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Nobody Drives Like This!

JAG Engineering LLC


This is a follow-up to the article Anticipating Abuse and Misuse of Equipment and Balanced Designs. Here is where the design engineers thought they had a balanced design.


This story took place in Germany and told to me by a very senior engineering manager in the USA. The events may date back to the 1960’s or early 1970’s but the lesson is timeless. The warranty repairs for cars made in Germany by the American subsidy in Germany and driven in Germany were having unusually high manual transmission failures in particular regions of the country.


A US warranty manager and the German engineering manager met in Germany. Somehow, each of them decided to demonstrate driving ability and technique.  How much was added to this story is lost in time but it makes for a great story.


The German manager gets into the car and puts on his driving gloves. Pulls them tight and snaps the cuffs closed. He then accelerates at maximum rate without spinning the wheels demonstrating his mastery of clutch and throttle control. He shifts beautifully through all the gears maintaining RPM and never a grind or a missed shift bringing the car to the track’s maximum speed.


The US manager gets into the car and asked the German to ride with him. The US manager needs “no stinking driving gloves.” He starts the engine, depresses the clutch and stomps on the throttle. With the car standing still and the engine screaming he side steps the clutch burning rubber for a great distance before the tires fully grip the road.


The German manager yells over the scream on the engine screeching tires “No vun thrives like dis” (excuse my poor German accent). To that, the US manger replied they sure do in the USA!


This was in the days of muscle cars* and stop light racing in the USA. There were few places in the USA with roads having Autobahn speed limits. The cars made in the USA for the USA had very strong lower gears and lighter top end gears because of brutal starts and lower highway speeds. In Germany, the drivers got their kicks at high speeds 60-100+ MPH while folks in the USA did it 0-60 MPH. So the US and German cars were balanced for their markets - but it is a small world after all.


To avoid giving away the ending, I delayed fully explaining what made the high failure rate doubly unique. The high failures clustered around US military bases. The US soldiers (who may have had a muscle car back home) would rent the locally made vehicles while on leave and drive them as they drove their muscle cars. The lower gears on the German transmissions were not designed for such extreme impact and were lighter than what the US engineers would have designed for the US driver. Similar but reversed thinking for the upper gears.  






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Interesting blog JAG, and in fact, I am a victim of such an engineering paradigm, I should say :) I drive one such V8  devil (Jaguar Vanden Plas), where there is a 'sport switch' in US models – shown in the picture below, one of two buttons in front of the shifter, named 'S'. This switch actually selects a specific shift-plan from a list of 5 available plans that is programmed into its ECM - I think its plan #2, which deliberately introduces certain things, such as, delaying the shift-points in the lower gears, bringing in the 1st gear (which is normally not available), removing the 6th, and so on... I can tell you for sure, that these changes give a dramatic driving experience; analogy being from sipping smooth Pinot Noir (when the 'S' button is not pushed), to adventuring the blazing buffalo wild wings (when pushed)... LOL. While it feels natural to be on the sport mode at US roads, my first few experiences when I bought this car were not so pleasant, with that switch not pushed - because the vehicle’s roar did not match my intent or expectations; for example when I am passing on a crowded traffic, I always end up overshooting my target location! Months of rash driving (and a couple of speeding tickets :( ) finally taught me how to switch my mind too in-sync with the Sport Switch. 


BTW, the shift strategy is part of the German transmission ZF-6HP26/5HP24, so thanks to their well-wishing to accommodate best of both worlds through a single switch! LOL 

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Ah, Noble Edward, how my heart bleeds for you! To have to suffer with a Jaguar, to be a victim of Jaguar design! All my life I have looked with envy on those cars, but I have never thought I could afford such. Now I see that I was just being protected from this terrible flaw in the transmission design (\sarcoff\).


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LOL, that was a good one DrD.

p.s. Glad to know that you too are a 'Big Cat' fan; I will post some pictures of her soon for your viewing pleasure. If you happen to pass by Long Island anytime, just ping me and you can have this beast as long as you want. ;)

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Noble, that is a fascinating set of driving options. While Ford owned Jag I gave myself mental permission to own one. But I am not one who buys a lot of cars. My 1996 Lincoln has 203,000 miles and going strong. Most of the bells and whistles that came in that car are now available in much less expensive cars. Jag's are beautiful cars. I recall many years ago being up high on a porch and a Jag came down the road and made a 90 degree turn into a driveway a few houses down. Most American cars back then ~1975 (and perhaps still) would of had to swing wide on this narrow street to make a turn like that. Forty years later that image remains with me. The front wheel looked like they turned 90 degrees.

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Many, many years ago, back when I was college age, my next door neighbor called one day to ask if I would take him for a ride in a car he was considering buying. It was an Austin Healy 3000. He was a wealthy man, an orthopedic surgeon, but he was reluctant to push the car, much as he wanted to see what it would do. He figured if he called the young fellow next door, he'd get a real ride. He was right. We had a wild ride, miraculously there were no cops around, and we went flying through some really great turns at high speed. Sady, I don't think he bought the car because I never saw it again.


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Jaguar made some fantastic cars in the post-war period, including the Vanden Plas, but for me the best of all has to be the XK-E type Jaguar. The design by Malcolm Sayer was so far ahead of its time and even today it looks like its doing 100mph when its standing still. Even Enzo Ferrari said it was the most beautiful car he had ever seen. A truly beautiful car. When I was at school I mis-used my time by sketching my dream car over and over and before long I could recall every line and feature by memory. I would buy plastic models of the E type and imagine that one day I would own my own example. My school friend's father happened to have bought the very first E type in my home town, a 1963 3.8 flat floor drophead in Carmen Red, similar to the one in the image. I would help him wash it every so often just to experience the sheer pleasure of touching and being near to it. All too frequently I would ride my bicycle after school to the local Jaguar showrooms, Imperial Motors, and peer in through the huge glass window at all the beautiful cars, but it was the E type that always took my breath away when I saw it, just as it still does today.  


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