Gear shifting

Posted on November 17th, 2007 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

We’ve all heard of short-shifters, where the throw of the gear lever is reduced. Short-shifters are available aftermarket for many cars and some performance models of mainstream cars use a shorter gear throw.

Generally a short-shifter moves the fulcrum point so that less movement is required of the gear-knob to achieve the necessary movement of the selector forks. Some short-shifters provide a movement so abbreviated that the gear lever feels more like a light switch.

However, in any gearbox, a shorter throw will require more effort – that is, the gear shift will be heavier.

Most enthusiasts agree that a shorter gear throw is attractive, purportedly because quicker shifts can be made. But in the real world, I doubt that’s actually the attraction. Instead, it’s probably because it makes the car feel more responsive and quicker – snick, snick, snick the gear lever on the way up and down the ‘box.

I once had a Rover 2000, a very British car with a large steering wheel, low-power 2 litre 4-cylinder – and about the quickest factory shifter you’re ever likely to come across! The movement of the very short gear lever movement was completely at odds with the feel of the rest of the controls.

These thoughts all became relevant yesterday when I went off to the wreckers to find a new gear knob for my Peugeot 405 SRDT. The original was cracked and tired and wrecker replacements are so cheap that the upgrade was well worth it. And $5 later, I had a nice, heavy, ex late model Kia gear knob that had the right shift pattern shown on top. The thread wasn’t a match for the odd, vertically splined (except they’re much too crude to be called splines!) Pug gear lever, but I figured I could adapt it.

At the wreckers I’d taken off the Pug gear knob, only to have it come to pieces in my hands. So on the trip home, I simply bunged the new gear knob on top of the shaft, so extending it by about 50mm.  And you know what? The slower, lighter gear shift that resulted actually felt pretty good! But I was sure that I was confused – how could a slower shift be better? – and left the gear knob in this position for a few days. I also got my wife to drive the car.

And we both agreed that the lighter, longer travel gear shift felt better than standard.

So, instead of shortening the gear lever and putting the new knob closer to the floor – so resulting in a poor man’s short shift – I went the other way…. installing a “long shift”!

Selecting second gear on a down-change is easier and on the up-changes, the synchro seems to like the slower shift. The gear-box, a design with a pretty horrible standard shift quality, is simply much improved….

2 Responses to 'Gear shifting'

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  1. Marty said,

    on November 17th, 2007 at 12:28 am

    i discovered the opposite in a very strange way… i was given a spare shifter by a fellow legacy driver to try out in my car as it wouldn’t fit in his… he had custom welded up a factory shifter to be shorter in throw and lower

    i removed my shifter and put this one on, stupidly not taking the time to compare them side by side, my logic figured ‘this must be better’ but after a few days i couldn’t stand it anymore and put the original shifter back

    turns out the existing shifter was already shorter and lower than the one i replaced it with, so unknowingly (typical in jap import) the car had at some stage been fitted with a short shifter, which i found to match the close ratio’s and notchy box quite well

    the advice i can give is to check the linkages and bushes in your shifter assembly if the car is getting on in age as replacing this can make a loose and tired setup feel brand new again, i also found in this case that a lighter, leather factory knob was superior to a heavy aftermarket one in feel and shift speed

  2. Boris said,

    on November 17th, 2007 at 10:10 am

    Not such a surprise, really. If you look at Rally cars, some track cars, and “drift machines”, they often have a *taller* shifter fitted – the reach from steering wheel to shifter is shorter and more “natural”, and the physical effort to make the shift is actually less (though not quite as “crisp” in feel). Makes sense to me. Two cars I drive regularly are basically at opposite ends of the spectrum – 1966 Volvo with a ~.7 meter! shifter lever (but direct to gearbox, no linkage) and a 1990 Miata (MX-5/Eunos Roadster) with a “short knob” which is, perhaps, 10 cm above the gearbox. Both are “fun to shift”, though quite different in character.

  3. Brendan said,

    on December 6th, 2007 at 12:42 pm

    I bought one of my Starion’s with a home made short shift ,( had been cut down). It took quite a while to get use to the feel of it.

    I much prefer the longer gear shift as you get a much better feel and i find it easier to quickly shift gears with a longer stick as its more precise.