A cone clutch is a type of clutch that utilizes a conical friction surface which meshes into a conical flywheel, wedging itself into a locked position. The act of the cone clutch wedging into the cone-shaped flywheel produces a much stronger lock up than that of a flat clutch and a flat flywheel. Used in early automobiles, this type of clutch is now found mainly in high-performance racing applications as well as off-shore racing boats.
One of the benefits of this type clutch is that the clutch pedal does not need to be depressed completely in order to shift the transmission. Unlike a typical flat clutch system that requires complete pedal depression in order to release the clutch from the flywheel, the cone clutch requires only partial depression to break the friction bond of the clutch and allow easy shifting. In racing applications this often means an advantage in coming up to speed. In off-shore racing boats, this can mean faster acceleration from plane.
A clutch provides grip through friction, and wear is a by-product of this friction. As the clutch material is allowed to slip against the flywheel, the clutch material is worn away. In a cone clutch application, less material is worn away due to the nature of the cone pulling into its cone-shaped flywheel. The need to depress the clutch pedal minimally in order to shift means less slippage between gear selections, which results in less wear.
One factor making the cone clutch system popular in racing applications is its ease of reconditioning. A cone clutch can be rebuilt and reused many times instead of replacing the clutch with a new unit. The materials used in the typical flat clutch are far more lightweight than those used in a cone system. Where the clutch disk in a flat system is made of very thin and lightweight steel, the cone unit is made of heavy, solid steel machined into the correct tolerances.
The very strength of this type clutch unit eliminates the need for a flywheel. By packaging the entire clutch unit into a smaller rotating mass, the vehicle is able to accelerate much more quickly and the engine is able to reach its peak operating power level much faster than a flat clutch system model. In a racing application, this means that the vehicle can accelerate faster out of a corner and reach its top power-producing abilities much quicker than non-cone clutched competitors.