We’ve already been told that the new mid-engine Corvette will be available only with an automatic transmission. We know, however, that practically every knotty problem in the 21st century can be solved with clever use of digital electronics. Since the new C8’s fuel delivery, valve opening, stability control, differential, automatic transmission, and 1001 other gizmos are all regulated by well-orchestrated zeroes and ones, then why, we ask, can’t electronics be tasked with providing a credible facsimile of the classic clutch pedal and stick shifter?
They can. And here’s how.
Step one: Adjust the brake pedal’s width and position to clear space in the admittedly tight driver’s footwell.
Step two: Hang a clutch pedal under the dash and keep the essential dead pedal on the floor.
Unlike a normal clutch pedal, this one would have a purely electronic connection to the Corvette’s dual-clutch transaxle. It would be programmed to feel exactly like a conventional clutch with a modest amount of friction, familiar levels of resistance (effort), and a mild quiver when the clutch at the end of the wire connection begins to engage.
Step three: Strip the shift paddles from the steering wheel and rid the console of all push-button transmission controls. In their place, install a compact shifter box—its lever topped with a palm-sized ball moving through a classic H-pattern.
This new smart shifter would have minimal friction so the ball detents built inside its support structure would accurately mimic the feel of synchronizers shuttling to and fro inside a conventional manual transmission. For extra credit, copy the polished aluminum shifter gate plate from the classic Italian sports car of your choice. Reverse would be located on a dog leg off the H-pattern. To maintain the new Corvette’s eight forward speeds, the forward gear pattern would be a triple-H.
Like the clutch pedal, this shifter would have absolutely no mechanical connection to the transaxle. Instead, sensors inside its support box would identify exactly how rapidly and into which gear position the driver was moving the shifter at any given instant. After analyzing signals from the throttle, the electronic clutch pedal, and the electronic shifter, the powertrain control computer would command appropriate responses from the engine and transaxle.
Calibrators: Start your (analytical) engines!
Compared to the effort invested in refining the C8 Corvette’s drivability and performance, programming the new “manual-shift” controls would be adult’s play. Like the outrageous value fundamental to this car’s character, offering a choice between a stick and an automatic would present another means of trumping European rivals who have retired clutch pedals. The biggest challenge would be finding a way to convince Corvette customers to pay a few thousand dollars extra to satisfy their stick-shift cravings.
The unofficial response
Is it as easy as it sounds? Here’s the response from a GM Corvette engineering authority, who requested anonymity:
“Since we have several team members passionate about manual-transmission Corvettes, we took a hard look at just such a system for C8. Replicating the actual feel of both the clutch and the shifter with all the variables involved is very difficult. The hardware would be heavy, expensive, and probably not convincing. DCA clutches benefit from engagements that are exclusively computer-controlled. The good and bad things about a manual transmission are the driver’s ability to abuse the clutch either intentionally or inadvertently. The things we’d do to overrule this abuse would detract from the driver’s perception of controlling the action.
“Think about simulating the feel of a synchro spinning up at the shift knob. We could fake that as a function of shift speed and transmission lubricant temperature, but should we simulate gears grinding when you force through a shift too quickly? The list of engineering challenges would take a long time to discuss. And do you believe that a media community revolted by ‘fake’ engine noise would embrace a simulated manual transmission experience?”
In 2007, the notion of creating a credible facsimile of the classic clutch pedal and stick shifter was provided in a letter (from me) to GM’s vice president of product development Bob Lutz (along with a plea to produce the Cadillac Cien concept car as the future mid-engine Corvette’s sister ship). There was no reply.