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How Should We Remember Single Clutch Automatics?
As the world embraces electric propulsion, the days of burning clutches and confused shifting are at an end. If you remember the optimism of the 90’s, let’s look back at these fundamentally flawed gearboxes.

How Should We Remember Single Clutch Automatics?

BMW Drivelogic ShifterTypical Manual Conversion KitFerrari Manual ShifterGated Manual Ferrari ScuderiaThis is the best view i've ever had
The year was 1998 and I was astonished to hear that the upcoming Lamborghini Murcielago would make use of an automatic. Ferrari also jumped in with their F1 transmissions, and both were essentially computer-controlled manuals. Adding a few hundred pounds of hydraulics between the shift paddles and the differential looked fine on paper, but counting your clutch life in single digits was a recipe for anxiety.

Aside from short trips to write reviews, my first true long-distance experience was in Mr. DuPont's 2011 Audi R8 V10 Spyder. This was before the dual-clutch S-Tronic was introduced, so it was the final evolution of the R-Tronic automated manual. With the windows and the convertible top down, I had to drive from duPont Registry in Clearwater down to Prestige Imports in Miami Beach.

Loading and unloading the car from the warehouse made use of a 17-degree ramp, and that was where I first smelled burning clutch. In low speed cruising, the computer commands the clutch either on or off. In fact, simply cruising around our parade route at slow speeds would generally incur a clutch overheat under 15 mph. Once on the highway, the system works flawlessly. It just wasn’t designed for Florida’s failing infrastructure.

Next up was the gorgeous Aston Martin One-77. It arrived new from England with several electrical faults, from the power seats to the air Conditioning. Nevertheless, I attempted to load it into a private trailer before delivering it to my customer. Its transmission would not slip the clutch on any incline or decline, leaving the car locked up on our 17-degree ramp.

In the meantime, I have seen hundreds of examples of how engineers can become too isolated from the real world. The most recent involves a bargain-priced V10 BMW M5, purchased new by my brother-in-Law. On cold mornings it simply won’t work, and when it does, the shifts are so violent that it has broken interior plastics.

Once production ended on the Porsche Carrera GT, engineers gave up. Aside from Cadillac, Aston Martin, and a few others, everyone is throwing out excuses why manual shifters and pedals aren’t worth the effort for such a niche market. Their failures in the single-clutch experiments have allowed the ZF 8HP automatic to become the world’s most popular gearbox, for those who enjoy boring automobiles. An honorable mention has to be given to the 10-speed automatic co-developed by GM and Ford, as it has increased the fuel economy across the board.

My friends at European Auto Group have developed manual transmission conversions for most late-model exotics. To give me a taste of their abilities, they brought the only six-speed manual F430 Scuderia to Florida for a test drive. It is a perfect car, because they have used the latest in CNC work to make forged pedals and linkages that Ferrari now sources from their headquarters in San Antonio. Since then, they have developed kits for the Ferrari 599, 575, and the late-model Supra.

Electric cars have no need for single or dual clutch transmissions, so the violent and temperamental nature of old transmissions will soon be relegated to YouTube and car shows. Is the single clutch the worst transmission in recent history? That honor must go to Nissan’s CVT, followed by the Chevrolet 4L60E. So we want to hear from you! Tell us your worst transmission nightmares, and stay with us for more exclusive content!


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