Good morning or afternoon or whatever, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to your latest installment of Letters to Doug, your favorite weekly column wherein you write a letter and Doug writes back!
Although Doug does not have time to respond to every letter, he will choose one lucky letter from one lucky human being. Note that this letter will not come from 12th string Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, no matter how many times you sign up Doug for his mailing list.
But this letter could come from you, assuming you send me an e-mail at Letters2Doug@gmail.com. For proof, here is this week’s letter, written to me by a normal, everyday human such as yourself, except this guy’s name is Edgar. Edgar writes:
First off I would like to say I am a huge fan of your writing. Your columns are easily in the top 10% of things I look forward to on a Friday afternoon.
My question is why are exotic cars so expensive these days? It seems every model built before 2005 has doubled in price this past year. Case in point, I was browsing classified instead of working and came across an early 550 Maranello that was listed for over $200k! That’s not all. I found a proper 6 speed 599 listed for $600,000 or a medium sized refrigerator box in an up and coming Los Angeles neighborhood. It’s not just Ferrari either. Porsche, Lamborghini, Lotus, and various other manufactures are this way. Is this trend expected to stick or are all the prices going to suddenly drop in the next 5 years?
Please explain this phenomenon to us plebs. Who knows, we may buy your book as payment. Or, at least follow you on Twitter.
Edgar has made an incredibly important point here, which is that he is a huge fan of my writing. Note that Edgar did not say he is a huge fan of my YouTube videos. This is because nobody is a huge fan of my YouTube videos, except for the Mediocre Shirt Society of America, who just knows I will be back soon for additional clothing.
In all actuality, Edgar has raised a really important point, which is worthy of further review. Although you may not have realized it, those of us who browse eBay and Autotrader at 1 a.m. in our underwear are very acutely aware of the fact that prices of certain fairly recent exotic cars have absolutely shot up over the last year or two. And I don’t mean they’ve gone up slightly. I mean they’re shooting up like a heroin addict in East Saint Louis.
Here’s an example: when I was looking for my Ferrari back in late 2013 and early 2014, there was a 612 Scaglietti with a 6-speed manual listed for something like $108,000. That same car would bring $200,000 today in a heartbeat.
It’s the same story with stick-shift 599 GTBs, 575M Maranellos, and basically any other stick shift exotics from the early 2000s. There is a low-mileage Carrera GT listed on eBay for $1.1 million. People are asking $850,000 for Ford GTs. If you had a stick-shift 575M SuperAmerica, you could probably sell it for enough money to get you into the upper class. And I do not mean the “my son plays lacrosse” upper class. I mean the “I could kill a poor person and get away with it” upper class.
And the reason is simple: it’s because they all have stick shifts.
Before I explain what I mean here, allow me to take you back to the very first time I drove a Ferrari 599 GTB. I was 20 years old and working for Ferrari of Denver, which is the nation’s leading Ferrari dealer that once employed Doug DeMuro. I remember driving a brand-new 599 to get gas, pulling the paddle, and thinking about just how damn fast it shifted, compared to crappy old F1 gearboxes in the 360 Modena and the awful 355.
That was seven years ago.
These days, shifting an automatic 599 GTB feels glacially slow. I mean, laughably, pathetically, humorously slow. Basically, you pull the paddle and it seemingly takes forever to do what it’s supposed to do, like you’re squeezing the last drop of toothpaste out of an old tube, and you start at the bottom, and you work your way up, and up, and up, and up, and up, and FINALLY, after eighteen frustrating seconds, … it upshifts.
Although we thought the 599 GTB’s automatic transmission was faster than lightning back in 2008, the simple truth is that we were wrong. These days we have dual-clutch transmissions that change gear in a fraction of a millisecond; faster than you can blink; faster than you can even think about changing gear. They’re like Michael Myers in those Halloween movies: you look up and he’s gone, off to kill some supporting cast member before moving on to Jamie Lee Curtis.
But do you know what will never be usurped by technology? A good, enjoyable, exciting manual transmission. Yes, things will be faster, and quicker. But nothing will ever be more engaging than a well-designed three-pedal stick shift.
And so, what’s happening is this: exotic car buyers are realizing that those old single-clutch automatics are getting dramatically outclassed by newer, faster units like the ones in the Ferrari 458 Italia and the Lamborghini Huracan. The only thing that remains tried-and-true, unable to be beaten, is the ol’ three-pedal manual. And that’s where everyone is flocking.
What I find especially unusual about this is that people haven’t started making their own manual transmissions yet. An old single clutch automatic shouldn’t be impossible to convert to stick shift – especially when you have an automatic 599 GTB going for $150,000, and a manual going for $400,000-plus. Yes, I realize that it would no longer be “original.” But I’d much rather drive a $250,000 599 GTB manual conversion than a $150,000 599 GTB where the gear change feels like a slow-speed softball pitch.
And so, Edgar, you’ve received the answer to your question. It turns out the manual transmission isn’t only for us crazy purist Jalopnik reader driving enthusiasts. It’s also for insanely rich car collectors. Who knows? Maybe their next object of lust will be the brown diesel station wagon.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn’t work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.