Last of a dying breed: why manual transmission supercars are the holy grail of automotive investment
Before the 2010s, the manual transmission ruled the roost, and automatic gearboxes were known for being sluggish and unsophisticated by comparison. That all changed over the course of the past decade; the refinement and evolution of those systems and the subsequent rise of the dual-clutch automatic gearbox translated into an industry shift. The number of cars leaving the production line with an automatic transmission rose to meet those of the manuals.
It has been a slow decline for manuals over that decade, but 2020 marked the first 12-month period where automatic gearboxes held the majority share (54%) of cars produced that year, surpassing all other options, having taken only a fifth of the sales in 2010.
The reasoning behind this shift is mainly economy; it's the name of the proverbial game for manufacturers nowadays and manuals are becoming archaic in that respect, the automatics of this world present greater potential when developing energy-efficient systems.
Electrification and hybridisation have of course played their part in this story as well, and with the looming ban for petrol and diesel cars in 2030, that will seemingly seal the fate of the beloved manual transmission.
The excessive torque delivery of EV motors negates the need for intricate, cumbersome gearboxes, furthering the stranglehold they already have on the industry. The proof is in the pudding for the petrolheads out there; electric vehicle sales also exceeded that of manual transmission cars for the first time in 2019.
Generally, hot hatches and low-end sports cars are amongst those still offering the manual gearbox from new, with examples such as the Toyota GR86, Mazda MX-5, and Hyundai i30 N clinging to their respective gearsticks for dear life.
There are a few outliers in the supercar space that continue to fly the flag for manuals as well, namely Aston Martin and Porsche but it is an undeniable rarity to purchase a new car with a clutch pedal in the current climate.
View the full listing for our manual Aston Martin GT8.
With that being said, consumers purchasing new high-end cars are having the choice taken out of their hands in the majority of cases, as the manual gearbox fades into obscurity. This leaves the door open for unwavering collectors and enthusiasts who are willing to pay a premium for cars that are soon to be deemed modern classics housing the sought-after stick shift.
Perhaps the most memorable variant would be the bolt action gated manual whose origins can be traced back to Ferrari competition cars of the forties. Now considered a hindrance when it comes to performance, a gated box is still a much-adored feature that is held in high regard for other reasons, not least of which for its arresting aesthetic but also for the satisfying click clack that accompanies each gear change.
Then, of course, there are the true classics. Cars from a quarter of a century ago and older when paddle shifting was in its infancy at the pinnacle of motorsport in Formula 1. During that time, changing gears (among other things) was an unwieldy and unrefined affair lending a certain charm and je ne sais quoi that just can’t be found in modern machinery.
The resulting paucity of contemporary manual cars has seen unprecedented investment opportunities in the used supercar, sports car and performance car markets. As we know all too well, automotive enthusiasts have a fixation with the first and last models, so examples such as the final manual Ferrari to leave Maranello – a 2012 Ferrari California – can command eye-watering premiums ($435,000 in 2016).
The supercar collector and investor fraternities are notoriously obstinate in which classifications they specialise in, but an entirely new category of the last and perhaps the most refined manual gearboxes was apparently too good to miss. More often than not, manual cars have been used as second cars or weekend drivers so will have clocked fewer miles on the odometer, further enhancing their values at auction.
With these factors taken into account, some examples can sell for up to three, four or even five times as much as their automatic transmission equivalents, compounding the justifications for exploring such ventures. It's an option well worth exploring for the serious supercar investor in the coming years.
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