Wait…what! This is supposed to be a motorsports blog with racing minded people and this goes completely against everything I’ve ever known and believed in when it concerns performance cars! Well, I’m going to let you know the sad truth right now…people are afraid of change.
That’s right…even a few of my friends that are very performance car oriented were asked the question with a few choices: “So, what do you think I should tackle next?” and the answer given every time with the choices provided was involving the “Death of the Stickshift”. Granted, I think most of them thought that I was meaning that the manual type gearbox should be saved and we would gloriously sing about how we preserved the very roots of performance driving with such an article noting all the merits of the manual gearbox…this is not that article.
Now, let me redeem a little of what I’m saying here and clear up that I believe that everyone should learn to drive a true manual car correctly in their lifetime. There is something that just can’t compare to the experience. Switching gears, using a clutch, and hearing/feeling the engine revs are just one of the human pleasures that is gratifying to one’s soul and cannot be replicated exactly by an automatic or fully computer automated driveline. It also allows you to picture and understand the workings of the engine, rather than just pushing a ‘go’ and a ‘stop’ button with your right foot.
There are websites and petitions out there to “Save the Sticks” and preserve the manual transmissions that are appearing less and less in the automotive industry as time goes on. Porsche is even capitalizing on the advent by specifically advertising a new 911R GT3 version that is purely manual. People are really starting to notice the transition and think that their sports cars are disappearing and the way of automotive life as they know it is ending…well, it isn’t ending. It is evolving.
The concept of technologies that we are seeing today is something that was developed and banned back in the 80s by the FIA (Federation International De L’Automobile) when the Williams team introduced their CVT transmission in the new Formula 1 car they had developed. By turn one, the governing institution had determined that the transmission offered an unfair advantage over other teams as well as aspiring teams due to the sheer speed and transfer of power it provided. That’s right ladies and gentlemen, you are looking at old Formula 1 technology trickling down into the privately owned sector of automobiles that we can all own today.
Yes, it has been slowly starting to change the face of the automobile industry these days, especially when it comes to performance vehicles and exotic brands. BMW had SMG, VW – DSG, Audi – R-Tronic, and Ferrari – F1 Superfast. They all have a hand in it and they are all transferring over to the systems while we see the disappearing of that third pedal. However, look at the level of performance that cars are reaching today. Sequential gearboxes are the standard in race cars these days where it used to only be the top teir factory teams that could afford them. Even the paddle shifters you are seeing behind wheels now to “manually” control the gears were developed by extremely intelligent people involved in the Formula 1 teams that allowed the driver to not have to take his hands off the wheel while shifting!
I know…it scares people that are used to acquainting performance with finding the notch in the next gear position, while coordinating their pedal work to properly shift into the appropriate gear for the situation, making them feel in control of the situation fully while doing so. However, let’s go there…let’s think outside the comfort zone and compare the advantages of such systems that are automated.
A sequential type system can switch gears in as little as 50 milliseconds…that’s right, 50 FREAKING MILLISECONDS (about 1/8th the time it takes to blink your eye) and you will have power to the next gearset chosen for the driving situation you are in. A human switching gears on a manual gearbox can’t compare…I mean, even if you are the Stig, you can’t make those shift times on a manual gearbox. This is why the technology had been banned in the FIA originally until a decision on a standard sequential gearbox was decided. It was a breakthrough and nothing else was even close in keeping up with the technology!
We are evolving as humans and as drivers while either on the race track or the public road. Eventually, a good amount of race technology trickles down into commuter cars. Where do you think traction control and anti-lock brake systems came from? BMW directly borrowed technology from their racing program when evolving their DSP systems on the E46 body cars when they added complex algorithms and sensors for both pitch and yaw adjustment.
So, if the cars are developing and evolving, we should be developing and evolving as well. One that does not move along at the pace of a breakneck world is going to be left behind. It is just shear facts that determine the matter. You will always have your nostalgic cars with the notchy manual transmission that fill the void in your driving hobby, but when it comes to evolving with the coming automotive technologies of today, I can say with confidence that the stick shift will soon be a thing of the past.