What’s the Best Shifter You’ve Experienced?

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This week’s question in Hagerty’s Our Two Cents series is a feel-good affair all the way around. Many (all?) of us have enjoyed the mechanical, analog thrill of shifting a manual transmission, or maybe a direct sequential gearbox, with those mechanically perfect aluminum paddles found behind the tiller of a modern Ferrari. But a feel-good affair isn’t exclusive to exotics—quite the contrary, in fact!

I enjoy the heft of that Hurst shifter in a 5.0 Mustang, I revel in the excitement of a Pistol Grip in an E-body Mopar, and I never tire of Honda’s shifters back in the 1990s. But there could be more to this question, if you take a pause for the cause. That cause is the automatic transmission. Here are three examples of amazing autobox shifters, from newest to oldest.

That’s right, some automatics tell your fortune are controlled by crystal balls. This design by Genesis is admittedly a little cheesey, but these days, that added drama is what helps differentiate luxury cars from their (surprisingly luxurious) sister ships with cheaper asking prices. I know that tech-intensive vehicles aren’t what we normally think about ’round these parts of the automotive internet, so how about that cool AutoStick from Chrysler?

Then again, Chrysler automatics from this era might not bring up pleasant memories for some folks. But Autostick Chrysler LH cars were still a lot of fun when new. They personify the phrase “fun while it lasted.”

So let’s get to our final example, one that I hope will warm hearts and get y’all’s keyboards in gear for some long-distance typing. Because if there’s a king in the world of automatic shifters, well, it has to be the next one.

Hurst Lightning Rods are one of the coolest automatic shifters ever made. The three levers certainly look impressive, but seeing them in action is a whole ‘nother story. This has to be the best shifter of all time.

Or not? You tell us, Hagerty Community! What’s the best shifter you have experienced?




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    RE: Best Shifter
    I have a feeling I’m gonna get a log of grief from many of you, but the best shifter I’ve ever experienced was on my 2015 Chevy Spark, the only new vehicle I’ve ever bought. Both up- and downshifting were unbelievably smooth; no jerking or lugging. There was an indicator that would tell me when to shift, but I never paid attention to it because I prefer to shift according to speed, engine sound, and feel.

    Totally agree and it was lauded by the press not just 1995 but from 1991 onward through the first Gen’s as the bes shifter ever.

    The best shifter I ever experienced is the pushbutton shifter in the 1960 Chrysler. Nice mechanical feel to the buttons, just the right travel and effort. A quality piece.

    While the 911 and Miata are good shifters and the later Corvettes are nice. I have two favorites.

    The old Hurst I had in my Chevelle SS was one I loved. I had it adjusted so i could just slam it with my hand to the right and forward and it fell right into 3rd gear. I off set the neutral so it was a straight shot.

    The other is the GTO slap stick his and hers Hurst that came factory. Never missed a shift with these. Pontiac even offered a non Hurst version in the 69 GP.

    Right now I hate the one in the Audi Q5 I am driving now and my Inlaws 300. I just hate electronic shifters as they have no real feel to them. They also malfunction often.

    Best was the Hurst I put in a 65 Corvette; never missed a shift. Worst was a factory floor shifter in a Pontiac J2000; what a mess that car was. I got a tip that the car was a great deal because it was a year old new car, it was a station wagon, and it was a manual trans and no body wanted it.

    What?? I had a 1982 J2000 station wagon with 1.8L carb engine and I loved the shifter. Way better than my next car, a 1987 Shelby GLHS. The J2000 was the slowest car I’ve owned, but I thought the shifter was really good. I put 167,000 miles on that car before the trans exploded going 85 mph for many, many miles on the e-way.

    Regarding your J2000. I recall the shifter in my ’83 was sloppy but I agree there wasn’t any sense in trying to shift quick. But the transmission did survive 130,000 miles. Did you experience the floor pan metal fatigue under the front seat mounts? Mine did and when the mounts let go at the same time the seat rolled back all the way. I was left looking at the roof, feet in the air and unable to reach the steering wheel or the brakes. Wow! And not related to shifting was the timing belt seem to break every 30,00 miles. We may have had cars that left a bad taste but that was my last new GM. Sorry to rant but I still have nightmares 40 years later. A deal too good to be true………..

    No floor metal fatigue, but at that time, I weighed about 125 lbs. You must have had the OHC cam motor. Much more powerful than the 1.8L Chevy carb engine that I had. I had a 1985 Mustang that had that floor cracking issue. No rust in the floor at all, but several cracks, and finally broke through. I welded it all up and sold that one. i owned several J cars, mainly because I could buy them for a few hundred bucks, they went good in the snow, and I was good at fixing at them. Great story about yours and thanks for sharing it.

    My first ever brand new car: 1992 Honda Accord LX Coupe with the 5 speed. It will forever be the yard stick by which I judge all other shifters.

    From my own experience: 1966 Austin Healey Spridget, 1st gen. Miata, and anything with a properly-set-up Hewland.

    It’s hard to argue with those beefsteak Hurst sticks (either factory provided or installed aftermarket) in the ’60s and ’70s Muscle Cars (and even topping an old B-W or Muncie dropped into a Tri-Five) back in my youth. Those things were dead serious, and for a time, everything else was just an also-ran. But Sajeev has introduced a sub-category to “Best” when he cited the “Coolest Automatic Shifters”, which got me to thinking of what I thought was coolest – and since I’ve never had hands on the Lightning Sticks, my favorite was the pushbuttons commanding a 787 TorqueFlight tranny. My Mom’s ’57 DeSoto had them and so did a friend’s ’58 Fury. Since I’d only ever shifted the Turbohydramatic in my Dad’s ’55 Chevy pick-up, using a stalk on the column, those pushbuttons were about the coolest thing since sliced bread (which was just being introduced at our local grocery market, so it was pretty cool).
    So I’m gonna go with others on the Hurst 4-speed square-stick with a T-handle for “best”, and hop on board with bob elton and vote for the Mopar pushbuttons in the “coolest automatic shifter” sub-category!

    Oops, I need to back up and correct myself (’cause others will 😁) – those were likely not 787 TorqueFlights in ’50s cars. Maybe 727s? Not sure, but not the point of my comment anyway – I was concentrating on the shifter!

    I actually haven’t had a boatload of manuals over the years… a 77 Celica I converted from auto to stick, a Subaru, two 5.0 Mustangs, and a 944. The 944 (with a new set of shifter bushings) was probably my favorite, although the top loader T5s in the Mustangs weren’t bad

    I am going to commit sacrilege and say my favorite is the auto-stick in my current 1 Series. I miss the feedback of having a clutch, but that autostick just plain shifts faster. It is in the right location where my hand wants to find a manual shifter, and in the rare occasions that I don’t want to bother it, I can pop it over to auto… hasn’t happened too often though

    First Gen Miata is nice and mechanical with a famously short throw. Going into second is a known issue and it kind of hangs up. Other than that it’s perfect. I just replaced the bushings in mine and it’s as stiff as ever. As it should be.

    1967 Lotus Elan. Rifle bolt short throws. Gear lever pivots directly upon the shift forks. Snick, Snick, Snick, Snick.

    Most Unique: 1962 Chevy Nova Three on the Tree
    Smoothest: 1990 Mazda Miata
    Most Enjoyable: 1968 Triumph Spitfire …
    Driving away from our wedding ceremony with my new wife’s veil flowing in the wind.

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