Petrolheads around the world have been watching the slow but steady demise of the manual transmission unfolding before us for years now. Last year, electric vehicles out-sold manuals in the United States. Not to mention many sports cars and all supercars have cut the manual gearbox from their options lists. But rather than sit around and mourn, we should be celebrating the manual gearbox’s best moments over the course of automotive history.
There have been plenty of cars over the last century that have had excellent transmissions, but some of the best manuals of all time are the ones with that ever-so-satisfying metal shift gate. Originally a clever design to help racing drivers shift sloppy transmissions more precisely by guiding the shift lever into every gear slot, the gated manual took on a second life in high-end performance cars particularly in Italian cars of the ’70s and ’80s.
The gated manual soon became a luxury item, a centrepiece of a car’s interior. It made each gear change a more engaging experience, offering up the same visceral, mechanical satisfaction as writing a long letter on a well-oiled typewriter. Also like a typewriter, it was a slower, more deliberate action, but it provided you with a connection to the car you wouldn’t get from an automatic, or even a regular manual gearbox.
This list will cover 15 of the best-gated manuals of all time. Ferrari fans, you might like this one…
15 Audi R8 V10
The Audi R8 was the last production car to be available with a gated manual. The first-generation car was available with a stick from its launch in 2006 until the model was phased out in 2015, and you could option it on either the 4.2l V8 or the howling 5.2l V10 which the R8 shared with the Lamborghini Gallardo. It’s the sensible person’s supercar, but with a true gated manual, it can still give you a driving experience like few cars can.
14 Lamborghini Gallardo
The Audi R8’s sister car, the Lamborghini Gallardo, was the last Lamborghini to be made available with any kind of manual gearbox, and luckily the company didn’t let it’s stick-shift disappear quietly. The Gallardo’s 6-speed manual was connected to the same 5.2l V10 as the Audi, but the Lambo’s exhaust tuning gave it a sound unlike anything else. Gallardos sold in impressive numbers by Lamborghini’s standards, and finding a manual one is surprisingly not that difficult.
13 Ferrari Testarossa
The Testarossa has become the car of the 1980s, more so than other bedroom-wall poster cars like the Lamborghini Countach and Porsche 911 Turbo. Its design is so striking, and its flat-12 engine sounds so unique that it is unmistakably a flagship Ferrari. Despite its madness though, the car was surprisingly easy to drive, and its slick gated shifter meant that you felt in much more control of that frantic engine while trying to keep the rest of the car in line.
12 Dino 246 GT
The Dino 246 is one of the original mid-engined cars to come from Ferrari. Yes, technically the car carried a “Dino” badge (named after Enzo Ferrari’s son), but it was produced by Ferrari and sold through Ferrari dealerships. A 246 was once found buried in the front yard of a Los Angeles home. It had a mid-mounded V6 engine, not a V8 like subsequent midship Ferraris, and of course it was mated to a 5-speed manual with a gated shifter.
11 Ferrari 308 GTS
The next evolution of the mid-engined Ferrari was the 308 GTS. It lasted ten years and was one of the best-selling models in Ferrari’s history. They were made particularly popular by the car’s starring role in Magnum, P.I. from 1980 to 1988. The car used variations of a high-revving 2.9l V8 throughout its lifecycle, each one connected to a five-speed manual gearbox with a Ferrari signature gated manual transmission.
10 Ferrari 360 Modena
Skipping ahead by a decade in the Ferrari timeline and we arrive in 1997 with the release of the groundbreaking 360 Modena. The car was thoroughly modern for its time and still holds up as one of the best-looking modern cars ever designed. It was also the introduction of Ferrari’s “F1” automated-manual transmission with paddle shifters, an early sign of what was to come for supercars in the future. Thankfully, Ferrari also kept the true manual transmission as an option, this time a 6-speed unit with the all-important metal shift gate.
