Home » The Most Ridiculous Shifter Of All Time Started Off As The Most Misogynistic Shifter Of All Time

The Most Ridiculous Shifter Of All Time Started Off As The Most Misogynistic Shifter Of All Time

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If you have a choice, I can’t think of any situation where misogyny beats ridiculousness. Misogyny is inexcusable shittiness, but being ridiculous can often be a pretty good time, if you do it right. With that in mind, I think that Hurst, the shifter-making company, did the right kind of growing up and evolving, as they transformed a concept that started steeped in the worst sort of midcentury misogynistic bullshit, and turned it into something much better: the most ridiculous shifter setup on pretty much any car, ever. This shifter is essentially like a lot of automatic transmission shifters today, ones that give the option to manually pick what gear the car is in. Sometimes this is done via paddles, sometimes by side-to-side motions of the gearshift or a secondary gate, or some combination. What’s almost never done is to have three separate shift levers, all sprouting out of the console like some kind of perverse licorice lollipop bouquet. And yet, that’s exactly what Hurst did. Meet the Hurst Lightning Rods Shifter.

The idea an the automatic transmission that still lets you shift manually is sort of a strange one, and it’s a concept that can be approached from two different directions. There’s the direction of trying to adapt a manual transmission into a sort of half-assed automatic, where you’re basically just automating a clutch on a manual transmission, as was the case for the Volkswagen Automatic Stickshift or the Saxomat automatic clutch system that showed up on a number of European makes. That’s the path for carmakers who don’t have full automatic solutions, and the manual shifting of gears is an unwanted but necessary trait.

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Then there’s the other side, where a carmaker already has a full automatic transmission, but for marketing or just its-more-fun reasons they want to let drivers decide when they want to shift between gears. It’s still an automatic with a torque converter like any automatic (and, keep in mind, these are automatics from the ’60s to the ’80s, so they’re still power-sucking, slow-shifting slushboxes) but you at least have an option for what gear you want to be in and how long you want to stay in it. One way is an attempt to make a manual feel more like an automatic, the other is a way to make an automatic feel more like a manual.

The very existence of these is a good reminder of one of the worst parts of the human condition: we always seemed doomed to want what we don’t have.

But we’re here to talk about the second kind, the automatic that can feel a bit more like a manual, and Hurst built some aftermarket shifters to do just that. It appears they started off just as a “dual-gate” type of shifter, where you could pop the lever out of the usual PRNDL prison and switch between first, second, third, and if you were a big shot, overdrive, like you were some manner of god.

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Now, you’d think this would be fine on it’s own and plenty marketable, but for whatever reason, possibly due to all the lead in the gasoline and all the chauvanism floride in the water, this was the approach Hurst took to selling these shifters when they came out in 1963:

His&hers

 

Yes, His and Hers! Finally, you can have a car that your special, delicate lady could drive by sliding that lever to D and then not having to worry her pretty little head about a thing, while you, a man, absolutely leaking testosterone from every meatus and pore on your body, could unlock the little lock, flick that shifter to the right about an inch, and jam it forward and back as you drove, which I think we’d all agree is pretty much the midcentury equivalent of slaughtering a mammoth and butchering it right there on the veldt in order to provide for your village.

Also, you can make race car sounds with your mouth while doing it!

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Of course, this is all deeply stupid. Sure, you could bang through the gears and hold the revs a bit longer, but come on, it’s still not a manual! And if that’s what your 1963 masculinity hinged on, then you’re not going to be happy to know how much shifting he little old lady in that Renault Dauphine or VW Beetle is doing as she buzzes alongside you. Also, what if you’re feeling lazy and drive in “her” mode? Would you be cringing the whole time knowing you’re using a woman’s shift pattern?

It’s so bad. It’s so embarrassing. Well, the marketing at least. Technically, it’s not a bad thing, being able to pick your own gears, even if it’s not going to be the same as a real manual, it’s not the worst thing. Happily, Hurst made a version that didn’t demean half the human population, and called it the Dual Gate:

Dualgate

It’s the same damn thing, just with 100% of the misogyny removed via a complex process known as “not being shitty,” and this effort was rewarded by the Dual Gate becoming a factory option for the 1968 Pontiac GTO:

Gtooption

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Okay, pretty cool, right? An automatic with a way to row your own gears without making women feel like garbage, you’d think we could close the story here, happily! But we’re not going to. Because the story of this shifter gets so much weirder and better.

