My father had an interesting method of teaching me how to drive manual transmission.
We purchased my first car back when I was in school — a manual 2000 Toyota Echo coupe, a car so poorly optioned I was amazed it had a CD player, even if you could barely hear it over all the rattles — from a dealership some distance away from our house in the hills of northwest New Jersey. After finishing up all of the paperwork, my dad handed me the keys and slapped me on the back.
“Good luck, son,” he said, turned, walked to his car and drove away into Friday-evening traffic as I was left to grapple with a stick shift for the very first time.
I learned several things in a hurry. For instance, I learned that people with automatics or who know how to drive stick don’t appreciate it when you stall repeatedly on a winding one-lane road. I learned that clutch timing isn’t as easy as it looks on “Top Gear.” And I learned that, rattle-prone though that bland, wheezing econobox may have been, Toyota quality still can forgive a 30-minute drive where the majority of attempted shifts end in a loud gnashing of gears.
I’m still pretty sure tough love isn’t an efficient driver-education strategy, but the reason my father let me learn that way was because, well, it was a 2000 Echo. What’s the worst that could happen with 1.5 liters, 108 horsepower and a few thousand dollars on the sticker?
The same things cannot be said for a 2006 Ford GT worth almost three-quarters of a million dollars. That didn’t stop one of the rare supercars from being crashed into a tree by a Florida owner who was “unfamiliar with how to drive stick shift,” according to police.
In early May, Road & Track reported that 50-year-old Robert J. Guarini said he’d lost control of the 550-horsepower car while leaving his housing development in Boca Raton. Guarini blamed a downshift for the loss of control, which resulted in him hitting a palm tree head-on.
Facebook photos show the extent of the subsequent damage:
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The owner told the magazine that it wasn’t just his unfamiliarity with the stick shift that caused the accident, however.
“Though the police report says Guarini told officers the crash was caused by inexperience with a manual transmission, the Ford GT owner told Road & Track over the phone that there was more to the event,” the outlet reported. “Guarini claims old tires, muddy pavement, and a fresh detailing were all factors causing the 550-horsepower supercar to swing out and hit a tree. The driver also told R&T the crash occurred as he shifted up into second gear from first, not while downshifting, as the official report says.”
“I don’t want people to think I was racing at 90 mph,” Guarini told the automotive publication. “I was going 35 mph.”
None of this is particularly exculpatory, however. (A “fresh detailing” was a factor? Really?) Keep in mind the 2006 GT Heritage Edition was purchased in early April at an auction in Palm Beach, Florida for $704,000, making repair an expensive proposition.
There’s a reason why it’s expensive. The mid-2000s Ford GT was a modern update of the famous 1960s Le Mans GT40 racer chronicled in the film “Ford vs. Ferrari,” and the model wasn’t just a retro-chic adaptation of the original like Volkswagen’s abhorrent New Beetle.
In 2004, Car and Driver tested the GT against the Ferrari Challenge Stradale and the Porsche 911 GT3, both of which were meant to be just as (if not more) at home on the racetrack as on public roads. The GT easily bested both.
“It wasn’t even a contest. The Ford GT so completely dusted off its two highly recognized competitors that if we had wanted to make this a real challenge, we would have had to go way up the ‘supercar’ price ladder,” Car and Driver noted. “The $401,000 Saleen S7 is about as quick as the Ford GT, and we know of only one car that would surely outrun the Ford — the $659,000 Ferrari Enzo.” At that time the Ford GT had a base price of $150,000.
The car took 3.3 seconds to reach 60 mph and 16.9 to reach 150 mph — “an incredible seven seconds quicker than the Porsche and the Ferrari,” the publication noted.
“Ford said it had not completed top-speed development and asked us not to go faster than 170 mph, so we can’t answer the top-speed question yet,” they noted. “The projections in Dearborn are for more than 200 mph. Considering how mightily it was accelerating at 170 mph (it got there in only 23.0 seconds), we’d have to say Ford is right.”
My last name could have been Rockefeller, Kardashian, Trump, Musk or Bezos. There’s still no amount of riches that could have induced my dad — or any father — to hand me the keys to a Ford GT, slap me on the back and wish me “good luck.”
What, then, induced a well-heeled 50-year-old to think he could pull off driving a Ford GT with limited stick-shift experience? Especially when it had just received a “fresh detailing?” I’m familiar with the trial-and-error manual learning method and, let me tell you, it’s hairy even in a Toyota Echo. The mind boggles, especially when you consider a simple lesson could have prevented this from happening.
In other news, Guarini also received a citation for driving while his license was suspended and a warning for operation of an unregistered vehicle. Guarini told Road & Track that the license suspension was due to a “clerical error.” Perhaps it is, but I’m not holding my breath when it comes to a man who blames the wreck of his $704,000 supercar, in part, on a recent detailing job.
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