Shifting Gears

Odometer (Legend):  518,703


Odometer (ILX):  25,657


Some of us drivers will never be content to let an automatic transmission change our gears for us (see “Save the Manuals“).  In this blog post, I’m going to share five types of manual transmissions that strike me as unique in some way.  But first, some pictures of my 2013 Acura ILX taken this afternoon my commute home.

The building seen here is the Scottsdale campus of the Mayo Clinic; it’s one of five Mayo campuses in the greater Phoenix area.  I like the architecture at the front entrance to the facility which is near Shea Boulevard and 134th Street, so I pulled the ILX in there for a couple of shots.




Here’s the rundown of five fascinating gearboxes that I’ve recently learned about.

(1)  Saab Sensonic.  I learned this week in an article on Hooniverse that there is such a thing as a “clutch-pedal-less” manual transmission.  It seems similar to the type of drivetrain we had on our family’s Yamaha Kodiak 4-wheeler back in the 1990’s:  a manual gear-shift lever, but without the clutch.


From the Hooniverse write-up:

The Sensonic system is a clutch pedal-less manual. In the footwell are the pedals from an automatic Saab 900NG, but there’s a regular-looking shifter. There’s a micro switch in the gearshift that uses the clutch for you, so you just drive with your left foot on the footrest and shift normally as you go along. The system was originally deemed good enough for Saab to hastily introduce a retrofit pedal setup for Sensonic refugees to get back into regular shifting action, as the system often ground to a halt with warning lights a-popping and the shifter immovable.


How weird would it be to drive a manual as if it were an automatic?  I liked how the article talked about “ghost-clutching.”  More often than once in my life, I’ve slammed down on a brake pedal in an automatic car forgetting that it wasn’t a clutch.

(2)  BMW’s SMG Transmission.  This stands for “Sequential Manual Gearbox.”  My brother had a 2002 M3 with this setup (a $2,400 option).  The car was equipped with a clutch, but it was controlled by a computer.  The car could be driven in fully automatic mode, or in a mode wherein gear shifts would be activated either by paddle shifters on the steering wheel or input to the shift lever in the center console.  There was no clutch pedal.  I still have a tough time calling this a “manual.”


Following are some pictures that we took in my hometown of St. George, Utah in December 2009.  My two younger brothers have always loved their cars as much as I love mine, so the 3 of us lined up our rides for a photo-op:

  • Tyson’s 1994 Legend LS Coupe 6-speed:  407,000 Miles
  • Payton’s 2005 Subaru WRX STi 6-speed:  50,000 Miles
  • Bentley’s 2002 BMW M3 SMG 6-speed:  80,000 Miles




Both of my brothers have since moved into the diesel truck world and no longer have their sporty cars.  More info here on how the SMG transmission operates.

(3)  Mitsubishi “4×2 Super Shift” Transmission.  Here’s a car with EIGHT forward gears.  Back in the early 1980’s (and up until 1990), Mitsubishi offered a transmission that operated a bit like a bicycle’s on its Tredia and Cordia models.  The transmission had four gears, but also two secondary gears – Power and Economy.  Two gear shift levers — did this car require 3 hands to drive?


From the Wiki page:

In practice, it was very difficult to use all 8 forward speeds in sequence as every second change required movement of both gear levers at the same time – something which was almost impossible without using both hands. Many owners settled on using the transmission in low ‘Power’ mode the majority of the time, and only using the secondary selector to select high ‘Economy’ mode when in 4th gear, effectively creating a 5th gear from 4th ‘high’.


(3)  2014 Corvette 7-speed Transmission.  SEVEN gears; that’s right!  The C7 Corvette was unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show earlier this month, and in the perpetual quest for “more is better,” Chevy has followed suit with Porsche in now offering a seventh gear in its manual transmission-equipped cars.  This will mean great fuel economy from a 6.2 liter V8.


My friend Matt was at the Barrett-Jackson auction here in Scottsdale, Arizona this past Saturday night, January 19th 2013 when the first C7 (VIN 0001) was sold for $1,050,000 to Rick Hendrick.  Interesting to note that the below pictured car that rolled across the auction block is in fact NOT the vehicle that Rick will get.  This is a show car.  Rick’s will be custom built to his specifications at Chevy’s Bowling Green, Kentucky production facility later this year.


(4)  Three-on-the-tree.  I really want to try driving a vehicle with a steering column-mounted shifter sometime.  My grandpa’s old 1950 Buick Special had one of these.  Here are a few of the old pictures that we have of his car.



What a boat this thing must have been to drive!

  • Straight-8 engine (248 cubic inches):  110 horsepower
  • Transmission:  3-speed column shift; synchro-mesh in 2nd and 3rd
  • Weight:  3,655 pounds
  • Base price:  $1,856

I love the toothy grille and rare “Jetback” / fastback bodystyle.  Someday I will own and drive one of these classic Buicks.  The last picture here was taken during grandma and grandpa’s honeymoon.


