In 2012 McLaren put something on the Pebble Beach concours that no one had seen before: the McLaren X-1. Made for a particular “Middle Eastern person of power,” according to a McLaren spokesman, the car came with Citroën-inspired spats over the rear wheels, a nickel-plated air-brake wing, and a unique carbon fiber monocoque like the one found in the blistering fast MP4-12C.
What it didn’t come with was a stick-shift gear box. Mr. Middle East didn’t even ask for one.
The fact is, despite the romantic allure of pulling a stick shift through six or eight gears of raw automotive energy, if you know anything about supercars, you know this one wouldn’t have been as good a car in manual mode.
“These days, people are educated to the fact that it’s faster to drive with paddle shifters or the DSG gearbox, especially people who have been buying sports cars for a long time,” said John Paolo Canton, spokesman for McLaren in North America. (The buyer in question already owned a McLaren F1 and a Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, among other supercars.)
“The quantitative argument for a stick shift is not even a conversation at this point, in terms of the numbers,” Canton said. McLaren has never offered a stick shift in any of its cars since debuting the first road version in 2010. “It’s just so much faster, it’s not even close. It’s more fuel efficient, and it produces fewer emissions.”
What’s more, the way McLaren engineers its cars means that drivers can tailor their ride much more closely with an automatic transmission than with a manual. “When you change the knob, you literally change the way the gearbox works. You can’t do that with a manual transmission,” Canton said.
Which is not to say that if a manual transmission had been requested, McLaren wouldn’t have delivered, but it would take a lot—a lot—of cash to change that.
“If someone did come to us and say, ‘I don’t care what it costs,’ we could look into it for them, but it’s going to be seriously expensive,” Canton said. So far, he added, no one has requested one. “The physical part we can buy, but adapting that into the car, reworking the software, making sure it’ll actually work, you’re talking an absolutely enormous sum of money. That said, we’d certainly research it and implement it if someone is willing to cut a check for it.”
Paddle Shifting Is Faster, More Efficient, More Bespoke
That’s a more generous offer than stick-shift jockeys can hope to get elsewhere. Most places will give you a flat-out no.