This Hero Won't Let Tragedy Take His Manual Transmission Away

Offbeat / Comments

His driving passion is on another level.

Manual transmissions are a dying breed in the automotive world, with many automakers neglecting to sell them at all. Honda will keep the manual transmission alive with the next-generation Civic, and Cadillac recently announced that both of its future Blackwing models would have manuals. Aston Martin has taken its pledge to keep manual transmissions alive a step further by promising to be the last automaker to offer this option.

As much as we love driving manual transmissions and hope they stick around for as long as possible, we can't imagine driving one after suffering a major injury. But when a spinal cord injury paralyzed Irwin Gill, the Cal State Fullerton mechanical engineering graduate decided that the tragic event would not keep him from driving his stick shift car.

Matthew Gush
Matthew Gush
Matthew Gush

Gill lost the use of his legs in a motorcycle accident back in 2017. He was forced to sell his manual truck, replacing it with an automatic 2001 Toyota Camry with some $200 portable hand controls he ordered online. The controls gave him the freedom to drive again, but he missed the thrill of a manual transmission. As soon as he started to regain function in his left leg, Gill knew he could apply his engineering knowledge towards a solution.

Working with his teammates on the Titan Racing Formula SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) team at Cal State Fullerton, Gill turned scrap metal from a discarded roll cage into custom hand controls for a manual transmission vehicle. He installed the system in a 2005 BMW 5 Series Sedan with a six-speed manual transmission. The car had 180,000 miles on it when the system was installed, and Gill has since put 30,000 miles on over two years with no failures.

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Matthew Gush
Matthew Gush

To drive the car with hand controls, Gill uses his left hand to operate both the throttle and brake. His left palm triggers the brake pedal and his left thumb controls the throttle, while his right hand handles the steering and shifting. The controls are mounted low enough that Gill can still use the top of his left wrist to hold the wheel straight while shifting gears.

Applying knowledge to a real-world problem like this is a great way to earn a job in the automotive industry. Gill, a class of 2020 graduate is currently pursuing a career in mechanical engineering.

Matthew Gush
Matthew Gush

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