The Dogleg Shifter

By Chris Nelson | Illustrations By Gertrude Twizzl

If you’re a fan of automotive racing, you’ve likely heard of a “dogleg” manual transmission. If you’re not a fan of automotive racing, here’s the gist: When you’re racing a car on a road course, you typically don’t have to shift into first gear unless you’re rolling out of the paddock or spinning your tires off of the starting line, and during a race, one of the worst things you can do is accidentally shift into first gear; if you do, chances are that the gearbox will implode and cripple your car.

In order to avoid catastrophic failure, automakers came up with the “dogleg” transmission, which has an atypical shift pattern where first gear is not part of the “H-pattern” of gears; compared to a traditional manual transmission, first gear is down and to the left, offset on its own, and second gear is placed where you would normally find first gear in a standard gearbox, third replaces second, and so on. With second gear in line with third gear, and fourth gear in line with fifth gear, it allows for quicker, safer shifts.

So, why the “dogleg” name? Take a look at your dog’s hind legs — do you see the sharp, jarring angles? Well, it sort of looks like the transmission’s dramatic shift pattern, and that’s where the name came from. Some of the most iconic, high-performance sports cars in history have used a “dogleg” — from the E30-generation BMW M3 and Lancia Stratos to the Ferrari Testarossa and Ford GT40 — but as sequential and dual-clutch gearboxes evolved to become quicker and more popular, the “dogleg” disappeared. One of the last “doglegs” sold in the U.S. was the five-speed 2001 Lamborghini Diablo, until 2016, when Aston Martin released an optional 7-speed “dogleg” manual transmission for its V12 Vantage S.

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