Three Pedal Fugue in A Major

C Douglas Weir
by C Douglas Weir

There has been a little throw-down among the TTAC writers of late regarding the benefits of the DSG paddle shift transmission vis-à-vis the gold-standard fully synchronized five, and six-speed marvels of metallurgy, casting and machining. I have to conclude that some folks just can’t master the manual shift manipulations to the point of self-satisfaction. Well, I can’t play guitar by ear, so I like those electronic effects that help cover up my musical shortcomings. But Chet Atkins and Van Halen like straight axes. So what’s up with all the happy talk about automatics?

So neophytes can’t shift or clutch properly, but they can flick those little shifter paddles– letting the computers match all the moving parts– and feel manly and proud. Well those who have spent a lifetime distilling the purity of driveline harmonics will always enjoy more of the real essence of driving. Computerized shifts all feel and sound synthetically perfect and uniform. But a maestro working the loud pedal, clutch and shifter does more than drive; he expresses individuality and emotion. Think electronic drum machine vs. Buddy Rich.

If you don’t quite get the value of this automotive self-expression thing, let’s start with the typical launch. All that is required is a good clutch, accurate throttle and some decent hardened steel pipes. OK; feeling a little down? Go for a low-rev clutch-drop. The engine bogs down slightly until it catches and runs up to the first shift point. A longish idling pause while snatching second continues the melancholy mood. The slow second gear climb-out extends the dark, minor-chord. All who hear intuitively understand the underlying color, whether or not they realize it.

Excited? Hurried? Joyful? Then it’s a high-revving slip-clutch launch for you. Spin the clutch facings a bit, then the [hopefully rear] tires. When the traction finally locks-in at a few thousand revs, quick shift to second and upwards. You have just performed the rapidamente movement of a concerto. Light, frolicking, and gleeful. O happy day! The fortissimo roll out, on the other hand… We’re talking a hammer-down, barking and staccato assault; an unmistakable musical notation that leads the listener to expect a crescendo of speed and fury.

Then there are the shift nuances. Remember: computers don’t have emotions. Their mission is perfection in all things. But this aria is human. Are the shifts over-revving, clutch stabbing locked-down-throttle wailings? Or are they blipped, measured and even? Maybe there are uneven runs– long in second, short in third, matched in fourth and fifth—signifying indecision and doubt. You are weaving an aural story as you drive, synchronizing man and machine, reacting to the environment, mastering Mother Nature through your own unique animal nature.

Finally, the downshifts. Does a slow turn end in a boggy fade-away or a two-gear drop and run? Insight? You bet! Coming to a stop, and nothing until a second or first gear catch… a little bored maybe? Or is there a focused grouping all the way down through each gear? Even some double clutching and blipping? That’s a high energy player there. And when everything tightens up with higher and higher pitch at the end of a gearing-down halt, it’s simply voicing the angst felt at the end of speed and forward progress. But sometimes there is the sound of total surrender: the clutch-in coast-down to a full stop. Maybe you’ll feel better tomorrow.

The modern car is more than its parts. It’s an instrument. The designers and engineers create the musical score. The suspension comprises the percussion section. The aero is the woodwinds. The exhaust the brass. The engine plays the melody while you conduct. The steering wheel is your baton. The clutch and shifter set the tempo, while your throttling raises and lowers the orchestral dynamics. Hushed here, hell raising there, you throw your head back and celebrate all that is sound, vibration and movement like a true conductor.

My point is this: when you want to DRIVE, when you want to fully experience all that hurling large amounts of shaking and slamming metal and shape-shifting rubber encompasses, if you want to stand in front of the orchestra and feel it respond to your every whim, you have to take the baton and lead with your soul. Commuter cars not withstanding, when you get your Cayman S, your Corvette Z06, Stradivarius Lotus Elise, or any really drivey road rocket, if you check the automatic box on the spec sheet you are robbing yourself of the thrill of being master, commander, large and in charge. Your Song will not Remain the Same (apologies to Led Zeppelin).

So suffer a bad shift. Kill the motor (preferably at a busy intersection). Miss a gear. Hit the limiter. Laugh at your foibles. Have fun. Modern love is not automatic.

