The Integratron is "a resonant tabernacle and energy machine sited on a powerful geomagnetic vortex in the magical Mojave Desert," according to its official website.
It's a house-sized wooden dome near Joshua Tree, in Southern California. Its creator was a man named George Van Tassel, an aeronautical engineer for Lockheed and a test pilot for Howard Hughes Aviation. The place took him 18 years to build, and he claimed it "would supply a broad range of frequencies to recharge the cell structure."
The Integratron is one of many unusual objects that can be found in the SoCal desert. Others include Salvation Mountain and the East Jesus Art Park, the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum and a bright orange BMW M6 with a six-speed manual transmission.
The latter is an especially rare thing. You're as likely to see one on the road as you are to see a UFO. The BMW's creators were a bunch of brilliant and anonymous engineers in Germany. According to its official website, "Taking things to the limit is more tempting than ever before."
Here, I must confess to being a weirdo diehard manual transmission fanatic. We, too, believe in mystical powers that, through the clutch pedal, a higher awareness can be attained, a closer connection formed between man and machine. Don't believe me? I've felt it. I know it's real. We're not so different from those Integratron faithful.
But my faith was shaken recently.
The M6 is a stupendously capable grand-tourer. It's comfortable and fast and spacious, at home on any road. I've driven it over mountains, on the speed-limitless Autobahn, around a race track. I became accustomed to the silky smooth/blink-of-an-eye shifts of its seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. But I always knew the six-speed manual would be better.
Then I drove the M6 manual. And it was eye-popping, at first. The feeling of blipping a perfect downshift before an on-ramp and holding second gear as the car does its best rocket-ship impression: sublime. The way it pulls from 1,200 rpm in fifth gear: surreal.
But my puny human arms can't shift as smoothly as the computer-controlled seven-speed. Nor can I shift as quickly. And sometimes, in hellish Los Angeles stop-and-go traffic, shifting manually is a chore. Did I miss the seven-speed? Sometimes. And that's scary. Because manual cars are dying out and maybe diehards such as this writer are slowly dying with them?
Globe Drive contributor Neil Vorano wrote recently about the accelerating demise of the manual transmission. The numbers are depressing. "Just 3.6 per cent of new car buyers in Canada so far this year opted to shift their own gears," he wrote.
Rob Dexter, spokesman for BMW Canada, said that across the brand's lineup, cars with a stick shift account for less than 5 per cent of sales.
The obvious truth is that the majority of dual-clutch automatics are empirically better than manuals now, and have been for some time.
More troubling to clutch-loving-diehards than the headlines proclaiming the demise of the manual 'box is that maybe the heathens are right; maybe there is no magic in a six-speed. Maybe it, too, is just a dubious resonant tabernacle and energy machine. Maybe the real joy of driving comes from flicking a paddle shifter down three gears in less than a second. Maybe the stick shift deserves to die?
Hahahahaha – no – what am I saying? Have faith, have faith.
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