What is a 'gated manual'?
As supercars have transitioned to paddle shifters with lightening speed we remember the gated manual.
The gated manual is called so because each gear slots into a milled gate, the chances of a mass-market new car ever being made with a gated manual are low, in fact, they have almost always been found in exotic cars. Although as interest in older mechanical vehicles increases due to the current focus on electric cars the interest in gated manuals is increasing. If this continues sports car manufacturers of low production numbers that aim for the enthusiast that doesn't own a castle, or a private jet, may consider bringing the gated manual to a wider audience.
Originally the gates were made because gearboxes in high-performance vehicles had very little tolerance and in the hands of owners that couldn't finesse each gear home the chances of damage to the cogs beneath were high. A solution was created similar to how a parent would guide a child to ride a bike, making it so the driver can't foul up a gear change. Those training wheels you had as a kid stopped you from falling over, a gated manual stopped you from destroying your gearbox. How? Putting a metal shield above the gearbox only allows for the lever to be moved to a finite number of places, all of which were tolerable to the mechanism below. It becomes impossible to haphazardly put the selector in a place that it doesn't want to go.
The birth of the gated manual found an appreciative audience among supercar buyers. This was mainly due to the artistic design and satisfying clicking sound as the gearlever hit the end of its gates giving an aural indicator to match the physical feel of perfectly placing another gear and throttling ahead. There is a symphony of movement that builds anticipation. Powering ahead, dipping the clutch and perfectly placing home another gear with a click as you meet the cogs beneath ready to again open the throttle. We should note that manufacturers actually placed a device beneath the gates for the lever to contact to avoid damage to the gates above, so you are feeling contact, but not in the way you perceive.
Today though, and to be frank, soon after their first invention, their necessity is lost as gearbox technology has evolved and has become more durable and reliable meaning that such precise movements aren't needed to select a gear. It is also a slower method as the cogs beneath are fitted to faster-moving and less acute spacing meaning a shift from second to third gear no longer requires a move up, then right, where the centre of the box is, and then up again to select the next gear. The instant movement of throwing a gear near diagonally won as speed and figures have long ruled the marketing buzz over feel and finely created metalwork. For years gated manuals continued as a styling piece that set apart exotic cars from their mass-produced cousins on the road. When Audi introduced their first supercar, the R8, they opted to fit a gated manual, a way of showing the world their intention to park up next to Italian and British exotica as a serious contender.
The affinity with gated manuals was furthered in the generation of kids that grew up with arcades and computer games. Many racing games opted to offer a gated manual for those that wanted to make the experience as real as possible. The influence came from what Ferrari fitted to their road cars back in the '90s. Today the metal shield placed over a lever is more artwork than racing technology. Straight cut gears and tolerances so fine that only a handful of super-skilled racing drivers could use them are gone and never coming back. This is one of those car creations similar to the central driving seat of the Mclaren F1 and the flip-up headlights on everything from Corvettes to the Mazdas MX-5. Gone but not forgotten. If you get a chance to drive a car with one, take it, and savour the moment, not the speed.