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Opinion: The tale of the forgotten gear

By David Morley, 12 Mar 2018 Features

opinion falcon gearknob

Ignorance is bliss, especially when it comes to gears

Let me start by saying this yarn is absolutely, 100 per cent, dead-set, honest-injun, swear-on-a-stack-of-bibles true. It has to be, because you just couldn’t make it up.

A mate of mine of several years, whose name shall remain Andy, is a bit of a gear-head. Always has been, even long before I knew him (as in, don’t blame me). And back in those dim days (as in, before I knew him) Andy finally got rid of the succession of wheezy, four-cylinder dungers that his fiscal circumstances had forced upon him, and lashed out on a proper car.

We’re talking an XE Falcon, complete with a rear louvre (remember them?), alloy wheels and a set of those too-cool factory driving lights. Okay, so it had the smaller of the available six-cylinder engines, the 3.3-litre version (not even Andy’s old man could afford an XE V8 back then) but the manual gearbox made up for that.

Inside, there was a tape deck with a graphic equaliser (weren’t they fun?) and the obligatory (Andy’s from the outer suburbs) redback-spider gear-knob. I’m having Brandivino flashbacks just thinking about it.

Anyway, Andy drove that XE like any kid would back in the late ’80s, meaning that, after about two years of being flogged mercilessly, the thing needed a bit of a birthday. The tyres were bald from too many skids, the speakers had all blown up from having Status Quo blasted through them at anvil-factory volume levels and the gearbox was making some pretty crunchy noises from too many muffed race shifts.

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The speakers were an easy fix and Andy got a new set of Bob Jane All-Rounders for his birthday. Two problems fixed right there. But the gearbox? That was a different matter and one that was going to involve a fair bit of money changing hands.

Luckily for Andy, one of his old school mates was a fourth-year apprentice mechanic at the time (with an understanding boss) and agreed to have a look at the old girl in his spare time. Which he did, taking the XE for a quick twirl around the block to see what was what. But the diagnosis wasn’t great news. That manual cogbox was toast.

So, a deal was done and Andy’s mate put the Falc up on stands and started removing the tired old box. The broad plan was to find a second-hand gearbox from either a wrecking yard (as they were still called back then) or from a dead car in somebody’s backyard.

 

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So, with the carked-it gearbox out on the ground, Andy’s mate started ringing around to find a replacement manual. The first decision, however, was to determine whether Andy wanted to spend the extra on a five-speed gearbox or save a few bob and put a four-speed in the XE. And the conversation went something like this:

Andy’s mate: Hey, do you wanna four- or five-speed gearbox in this thing? A four-speed will be a lot cheaper.

Andy: Ah, no point going stupid. Just bung another four-speed back in it. I don’t need a five-speed.

Andy’s mate (after a fairly lengthy silence): Er, mate, the box I took out WAS a five-speed.

Andy: more silence.

Yep, our genius had been driving around in a five-speed Falcon for something like two years, never having reached for fifth gear. To this day, Andy blames that mongrel redback-spider gear-knob (which, of course, lacked the embossed shift-pattern that the stock knob would have had).

Me? I blame the Brandivino. Andy drives an automatic these days. But he’s not sure if it’s a five or six-speed.