Save wear and tear on your clutch: don’t use it!

In an effort to avoid ‘Greenway overload’, here’s a brief account of a wedding hire I did a few weeks ago for Crosville Motor Services. It wasn’t a particularly complicated duty so it afforded me the chance to experiment a little with my driving technique.

Sometime ago a couple of my regular readers commented that in the old days (they were obviously ‘old hands’) they used to be so proficient at changing gear with the Bristol constant mesh gearboxes that they could do it without using the clutch. Judging by comments made by other drivers from the same era, they were not alone in the habit of clutchless changes. Anyway, one of them challenged me to try it one day.


I decided to pick up the gauntlet, so to speak, and try this for myself. But first I had to deal with a bit of stress at the depot. While doing my walk around checks on the Hants & Dorset Bristol FLF, I found that the nearside indicators weren’t working. I’ve had this once before and the fact that neither front nor rear indicators worked pointed to a failed bulb. Unfortunately, both duty mechanics were out on an emergency recovery so I had to wait until they returned before my bus could be fixed. To their credit, they both set to work straight away as they knew I had a deadline to meet. With one up a ladder at the front and the other crouching at the rear, they quickly replaced both bulbs and normal service was resumed.

Not wanting to cause any further delay, I postponed my clutch experiment until the empty return journey so I took the long-legged Lodekka from Weston to Bristol using the textbook double de-clutch technique I’ve always used. I picked up a bus load of passengers from the Arnos Vale Cemetery (strange place to have a wedding…) and took them the short distance into the city where they were due to eat and party the night away at the Rummer Hotel, which is close to the Bristol Registry Office in Corn Street/Broad Street (pictured above).

On the way out of the city and with a reasonably quiet road ahead of me, I tried changing gear without the clutch. With the revs on the governor, I gingerly tugged at the gearstick to pull it out of 3rd. As I took my foot off the gas, it fell out into neutral. I resisted the urge to depress the clutch. It felt so wrong! At the point at which I would normally have used the clutch to engage 4th I put pressure on the stick and it fell straight into gear. Sweet!

I came up to a junction so I tried a downchange. This was a bit more tricky as I guessed I would need to be spot on with the revs otherwise there would be a nasty graunching noise. I pulled the stick into neutral and raised the revs, pushing the stick into 3rd when I judged the moment to be right. My first effort was successful although it was accompanied by a crunch and a jerk, indicating that I hadn’t got it quite right.

There are a number of villages along the A370 where some gearbox work is required so I breathed deeply and tried some more clutchless changes. I have to be honest and say that they weren’t all successful and I had to resort to using the clutch to avoid missing a gear altogether and coming embarrassingly to a stand. But, on the whole, I found it surprisingly easy. The key was not to think too hard about it. ‘Go with your instincts’ seemed appropriate. Or perhaps, in the words of Obewan Kenobe, “Let the Force guide you”!

So there, Bill Stickers and Roland Richards, I did it!

This week the new summer timetable begins on the Greenway service so tomorrow could well be a long and exhausting day with the PS1! After that, I’m off up to Yorkshire again to collect the repainted Crosville Bedford OB, ‘Bosworth’.

One comment on “Save wear and tear on your clutch: don’t use it!

  1. Jason says:

    I have only limited experience of driving Lodekkas, but I have heard of drivers changing gear without the clutch in “the good old days”. I did drive Bristol MW6G’s regularly for two years in the late seventies, and I did find it possible to change gear on those wonderful vehicles without using the clutch. As always it was a matter of listening to the engine and matching it to the road speed.

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