Anyone who knows me knows I’m a gear head. And as a gear head, I have always enjoyed driving standard shift cars. “Back in the day”, when cars came with carburetors (you need to be over 40 to remember), we called any car with an automatic transmission a slush-o-matic. They were slow shifting, sloppy and in fact were not even designed to lock-up the torque converter for best efficiency, so they actually slipped full time. These were not transmissions any performance driver would ever think about having.
The first stick shift car I drove was my high school friend’s Volkswagen beetle. Fortunately, my friend had patience with me while I ground a few gears, and jerked him back and forth more than a few times. But, it didn’t take too long to learn and it was great to have direct control of the forward motion of the car.
Then along came the Porsche 962. In that car, Porsche was only interested in the fastest way to shift a race car, and so they developed the twin clutch transmission. This is where there is one clutch for each of the two transmission shafts, so that the next gear can be selected in advance and at the request of the driver (no clutch pedal). The power would just transfer from one clutch to the next, all without having to lift off the throttle. This was especially great in a turbo car with major lag like was the norm in those days.
Well, it took another generation, and then the dual clutch transmission (DCT) finally found its way into production cars. Its development was advanced mostly because of the need for more efficient drive trains where fuel economy is the driving force. I don’t know who had a DCT in their production car first, but the one I first drove was a VW GTI – 38 years after my first stick shift experience in another VW, my old friend’s Beetle.
As car enthusiasts, we’re living in the glory days of the performance car. Government regulations designed to improve efficiency and safety just happen to be the same engineering exercises needed to improve performance, and today we have an incredible array of exceptional performance cars to choose from. And some of them only are available with a DCT.
I hear people say all the time they would rather have a stick shift car than a twin clutch. I kind of understand that, but I also kind of don’t. Frankly, because every single car that’s available with a twin clutch is actually a quicker car than its manual shift version. I hear and read all the time drivers say “it’s less involving”. Well, yeah I guess if you want to lift the throttle, push the clutch pedal, shift the gear, let out the clutch pedal, and then add throttle, that’s fun. However, a DTC allows you to choose a gear without lifting the throttle, and in a fraction of the time it takes to navigate the clutch/gear process. You’re still in total control, but with less effort and in much less time. With a DTC in the manual mode, you still have to pull a paddle, or move a shift lever. All you missing is the clutch pedal. I guess maybe we could put a third petal in a DTC car. It wouldn’t actually do anything. You just push it in whatever you want to shift. We can’t call it a dead pedal, because that’s taken. Maybe we could call it a clutch-less petal, or maybe a third pedal, (a very close cousin is a third wheel), but I digress.
When I want to drive a manual shift car, I pick a car like an E36 or E46 M3 or a 997 GT3, because those cars were not available with a twin clutch transmission, and they’re awesome to drive. But, when I drive a car that comes with a DCT, it’s hard for me to not want that version, because I know I’m giving away performance if the car doesn’t have it. To me, it’s like getting rid of fuel injection or carbon brakes or ABS, or any other of the things that make that newer cars as good as they are. If I’m on the track and I’ve got a manual shift version of a new F80 M3, I know I’m giving away performance, and that’s hard for me to do.
T.C. Kline is known as a suspension setup guru in the world of motorsport. He’s the founder of TC Kline Racing, based in Ohio, a predominantly a BMW suspension specialist company (tcklineracing.com). You can see TC effortlessly zipping around GGC’s HPDS in his many cars (F82, E92, F87) where only the suspensions have been modified. Try and catch him, it’s nearly impossible!