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Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
11/7/22 12:36 p.m.
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We’re all for saving the manual and choosing to row our won gears whenever we get the chance, but when has opting for the manual gearbox been a letdown?

Is there truly such a thing as a bad manual transmission, or are there gearboxes that are simply better than others?

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madmrak351
madmrak351 Reader
11/7/22 12:58 p.m.

If it was a 3 on the tree with a non-synchronized 1st gear I might go automatic. I have seen a few clutches that made the experience less enjoyable than it should have been, however most of those were self inflicted.

paddygarcia
paddygarcia GRM+ Memberand Reader
11/7/22 1:11 p.m.

Nothing was really a good choice with a Chevy Citation, but the 4 speed transaxle (actually 3 + OD) did nothing to help the sorry engine move the sorry car. The dumptruck-like throws of the worst-feeling cable shifter ever were icing on the cow patty. 

Tyler H
Tyler H GRM+ Memberand UberDork
11/7/22 1:31 p.m.

A couple of notably bad manuals I've experienced -

Bull-nosed v4 Saab with the free-wheeling transmission.  You basically wiggle, shimmy, push and pull the linkage until some form of forward motion occurs and try not to mess with it.  

VW Corrado SLC - defintely had a gearbag with a rope linkage, but still a fun car. 

Unpopular opinion maybe - 911s with the 915 gearbox.

All that said, I wouldn't have opted for an automatic in any of those cars.

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
11/7/22 1:40 p.m.

Probably the worst I have driven was a T56 in a Mustang.  Shift throws were ridiculously stiff and notchy, and the cable mechanism for the clutch sucked even more than normal for a Fox.

 

Toyman!
Toyman! GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
11/7/22 1:42 p.m.

Any manual transmission I have to daily drive is a bad manual. They are fun for the occasional drive or the track, but I have zero interest in dealing with one on a daily basis. 

 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
11/7/22 1:43 p.m.

Oh, definitely. The worst I've ever driven was an Ariel Atom with a Honda K. 6 in the air, absolutely no indication of where a gear might be. I ended up just leaving it in 3rd so I didn't do something expensive. An automatic would have been a big improvement because then it actually would have had gears.

msterbeau
msterbeau Reader
11/7/22 1:45 p.m.

Almost certainly.  It may be that the gearbox itself has been poorly engineered.  Or there may be just one specific issue but in daily use it occurs often and ruins the whole experience.  It could be that the linkage or some part of the actuating mechanism is badly designed.  Same outcome.  I'm finding that pedal location, particularly of the clutch and it's disengagement point can provide a fair bit of annoyance. If you're trying to shift quickly and that point far into the pedal travel you may not be completely disengaging the engine from the gearbox.  That results in either grinding, a reluctance for the car to go into the next gear or both.  I'm driving a Kia Forte GT and it suffers from some of the last two things I mentioned.  When it works it's great.  But the amount of balking and missed shifts is way too many to be driver error alone.  

RadBarchetta
RadBarchetta New Reader
11/7/22 1:47 p.m.

Chevy Cruze had the sloppiest, slowest manual transmission I've ever had the displeasure of driving. If stuff like that is reason for low take-rates, I can't say I blame anyone.

Matt B (fs)
Matt B (fs) UltraDork
11/7/22 1:59 p.m.

Friend in high school had a foxbody stang with some sort of four banger swapped in.  I have no idea what it was hooked up to, but it was a classic wooden spoon in a box of rocks kind of experience.

93gsxturbo
93gsxturbo UltraDork
11/7/22 2:10 p.m.

In the drag racing world, the bulk of the fast DSM guys have gone to automatics.  Way less driveline shock and hold power a lot better.  Pretty funny because when I first got into DSMs you couldnt give away the automatic transmission cars and you would just toss the whole driveline during a partout.  Now everyone wants the automatic stuff.  

I cant say I would want a manual in my 2021 F150, but I didnt mind the auto in my 2002 F250 with the Powerstroke.  Something about rowing gears on a big diesel was very enjoyable. 

