Small but Mighty Mods: Add Fun to Your Car With a Short-Throw Shifter
Car mods don’t have to be expensive, but they also don’t necessarily have to be only about extra performance. Modifications that make your car more fun to drive are just as worthwhile as ones that add horsepower or cut weight. A great example of this, at least for many manual cars, is installing a short-throw shifter. And the good news is, as described below, it’s something that you can easily install and experience for yourself.
What is a short-throw shifter supposed to do?
A short-throw shifter, aka ‘short shifter,’ does exactly what it sounds like it should: shorten your shifter’s throws. At least, that’s what a real one does.
Sequential transmission race cars aside, shifting gears in a manual car involves moving the shifter to different gates. The problem that all manual transmissions face, especially these days, is that moving or ‘throwing’ the shifter takes more time than flicking a paddle. Or, indeed, more time than a computer can shift gears.
But even when automatics weren’t faster than humans, shift times were a problem, particularly on racetracks. The more time you spend shifting, the more time your car’s engine isn’t sending power to the wheels. And that’s an issue whether you’re racing in F1 or trying to accelerate onto the highway.
Here’s where the short-throw shifter comes in. It shortens the distance the shifter travels between gates, thus speeding up shift times. But despite its name, a short shifter isn’t necessarily shorter than a stock one. However, even if it was, that’s not how it shortens throws.
A true short-throw shifter decreases the angle of travel needed to move between gates, CarBibles explains. And it does this by having a longer shaft under the fulcrum (the circular portion) where the shifter pivots. This effectively moves the fulcrum up and shortens how much the shifter’s upper part must move to change gears.
As such, you can’t make a shifter into a short-throw one just by installing a shorter shift knob. You need to replace the entire shifter. Fortunately, that’s something you can do in your own driveway/garage, just like I recently did.
How much does it cost to install a short-throw shifter?
While my new rebuilt-title Fiat 500 Abarth is a bundle of fun, it’s let down partially by its stock shifter. So, to try and rectify that, I decided to buy and install a CravenSpeed short shifter kit. The kit itself costs $299 and it requires the addition of lithium grease, which I got at my local hardware store for about $10. I actually got it after buying some silicone grease, which I thought was interchangeable with the lithium stuff. As I explain later on, that’s not the case here.
Regardless, installing a short-throw shifter in your car isn’t terribly complicated, nor does it require special tools. Besides the grease, all you need is some screwdrivers, a socket wrench, and some time.
Installing a short shifter is easier than you may think
First, remove the standard shift knob, which in the Abarth’s case, involves taking off the shift-pattern cover and unscrewing a 10mm retainer bolt. Next, remove the shifter cover/boot and the surrounding housing panel. It’s technically possible to do the next steps without taking the panel off, but it’s significantly more difficult.
Once you have the shifter assembly exposed, use two screwdrivers to remove the ball-and-socket connectors from the shifter. These connectors link the shifter assembly to two cables attached to the transmission shift linkage. Moving the shifter pulls these cables and thus the linkage, which is how you change gears. And you’ll need to manipulate two screwdrivers to remove each connector.
Next, gently use a screwdriver to release the edges of the shifter’s plastic retaining clip. As I heard that the Abarth’s standard clip can be brittle, I also bought a tougher acetal clip from CravenSpeed for $54. Then, after releasing the reverse-lockout spring, carefully remove the stock shifter.
At this point, you’re ready to install the short-throw shifter itself. First, make sure to liberally apply some lithium grease onto the short shifter pivot/fulcrum and the retaining slip. Otherwise, the shifter will grind against the clip and making shifting difficult or impossible. I messed up initially here because I used silicone grease—it works fine for a bit, but the shifter didn’t move as easily as I wanted. Applying lithium grease, though, fixed that.
Once you’ve got the greased short shifter sitting inside the retaining clip, just reverse the removal steps. Pop the new short-throw shifter assembly in, re-attach the shift cable connectors, and re-install the housing panel and shifter boot. Row through the gears to make sure everything is properly attached and to see if you need more grease. Then, use the original retaining bolt to attach the new shift knob to the shifter assembly and screw in the shift-pattern cover.
Putting one in my Fiat 500 Abarth made a significant difference in the driving fun factor
I mentioned earlier that my Fiat 500 Abarth, while fun, had some issues with its stock shifter. While it’s positioned well, its long throws and somewhat vague gates detract from the experience. Autoblog called it “wriggly” and “ropey,” which isn’t too far off the mark. Hence why many 500 Abarth owners recommend replacing the OEM unit with a short-throw shifter, CarBibles says.
To be clear, a short-throw shifter doesn’t inherently make your car faster. It doesn’t add power or torque, and because of the leverage change, it does increase shifting effort. As such, not every vehicle necessarily needs or benefits from installing one.
But with my 500 Abarth, the short shifter definitely makes a difference. Not only are my shifts faster, but because the gates are better defined, I’m more confident about shifting quickly. As a result, the hot hatch feels sportier and more enjoyable to drive. Putting a short-throw shifter in my Abarth genuinely improved its character. That was $350 very well spent.
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