The automotive world seems to be changing at record pace right now and the masses seem to be happy with this. There is, however, one aspect of “original” car design that many are fighting to keep alive. That, dear readers, is the beloved manual gearbox. Many cars are still being built with this antiquated method of gear change, but as time is moving on, performance car manufacturers are dropping the trusty old stick and going down the fancy double-clutch automatic route or similar and as a result, newer manual sports cars are few and far between. It’s not all doom and gloom though, and there are still many incredible driver’s cars out there with the much-coveted manual ‘box – and here are my top 3 that you can buy today.
The E46 BMW M3 was always going to be a tough act to follow, however, when the E9X series of M3 was launched in 2007 it quickly became clear that BMW had surpassed all expectation with their latest M-car. For the first time, the M3 was powered by a 420-bhp 4.0-litre V8 engine which gave the car a whole new feel. The E92 M3 has the perfect mix of supercar performance and everyday useability and practicality. The big V8 under the bonnet gives the car some colossal power and with BMWs interior designers being at the top of their game, absolute comfort and quality are guaranteed for all occupants.
When the E92 M3 was the current M3 from BMW I drove both the DCT and the manual versions and there’s no denying the paddle-shift version was brilliant with super-fast gear changes that, let’s be honest, are much quicker than the average human being, but it just didn’t give me the fizz you’d expect from a 420-bhp V8 powered car… These fantastic cars are currently sitting at a very good price for well-maintained examples with good history, but it won’t be long before they start to rise like the previous generations of M3.
The 996 has had a tough time pretty much from day 1 – many purists didn’t like the move from the air-cooled engines from the 993 and all previous 911s to water-cooled engines and they also weren’t a fan of the headlights – the iconic sports car lost its oval units and many thought that it just wasn’t a proper 911 without them. Fortunately, it was still a 911 and as result, they still made and sold thousands of them. There were a few variants of the 996 available including both 2-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive derivatives, Turbo models and GT2/3 models, Targa tops etc… To say there was something for everyone would be an understatement. All of the models available were pretty much the best in their respective categories – and being Porsche, they could all be driven every day unlike many of their rivals, but for the real B-road blaster, the real everyday driving enthusiast, none were as pure and simple to use and enjoy as the 2WD Carrera 2. With its textbook set up of engine at the back, 6-speed manual gearbox in the middle and all the power to the rear wheels, it was as close to the original 911 as you could get.
Like the M3 above, the 996 911 can be found for decent money at the moment, but homework is essential when looking at these cars. Yes, you can do well over 100k miles in one with little to no stress, and likewise with low-mileage cars but the key is in the history. These are still high-performance cars that need to be looked after properly so partial history, cheap tyres and limited maintenance records should be red flags. Fortunately, this particular example has been meticulously maintained its whole life and despite its low mileage, has been regularly serviced with no expense spared.
3. Audi R8
The first generation Audi R8 is quite possibly one of my favourite supercar designs from the last 20 years. I make no bones about the fact that I am not the biggest Audi fan – when I was younger I loved them. My dream cars were a B5 RS4 Avant and then the RS6 Avant, but over the years I feel like they have lost the subtlety that made them so appealing to me. So it’s ironic that my favourite “modern” Audi is the super-sleek, wide-set and menacing looking R8 really. It really is such a pretty car and like a fine wine, it is only getting better with age. The newer R8s are still amazing cars and I can’t speak highly enough of them, but there’s something about the original one that positions itself above the others on my “want” list.
I feel that the biggest factor in this decision is not just that I prefer the rounder and more curvaceous styling of the first-generation model, but also that it is the only R8 offered with a manual gearbox. And not just any old manual ‘box, a beautifully presented gated one. The thrill of manually shifting through the gears as you pull away is only made better by the metallic “clank” made by the shifter as you slot it into each of the gears. It’s a driving experience that will never cease to put a smile on your face.
All of the above cars are currently for sale through our Well Driven Approved service – to view them along with our other cars, please click HERE.