Little Red Cortina

July 22nd, 2010 by Microvanmom

This 1978 Ford Cortina resembles the one I nearly totaled. Photo: Charles01, Wikimedia Commons.

What do you get when you mix a Ford Cortina Mark IV manual with a teenaged driver? Near disaster …

Yesterday’s “Save the Manuals” video moved me deeply. It really did. But before we start planning any “Bring Back the Standard” tea parties, allow me play devil’s advocate with this cautionary tale.

My dad’s a car guy, and when it was time for me to learn how to drive sometime near the dawn of the 1980s, he insisted I learn on a standard.

“But Dad,” I protested. “All my friends get to learn on automatics because they’re easier.”

“And what happens when someone has a heart attack, and the only vehicle available to transport them to the hospital is a standard?” he countered. “Do you let them die? Do you?”

So standard it was, and he hauled me out to our Ford Cortina Mark IV for my first lesson. Our family was living in Mandeville, Jamaica at the time …

… where my engineer dad was refurbishing a port. We had two learning vehicles that were theoretically available: a green 1957 Chevy with right-hand drive and the company car — the Cortina. There was no way my dad was letting me anywhere near the Chevy, so company car it was.

My dad launched into a yawn-inducing lecture on how the transmission actually worked, and lost me completely somewhere around the phrase “torque transfer.” All that under-the-hood talk was no help actually learning the motor skills I needed, so my progress stalled.

“Don’t worry, Mrs. Lang. I’ll teach her,” volunteered my dreamy new boyfriend who hailed all the way from Modesto, California. He had eyes like liquid chocolate and was a (self-professed) ace at Donkey Kong, but he wasn’t very smart. I’m willing to bet he knew absolutely nothing about torque transfer.

“That’s a great idea!” said my mom — for reasons that are now unfathomable to me.

“So if you want to go forwards, wiggle this stick thing this way.” And so this basic — really basic — driving tutorial began.

Sometimes the basic approach does the trick. By the end of the afternoon, the manual transmission and I had gone mano a mano, and I’d prevailed — going forward at least. Now it was time to back into the carport.

“So, like, when you’re backing up, it’s really hard to do, like, EVERYTHING at once,” my boyfriend explained from the passenger seat. “So you do the footwork and I’ll lean over and do the steering part.”

What We Didn’t Work Out: The whole clutch part, as well as other essential details of the whole operation. Imagine my mom’s horror as she stood at the screen door and watched the company car almost crash into the company house.

This story ends happily. Car, house, Boyfriend and I emerged intact, and Boyfriend soon moved back to Modesto because it’s, like, way more rad there.

I haven’t driven a manual transmission since that little red Cortina. Anyone brave (or dumb) enough to teach me?

By Microvanmom.

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3 Responses to “Little Red Cortina”

  1. corsa says:

    Ha ha! Great story! I’ve taught a couple girlfriends how to drive a manual transmission over the years… including one in my Corvair and one in my Porsche 944S. Funny thing… I still have both of those cars, but neither girlfriend stuck around……..

  2. BIGT1976 says:


  3. CorvairJim says:

    Learning to drive on a manual transmission-equipped car is the only way to go, as far as I’m concerned. My kids all moved away before getting their licenses, and none of them had anyone to teach them how. All three of them have had to pass up on at least one great deal on a car when they really needed one because it had a stick instead of an automatic. My wife Rose (You know her as MAXXINE here on Motortopia) only drove automatic until we bought my ’66 Corvair and had to drive it home to the Philly area from Denver… during a period where I didn’t have a license because of a prescription I had to take at the time which made it illegal to drive. She drove most of the way back, but she did let me drive a few hundred miles because she thought it would be cruel to me to have to ride all 1,750+ miles in my “new” car without being able to drive her at all. I coached her some on my sister’s 5-speed Hyundai Excel and we flew out to Denver. I should have coached her more on starting out and stopping and not just shifting. She got the hang of going up through the gears pretty well, but it generally took about three tries to get moving from a stop – She’d stall it a couple of times first. Stopping: “Clutch, Rose! Clutch!” Well, with work over the summer she was driving ol’ Ashley like a pro and having a ball with her. She even asks to use my 5-speed Cobalt SS instead of her own automatic-equipped Malibu MAXX from time to time.

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