Shift, Shift, hooray! A love letter to the paddle shifter

There is no leap year this year. Doesn't matter, because every day we're making a leap forward in our (sports) cars. 28 February is no exception. And although the purists are already wincing: yes, it is, too, when you control the gears with paddle shifters. A love letter to the paddle shifters.
Text Matthias Mederer
Photo Ralph Koch

Dear paddle shifter,

how you made me grin again lately. It was on a simple country road, somewhere in southern Baden-Württemberg, where the curves are still juicy and the road world is still ok. We were going up the curves quite fast with an old Turbo S from Porsche. Me at the wheel and you right behind it. With index and ring finger I let you change gears and take over. Once, twice, three times … Up and down the car and I romp through the gears, while it splashes, bangs, rattle, roars, and screams. Up and down.\

Over and over again. Bam … bam … bam …

With me as general and you as a staff officer, the transmission reloaded the gears, as clean and precise as a sniper, while I yodeled the neologisms "Zackenbatz!" and "Batz'n Zacken!" at the wheel like an intoxicated poet. Depending on whether we chased the four-wheeler straight out of a curve or pressed it into a curve on the brakes while my fingers bounced on you.

And never have you got along better with a transmission or an automatic than with the dual-clutch transmission of the Turbo S. Gear shift pauses? At most, the driver takes them.

And as I write these lines, I have to think back to 1989. Rio de Janeiro. The start of the Formula 1 season. I heard about you for the first time. You, Mansell, and that Ferrari. Together, you were so hard on the competition that the only thing that would have been more embarrassing for your rivals would have been a wet spot in the crotch of their racing suits. You were almost a second and a half faster thanks to your much shorter shifting times. Per lap.

But I wasn't only allowed to smile about that, but also about Mansell, who couldn't get out of his car after the race because his idle left clutch foot had fallen asleep. It was wonderful how the then race director Cesare Fioro massaged his thigh for minutes so that Mansell could limp to the victory ceremony. There they also had to hand him the trophy. Bending down was no longer possible.

And yet: There are indeed traditionalists who do not like you. They prefer the gear stick. Alternatively also called gear knob, shift lever, foot gearshift, gear stick, gear lever, gear selector lever or gear selector switch. None of these names sounds really fast, sporty, or at least sexy, which is why I don't like the gear selector lever or the traditionalists. After all, it was once a traditionalist who was convinced that the automobile was only a temporary phenomenon. "I believe in the horse," he said. What a donkey!

But before I get too agitated about the conservatives and the old-timers at this point, all those who first take their foot off the gas, then sluggishly push the clutch with their left foot, taking their hand off the steering wheel, feeling for a lever in the center console and stirring it through the gears like a wooden spoon in a cake bowl, hopefully, to find the right gear, I would rather end with our oh so familiar greeting and look forward to our next crisp meeting.

In this sense: Shift, shift, hooray! Dear paddle shifter


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