Things in Hurst automatic-with-manual-gearchange-optionland remained pretty static until the 1980s came along, and with this bold new era came the craving for a bold new kind of shifter. I guess. The car that was used to move this bold new shifter, now called Hurst Lightning Rods, around from place to place was the 1983-1984 Limited Edition Hurst/Olds:

84hurstoldslightning1

 

This was the hottest Oldsmobile you could get at the time, and even though the body was still basically a Cutlass Supreme like your school principal drove, this one had a 5-liter V8 making a (ho-hum by modern standards) 180 horsepower, with a decent 245 foot-pounds of torque. There were dual mufflers and lots of stripes but really there was one standout feature of the car, hinted at in that ad above.

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See the hand and the shifter up there? You might think the multiple shifters pictured were to suggest the motion of the shift lever, but you’d be wrong, because that picture is literal. There were three fucking shift levers. Yes, yes, three levers! I know I said so in the first paragraph, but still! Look what this was like:

Lightningspread

See the instructions there in the upper right? All that text, explaining what you need to do with that trio of levers to just, you know, drive the damn thing? Here, maybe this will make it easier to understand:

Diagram1

 

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Okay, so, once you get in the car and spend a good 15 seconds just staring at that bouquet of levers mumbling “the fuck am I looking at?” here’s all you need to do to drive it: first, make sure all the levers are um, huh. I guess, okay, to go in first, the leftmost lever is in D, the middle lever is down, and the rightmost lever is down – that’s first gear. So you start off, then shift the rightmost lever up, which shifts from first to second. To go from second to drive, move the middle lever up. Then, to go from third (or drive) to fourth (overdrive), move the leftest lever to the OD gear. Is that right? I think so. Let’s watch a video:

I guess you get used to it, and seeing it in action doesn’t seem so bad, but still who the hell wanted this? I can’t possibly see how this would make for quicker shifts than a regular sequential-type shifter, like the earlier Dual Gate. I mean, the three rods are certainly a fun novelty, but I just have yet to meet someone who desperately wishes their car was more like a pipe organ in terms of complexity of levers. In fact, in case you are one of those people, there was even a specialized four lever setup that was used for track driving, somehow. I think the extra lever allowed for reverse?

I love this thing so much, because it’s so gleefully, deliriously absurd. Can you imagine drag racing with this setup? There’s no way you’d be faster than, oh, literally anything else, if only because you have to move your hands across three separate levers and the idea of trying to do that all quickly in the high-pressure environment of a drag race makes my brain hurt and a lone trickle of blood creep out of my nose. It’s like if Oldsmobile said hey, instead of just shifting normally in our superfast car, what if you solved a Rubik’s cube side every time you want to shift gears? How cool is that?

I think having a setup like this in your car has to be worth it just for the blank, confused stares you’d get from anyone who opened your door. Imagine the fun you could have watching a valet choke back a sob as they take your keys and sit down in this thing. I mean, sure, I think you can also just drive it in normal, fully-automatic D, which I’m pretty certain every Hurst/Olds owner did 90% of the time after the first month of ownership, but that’s not the point.

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Also, wild ridiculousness still beats misogyny, every time. Feel free to use this as an example if ever challenged.

 

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Tom Gabriele
Tom Gabriele
8 months ago

I like how even in the original ad that mocks all women for being unable to drive a “manual”, it still even throws shade on all men for not being able to find D or shifting into reverse by mistake.

Black Peter
Black Peter
8 months ago

Is there a reason that this site doesn’t expand pictures like the “other site” or at least post graphics larger than 400×400 and 24 bit?

Lockleaf
Lockleaf
8 months ago

I fully intend to build a 4 lever truck, but it will be an actual manual.

T18 Transmission, Dana 20 twin stick transfer case, Saturn overdrive case.

8 speeds plus 2wd low, thank you very much.

MikeInTheWoods
MikeInTheWoods
8 months ago

The second ad still says the product will enhance your cock-pit.

Archer
Archer
8 months ago

I’m surprised no one has mentioned the RCR video on this exact car. Regardless of what you think of the humor, the guy does a great job explaining this wonderful piece of eighties bullshit

https://youtu.be/YjTqjRK_SQs?si=l6RcyFrtdtyQUmaU

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
8 months ago

Lightning Rod sounds like the name of a 80s porn actor to me.

Dead Elvis, Inc.
Dead Elvis, Inc.
8 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Crawford

His career ended prematurely.

Angry Bob
Angry Bob
8 months ago

Had to pull out of the industry.

Phuzz
Phuzz
8 months ago

I feel like I’m too European to understand this, but how is the better than just using a manual gearbox?

Scoutdude
Scoutdude
8 months ago
Reply to  Phuzz

Well at this point in time manual transmissions were gone from this type of car, in part due to shrinking demand and in part due to emission regulations, which added up to it being too expensive to offer. With the traditional floor and column shifter it was possible to overshoot your target if you weren’t careful. This makes it so you can slam the lever into the next gear w/o worry about overshooting. The other thing is this is meant to emulate the shifters used for the Lenco transmission used in drag racing.

