Years ago, the forever youthful actress Zsa Zsa Gabor did a series of advertisements for Aamco Transmission in which she toyed with the sponsor’s business by referring to “transmixers” while flirting with the company’s mechanics. Now I’ve always been a stick-shift guy, so her vamping approach wasn’t going to land Aamco any business from me, but I suspect the ad campaign was successful, since I still remember them, her, and the term “transmixer” after 30 or so years.
Which brings me to the point of this week’s Web log.
A while back I was invited by Volvo Construction Equipment to see and drive its L180F Wheel Loader and the FMX construction truck. While the truck itself is not designed for the US market, several of its features are showing up here, including 11-litre (330–450 horsepower) and 13-litre (380–500 horsepower) engines, along with Volvo’s recently updated construction version of its I-Shift gearbox, an autoshifting manual transmission.
Several years back, I drove a truck with an autoshifting manual transmission that I dubbed a “transmixer,” coming away from the experience relatively unimpressed, so it was with some residual skepticism that I climbed aboard an I-shift-configured FMX and set off through a challenging course set up in a quarry, designed to demonstrate the truck’s ability to handle the kinds of conditions that push a driver’s skills to the limit.
Well, I can assure you my skill set would make any truck driver double over in laughter, but the I-Shift system more than compensated for my lack of talent, allowing me to extract myself from situations where I figured I’d have to call for relief by an expert. Things that became apparent as time went on were that the 12-speed transmission with its load sensor had a far better idea of what was needed than I did, and while I could override the system, I’d be a fool to do so.
Even I know that Volvo did not develop I-Shift to allow neophytes to perform like pros, but what was not obvious to me at the time was the advantage in fuel economy the system had, not only over automatic transmissions but even straight manual transmissions as well, by its ability to select the proper gear for any particular load condition. Thus, with a full load of rock on a slightly uphill section of road, the system might select 2nd gear to start and then skip 3rd, 5th, and 6th on the way up to speed, matching fuel use to the conditions
In recent months I’ve had the opportunity to operate a number of pieces of equipment with autoshift transmissions—Caterpillar’s and Doosan’s artics for example—that show significant improvements over their predecessors, with features that made me look like I knew what I was doing.
So the upshot for the moment is that I’ve now become a transmixer fan, and I hope that Zsa Zsa—at 94 still alive, kicking, and back home again after a pair of operations this past October—does not mind my theft of her term.