Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Driven: Quaife IB5 Sequential

It’s been a while since I’ve driven a Fiesta ST150. In a previous life I used to work for Ford, so I’ve sampled my fair share of Uncle Henry’s creations, but this one is rather different. It’s equipped with a 5-speed sequential gearbox developed by Quaife Engineering for the race and rally market.

Today the prototype isn’t to be found at Brands Hatch or the forests of Kielder however, it’s in the slightly more sedate setting of Sevenoaks. And, as we trundle out onto a quiet suburban road with company director Michael Quaife at the wheel, the pronounced whine from the straight cut ‘box seems strangely at odds with its situation. It creates a faint air of surrealism, which is somewhat heightened by the fact the car producing this hardcore soundtrack is completely standard barring its transmission.

We pull over to swap seats and I tug the chunky gearlever backwards to engage first. Pulling away is a doddle and little different to any other Fiesta, as is the change up to second. Afterwards, though, the temptation is to push the lever forwards to find third, and initially you have to consciously override this to keep going up the ‘box. After a few times this becomes second nature and the classic pull-up push-down action is actually more intuitive than a normal H-pattern.

The lever requires a reasonably firm hand, particularly at low speeds, but the effort isn’t obtrusive and the shifts are as smooth as a normal synchromesh box. Being a fully mechanical system it’s best to use the clutch, and this is really the limiting factor in shift speed – the mechanism itself is very slick and notably faster than a synchromesh unit.

On the open road the Fiesta buzzes along with vigour. The close ratios and lowered final drive suit the engine down to the ground, but it does make things a tad frenetic, with a gentle motorway cruise now in excess of 5,000rpm. As a track day or competition mod it would be perfect though, with the performance noticeably sharpened by the lower gear ratios and reduced losses. What’s more Quaife do offer longer final drives, as well as a quieter helical cut ‘box.

Coming back into Sevenoaks we whine and chug our way to a standstill. One foible of sequential gearboxes is that you can’t guarantee the drive dogs will be correctly aligned to change gear when stationary. As a result you have to remind yourself to change down to first before coming to a standstill, for fear of being stranded in a higher gear, but it’s no great hardship, and it certainly wouldn’t be a problem on track.

Quaife set out to produce a quality competition gearbox for the clubman’s budget and all the indications are that they’ve succeeded. The modest fully-trimmed interior of the demonstrator may seem an unlikely place to sample it, but there’s no doubt the gearbox is the real thing.

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