(5)  Acura 6-speed Manuals.  I love how low the Legend revs on the freeway (fewer than 2,500 RPM at 80 mph).  The following is a chart from page 134 of the owner’s manual entitled “Maximum Speeds”.  Notice that the car is capable of 125 mph in fourth gear and still has two gears to spare!


The ILX 6-speed is one of the smoothest shifters I’ve ever driven.  My friend Sivaram, who drove a Legend 6-speed for 10 years, says the thing he misses the most about being in an Acura (he now drives Audi) is the smoothness of his shifter and the fact that he could change gears with just the effort of a pinky finger.  I love the ILX’s “hill start assist” feature that prevents the car from rolling back when it’s on a hill.  Though, it keeps me from being able to demonstrate my fancy footwork!


Memory Lane

I ran across some old pictures that I wanted to scan and share.  It was around 2002 when I first saw a high-mileage Acura that inspired me.  It was this 1987 Acura Integra LS with 5-speed manual.  My friend Israel located in Vista, California had this one:


It had 320,000 miles on the odometer and ran great.  I wonder if it’s still on the road, 10 years later?


Anyone In The Market?

My last couple of blog entries have featured ads for Legends for sale from various parts of the country.  Here’s a needle-in-a-haystack kind of find:  Very nice Legend LS coupe 6-speed with only 42,000 miles (that’s only 2,200 per year!).  It’s finished in Milano Red with the Ivory (Type F) interior.  Somebody in the Minneapolis area needs to pick this beauty up.




Today we’re getting some much-needed rain in Scottsdale, Arizona, but the ILX was sure footed and capable.  Pulling out of a Burger King drive-thru in the ILX at lunch, I read this sign as “Thank Come You Again.”


In other parts of the country, winter weather is taking its toll on cars.  A friend shared with me this photo page which captures some of the devastation caused by today’s icy rain in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Anybody notice the 2nd generation Legend in the picture?


And another.  This looks to have been a pretty nice 1990 Legend L coupe before the accident.


Stay safe out there!

This weekend, I’ll be time-traveling to an historic 1880’s mining town in southeastern Arizona called Bisbee.  Tune in for the write-up in a few days!

24 Responses to “Shifting Gears”

  1. Kevin Amoth Says:

    I’ll be moving to Minnesota sometime in March. I’ll run down the Legend when I get up there!

    • Kevin, are you sure you’re ready to get back to the cold? I know Milano Red isn’t your favorite color, but that coupe looks like it’s one that’s worth looking into. Best of luck as you prepare for your transition to MN!

  2. I had an 87 integra 5spd in red. I loved driving that car with its double overhead cams. Lots of fun. That Milano 6spd legend sure is a rare one

  3. I sure hope that ’90 coupe was not a manual. At least the clear taillights may have survived.

    My brother used to own a 1960 Chevrolet Biscayne with a 3 speed manual transmission and a inline 6 cylinder engine. I only drove it a couple times, but it was very easy to get the hang of.

    A gf of mine used to own a red 1987 Acura Integra coupe with 160k. That was back in 1998. It was a fun little car, just kept ticking along. I think I miss the car more than the gf!

    Nice write up, that Saab is nutty.

    • Ryan, based on some of the other pics I saw on KSL’s photo page, the 1990 taillights on that coupe survived unscathed. I saw a few videos taken at the U of U campus with people sliding all over the place. I bet that Biscayne with the 3 speed was fun to drive. Need to find someone who’s willing to let me try something like that out. Hope your Audi has thawed out by now.

  4. Tyler Stoker Says:

    That article about the Saab was pretty amusing! And I’d still love to try one of those Mitsubishis someday.

    • That new ‘vette is looking GOOOOOD!

      • Yeah, it’s sweet Dave! I watched a video yesterday on YouTube from the channel “Jay Leno’s Garage.” Apparently, Jay was the first Non-GM person allowed to drive the C7. The gauge cluster is pretty cool – it’s all electronic, so you can switch the position of the tach vs. the speedometer if you like. Tons of new features and functionality. Let’s get one! Haha.

    • Me too! We can casually be on the lookout for a Mitsubishi Cordia at the same time as we’re on the prowl for a 1979 Prelude.

  5. Just realized I still have the factory service manual for the 87 integra 🙂

    • Marc, keep that thing for your collector car literature library! I think I have the two-volume set for the 1994 Legend sitting around here somewhere. Haven’t ever even cracked it open!

  6. Adam Stewart Says:

    This was definitely a relevant post for me, as my 6-speed ’95 540i just had its clutch replaced. 203,513 on the odometer and already on its third clutch. Over 500K on your coupe’s original clutch is a -very- impressive feat!

    I’ve always loved the shifter feel on the Hondas and Acuras I’ve driven. They’re quite precise and easy to shift. Actually, even with fresh shifter bushings on my 5-series I’d have to say my old Legend coupe wins out slightly on shift feel.

