Ribcase Transmission in Vintage Racing

Vintage racing isn’t just a hobby, it is a passion. And an art. We are quite pleased to have a guest article by Don Racine of Mini Mania about using the ribcase transmission from the ubiquitous “Spridget” in the vintage racing application.

Vintage Racing with a Ribcase Transmission - Wide

The most conventional gears in the everyday manual transmission are helical cut. The single biggest advantage of this design is the reduction of noise that is inherent in the more efficient, easy to manufacture straight cut gears. The helical patterns allow for a much less violent meshing of the gears. But, the decreased noise comes with a few penalties. The first of which is sideload – because the gears are helical, some of the thrust is lost in the rotational direction and thus must be controlled with a thrust surface. The thrust surface most often used is called thrust washers (not a particularly clever name).

Helical Cut Gear
Helical Cut Gear

The drag created by this thrust and the energy consumed in this wasted helical drive is the second and biggest penalty. The frictional loss in helical gears is considerably more than straight cut ones. There is for sure no hard number that can be put on the percent of power loss, but as we often go a long way for a very few horsepower, changing from helical to straight cut gears is a no-brainer for anyone interested in performance and an absolute must if you are serious about racing.

There has been a lot of controversy about whether or not straight cuts gears are stronger to take more power along with the question of life expectancy. Both of these questions can be summed up with the same answer: quality. Straight cut gears are easier to make than helical and thus less than a scrupulous company could use inferior materials, etc. that may work well but for only a limited time. The typical application for any straight cut gear set will always be asked to withstand the higher power and thus quality of manufacture and material specs will make a big difference. A quality straight cut gear set will last a long time even in race conditions.

One of the other advantages of straight cut gears is that as their primary use is in a race car, it is most common that the ratio of the gears would be much better suited to the power band and race speeds rather than have to cope with both stop and go city traffic and highway speeds.

Straight Cut Gear
Straight Cut Gear

When building an engine for a street car it is most common to give up the best horsepower to gain a very wide torque curve. This type of build that great advantage of a wide ratio transmission and thus the ability to start from a stop-light with ease and still have the ability to easily cruise down the highway at 70+ mph. Since road racing in the USA is 99% rolling starts we have no need to accelerate from a stop. This allows us to build a motor with a much higher HP number that can then be married with a close ratio gearbox that maximizes our ability to stay in the optimum RPM band for optimum HP and Torque.

The “ribcase” gearbox as stock in most MG Midgets and Austin Healey Sprites was also extremely popular in numerous vintage sports racers and formula cars. It was a lightweight, easy to find gearbox for many of the cottage industry car building in the UK. Even Lotus used them in a number of cars.

As the stock ribcase was built for street production gears, the wide ratio helical gears were the obvious choice. It was not long after the introduction that demand resulted in the Special Tuning Department of BMC developing and selling a “Straight Cut Close Ratio” (SC/CR) gear set destined for the many race teams. The standard helical ratios had a 3.2:1 first gear, a 1.916:1 second gear and a 1.357:1 third gear with fourth being the normal 1:1 ratio. The SC/CR set has a 2.753:1 first gear, a 1.722:1 second gear and a 1.255:1 third gear with 4th still a 1:1 ratio.

Vintage Racing with a Ribcase Transmission - GearsThe SC/CR gear set make a pretty dramatic change in how responsive the car can be to a highly tuned motor. In a standard ratio transmission, the drop from 1st to 2nd gear was a 38% drop in RPM! Thus, if you hit 6K in first gear and drop it into 2nd your RPM would drop down to 3,690. 2nd to 3rd gear drop is 31%, 3rd to 4th gear drop is 26%. The SC/CR gearset drop on 33% when shifting from 1st to 2nd, 25% -2nd to 3rd and only 20% shifting from 3rd to 4th.

Note: Thanks again to Don for the opportunity to publish his article. If you want to contact him for more information on transmissions, vintage racing, and the services Mini Mania has to offer for both Mini and Spridget owners, he can be reached via …

Don Racine – [email protected]
Mini Mania Inc.
870 Gold Flat Road
Nevada City, Calif. 95959

Phone (800) 946 2642
Direct (530) 470 8300


1 Comment

  1. Had 3 ribbed transmissions when I raced my ‘67 Sprite in SCCA. One had the close ratio gears. Really made a difference pulling out of a tight turn. First gear in the transmissions was non-synchromesh, so having that close 2nd gear helped.
    Have a ribbed transmission in my Lotus 7 America too.

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