Supercars are exotic and expensive machines that are equipped with the latest technology. These cars are built with performance in mind. As such, supercar manufacturers are constantly pushing for new innovations, and one aspect that is usually different in a supercar concerns the clutch pedal.
Modern supercars do not have a clutch pedal but are equipped with automatic transmissions instead. This includes a paddle-shift system behind the steering wheel which allows the driver to shift gears much faster. Supercars from before the mid-2000s will have clutch pedals and manual gearboxes.
These gearboxes came into use in the mid 2000s when major supercar manufacturers like Ferrari took their technology from Formula 1 over into their road cars. Ever since then, manual transmission supercars have become increasingly rare to find. Let’s take a closer look at supercar transmissions.
Modern Supercar Transmissions
You’re unlikely to find a supercar newer than a 2015 model with a clutch pedal and a manual transmission. Modern supercars are all kitted out with the latest tech to make them go faster, and that includes modern gearboxes.
Unfortunately, the old-school stick shift with three pedals is slower than a modern double-clutch gearbox. This is sad news for most petrol heads who love a good stick shift supercar. Perhaps in the future we’ll see some manufacturers create one-off manual transmission cars just for nostalgia’s sake.
How Do New Gearboxes Work?
The modern supercar gearbox, however, is a semi-automatic double clutch gearbox which can seamlessly change gears within a fraction of a second. Semi-automatic gearboxes have shifter paddles on the back of the steering wheel.
This allows the driver to quickly and easily change gears whenever needed. On the right-hand side of the steering wheel is the upshift paddle, and the downshift paddle is on the left-hand side of the steering wheel.
The paddles can be pulled or pushed in most cases. Pulling and pushing will have opposite effects. For example, pulling the right-hand side paddle will upshift, whereas pushing will downshift the car. This is to make it more convenient for the driver, if they are cornering for example and can’t reach the other paddle.
With a semi-automatic gearbox, the driver can choose whether they like to drive the car in fully automatic mode or with the shifter paddles at the back of the steering wheel. Switching between these two different modes is seamless and can be done in seconds.
Faster Gear Changes
Gear changes on modern supercars are incredibly fast. In fact, most of them change gear instantly when you pull or push the paddle. The fastest shifting car is the Lamborghini Aventador LP700-4 which can shift gears in just 50 milliseconds.
The human eye takes around 100 milliseconds to blink, so this car can literally shift through gears in (less than) the blink of an eye. For reference, a driver changing gears manually takes between 500 milliseconds and 2 seconds depending on the gear they are changing to.
This may seem like a small difference but when added up between 5 or even 6 gears it can cost a lot of time. This is the main reason modern performance cars opt for the automatic gearbox. But when did the clutch pedal become a thing of the past?
When Did Supercars Stop Using Clutch Pedals?
Each supercar manufacturer had a different ‘final’ model that had their last ever (for now) manual gearbox. However, most of them disappeared around the same time. In most cases, it was around the late 2000s and early 2010s that the manual transmission became rare to find in performance cars.
For Ferrari, the last manual transmission can be found in the 2012 models of the Ferrari California and the 599. But just because they’re older models don’t expect them to come cheap. A stick-shift Ferrari California recently sold at an auction for $444,000. On top of that, Ferrari only built two manual transmission Californias.
The 599 is not much easier to find either, with just 30 manual transmission models being built. This was also the last V12 Ferrari to be built with a manual gearbox, so if you’ve had one of these in your garage for a while you can expect to sell it for a huge profit.
McLaren were the first big supercar brand to drop the manual gearbox from their selection. That’s because they didn’t build another supercar in the years between the McLaren F1 and the P1. So, the first and last McLaren car to have a manual transmission was the F1, but only 106 of these were made, and their value has risen immensely. The production of this car ended in 1998.
Lamborghini switched over to dual clutch automatic gearbox in 2014 with the release of the Huracan and Aventador models. The Gallardo was in production until 2014 and still offered the option of a manual or automatic gearbox. The 2010 Murcielago was the last V12 Lamborghini to have a manual gearbox, but once again, these are extremely rare, with less than 50 being produced.
