Being rather idle by nature I have generally preferred automatic cars to the manual variety. In years gone by the usual automatic gearbox was a three speed ‘slushmatic’ in which gear changes were slurred and sometimes quite slow. In general an auto was only any good with a big and powerful engine, smaller cars were usually manual. Kick-down, for overtaking manoeuvres, was done by pushing the throttle to the floor, this pulled a Bowden cable connected to the gearbox that then dropped a gear.
As technology and cars improved manual gearboxes moved from 4 speed to 5, although an early Ford Prefect I used had only 3 speeds. Automatics stayed the same generally until the advent of electronic control systems and it was possible to use more gears. Autos moved to 4 speed, then 6, 7 and some now have 8 or 9 speeds. The manual, by contrast, has 5 or 6. I am sure they could have more, but it would involve much unnecessary gear changing.
The next development was to allow ‘manual’ changes with the auto control, generally holding the ‘box in a lower gear for better response in traffic, and this progressed to using the lever to change up and down and similar to a manual but without a clutch. Then in a nod to F1 the controls were put on the steering wheel and the ‘flappy paddle’ was born.
What a waste of time! In my case when I get a new automatic car I try the flappy paddles once and then never again, what is the point? Either you want to drive a manual car or an automatic.
My last auto, the Mercedes C350, had seven speeds and being a 3.5 litre petrol had plenty of go. I loved that car and we did over 50,000 miles together in around 18 months. It did let me down in the gearbox though. It developed a niggling fault in that it would not change gear and the only way to ‘cure’ it was to stop and restart the engine, this reset the electronic control box and all was well for a while. However it became more frequent and a call to the garage informed me that the fix was a new control unit. As this unit was inside the ‘box it was a £750 fix! I thought that was a little excessive and assumed that I could go on just restarting the car at intervals…..
One day, returning from Doncaster, it failed altogether and was stuck in 1st gear, no amount of cajoling would make it change, and so I started the long journey home. I avoided the A1 route and used fairly minor side roads but still I was slower than a fully laden tractor; there was a huge queue of traffic behind me, and those cars that overtook would stare at me as though I was some geriatric buffoon who shouldn’t be on the road. I had fair share of rude gestures and open hostility particularly as I just ambled along with a stupid grin on my face. Three hours, 40 miles and a tankful of petrol later I got home and booked the car in for repair.