Apis Mellifera
Apis Mellifera Dork
11/7/22 2:12 p.m.
Tyler H said:

VW Corrado SLC - defintely had a gearbag with a rope linkage, but still a fun car.

I can't think of a worse manual experience.  I had a Rabbit and even with new bushings, when deliberately guided in the direction of a desired gear, it would often be a surprise which one you actually got.  The shift pattern on the gear knob should have been a Venn diagram instead of an H.  When I sold the car, the new owner pushed down on the shift knob to select reverse and the entire lever assembly fell out the bottom of car leaving the knob retracted into the shift boot like George Costanza after a cold swim.  Real big piece of junk.

Appleseed
Appleseed MegaDork
11/7/22 2:21 p.m.

What's worse, an awful manual  or an awful automatic?

jharry3
jharry3 GRM+ Memberand Dork
11/7/22 2:24 p.m.
Appleseed said:

What's worse, an awful manual  or an awful automatic?

I remember GM having 2 speed automatics on some of their cars in the 60's/70's.  Low and High.   

maschinenbau
maschinenbau GRM+ Memberand UberDork
11/7/22 2:36 p.m.

My past DD Saturns were manual, and that was the only good things they had going for them. The S-series shifter was pretty cheap feeling and the single-piece plastic clutch hydraulic system made for at best a vague pedal and at worst a sponge. The Astra 5-speed shifter was described by Motor Trend as feeling "like a chicken leg stuck in a jar of marbles". Yet I like them both, and both would have been far worse as automatics. 

amg_rx7 (Forum Supporter)
amg_rx7 (Forum Supporter) SuperDork
11/7/22 2:55 p.m.

The 5speed mt in the s197 was so bad that I grew to hate driving it. Sold it off. 

buzzboy
buzzboy SuperDork
11/7/22 3:13 p.m.

Leyland/Austin Mini "pudding stick" is the worst ever. Mein gott is that thing garbage. The shift pattern is a box, not an H. I could never figure it out.

I'll also echo Pete about the Terminator. I've driven a GTO and that T56 was fine, but the one in the Cobra was super stiff with no indication of what gear it's in, or if it's in gear.

Appleseed said:

What's worse, an awful manual  or an awful automatic?

I've driven both so bad they were endearing. My friend's Monte Carlo SS TH400 that skipped 2nd gear was a treat. An old Kodiak with a 8.2/Allison that slam shifted 4th if you didn't know to let off at the right point. A Mercedes 190D with 1' of throw front to back and only 1" side to side.

Tom1200
Tom1200 UberDork
11/7/22 4:12 p.m.

Most bad manuals can be traced to the shift linkage itself. For the others it's the super wide transmission ratios that let them down.

For a daily driver I prefer a manual (I need something to do or my mind wanders).

For tow vehicles I go with an automatic; although my 68 F100 was a manual.

Ian F (Forum Supporter)
Ian F (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
11/7/22 4:19 p.m.

The 5 spd in my '95 Cummins wasn't great.  An automatic would have given me a lot more purchase options (instead of the turd I bought...) and arguably better reliability.  The "solution" for the 5 spd was to upgrade to the later 6 spd. Better, but still not perfect and $$$$. 

Some manuals in traffic are better than others.  The Cummins wasn't much fun with a fairly heavy clutch and engagement really high in the pedal travel. Conversely, my 2003 TDI was easy to drive in traffic.  The super-light clutch pedal and nice mid-throw engagement helped a lot.  That combined with low-end diesel torque meant I could drive in stop-and-go traffic with only my left foot. 

The Volvo 1800ES is a bit of a mixed bag.  The M41 is the preferred transmission in those cars simply because the BW35 3 spd auto is so bad.  But I do wonder how a later 4 spd automatic with an overdrive gear would be. The M41 isn't a great transmission with a somewhat stiff cable clutch and long shifter throws. 