Porsche’s last ‘big name’ supercar to have a manual transmission is the Carrera GT, which ended production in 2006. However, Porsche still offered manual gearboxes for the 911 Turbo up until 2012 with the 997 generation.
Audi released an R8 V10 Plus with a manual variant in its first generation. The last of these was produced in 2015. The value of these manual gearbox Audis is skyrocketing at the moment as petrol heads and collectors look to get their hands on them.
Surprisingly, Aston Martin still offer a manual gearbox for some of their supercars. They are possibly the last supercar manufacturer still building their cars with the option of automatic and manual transmissions. It’s unclear just how long they’ll still be offering that option.
Is The Paddle-Shift Gearbox Better Than A Manual Gearbox?
In terms of performance, the semi-automatic gearbox is a much better option than a manual gearbox. However, most people do prefer to have a manual gearbox as they feel more involved in the process of driving the car and they feel more connected to the machine.
Which Is Faster?
The automatic gearbox is much faster than a manual transmission. The average shift time of a supercar’s paddle shifter is 100 milliseconds, while the average shift time for a manual gearbox is around 500 milliseconds.
While this does seem like a small difference in time, it can add up and make a huge difference in a quarter-mile race or around a racetrack.
The biggest difference comes with downshifts though. While the automatic supercar will still be able to downshift in a tenth of second, a driver will take significantly longer than 500 milliseconds to downshift because of the need to use a heel and toe or double clutching technique to shift as fast as possible without crunching the gears.
Therefore, around a racetrack, a car with a semi-automatic gearbox will not only be much faster, but it will also be a lot smoother and easier to drive.
Which Is Easier To Maintain?
No gearbox is easy to maintain because of the complexity of the components. The average gearbox has more than 800 working parts all contained in a small box. It’s a delicate and complex component to repair or take care of.
The manual gearbox is technically much easier to maintain thanks to is relative ‘simplicity’ in design compared to an automatic gearbox. With all of the added technology and moving parts involved in a semi-automatic gearbox, it can become a lot more difficult to maintain than a manual gearbox.
With that being said, the automatic transmission is less prone to having problems. It’s difficult to ‘break’ an automatic transmission by having it in the wrong gear or shifting at the wrong time. However, with a manual transmission it can be much easier to damage it with a mistimed shift or push of the clutch.
Which Is Cheaper?
The semi-automatic gearbox is more expensive both to buy and to maintain. Due to the more advanced technology and the fact that it’s still relatively new, the automatic transmission will always be more expensive than the manual gearbox.
This is clear to see even in everyday cars, where choosing between a manual and an automatic variant of the same car can make a huge difference in price. The same is also true for the maintenance costs.
At the end of the day, it comes down to personal preference. Many drivers prefer the automatic gearbox because of its ease of use and lightning fast shifting speeds. Others might prefer the manual gearbox to feel more connected with the car or for nostalgic reasons.
What Is A Double Clutch Gearbox?
You’ll often see that cars have a dual-clutch gearbox. This can be referred to in different ways by different manufacturers. For example, you might see it called DSG (Audi), DCT (BMW), or PDK (Porsche).
The dual-clutch gearbox is fairly self-explanatory, it has two separate clutches instead of one. One clutch is used to select odd numbered gears, and the other clutch is used to select even numbered gears.
So, while the car is in first gear, the second clutch will engage and have second gear ready to shift when the revs build up high enough. When the car shifts into second gear, the first clutch then gets ready to shift again, this time into third gear.
The result is seamless and instantaneous gear shifts that you can’t even feel in the car. In terms of performance, it means that there is a constant flow of power from the engine to the wheels. With a single clutch gearbox for example, you will find that you can feel every gear shift, and it can almost feel like a violent surge of power is sent through the car every time you change gears.
Most modern supercars have double-clutch semi-automatic transmissions which do not feature a clutch pedal. Instead, they have paddles on the back of the steering wheel that allow the driver to shift gears. Aston Martin is one of the last manufacturers that still offer a manual transmission in some of their supercars.