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Which Transmission for Racing?

Aug 19, 2008
Should you choose a manual transmission or automatic? This is the dispute that muscle car owners have been having with each other since the dawn of time, or at least, since the dawn of the Sixties. Whether you prefer to squash rocks with a Muncie 4-speed or let your Hydromatic handle the shifting duties for you, lets take a look at some of the good things and bad things of each type of transmission from a performance perspective.

The manual transmission is of course the conventional method of changing gears, dating back to the original automobiles of yesteryear. The greatest disagreement for the continued use of manual transmissions, despite all of our years of technological advancement, is that the human brain is much better at calculating when to shift than a computer. The logic behind this is that a computer-controlled transmission cannot see up ahead to know what corners or hills are coming, therefore putting it at a disadvantage on the race track when it comes to selecting the proper gear.

There is a lot of truth to this, and it is the primary reason why there are no serious race cars with fully automatic transmissions. However, manuals also have more moving parts than an automatic, and items like the clutch can stop working if not used properly or if it is exposed to too much power all at once.

The majority of muscle cars are equipped with automatic transmissions. This is because many prefer to just sit back and drive instead of having to make decisions about what gear they should be in. From a performance perspective, automatic transmissions have speed on their side they can shift much, much faster than even a professional driver using a manual.

This instant shifting makes them ideal for drag racing, as they can slam the car from gear to gear while going down the track at lightning speeds, picking up valuable fractions of a second over someone having to coordinate their clutch and stick shift. The knock against automatics is that, well, they are boring. That and the fact that they are quite sensitive to heat, which can wear them out internally and lead to an expensive repair.

So which is it? Manuals or automatics? It all really comes down to personal preference, as well as the situations you are going to be placing your car in. If you will be competing in events which take place on road course, or if you love blasting down twisty mountain passes, then a manual is definitely going to provide you with more fun and greater control.

If your passion is drag racing, or if your car frequently finds itself in bumper to bumper traffic, then you might want to consider keeping things automatic to save yourself the issues associated with the wear and hassle of clutching in stop and go. If you are looking for a compromise, then some of the semi-automatic transmissions available today can be retrofitted to pretty much any muscle car, giving you the ability to shift when you want to shift, or let the computer take over when you enter heavier traffic.
About the Author
Justina Mathews writes issues that currently affect the performance car enthusiast. She also writes about issues that affect the street tuner industry, as well as import scene lifestyle. She's a staff writer for performance transmissions .
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