Quietly say goodbye - manual transmissions are disappearing

There are some things that drivers of the future will no longer be familiar with. Things that we are used to disappear. These include the manual gearbox, the ignition key, the mechanical handbrake or the suction cup navigation device. The smartphone takes over for the ignition key or navigation system. In the case of manual transmission, the computer.

Saab 5-speed gearbox - here in the 900 from 1986 - never shifts particularly precisely
Saab 5-speed gearbox - here in the 900 from 1986 - never shifts particularly precisely

For many decades, the manual transmission was regarded as proof of committed driving. Those who thought they were talented in sports switched themselves. A topic for regulars and car meetings. Automatic was for wimps, not for real men. Future generations will smile mildly at it, if they even remember. Because the automatic has long been able to do everything better.

Modern machines with 8, 9 or 10 levels work faster and more effectively than humans. Stirring in the gears has only sentimental value. With the increasing use of intelligent assistance systems, the ultimate end comes. Colleague Computer only works optimally if the transmission remains predictable. In this case, the human being is the unpredictable variable. His manual intervention would be an imponderability that bothers.

So get away with it.

More and more manufacturers have heralded the end of manual transmissions. Most recently, Daimler announced the end, the future of the Swabians will only switch automatically.

Saab and the manual gearbox

At Saab, the manual transmission assumed an almost mythical position. A circumstance that was less due to the quality of the circuit. In the 99 and 900, the gearbox that was manufactured in the Gothenburg plant could not be shifted very precisely. It can be described as imprecise, actually it was an imposition that was overwhelmed by the increasing power of the turbo engines.

The integrated immobilizer made it a myth. One of those brilliant flashes of inspiration they had at Saab. If the ignition key was removed from the center console, which was only possible when reverse gear was engaged, the gearbox was blocked. Generations of car thieves cursed Saab, as did rental car customers.

Myth Saab transmission with mechanical immobilizer when the ignition key is removed - here in the Saab 99
Myth Saab transmission with mechanical immobilizer when the ignition key is removed - here in the Saab 99

The locked gear idea was simple, effective and very Saab specific. It will not be possible to top it in the future either. The ignition key turns into a smartphone that allows temporary or permanent access to the car. If the network operator does not have a blackout, or if you ended up in a dead zone when parking. What would be possible in Germany in the country and thus in fact on every milk can.

Really good in the Saab 9000

The gearboxes at Saab reached their peak in the 9000. Then without a mechanical immobilizer, but robust and easy to shift. Yes, not as precise as it was possible in the glory days of Alfa Romeo or BMW. But the bony, precise gearshift in the 9000 is almost as good as it is today.

In the best Saab tradition, the gearboxes were oversized. GM and Opel appreciated that. They used fully stock gearboxes from Gothenburg in rally vehicles. Over the years, that changed with the oversize. Saab optimized, saved, but the Swedish 5-speed gearbox remained good until the end. It lost a little precision over time in the 9-5, but it has always been durable and reliable.

Saab was never enough for more than 5 gears. Not with the real Saab transmissions that came from Sweden. What GM later supplied with 9-speed gears for Saab 5-9 NG and 3-6 NG had built in lots of plastic on the way between the gear knob and the gearbox. This resulted in reduced precision, susceptibility to temperature changes and annoyance if you did not find an optimally adjusted part.

There was seldom real driving fun, in this case saying goodbye is not difficult. But otherwise, yes, it's a turning point. The illusion of being a sporty driver, of changing gear better than the computer, of having the last word on technology - future generations will no longer have it.

They drive in an optimized way and have even less idea than the generation before what the technology is doing as soon as they press the start button.

5 thoughts on "Quietly say goodbye - manual transmissions are disappearing"

  • @Volvaab Driver: Totally agree - there is no better way to sum it up. For me, too, “active” driving is the real pleasure - and the fully (or even partially) autonomous vehicle is a terrible idea. And what should you do with the “gained” time in the car? You are paddling around on the internet again, which you already do often enough.

  • One more reason for me to like old cars ...

    Being able to do better as a driver is technically obsolete. Whether or not to let the fun be taken away from you is more relevant than ever. And what does fun mean?

    For many years now, I have also wanted to avoid falling asleep at the wheel. It was already in my late twenties that comfortable and familiar cars sang lullabies on empty and familiar tracks in “good” conditions.

    I am really grateful for every tiny task (speed, distance, fading in and out, regulating windshield wipers and of course switching every now and then [preferably as often as possible]) - just so as not to crack away from boredom.

    For me, driving pleasure only begins when it also involves a certain challenge. Be it due to weather, road or traffic conditions or simply because the landscape to the right or left of the road is new to me and so worth seeing that it becomes a challenge to meet new impressions, traffic and route at the same time.

    If I didn't want or even need that, everything would boil down to being more of a passenger than a driver. The question inevitably arises, what do passengers really want?

    Is it a self-driving car in which you sit in a seat for 6 to 8 hours?

    Personally, I'd rather shovel coal from a tender into a steam locomotive for 6 to 8 hours. Or at least walk up and down a corridor or a railing.

    Reduced to my role as a passenger, I no longer need a car. I prefer to take the train, a steamer or whatever gives me more (freedom of movement) than a small cage that travels autonomously and thinks that it knows and can do everything better.

    For me this is a really terrifying scenario.

    And the regulars with a weakness for the counter must still be admitted that the superiority of the machines is a relatively recent phenomenon in the history of automobile construction. It wasn't that long ago that machines were running with one or even two less gears and that the engines uselessly whisked power in viscous clutches.
    The performance and consumption values ​​speak volumes.
    For once you can trust the (now historical) brochures.
    And if I've got that right, then there has never been a machine from Saab that would have been objectively and measurably superior to a Saab counter. Nevertheless, there may be good reasons for one or the other Saab machine. But they certainly don't have 8, 9 or even 10 gears on a gearbox with a fixed clutch ...

  • In everyday life, in modern cars, I wouldn't want to be without the automatic anymore - a manual transmission really doesn't make sense anymore. But if I drive a classic car, then with a gearshift, please. I treat myself to this fun. I recently even sold the Zuffenhausen machine and bought a Munich one with a manual transmission. My 901 is also a switch, but technically definitely not a delicacy, more like a bite-in-a-saucepan.

    Whereby the comparison of the earlier automatic transmissions with today's triple 16-speed-what-I-know-transmissions no longer works either. Or does someone still want to connect to the Internet on the dial telephone with the modem?

    Yesterday I was in stop-and-go traffic with the 33-year-old man from Munich with a manual transmission - after what felt like 2 minutes I already had calf cramps ... then I noticed what a wimp I had become and had to laugh at myself. The dachshund on the parcel shelf has (constantly) confirmed this.

  • Who among the experienced drivers (not to say older ones) does not know the discussion about the transmission ?! Sometimes very passionately managed. I made a conscious decision to use a switch for my season car. It's not very precise, but the gears are clear and he no longer knows any sporty driving. He doesn't need either.

  • Yes times are changing. It's kind of a shame when the manual shift turns into something exotic. But you can't stop that. I always liked that with Saab. Reverse gear in, key off, very special.

    Almost a cultic act because it was only available from Saab. Was part of the coolness factor of the trolls.


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