Do You Have Clutchphobia? I did, but you don’t have to. Here’s my story.
When I was 16, my dad tried to teach me how to drive a car with manual transmission. A “stick shift,” we called it, and my mom loved it. She owned an unattractive (sorry, Mom) Chevy Citation hatchback, white with a blue stripe on the lower half, and it was to be turned over to me so she could get a new car.
Dad took me to the school parking lot where I attempted to get the hang of the brake, clutch and gas rhythm. That ended in frustration and tears (probably for both of us – sorry, Dad). After that, I refused to drive a manual transmission.
How can a woman who says she loves cars not drive a manual? Psychologists call it clutchphobia. OK, they don’t, but I do.
It’s kind of shameful. I’m telling you all my dark secrets.
The next time I attempted to drive a manual transmission was in a Winston Cup race car. Nothing like jumping in with both feet, right? I was at the Richard Petty experience track in Atlanta, and I had my safety helmet on and everything. I had seen the video and I knew what I was getting into. I knew I’d have to bury my fears in order to zip that Winston Cup car around the track the way I wanted to.
It was smoother than I expected, and I whipped it into first, second, third, and fourth gears without a single cough or stall. Which is lucky, I guess, because causing a crash on the track is generally frowned upon.
That was 12 or so years ago. So when my friend offered me the chance to drive his new custom Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, first I was thrilled. And then I said, “It’s a manual, isn’t it?” Of course, I knew the answer. A muscle car like this is ideal with a manual transmission.
Why would a woman want a Hellcat?
Here’s the deal: if you like speed, the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat delivers, with a 707-HP supercharged 6.2L V8 engine. What does that mean? Billed as the world’s fastest muscle car, it has plenty of… um… ovaries. When a woman is driving it, that is. It delivers a drive that is more like a Lamborghini than a Ferrari; it’s not a smooth, soft ride but one that you experience. One reviewer called it a “pants-wetting experience.” I’m not so sure about that, but it’s definitely a thrill ride.
The dashboard itself is simple and streamlined, but the digital screen boasts a multitude of pages, from the benign (climate controls) to the gearhead-inclined (engine performance).
Brace yourself, because this is fun. As a Hellcat owner, you get two sets of keys: one red, one black. Do you hear that whispering? It’s Morpheus from The Matrix telling Neo to take the red key. The red one is the one that Oz carries, the key to the kingdom. It unleashes all of the glory of the 707 horsepower the Hellcat promises. Let’s say, however, your Uncle Bob wants to take it to the grocery store to pick up some milk. Give him the black key: it limits the output to about 500 horsepower. Still plenty of fun, but not the rocket-the-car-into-the-grocery-cart-rack type of power than an uninitiated driver might accidentally unlash by tapping the gas.
And then there’s this: Valet mode. Say you’re parking your car and you don’t want the valet to go for a joyride, a la the valet drivers in downtown Chicago in the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Yipee-Ki-Yay! Set the valet mode with a code you’ve pre-programmed. Once activated, the valet mode limits the power to about 150 horsepower and the fun factor to minimal. Toss the keys to valet and be sure to chuckle. You’ve just ruined his night.
On the other hand…
My friend Jack, who owns this Hellcat, says that someone tries to race him off the line at a stoplight every single day. With the spoiler, angular exhaust pipes, and stripes that mimic speed, that shouldn’t be a surprise. He says he doesn’t race them. Usually.
The Hellcat is an animal. It’s not a nice, quiet drive in the park. It’s an experience, and one you may or may not wish to have every day. In fact, I think it would make an excellent second car, if you have the money (priced at about $66,000) and room in your life for something like this. Trot it out when you’re feeling like a tiger. Watch this video of the startup and engine rev to hear what it sounds like.
It also has significant blind spots that made me a little nervous. As a mom, I’m much more careful about driving than before I had my son. And with blind spots on both sides, it would take some getting used to.
Grab that Hellcat by the tail
Every January, my husband and I snuggle up on the couch and watch the Barrett-Jackson automobile auction on TV. Every year, the muscle cars have rolled by one after the other, and I yawned. I’m just not that into you, Camaro SS, I think to myself. The Hellcat is giving me a reason to consider a muscle car in a different light. It’s a fun drive for anyone who can appreciate a car that doesn’t allow you to know all of its secrets. It has a definitive personality.
Just a couple of days ago, I was strolling across the crosswalk when I heard the unmistakable roar of a muscle car passing by in the other direction. I looked to see who was driving, and it was a woman. I smiled.