MARANELLO, Italy - The Formula One-style gearbox developed by Ferrari and Magneti Marelli will become an option in September on the entire F355 range.
Ferrari predicts that 60 percent of the F355s to be built next year will feature it, at a 6 percent price premium over the manual. In the future, it could become the only gearbox offered by Ferrari.
Ferrari began to develop the Formula One-style gearbox in 1994, calling it Selespeed.
Selespeed is an electro-hydraulic gear and clutch command, and is derived from the system now used by every Formula One team.
The driver uses the system to shift gears sequentially up or down, as on a motorcycle or bicycle. In automatic mode, it works as an automatic transmission.
The Ferrari-Magneti Marelli system is added to the normal six-speed manual gearbox and its single-plate clutch.
A central processing unit monitors the throttle valve opening, engine revs and temperature, rotation level at the entrance and exit of the transmission, car speed, gear selected and gear requested in the gear change. It also considers the selected mode - normal, sport, ice or automatic.
An electric oil pump which feeds six hydraulic electrovalves operates the gear selection and clutch. The system is Magneti Marelli's first attempt to compete in the gear control sector. The interface with drivers can vary according to the manufacturer's desires.
Ferrari chose Formula One-style paddles behind the steering wheel. Alfa Romeo will use a joystick in the same position as a traditional gear lever for the transmission on its 156. Another carmaker, which Magneti Marelli refuses to identify, will use buttons on the instrument panel.
Beginning in 2000, Magneti Marelli expects annual volumes of 200,000-300,000 units.
By then, Selespeed will be offered by five major volume carmakers. Numbers will rise relatively slowly from the current few hundred units a year.
The most outstanding feature of the F335 F1 are the gear changes in sport mode. They are much faster than those offered by systems such as the ZF Tiptronic and Getrag SMG.
Ferrari says the gear changes take 150 milliseconds from the complete opening to the closing of the clutch, compared with the 270 milliseconds of a traditional gearbox. To shift this quickly, the driver must be aggressive, shifting when the engine speed is over 7,000 rpm.
How Selespeed was invented
The idea of a mechanical gearbox with electro-hydraulically operated gears and clutch came first in the 1970s to Mauro Forghieri. At that time he was Ferrari's Formula One technical director.
A prototype of this was a system fitted in 1978 on a 312T2 Formula One car, which added complexity without any noticeable increase in shift speed. The idea was shelved until electronic management improved.
A decade later, the system became a reality for Formula One racing. It was tested in 1988 and it won the first race of the 1989 world championship with Nigel Mansell on the Ferrari F1 639. Since 1991 it has been a standard for Formula One.