    • Adam, I didn’t realize you were in a 6MT 5-series now; for some reason I was thinking you had a 7-series! You’ve done well to get 203k out of your 540 – I’ve always loved that bodystyle, and the E39 that followed it. I’m planning to drive to Colorado in July. Mind if we meet up again? Maybe somewhere cooler than a Burger Kind this time? 🙂

      • Adam Stewart Says:

        I had a 1999 740iL for a little while; unfortunately the auto transmission started flaking out on me(at 253K, so the car had a long life) so I sold it and managed to find my E34 at the perfect time. The 6-speed 540s were pretty rare; only 3,202 were made and about half of them were imported here.

        Unfortunately, I’m not sure I’ll still be here in Colorado this summer. I’m likely moving to Shreveport, LA or Jacksonville, FL for a change in schooling and to be closer to family. If I’m still here, I’ll absolutely be happy to see the KA8 or ILX again. 😀

  7. That picture of the 1987 Acura Integra brings back a lot of memories. I used to have a 1987 Acura Integra RS with four doors. I LOVED that car! It was my first Acura. The car never broke down. All I needed was to put gas and change the oil. It took me everywhere I wanted to go with minimal upkeep.

    I will share one story about the car. In 1999 or 2000, Miami experienced very bad flooding. It rained for several days without letting up. My Integra had been parked at the time outside where I lived. The water came up past the wheel wells. All the floors of the interior were flooded including the lower part of the seats. The car’s ECU computer was located underneath the front passenger seat. It was completely submerged.

    After the floodwaters receded, I tried to start the car numerous times. No chance. I thought I would need a new car or at the very least a new ECU computer. ECU computers were and are very expensive. More than $500 dollars at least.

    I had the car towed to my mechanic. Lucky for me this mecanic was a Honda and Acura specialist. He took off the ECU. Let it dry for a day or two. Used a blow dryer to dry it further. Oiled several contact points. Then he installed it back in the car. INDREDIBLY the car started again!!!!! And just as incredibly, he only wanted to charge me $20!!! SAY WHAT???!!!!

    Because of that incredible experience, I am an Acura fan for life. It will be very very difficult for me to purchase or lease any other car when my current Acura TSX has to be retired. You may have faster cars. More powerful cars. Fancier cars. But no way are there more reliable, dependable, and durable cars than Acuras. Long live Acura.

    • Carlos, I love how these classic Acuras can bring back so many memories for people. That is a pretty miraculous story about your 1987 Integra RS starting back up after having endured that type of flood. Do you happen to have any old pictures of that car? The first vehicle that made me an Acura fan was a red 1990 Integra GS sedan automatic that my mom owned in 1996.

  8. Anthony Caiati Says:

    Tyson, the second I saw that 50 Buick, I knew it was you! When you said my Grandpa’s Buick I knew it for sure! The last I remember talking to you. You were going on a mission of some sort if I remember correctly. It is I Anthony Caiati, I had the 1948 Buick Roadmaster 2Dr Sedanette. I just recently sold the Buick. Not sure if you remember me, I never forgot you! Hope to hear from you soon.

    • Anthony, wow, yes I’m still around and your name rang an immediate bell when I saw the comment notification. Good memory you have. Yes, from ages 19-21 I was on a mission in southern California. I’ve since gone through a dozen or so cars and I’m now 32, but I still haven’t picked up a 1950 Buick. Too bad you let your ’48 go! Remind me where you’re located.

  9. Anthony J Caiati Says:

    Tyson. I live in South Central PA. I didn’t use the old Buick enough, I held on to in memory of my Dad. If you go to BING and type in my Dads Green Hornet 42 Buick Roadmaster. There will be a photo of my 48, and below it. A photo of the actual Green Hornet, that Roadmaster had a 50 engine in it, I never mentioned that. So did my Roadmaster have a 50 engine in it as well. In 1950 Buick went from 6.5 compression ratio to a 7.2 compression ratio. The HP difference was only like 7 to 10 HP But the torque was very noticeable. Let me know when you get a chance to read my story about The Green Hornet. I can be reached at Hope to talk to you soon,


  10. Anthony J Caiati Says:

    Looking forward to hearing from you, I also am glad to reconnected. Next time your in PA, please give me a shout. I gave you my private email. Send me a reply, and I’ll give you a contact #. Talk to you soon,


  11. Mike Chirlston Says:

    I also had a BMW with that setup. Best of both worlds. Never knew so many variations existed. Thanks.

    • Sure, you bet! Transmission technology sure evolves as a rapid pace. This article is now a couple of years old. This morning I saw a post on social media by a friend who is writing a review on the new Lexus LC500. It has a 10 speed (automatic, of course) transmission. The car revs at only 1,500 RPM in 10th gear at 75 miles per hour!

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