My advice to anyone producing a manual gearbox for a sports car – save the cows. Put in a metal gate. Your public will thank you.
A year or so ago, I drove a car with a manual gearbox. Not just any car with a manual gearbox though, it was an old Jag. An XK120, if I recall correctly. And it was great. But boy, did I struggle with the gearbox. OK, my manual skills may have been slightly depleted by my time in the auto-friendly Middle East, but pop me in a Mitsubishi Evo and I still know what to do.
But this old Jag had a four-speed ‘box with no synchromesh and consisted basically of a very heavy clutch and the need to match revs before ramming the stick home into the correct cog. I was very conscious of the fact that I was engaging with machinery.
That’s a feeling I miss. Don’t get me wrong, I love a really fast dual-clutch paddle shifter, but it’s not the same as feeling like you’re properly in tune with a piece of engineering.
However, the Jag was too much. I’m sure given a month or two of practice I could get a good shift out of it, but not in 20 minutes of bumbling around. I crunched and swore my way through the test drive, then handed it over to the chap from Jaguar’s Heritage Fleet, who proceeded to crunch it too. It’s hard to drive old manuals.
So, I want a feeling of mechanical interaction, without having to take a course to operate the transmission. Even modern manuals feel too insulated, too rubberised.
Or so I thought. Then I was lucky enough to drive a Lamborghini Gallardo LP550-2, with a manual, gated gearbox. No silly leather gaiter around the shaft. No ridiculously sculpted knob on the top. Just metal. Everywhere. And it was glorious. It had the accuracy you expect from modern boxes but with a feeling of heft, plenty of weight to the throw as you notch it out of one gear, wait a fraction of second and then slam it into the next. And crucially, every move was accompanied by a ker-chink from the metal gate. I felt like I was loading a rifle. Changing gear was a genuine joy, even when put up against the delights of handling a rear-wheel drive sports car with 550 horsepower.
I want more of it. My advice to anyone producing a manual gearbox for a sports car – save the cows. Put in a metal gate. Your public will thank you.