Goodbye To The Gearbox; You'll Be Missed

Opinion / Comments

But we'll cherish you as long as we can.

I can always find something positive to say about any car. I love being behind the wheel, no matter what car that wheel is attached to, but gearboxes have made me sad. I can't shake the feeling that the manual variants are a part of our obsession that hasn't been enjoyed to the full. Writing about cars on a daily basis really rams home the point that the enthusiast is less important than the influencer. And that has led us down a path where the unskilled have demanded to be seen as racing drivers, which has led to unprecedented advances in automatic gearbox tuning.

Lotus
BMW
Alfa Romeo

If you've ever driven an automatic that is older than a decade or so, you likely have some inkling of why enthusiasts shunned them for so long. And those enthusiasts had good reason. These old transmissions are slow, lazy, and inefficient, which is why modern versions developed a stigma that is hard to let go of. It's the same with hybrids. Immediately, most of us think of the Toyota Prius when we hear the term, but things have changed, and for the better. You now get hybrid supercars like the SF90 Stradale from Maranello, and it's the same with automatic transmissions. They simply don't suck anymore.

Autos are now perfect, but now we're moving to cars without them. After all, who needs gears when electric motors can do the job of regulating your speed and that of the "engine" seamlessly, literally? Yet, highly intelligent engineers and designers wasted all that time and money developing the auto when we should have been appreciating the manual.

BMW
BMW
Most Expensive Corvettes Ever Sold
Most Expensive Corvettes Ever Sold
Greatest Steeda Fords Of All Time
Greatest Steeda Fords Of All Time

Yes, those with disabilities and other issues (like pretending to be a gearhead yet not knowing how to change a tire) needed the auto, but as the auto evolved, so did the stick, and the manual has also become perfect in some of the best, most focused sportscars, like Porsche 911s.

Yet, even there, we as the buying public clamored for a fast, smooth, intelligent gearbox that could not only change instantly when we pulled a paddle but could even tell us when and how to go up or down a gear. Or, if we really felt nothing for driver engagement, it could do these things for us, and better than us, without us making a single decision beyond pushing one of two pedals with our feet. Pulling a paddle is so not in vogue - let the gearbox decide what gear it wants to be in, right? But now the guy or gal who actually enjoys that mechanical click is considered slow. And already, the time of the gearbox as a whole is in its twilight.

Porsche
Porsche

But I cannot hate the auto, nor the DCT, nor the PDK, or whatever you call it, for these late bloomers inspired a whole generation of people - myself included - to dream that one day we could change gears like a Formula One champion. We believed we would become driving gods, and the ever-present pursuit of that endeavor is perhaps one of the most flammable fuels poured on the fire of our passion for cars.

Some dreams have been extinguished, like buying a rear-wheel-drive M3 off the showroom floor with a strange stick in the center console and a pedal where our left foot must now rest, but there are still gems in this world to drive for the first time, to build a connection with, to fall in love with. Like old books whose brilliant authors you've never even heard of. And they stoke that fire just a little longer. Just long enough for us to start flirting with instant torque, breakneck acceleration, and near-silent motoring. Can you begin to fathom how futuristic your first drive in a Tesla will feel?

Front-End View BMW
Aft View BMW

And you know what? The sooner the world adopts the EV, the less important oil will be, and the less our automobiles' impact on the planet will matter, and maybe, just maybe, we'll find that fossil fuels get cheaper, and when all the kids are tapping away at their smart devices as their cars take them to some trendy sky-bar, or falling asleep safely on the way home from such a place with all their trust in lines of code and electrical wires, we'll guiltily burn those dirty flammables as a sacrifice to ourselves and our true love. Treasuring the sweet aromas of internal combustion's waste exiting a noisy pipe that most don't understand anymore. Hearing the rare songs of pistons, and fuel pumps, and dump valves, and yes, even V-TEC, and the rasp of ITBs, and the off-beat rumble of Bridgeport rotaries. Savoring the vibrations in your seat, your cockpit. Suddenly realizing that now, you're the old fart at the classic car show, reminiscing about a nostalgia that can never manifest in the mainstream real world again. A world that has moved on and turned cars back from pleasure craft to simple tools with complicated software.

CarBuzz
BMW

But at least you will still love cars. At least, in this fantasy, where you've maintained a relic and only used it for those days when you need a pick-me-up, you can have your high-octane cake and eat it - albeit with a cloud of judgment over you from a trendy society that ironically values feelings above feeling. It's just a pipe dream, this idea of getting to enjoy my passion in a world that will soon consider me out of touch, but it's real to me, and I welcome someday shifting up to a higher, less frantic ratio of the same burning passion, taking a break from instant everything and soulless commuting - even if it makes me an outcast in an environmentally-conscious future.

Porsche Design
Porsche Design
Alfa Romeo

The reality is that climate change and regulators will force us to condemn the engine and its various ways of changing ratios to nothing more than museum pieces - unless Porsche rescues our dire situation with its development of clean, synthetic fuels. But whatever happens, at least I'll still have people just like me to argue about old gearboxes with. People who have the same, unadulterated love for the old ways. People like you, who read and dream about cars every waking moment of the day. So for now, let's enjoy both the pedal and the paddle, because someday, we'll be able to enjoy neither.

Lotus
Alfa Romeo
Lotus

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