C Douglas Weir
C Douglas Weir

More by C Douglas Weir

Join the conversation
3 of 62 comments
  • Der_rote_tornado Der_rote_tornado on Jul 13, 2006

    Manuals are more fun than automatics, no shit sherlock. How that can be up for discussion is beyond me. Regarding the DSG: this is what separates those who know from the posers: DSG does not equal automatic. It is not a slushbox, it is not a semi-auto. It's a manual transmission that can operate like an auto if you need it to. It has two clutches that preselect gears to give you instant response. It means you can haul ass and pay closer attention to the road. It is a unique and revolutionary great leap forward in auto technology. Nobody but VW/Audi has it. Not BMW, not Porsche, not Ferrari. Those paddle shifters ARE automatics. It doesn't help that VW also sells a 6 sp automatic Tiptronic tranny in addition to the DSG, though not on the same models. I don't care what you "feel" about it. Read up on it, drive it. Then you'll know what you're talking about. The VW DSG is not only faster than the 6sp, but the mpg is pretty much the same. Farago is right, with the DSG you get more control, not less. The only thing you don't get is fucking sick of stomping the floor with your left foot.

    • 2ronnies1cup 2ronnies1cup on Sep 07, 2011

      You also get to break new frontiers in repair bills when the transmission shits itself - which they seem to be doing with amusing regularity just now.

  • Ceese Ceese on Sep 28, 2011

    Changing my religion. I've been a manual aficionado my entire life, that is until recently when I purchased and Audi with a DSG transmission. My car does not ship to the US in a manual and I had originally planned to do a transmission swap. Then I drove my car for a couple weeks and played with the DSG transmission and now I’m completely hooked. Don’t get me wrong, I still love a clutch but if I had to spend the rest of my life with one transmission it would be a DSG. The biggest thing for me is that it literally shifts thousands of times faster than I could at my fastest with a clutch. Basically it takes an 8000th of a second from the time my finger hits that paddle to switch gears – basically it shifts pretty much as fast as I can react to the thought of shifting. Driving has become an entirely new experience with the DSG, which der_rote_tornado kindly pointed out is not an automatic. I’ll close on this. I knocked it before I really tried it so don’t make my mistake. Try a DSG out for a month and then come back and tell me you don’t agree.

  • 3-On-The-Tree I don’t think Toyotas going down.
  • ToolGuy Random thoughts (bulleted list because it should work on this page):• Carlos Tavares is a very smart individual.• I get the sense that the western hemisphere portion of Stellantis was even more messed up than he originally believed (I have no data), which is why the plan (old plan, original plan) has taken longer than expected (longer than I expected).• All the OEMs who have taken a serious look at what is happening with EVs in China have had to take a step back and reassess (oversimplification: they were thinking mostly business-as-usual with some tweaks here and there, and now realize they have bigger issues, much bigger, really big).• You (dear TTAC reader) aren't ready to hear this yet, but the EV thing is a tsunami (the thing has already done the thing, just hasn't reached you yet). I hesitate to even tell you, but it is the truth.
  • ToolGuy ¶ I have kicked around doing an engine rebuild at some point (I never have on an automobile); right now my interest level in that is pretty low, say 2/5.¶ It could be interesting to do an engine swap at some point (also haven't done that), call that 2/5 as well.¶ Building a kit car would be interesting but a big commitment, let's say 1/5 realistically.¶ Frame-up restoration, very little interest, 1/5.¶ I have repainted a vehicle (down to bare metal) and that was interesting/engaging (didn't have the right facilities, but made it work, sort of lol).¶ Taking a vehicle which I like where the ICE has given out and converting it to EV sounds engaging and appealing. Would not do it anytime soon, maybe 3 to 5 years out. Current interest level 4/5.¶ Building my own car (from scratch) would have some significant hurdles. Unless I started my own car company, which might involve other hurdles. 😉
  • Rover Sig "Value" is what people perceive as its worth. What is the worth or value of an EV somebody creates out of a used car? People value different things, but for a vehicle, people generally ascribe worth in terms of reliability, maintainability, safety, appearance and style, utility (payload, range, etc.), convenience, operating cost, projected life, support network, etc. "Value for money" means how much worth would people think it had compared to competing vehicles on the market, in other words, would it be a good deal to buy one, compared to other vehicles one could get? Consider what price you would have to ask for it, including the parts and labor you put into it, because that would affect the “for the money” part of the “value for money” calculation. An indicator of whether people think an EV-built-in-a-used-car would provide "value for money" is the current level of demand for used cars turned into EVs. Are there a lot of people looking for these on the market? Or would building one just be a hobby? Repairing an existing EV, bringing it back into spec, might create better value for the money. Although demand for EVs is reportedly down recently.
  • ToolGuy Those of you who aren't listening to the TTAC Podcast, you really don't know what you are missing.