9 Ferrari F430
The F430 was the last mid-engined Ferrari to offer a manual gearbox. The whole car was an overall improvement on the 360’s design, modernizing it and sharpening it up further. It also had a much-improved interior, better steering and brakes and more power from its 4.3l V8. The “F1” automatic transmission was also far better in the F430, but it still wasn’t good enough to justify cutting the manual completely, so the glorious Ferrari gated manual lived on in the F430 until it was replaced by the dual-clutch-only 458 Italia.
8 Lamborghini Miura
The Miura was the first mid-engined Lamborghini and one of the pioneers of the modern supercar. It was clever, fast, beautiful and expensive, all hallmarks of a great supercar, an all-time classic that will hopefully continue to be celebrated for years to come. Its V12 powered the rear wheels through a 5-speed manual, which you operated through one of the best shift gates of all time.
7 Lamborghini Countach
There isn’t much to say about the Countach that hasn’t already been said. It looked extraterrestrial, its clutch required Herculean strength to depress and you had to sit on the door sills to see behind you when you reverse. It has silly windows, a cramped interior, and a barking V12 behind the seats that wants to scare you more than it wants to propel the car down a road. Sure, the gated manual gave drivers more control and precision for shifts, but even it couldn’t bring this insane car to heel.
6 Lamborghini Diablo
While the Countach may be the iconic Lamborghini of the past, the Diablo was really the car that laid the groundwork for future V12 Lambos to come. It has one of the most timeless car designs of all, and its driving characteristics still hold up today. It was by no means a tame car, but it was more driver-focused and capable than the Countach. It still used a 5-speed manual transmission, which carried on the metal gate tradition.
5 Lamborghini Jalpa
The Jalpa was an early attempt at creating something like what the Gallardo and Huracan became: a smaller, less powerful but more affordable Lamborghini that would sell in higher numbers. In production from 1981 to 1988, it was the last V8 Lamborghini until the Urus SUV came out a few years ago. However, it was not the runaway success that later “baby Lambos” would be. It is still a unique and interesting car, and it can be a much cheaper way of getting your hands on a slick Lambo gated shifter, if you can find one.
4 Ferrari 275 GTS
Classic front-engined V12 Ferraris are some of the most revered vintage cars of all time, and the 275 GTS is one of the most sought-after. It’s a beautiful car, up there with the greats, and when these come up for sale (which they rarely do) they are worth a small fortune. The 275 GTS used a 3.3l V12 up front, which fed the rear wheels through a classic Ferrari 5-speed manual with a gated shifter.
3 Ferrari 250 GTO
If a Ferrari 275 is worth a small fortune, a 250 GTO is worth an astounding fortune. The current record for the most expensive car ever sold at auction is held by a 250 GTO which was sold to David MacNeil, the founder of WeatherTech, for a reported $70 million. That’s an extraordinary amount of money, but what Mr MacNeil got was a beautiful classic race car with a glorious 3.0l V12 and, of course, a 5-speed manual with a sweet gated shifter.
2 Ferrari 599 GTB
The 599 GTB Fiorano is a (very) late descendant of the 250 GTO. It, too, has a front-mounted V12, although this engine is double in size to the GTO’s at 6.0l, producing 612 horsepower. The car was in production from 2006 to 2012 and available with a 6-speed manual throughout its run. The manual 599 was the last V12 Ferrari to offer such a transmission, and currently they are worth much more on the used market than 599s with Ferrari’s “F1” automatic.
1 Ferrari California Manual (1 of 2)
Although the V8 Ferrari California is hardly the most exciting car on this list, it’s most notable for being the rarest one when equipped with a manual. When the car launched in 2008, the vast majority of Californias came with Ferrari’s new 7-speed dual-clutch. A 6-speed manual was an option, but only two Californias out of the 8,000 produced were ever fitted with the stick, making them phenomenally rare cars.
The California developed an unfair reputation as “not a real Ferrari” given its front-mounted V8 and market position as an “affordable” sports car. Maybe if more of them had left showrooms with that slick gated manual gearbox, people would have seen the Cali a little bit differently.
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