Hondaimpbmw 12
Hondaimpbmw 12
8 months ago
Reply to  Scoutdude

This! I couldn’t remember the name right away, but it henLenco was a no clutch, no lift 4 speed manual that required rearward yank on each of the levers in turn to get down the 1/4 mile

David Escargot
David Escargot
8 months ago

Seems like a poor man’s Bruno-Lenco setup

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
8 months ago

I think the inspiration for the Lightning Rods was the Lenco transmission which is worthy of an Autopian feature itself due to its modular construction of gear modules each with its own lever. This made for an impressive sight both at rest and on a quarter mile.
I vaguely remember the his and hers from old articles and that’s an attitude I have no nostalgia for. The dual gate idea also showed up in the Jaguar XJ40 for a while.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
8 months ago

You know, with this kind of setup with a modern automatic, Hurst could make a setup with to TEN shift levers!!!

IT WOULD BE GLORIOUS!

I now give you this truck video with how you shift 3 shifters…
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCXjaBu2APc&t=80s&ab_channel=laketrish54

Dale Mitchell
Dale Mitchell
8 months ago

‘I just have yet to meet someone who desperately wishes their car was more like a pipe organ in terms of complexity of levers’

Lets take it to the next level and add three clutch pedals; provides the ultimate in theft deterrence, amirite?

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
8 months ago
Reply to  Dale Mitchell

Then it’s a question of learning double and triple clutching… causing everyone to be AMAZED!

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
8 months ago

Back in high school, the assistant manager of the store (stock boy, since it was a high school job) I worked at had an adult son who made questionable-but-exciting choices. One of those was building out his daily driver mid-80s Monte Carlo SS into a bracket racer. He started by stroking the stock 305 out to a 334 (instead of doing the logical thing of starting with a 350), swapping in a truck 12-bolt (so five lug front wheels and six lug rear), and then his most exciting piece – the triple stick setup from a Hurst-Olds.

He dumped a ton of money into a car that ran a 12.8 in the quarter, though to his credit it ran it consistently. He said the triple stick setup actually worked really well at the strip, but I think that’s only true because his car was pretty slow and he hadn’t ever used something like a slap shifter or ratchet shifter.

Right before I quit he was talking about putting in a trans brake in the 200R4 his Monte came with, and he didn’t seem interested in my suggestion about a transmission scatter shield. Very questionable, very exciting.

Last edited 8 months ago by Squirrelmaster
Ariel E Jones
Ariel E Jones
8 months ago
Reply to  Squirrelmaster

A 12.8 1/4 mile isn’t bad, especially for a crappy mid 80s Monte Carlo.

Anchor
Anchor
8 months ago
Reply to  Squirrelmaster

When I was at tech school the car that kept winning brackets every season was an automatic equipped geo metro. Thing ran like a 24.8 but it did it every time and never broke out.

Mike B
Mike B
8 months ago
Reply to  Anchor

I spent a lot of time at the track in the early ’00s, and a girl in a 90’s Grand Am always dominated the bracket race.

William
William
8 months ago

It’s kind of beautiful to see an option for MORE tactile feedback. Nowadays with touchscreen-everything, it would certainly be a change of pace if an automaker offered an option for even chunkier buttons. Like buttons on an old blender that make a CLUNK noise! Have some rods! They’re complicated but you’ll have fun! Go for it bud!

notoriousDUG
notoriousDUG
8 months ago
Reply to  William

Yeah, a 12.8 is a pretty respectable ET for a street car of that era; especially one running as all a motor as that.

Beer-light Guidance
Beer-light Guidance
8 months ago

You need to talk about the Hurst-Gillette joint venture when they decided “Fuck Everything, We’re Doing Five Shifters”

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
8 months ago

I would love to see a hidden camera under cover cop show with a Hurst Shifter in the decoy car. And watch one criminal after another try to steal it. And hey whoever doesn’t know gets arrested the one who can wins the car.

Crank Shaft
Crank Shaft
8 months ago

I just let KITT do my shifting.

Stig's Cousin
Stig's Cousin
8 months ago

I am curious what happens if you shift the levers incorrectly. What happens if you are in 1st and instead of moving the right lever forward (i.e. to second gear), you move the center lever forward? According to the instructions, that would place this transmission in a gear that doesn’t exist. What happens then?

To me, the strangest part of this shifter is that there are four lever combinations that, according to the instructions, do not correspond with gears (OD with middle/right levers in any position other than forward [3 possible combinations] and D with only the middle lever forward). It is odd to design a shifter with 4 correct shifter positions and an equal number of incorrect shifter positions.

