Why I sold my BMW E46 M3 manual

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Yes, it lost its life after a Night Ranger concert. The Firebird hood decal places just for comic emphasis.

Owning a car with a manual, however, can literally be a pain. I owned a Saab 900 Turbo when I lived in San Francisco, which is possibly the worst city in the United States to own a manual. You can easily spot a manual owner in San Francisco because they walk with a slight limp, due to the fact that their left leg is twice the size of their right leg. And it’s not from starting on a hills that’s so steep that if you drop your car keys on the sidewalk, they’ll slide into the bay. It’s from the 3-miles stop and go traffic on a 5% uphill gradient that keeps you in first gear for 2 hours. Some days I had to depress the clutch with my right leg, my left leg was in so much pain.

Here's my Saab 900 in front of the Brady Bunch house in Century City, CA.

Here’s my Saab 900 in front of the Brady Bunch house in Century City, CA.

Years after that, I owned a 2005 BMW e46 M3 six-speed. The dream driver’s car, right? Not so much. Maybe I’m asking too much, but 95% of its powerband was in the upper revs – in order to pass the minivan next to me, I had to drive it like I was trying to melt the piston rings, causing many minivan drivers to look out their side window with amusement at the car blowing by them, turning the same RPMs of a leaf-blower at full throttle.


The BMW E46 M3. Fun to shift, corner, and be seen in. Accelerate? Not so much.

Okay, I exaggerate, but that car had about as much low-end power as my Escort. If I was on the interstate in 6th gear, and I needed to pass someone quickly, mashing the pedal did absolutely nothing. I had to downshift to 4th, while blipping the throttle so the engine braking wouldn’t cause my shoulder belt to lock) Oh, and every 100 miles, I had to pull into an ATM to pay for parts and repairs. Everything that broke costed $1200.

When I was looking for a car to replace it, I thought, “Hey, I’m in my 40’s now. Maybe it’s time for an automatic.” And when I need to unexpectedly accelerate, it goes into the correct gear instantly.

So, I bought a BMW E93 335is – bonus, the previous owner installed a Dinan Stage 2 package. And, it felt quicker than my E46 M3, due to its more low-end torque. It works perfectly. It shifts extremely quickly.

I missed blipping the throttle when I downshifted so my drinks didn’t spill. I missed putting it in neutral and coasting down hills. I’m afraid it the battery dies, I’ll have to call a tow truck, instead of bump-starting it. And, worst of all, I hate the feeling of things happening with the transmission happening underneath me that I cannot control.

I tried using the paddle shifters, and the gear shifter. It’s not the same. It’s too easy. Yes, it up shifts in one-quadrillioninth of a second, but all that was involved was my index finger. I like getting my entire body into it – coasting to a stop, rattling the shifter around neutral, while pressing both the clutch and brake at the same time. It’s like the difference between pedaling a bicycle, and riding the bus.

My e93 BMW 335is Dinan Stage 2. Really really fast. Just needs a clutch pedal.

My e93 BMW 335is Dinan Stage 2. Really really fast. Just needs a clutch pedal.

So, my next car will be a manual, I’ve determined. I know, only 5% (and dropping) of autos sold in the US have a stickshift. If auto importers are still sending cars with a clutch pedal to the US by this time next year, I might even buy one.

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