I once got the chance to drive a Cord 810 cabriolet. You might expect such a car to drive like a hot iron on an ice rink – smooth and stately silent, but it was anything but. The mechanical aspects of the car , both noise and fee, l were amazingly palpable. The controls – chrome cranks at each end of the dash for raising and lowering the hidden headlamps and various unfamiliar knobs and levers made the whole experience daunting. But the most odd aspect of the car was the Bendix “Electric Hand” preselector transmission control.
Preselector transmissions were surprisingly common before the advent of fully automatic gearboxes, and the Cord’s was typical. To the right of the steering column juts a stubby column topped with a polished cylinder. In that resides a six slot shift gate, almost like that of the console-mounted units Ferrari favored before electro-auto boxes stole their souls. That device is the preselector, a lever that may be flipped from one slot to another indicating the choice of the four forward speeds or reverse. The idea is like this, you select first and release the clutch to move away, and then while in motion you move the lever to the second slot and then, when you’re ready to shift, stab the clutch pedal actuating a series of electro-hydraulic gnomes or something up in the front and the gear change would be made. As the Cord had a zero to sixty time of over 20 seconds, I didn’t feel at risk of spinning it into a ditch due to my naiveté, but still my recollection of the experience is of a great nerves-induced puckerdom below.
That’s one odd-ball transmission mechanism, but there are plenty more. Three on the tree? Push buttons? Sequential gear selection? All out of the ordinary. Which of these have you experienced that most left its mark?