John’s musings about his old cars, and Sean and Nicci’s post about double-declutching, reminded me of something my father taught me many years ago which few people probably know: that you can change gears without using the clutch, as long as you get the engine speeds right. You shift into neutral, rev the engine (or let it slow down) to the right point for your speed, and then shift into the next gear. It takes some practice, but if you know the car well enough, it is perfectly possible.

Since I’ve been married I’ve been driving automatics (which, I remember being horrified to first discover, you can’t even bump-start!) But growing up with a sequence of elderly second-hand cars, techniques like these were often of real practical use. I remember driving one of my first cars several miles back home after the clutch cable had broken.

There is a real problem, though, with this technique. Because it’s dependent on matching engine speed to road speed, the one thing you can’t do is to stop, or you’ll never get out of neutral again. Fortunately, I realised what had happened to the cable while I was still moving, and so could plan a route home that involved very few traffic lights and where the majority of other places I might have to stop were on downhill slopes…

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Did you ever see my old Dolomite? The clutch went on that while I was at a show up north (Birmingham?) and I had to drive for a week without (including a visit to Heathrow for the Babylon 5 Wrap Party, if memory serves).

Why yes, changing gears without a functional clutch is quite exciting enough, thank you, I’ll need to have a fresh cup of tea and a nice sit down, just thinking about it 😉

Having perfected the technique of changing gear in several clutchless old bangers I had to learn how to stop. You restart the car in gear which only adds to the excitement of the jouirney.

Ah yes – I remember doing that on other occasions! Sometimes required a better starter motor or battery than I had available, though 🙂

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