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July 6, 2011

Switching Gears

by JHW

Imagine this… you are in Lamborghini’s new supercar, the Aventador.  You bury your right foot carpet deep, your head slams into an embroidered bull as a 12 cylinder bomb erupts just inches behind you. The scenery starts to blur… 110… 120… 130… tap.  Wait.  Tap?  Shouldn’t a story this rich in sensory overload tick all of the boxes?  Wouldn’t the “snick” of a perfectly weighted gear lever complete the poetry that is piloting a supercar?  Yes, the Aventador is likely the finest car ever built in Sant’Agata.  It also marks the end of an era, as it is the first car Lamborghini has ever sold without the option of a proper manual gearbox.  Sadly, the latest fighting bull joins Ferrari, Porsche and McLaren in removing a level of driver involvement from their top billed performance offerings.

For those of us who do not live our lives a quarter mile at a time, the experience of driving is valued above and beyond the tenths of a second so important in professional motorsport.  Sure, Cliff’s Notes are faster and more effective than reading a 1,000 page novel – but so much is lost in brevity.  Just as character development, suspense & nuance factor into the enjoyment of a good book, similar elements can be enjoyed in the art of driving a vehicle the old-fashioned way.  I know the arguments… that my way of thinking would have kept the choke around, that evolution has rendered the extra movement useless.  Robots will defeat humans when it comes to mechanical tasks, and they will do so joylessly. Fact is, if the next generation of DCT, SMG & DSG boxes can swap cogs in negative time – I will despise them that much more.  Because with the loss of time and feeling, we lose much more.  Among the thing I love about a good drive is that all of my senses are engaged.  Removing such an integral part of the interaction is to disregard how much closer it brings us to the mechanical occasion of operating a special vehicle.

There is an art form to driving a proper 3-pedal manual gearbox.  Watch Walter Rohrl or Lamborghini’s former test driver Valentino Balboni drive, and you will see motoring as art… deliberate inputs that cannot be replicated by tapping a paddle lightly with your index finger.  When it comes to building the supercars of tomorrow, perhaps it is the vacant seat left by Mr. Balboni (a man who’s tribute car is only offered with 3 pedals) that speaks loudest.

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