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
11/7/22 4:19 p.m.
jharry3 said:
Appleseed said:

What's worse, an awful manual  or an awful automatic?

I remember GM having 2 speed automatics on some of their cars in the 60's/70's.  Low and High.   

Pretty much all makes started with a 2 speed auto.  GM's Powerglide was the standard drag transmission for a long time, and still is for certain applications.

The original Hydra-Matic was a four speed, but it did not have a torque converter, just a fluid coupler, so it needed the extra gears to be able to move one of those big old Cadillacs.  When they started using torque converters, they could reduce the number of forward gears, making the transmissions simpler and thus cheaper.

The original Corvette had a six cylinder and a 2 speed auto...

aircooled
aircooled MegaDork
11/7/22 4:21 p.m.
jharry3 said:
Appleseed said:

What's worse, an awful manual  or an awful automatic?

I remember GM having 2 speed automatics on some of their cars in the 60's/70's.  Low and High.   

That would be the Powerglide.  If two gears wasn't bad enough (shifts around 15 mph under low throttle), there is no park!  Better make sure you have a good e-brake!  (I had a bad experience with one, had a not-so- great e-brake... and I was in San Francisco!!)

They are pretty bulletproof though, variations are still used for high horsepower drag racing I believe.

buzzboy
buzzboy SuperDork
11/7/22 4:28 p.m.
Ian F (Forum Supporter) said:

The Volvo 1800ES is a bit of a mixed bag.  The M41 is the preferred transmission in those cars simply because the BW35 3 spd auto is so bad.  But I do wonder how a later 4 spd automatic with an overdrive gear would be. The M41 isn't a great transmission with a somewhat stiff cable clutch and long shifter throws. 

I'm surprised to hear bad talk of the Volvo 4 speed. I've driven two cars with the M40 and it's one of my favorite manuals ever. I've not driven one with the remote shifter though, and wonder if that hurts it. Generally feels very precise and quick shifting.

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
11/7/22 4:34 p.m.
aircooled said:
jharry3 said:
Appleseed said:

What's worse, an awful manual  or an awful automatic?

I remember GM having 2 speed automatics on some of their cars in the 60's/70's.  Low and High.   

That would be the Powerglide.  If two gears wasn't bad enough (shifts around 15 mph under low throttle), there is no park!  Better make sure you have a good e-brake!  (I had a bad experience with one, had a not-so- great e-brake... and I was in San Francisco!!)

They are pretty bulletproof though, variations are still used for high horsepower drag racing I believe.

Not all 'glides did not have Park.  I think Corvairs/Tempests did not but I know a lot of traditional transmissions did.

I put a drivetrain in a late Chevelle that had a 283/Powerglide combo.  It definitely had Park.  

Ian F (Forum Supporter)
Ian F (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
11/7/22 4:38 p.m.

In reply to buzzboy :

Possible. My only experience is with my ex's car and my own ES, both of which have the rearward extensions for the shift lever - my understanding was it was done to allow for more room under the dashboard for the optional A/C unit. 

Oddly enough, in a Mini, the opposite is true: the often termed "magic wand" you referred to above has the lever attached directly to the gearbox, whereas the remote shifter feels a lot better. 

The '78 F150 4x4 (NP435 trans, IIRC) I had years ago had a direct mounted shifter and it was pretty vague with long throws.  Non-syncro granny 1st gear, so you always started in 2nd.  Third gear felt like you were punching the dashboard and 4th was into the bench seat - which was... interesting... if someone had to sit in the middle.

fidelity101
fidelity101 UberDork
11/7/22 4:42 p.m.
RadBarchetta said:

Chevy Cruze had the sloppiest, slowest manual transmission I've ever had the displeasure of driving. If stuff like that is reason for low take-rates, I can't say I blame anyone.

I came here to say this, I hate my wife's 2015 cruze, it doesn't even have cruise control... seriously! its so dull and lame it might as well be automatic, its not like engine operates (1.8L NA) operates any different at WOT/50% throttle or 10%...

 

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