Depending on where you look, the two men credited with inventing the modern automotive clutch more than 120 years ago were two Frenchmen, Louis-Rene Panhard and Emile Levassor. It was a seminal moment in the automotive industry and it essentially ushered in the modern powertrain still in use today.
And racers have been tearing them up ever since.
The clutch hasn’t really changed much in terms of design. The pressure plate bolts to the flywheel, sandwiching the clutch disc in between in the process. The pressure plate is connected to the engine and the disc slides over the splined input shaft on the transmission. When you push the clutch pedal in, it presses the release bearing against the pressure plate’s diaphragm, which relieves the pressure plate’s clamping force on the disc. That action disengages the disc — and input shaft — from engine power and allows you to select a gear or shift up or down. When you release the clutch pedal, the pressure plate clamps down on the disc, which transfers the power to the input shaft and ultimately the driveshaft and rear axles.
Yes, the modern clutch has changed a lot in terms of friction materials used, but it functions pretty much the same way it has for more than a century.
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Normally, a clutch is changed with the engine still in the car. You remove the driveshaft, support the transmission with a jack, remove the mounting system, unbolt it from the engine, slide it back and drop it out. Voilá, as they say in French.
We had the chance to do one with the engine out of the car, which is a lot easier, and we didn’t have to spend any time on our backs during the install. Clutches are so similar, the bulk of this tech story could be applied to a clutch installation on any car from any continent, American, Asian or European.
As with any major repair, it’s important to have a factory service manual on hand to get the detailed information such as torque specs. The job involves some heavy lifting, and it is detailed, but it isn’t terribly difficult. If you’ve never done a clutch job before, follow along as we do it the easy way.