Most of us, even if we drive in the two pedal world, are reasonably familiar with how DIY gears are selected. The gear lever moves in all or more than all of a H pattern, so first lives on the top left, you move straight back down the left side of the H for second and so on until you run out of gears. Simple (unless you drive a truck or a tractor when you may get to repeat the process having arrived at what might have seemed like top).

However, it was not always thus. Things could be different and were. You could for example have had a column gearchange so you reached in behind the wheel like so:

Illustration for article titled On gears and their selection
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Want four gears behind the wheel? The odd position of first out on its own doesn’t suit so you’d want to have a conventional H. Seems straightforward then, except that it might not be.

Let’s explore the Trabant, for many years the only thing on four wheels that the proletariat in several of the glorious socialist republics on the grim side of the Iron Curtain could buy. The Trabi had a four speed with column change so let’s see how that went.

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Illustration for article titled On gears and their selection

So, back to front then.

If you were a cut above the proletariat or drove a State vehicle you might have or get to drive a Wartburg. Like the Trabi, a two stroke with a column gearchange and four speeds so it went just like its utilitarian brother, ja? Nein.

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Illustration for article titled On gears and their selection

First and second were swapped with respect to the Trabi as were third and fourth. This must have made for some interesting moments.

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There were other oddities, many of them French and by Citroen.

Take the Traction Avant (front wheel drive) which I associate with Maigret. Back in the 1930s it had monococque construction, the fwd aforesaid, hydraulic brakes and independent front suspension. Not unique individually but certainly so in combination.

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Illustration for article titled On gears and their selection

The gearbox lived in front of the engine and the company found it simpler in terms of the linkage to fit the gearlever to the dash. That’s it poking out of a hole on the left. A for Automatic? Mais non. A pour Automatique, then? Non. A pour Arriere or reverse. Note where I, II and III are though. Yes, you begin where you would expect to find fourth and proceed to where first would otherwise be expected to be found. When you came to a stop you did the opposite, at which point you discovered that M Citroen’s ideas as to what to fit as standard did not include synchro on first. In an unusual feature, it was found that the horizontal lever tended to drop towards third under the influence of gravity so an interlock was fitted which prevented it moving unless the clutch was being pressed.

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Illustration for article titled On gears and their selection

Even eighty odd years ago three gears were seen as rather lacking so you could, with the careful application of money, have your TA fitted with a four speed from one of several makers including in this case Ouriez. Note that you’re going around in a kind of semi circle to arrive at the new fourth. Of the switches, S is for starter which is not the French for starter (it’s the choke) while D is for démarreur which is the French for starter.

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Illustration for article titled On gears and their selection

Should you find yourself the keeper of a TA today you still have options for more gears, although not by Ouriez - you can fit four or even five speeds from the DS.

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Want more? Here we go. 2CV.

Illustration for article titled On gears and their selection
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The lever still grows from the dash, but the pattern is eccentric. To engage fourth (S for surmultipliée or overdrive) you kind of go round the corner to get to it.

Illustration for article titled On gears and their selection

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