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A while back, one of our readers on the Danish site left a comment along the lines of: “All it needs now is a push-me-pull-you gearshift”. I no longer recall the precise context of the remark, but it clearly was not meant as a compliment – all of which has left me contemplating not just the somewhat peculiar 2CV gearshift, but also a few others which stand out to me for various reasons.

I am among those sufficiently deranged to find the “push-me-pull-you” gearshift of a Citroën 2CV and a Renault 4 entirely charming and entertaining. Truth be told, I also happen to find it both highly functional and practical. Had the two French car manufacturers elected to equip their people’s cars with conventional floor-mounted gear shifters, it would have simply been impossible for them to utilise the limited space in the small interiors so well. Of course they could instead have given the 2CV and the R4 a column-mounted gearshift as was also very popular during that era, but it would have been a poorer solution in my opinion.

The Citroën 2CV “push-me-pull-you” gearshift.

It probably goes without saying that the all-round favoured gearshift of them all among true car enthusiasts is that of the sixties Ferrari – or at the very least, the classic two-seater Italian GT from the same era. A short chromed gear lever protruding from the centre console with a simple black ball sat atop… at Ferrari naturally aided further by that most iconic gated shifter with six defined slots. There are few things which symbolise the golden era of GT-cars better than this gearshift.

Simply iconic!

But I need to go back to my youth during the seventies to find the gearshift – or at least the gear knob – which first made a real impact on me. It was that first generation Golf in the infamous GTi version with its rather humorous golf ball gear knob sat on top of the short gear lever. Despite the proper driver’s car image which the fuel-injected engine gave the Golf, it was still a sensible and practical hatchback with a typically Teutonic aura. Yet, I quite clearly remember how I found the golf ball to be a thoroughly genius little detail. Later I even discovered that this charming gear knob had the brilliant side effect of offering the driver an excellent grip as he slotted the fast little Golf up and down through the gears.

VW Golf GTi: The Golf ball.

It doesn’t seem too much to ask that all cars were gifted with a well-engineered, charming or otherwise good gearshift, as it really contributes as much as the steering wheel does to both the driver’s feel and control of the car and not least to the general atmosphere within the cabin. Sadly though, many cars don’t, and only very few truly shine when it comes to the gearshift. Back then – and to some degree still now – the enthusiast could purchase aftermarket products to enhance the experience of slotting in the next gear. There were cleverly engineered products which would shorten the shifting action while also making the feel of the shift more precise and mechanical, while other companies offered gear knobs resembling anything from pistol grips to skulls or even female body parts. One of the biggest within this niche market – especially across the pond in the United States of America – was Hurst. Was their huge success up through the sixties and seventies primarily thanks to their marketing strategy which included the shapely Linda Vaughn in practically every one of their advertisements, or was every single American car with a manual transmission of this era simply burdened with a lacking and sloppy gearshift?

Linda Vaughn and the legendary Hurst shifter.

Which gearshift is the best of them all in your opinion? – or which is the very worst? Does the “push-me-pull-you” shift make you cringe or smile? And do you – as I do – weep as the simple and mechanical gearshift moves ever closer to becoming extinct?

 

4 Responses

  1. Banpei

    In general I find the factory OEM gearshifters to be more than adequate. Most manufacturers match the gearknob and the shifter length to fit and blend in properly with the interior. There are, of course, exceptions.
    However I do secretly appreciate some well designed gearknobs. I remember my grandfather’s bespoke wooden gearshift knob in his 2002. I believe my mom still has it somewhere in her attic.
    About 15 years ago I came across some photos of Japanese cars with flower-gearshift knobs and I have been trying to obtain one for years. Finally I found one and mounted it on one of my classics that already has a short shifter. I must say it is immensely satisfying to have a big gearknob in combination with a very short throw!

    Reply
  2. yrhmblhst

    Hurst shifters. Need you really ask?
    No, not all American cars had horrible shifters – in fact, most were fine for normal driving. But with a Hurst, you could really row the gears hard and fast; I have a little plate that Hurst put out in the late 60s /early 70s that has their logo and then a big red ‘WARNING: this car is equipped with a Hurst shifter. Shift as hard as you please, but don’t break your arm’
    Personally, I prefer the stock shifter on Corvettes of the era – like the reverse lock out and like the idea that the things are adjustable for throw and effort. But naturally, nothing surpasses the cool of a Hurst with the factory ‘pistol grip’ of 70 Mopars. Nothing.

    Sure wish Hurst woulda made a shifter for my GTV6…

    Reply
  3. Anders Bilidt

    The best gearshift is a manual gearshift.

    I could have really left it at that. But suppose it’s worth adding that more often than not, I actually agree with @banpei in that stock OEM gearshifts are usually perfectly fine. However, my pet hate is gear bushings and linkages which are worn to shreads! A sloppy and imprecise gear change just takes all the pleasure out of swapping cogs. Make sure all bushings and linkages are fresh and tight, and the gearshift becomes your mechanical connection with your machine.

    Perhaps a little oddly though, I actually quite like gearshifts which require a firm grasp of the gear knob and a little sensual feel in order to help it slot into gear. A gearshift doesn’t have to be fast to be good. It makes driving more interesting when you have to think about every gearshift and take your time to make sure the synchromesh is managing to keep up.
    That’s probably why I so love the Getrag 235/5 dogleg box in my Green Devil. Many enthusiasts will tell you that it’s a flawed transmission, and in many ways they’re probably right too. You can’t rush it too much, but at the same time it requires a firm hand. Just the fact that it’s a dogleg keeps me thinking about what I’m doing to ensure I’m not going to attempt slotting it into the wrong gear. But to me, it’s an event every time you reach for another gear.

    Reply
  4. Claus Ebberfeld

    The manual will live on for many many years in classic cars – and will probably become more sought after when you eventually can’t get them in new cars any more.

    It’s interesting with steering column gears and the like – but nothing beats a good Four on the floor. Or five, if is has to be. That in a MG Midget proves that a great shift does not need to come with a huge price tag.

    Dogleg rules! Loved that shift in my old Fulvia Coupé, great for a FWD car.

    Reply

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