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.
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.
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.
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?
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?