRT Viper once again only offers the 'shift yourself' setup. Ford’s Focus ST and Fiesta ST exclusively come with a manual and the only SVT/ST product that’s fitted with an automatic is the F150 SVT Raptor pickup.
I interviewed Jamal Hameedi — global performance vehicle chief engineer at Ford — in July and asked him about the manual and its role in the performance car. “The dual-clutch is the fast solution,” said Hameedi. “You can lower your lap times and you can improve your launch. But at the end of the day, it does take some of the driver satisfaction out of the experience. We’ve [Ford] really stuck to our guns with the manual transmission.”
It’s wonderful to see companies like Chevrolet give the option of both gearboxes on the Z06. The number of manual buyers may be limited but they’re a vocal bunch and can be great brand ambassadors for the cars they drive. Here’s hoping the European manufacturers don’t forget the fun factor of a manual gearbox and remember that it’s not all about shift speeds and lap times.