I appreciate the novelty of this shifter, but I can’t imagine anyone thought this actually improved the way the car functioned.

Last edited 8 months ago by Stig's Cousin
Scoutdude
Scoutdude
8 months ago
Reply to  Stig's Cousin

I doubt it is possible to put the levers in an incorrect position. This is still connected to the trans with a cable like the standard floor shifter. So those levers just ratchet the cable through the D, 2 and 1 positions. So I’m betting that you can’t shift out of D on the main lever unless the other levers are in the forward position and I bet they can’t be moved once the main lever is in any position other than D. I also bet that you can’t move the far lever unless the middle lever is back. While the middle lever is locked out unless the far lever is forward.

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
8 months ago

The Hells Angels font for the hers in the his and hers shifter is pretty amusing.

Cryptoenologist
Cryptoenologist
8 months ago

Torch, I feel personally attacked. As the proud owner of an MR2 Spyder with the SMT, not all automated manuals were just trying to make things more convenient and falling short. While the shifting is a bit slower than a quick human, and there is no was to drop the clutch, the true control of gearing and steering wheel buttons makes it really fun to drive. The only time it ever shifts for you is when you come to a stop it automatically downshifts back to 1st. Otherwise, it will let you bounce of the rev limiter all day if you want. Sure a DCT would be better most of the time, but when downshifting two gears(which happens a lot) they are pretty much equal.

Boulevard_Yachtsman
Boulevard_Yachtsman
8 months ago

I saw a mint condition one of these Lighting-Rod equipped cruisers a number of years ago at a small-town car show and was completely blown away that something like this came on a factory Oldsmobile. Luckily the owner who had bought the car fresh from the dealer was there to explain the craziness.

After showing me how the setup worked, he went on to say that he had taken it to the dragstrip quite a number of times and no matter how quick or at what rpms he threw those rods into place, he couldn’t beat his times when he just put it in drive and mashed the gas.

I walked away slightly less impressed, but smiling and still kind of wanting one.

The “HIS and HERS” shifter this grew out of is new to me, but hilarious. I feel like Mad Men really missed an opportunity to add that into one of their alt-history plotlines. Also, Hurst could’ve been a bit more creative with the shape of that key – a straight shaft, for sure, but perhaps with a couple of accents where one grabs it. And, at that point they could have just given the keyhole a nice rose-colored hue to truly “go all the way” with their messaging.

Last edited 8 months ago by Boulevard_Yachtsman
Lardo
Lardo
8 months ago

Love the graphics. Want to get a big blow up of His and Hers to put on the wall. I like shifting my colorado zr2. It likes to rev., I usually lug it. But it’s not a truck motor. It’s got the GM cold air box and cat back and it sounds good at higher revs.

Thomas The Tank Engine
Thomas The Tank Engine
8 months ago

It’s often said that having a stick shift is a great way to stop a car being stolen (in the US). A thief gets in the car, realises that it’s a stick shift (which they are unable to drive) and immediately gets out.

But this type of shifter would be the ultimate theft deterrent, because nobody would know what those extra levers would do, even though the car is an auto.

What a crazy, wacky setup. Would love to know more about how they were perceived at the time, car reviews from that era for example.

Joe The Drummer
Joe The Drummer
8 months ago

Having been a budding 12-year-old Autopian developing his love and knowledge of muscle cars in 1984, smack in the middle of The Malaise Era, I can only tell you that I would have thought something along the lines of, “Hmph. This would have been a lot more fun on a real car like a W30 442.”

Scoutdude
Scoutdude
8 months ago

I believe I still have my pickup because it has a manual transmission. They did successfully force the ignition lock but apparently couldn’t get it to start since they didn’t know that you had to have the clutch pushed in.

Beached Wail
Beached Wail
8 months ago

It’s interesting that this shifter was first available before the P-R-N-D-L shift pattern was mandated. The 1963 version, from the “make any shift pattern you feel like” days, is P-N-D-S-L-R, and you really hope there was a good detent between L and R.

More importantly, you just know there had to be at least one driver somewhere who thought that H-U-R-S-T was the manual shift pattern and wondered why they could never get the car into “H”.

MAX FRESH OFF
MAX FRESH OFF
8 months ago
Reply to  Beached Wail
Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
8 months ago

Those lightning rod shifters in the ad look kinda familiar…I’ve seen them before, but where?

Oh yeah:

https://www.imtbtrails.com/forum/attachments/south-park-s05e11c15-not-in-my-ass-or-mouth-16×9-jpg.25290/

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