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December 15, 2021

From The Racetrack To The Road: Porsche Celebrates 40 Years Of Its Dual-Clutch Transmission

Porsche is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Porsche Doppel Kupplung or PDK gearbox. Popularly known as the dual-clutch transmission, it was a technological breakthrough for the German sportscar brand since it combined the advantages of a manual gearbox while avoiding the disadvantages of conventional automatics.

Recalling the development of the PDK which had its official birthday in 1981, Rainer Wüst said: “Sometimes technology takes a long time to mature. Porsche was a pioneer – 20 to 30 years ahead of its time.” Wüst, who worked first as a gearbox test engineer from 1971, and later as Head of Chassis Development at the Development Centre in Weissach until 2009 says that work on a dual-clutch transmission started way back in 1964.

“However, the powerful control electronics to implement the sensitive clutch control necessary for installation in production cars were not available at the start of the 70s,” adds Wüst. He mentions Imre Szodfridt, a Hungarian engineer who presented the idea of a dual-clutch system to Ferdinand Piëch, then Porsche Head of Development, as one of the driving forces behind the PDK back in the late 1960s. “Szodfridt was a brilliant tinkerer; he had a new idea every day,” Wüst recalls. This was also how the Type 919 gearbox came about, but it wasn’t developed further because of its rough shifting processes. A few years later, in 1979, in response to the oil crisis of 1973, the German Federal Ministry of Research and Technology organized a competition for the automotive industry to develop a vision of a future vehicle to optimize fuel consumption, the so-called “Vehicle 2000”. In this study, the PDK transmission proved to be the most forward-looking technology among all possible transmission concepts.

Starting with a couple of Szodfridt gearboxes, Porsche was able to develop the basic functions of PDK when they fitted it into a 924. In addition, they demonstrated its performance in racing with the 956. “Being able to keep your hands on the steering wheel when changing gears under full load felt very good right from the start,” says Hans-Joachim Stuck who, as a racing driver, was instrumental to the further development of the PDK. “We were able to shift and drive much faster with no interruptions to traction.” To change gears, the driver needed only to operate a switch while driving. The gears are divided between two sub-transmissions, each with its own clutch. Only one clutch is ever engaged at any one time, meaning that the new gear can already be engaged in the second sub-transmission. As with a manual gearshift, the gears are engaged via shift forks. However, the PDK uses computer-controlled electrohydraulics. To change gear, only the newly effective clutch must then be closed and the previously effective clutch opened at the same time.

For decades, motorsport has been considered the development laboratory for technology that would later be used in production vehicles. The Porsche 962 was the first racing car with PDK in the 1980s. In 1986, it claimed its first victory at Monza. It also won the Group C world championship that year. The PDK developed by Porsche was also tested in rallying: Walter Röhrl immediately took first place in the Audi Sport-Quattro S1 with PDK in its first outing at the Semperit Rally at the end of 1985.

At the end of the 1980s, the attempt to transfer the PDK into its road cars was suspended temporarily, as the company was dependent on the support of the supplier industry. Porsche thus concentrated instead on the manually operated torque converter automatic (Tiptronic), which was introduced in November 1989. By 2008, this version had proven itself and was constantly being further developed. The torque converter automatic Tiptronic was used in the 986 and 993 models, among others.

In the early and mid-2000s, the performance of the vehicle's electronics had advanced to such an extent and the on-board electronics had also become more sophisticated that the PDK was offered as an optional extra for the 911 series in 2008. A year later, the PDK was introduced as a variant for the standard drive architecture in the Panamera: It was the first Porsche in which the PDK was fitted as standard in some models.

Today, the PDK stands for efficiency and performance in equal measure. The sportiest versions of each Porsche model series are available exclusively with the dual-clutch transmission. The most recent example is the 718 Cayman GT4 RS. Here, on the one hand, the PDK enables the fastest lap times while on the other, it ensures efficient and comfortable driving.

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