Flashback Friday with D. Randy Riggs: Doppelkupplungsgetriebe

From the July/Aug 2012 issue of Vintage Motorsport.

Try as I might, I can’t pronounce doppelkupplungsgetriebe Can you? I even had a Porsche representative repeat it slowly three times, to no avail. It’s German for “double clutch transmission,” Porsche’s amazing PDK gearbox that I had an opportunity to sample recently at the ever- lovely Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama.

Photo: D. Randy Riggs

The occasion was the introduction of the new Porsche Boxster S (known internally as the 981) and the cars I drove were fitted with the optional 7-speed Doppelkupplung that adds $3200 to the Monroney sticker and 66 lb. in weight over the standard 6-speed manual. Add in the Sport Chrono Package PCM option for another $2300.

Since I am in full disclosure mode, here goes: I am a manual gearbox purist; I own a 997 Porsche Carrera Coupe with a 6-speed manual transmission; Porsche paid for my trip to Birmingham. That said, none of it influences what I have to say further.

Porsche sends its hero drivers to such media events—in this instance David Murray, Hurley Haywood and David Donohue—and they demonstrated the new 981 at the limit around Barber’s 2.38-mile, 17-turn circuit and then ride shotgun with journalists like me.

As far as manual gearboxes go, I’m a child of the ’50s who watched adult drivers shift gears—working the clutch pedal, gas and shift lever in unison—so when I tried it the first time I did it perfectly. No stalls or graunched gear changes. In high school I made my driver’s ed teacher apoplectic when I power- shifted the ’63 Chevy we were driving from 2nd to 3rd gear on the column shifter— savoring the wantonness the moment created.

Back then a driver’s license and shifting prowess were a rite of passage for teenage males. How many teen drivers today can operate a manual transmission? I took my heel and toeing very seriously in my first car, an MG TF and 49 years later still do. And why the only automatics I’ve owned have been a couple of trucks, simply because the manual trannys offered were terrible. In the many vintage cars I’ve raced over the years my shifting acumen has always been a plus in managing recalcitrant transmissions.

Smack my hand but being judgmental, in recent years I’ve always thought less of Porsche owners who opted for Tiptronics, looking upon them as non-authentic sports car enthusiasts—poseurs if you will. But then again, I’m not driving around in a sports car with side curtains, am I? And I don’t commute in rush-hour traffic, which might be why someone opted for the Tip.

However, PDKs are in another league from the old Tiptronics, as proven to me and by me at Barber and thus a conundrum. Were I to order a new Porsche for myself, would I stick with (no pun intended) the 6-speed manual or opt for the PDK?

Multiple champion Hurley Haywood is in the right seat and I ask him, “should I use the paddles or floor shifter to shift?” He tells me just to leave in in “Drive” and engages the

“Sport” button for the shortest possible shift times and optimum shift points, while torque boosts during gear changes provide the maximum acceleration available.

Off we go and after a warm-up lap I am hard on the throttle and the new Boxster is already revealing its greatness.

This car’s limits are out there, but oh, mother, the PDK is banging upshifts like Ronnie Sox in his prime. As I stay flat to the “1” marker and then get hard on the brakes for turn-in, PDK blips the throttle and downshifts through the gears quicker and smoother than I could ever do it—providing the perfect gear for accelerating out of the corner.

When I go out with David Donohue he does the same thing—leaves it in “Drive,” holds a walkie-talkie in his left hand while steering with his right and puts the hammer down, the Boxster hung out on the edge under complete control while Donohue gives me pointers about the fast way around Barber. PDK does the rest flawlessly, making me a true believer. And then when it’s time to head for the highway and traffic, turn off the “Sport” mode and cruise. Clutch pedal be damned.

Not a word to my buddies—okay?