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Why Column gear shift

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Mick B128/11/2017 10:27:37
1155 forum posts
64 photos

Perhaps there was a theory that floor-shift drivers would take their eyes further from the road when selecting? I remember that among the primary school kids I ran around with in the 50s, floor shifts were regarded as a bit old-fashioned.

Brian G28/11/2017 10:27:42
557 forum posts
22 photos
Posted by V8Eng on 28/11/2017 10:16:31:

I seem to remember that some cars of the period had rather large transmision tunnels, maybe a floor shift would have been too close to the drivers left ear.wink

I am remembering 'Umbrella Handle' type Handbrakes as well now, often in the parcel tray area.

Edited By V8Eng on 28/11/2017 10:17:50

Exactly the opposite on many cars though, with the shift mechanism down by the driver's feet the lever was about two feet long with a commensurately long travel, frequently cranked so far that the H was almost vertical. Until the sportier remote floor shifts became popular, bringing the gear lever closer to the driver, column shift was the upmarket alternative.


Russell Eberhardt28/11/2017 10:44:01
2476 forum posts
85 photos

The place for the gear lever ( and handbrake) for cars that real men drove was outside.

fraser nash


geoff walker 128/11/2017 10:48:56
313 forum posts
132 photos

Column shift was great for changing drivers without stopping the car.

My mate had a vauxhall with column shift. On the long runs to Uni in the late 60's he would partially stand up at the wheel, I would slide across the bench seat into the drivers side and he would step across into the passenger side.

Easy peasy, just slow down to 30 while you make the change.

Long time ago when we were all a bit crazy, well I was!


Sandgrounder28/11/2017 10:57:55
173 forum posts
5 photos

I had a Standard Vanguard in 1963 and this had a right hand column change with a bench seat which allowed me to drive along with my left arm around my girlfriend.


duncan webster28/11/2017 11:29:45
2202 forum posts
32 photos

My first car was a Wolseley 4/44 with column shift. The linkage was so worn that you were not certain which gear you'd get, especially when setting off. You pushed it up I think to try for first, but were just as likely to get reverse or third, and you didn't know which until you let the clutch out. Bit embarrassing at traffic lights. Once on the move it didn't matter as much as it would go almost anywhere in 3rd and top. When I got it the H section chassis rails under the doors were so rotten you had to keep the doors shut to jack it up. I made some Z section 18g bits and pop rivetted them on. Believe it or not it then passed the MOT.

It also had a ball joint accelerator linkage which fell apart when you went over a big bump. Nostalgia? No chance give me a modern car anyday.

Cornish Jack28/11/2017 11:39:53
919 forum posts
120 photos

Hmmm! - column changes - used four back in the 50s/60s, Hillman Minx, Ford Zephyr, Morris J2 and Renault 16. Hillman and Ford OK, Morris awful crook, Renault absolutely superb!!.; it was the only one which was as slick and accurate as a floor change and the only car that I never had any complaints with. Only bought it because the Austin Maxi I intended to buy was delayed on delivery (Ah! British Leyland!!sad)

The J2 was our staff transport in Bangkok and although the gearchange was crap, the weight distribution was such that 'drifting' the back end was easy and great funcheeky



Martin Kyte28/11/2017 12:09:07
1472 forum posts
24 photos

So when was the earliest appearance of a floor change?

We have been considering the 50's and 60's but ignoring external levers and very early cars what was the arrangement in the 20's and 30's. Were columb changes a hang over from then or were they a post war thing.

regards Martin

Ian S C28/11/2017 12:09:34
7444 forum posts
230 photos

With a column shift, and a bench seat, you could get 3 int the front, or if you had a car like the Pontiac that a mate is doing up, or another friends Cadellac you could easily seat 4 across the front, a floor stick sort of gets in the way.

Ian S C

Edited By Ian S C on 28/11/2017 12:48:22

Philip Rowe28/11/2017 12:11:00
171 forum posts
14 photos

Not quite the same thing, but my first driving experiences were in a 1937 Riley Kestrel with a pre-selector box. The gear change, or to be more precise gear selection was a small lever on the right hand side of the steering wheel. This lever was quite small, I seem to remember no more than 3 - 4 inches in length and moved in an arc of around 4 - 6 inches. I always remember the precision with which one could select the gears using just two fingers to move the lever.

I believe that the London bus RT also were fitted with pre selector gearboxes but I seem to recall that the selector lever was shall we say a little more agricultural in it's size and operation.


Farmboy28/11/2017 12:16:01
116 forum posts
8 photos

My dad had a 1953/4 Standard Vanguard diesel (think it was a modified 2 litre tractor engine) with 3-speed column change. 0-60mph in about 5 minutes! If you pulled out the starting fuel boost when driving you got a small power surge and created a smoke screen.

He reckoned he got 40mpg which wasn't bad in those days for a big heavy car. It had red leather bench seats with pull-down armrests, and a valve radio. Unfortunately I was too young and innocent at the time to appreciate the potential benefits of those angel

The previous car was an Armstrong-Siddeley with pre-selector box, running boards, leather bench seats and a pull-down picnic tray in the back . . . happy memories

Oh yes, and 'suicide' doors

Edited By Farmboy on 28/11/2017 12:22:03

Edited By Farmboy on 28/11/2017 12:28:35

Neil Wyatt28/11/2017 12:33:24
16446 forum posts
686 photos
74 articles

Better than a friends ghastly French car in the early 80s which had an umbrella handle sticking out the dash. Its position bore only a casual relationship to which gear you found yourself in.


Neil Wyatt28/11/2017 12:35:31
16446 forum posts
686 photos
74 articles
Posted by Philip Rowe on 28/11/2017 12:11:00:

I believe that the London bus RT also were fitted with pre selector gearboxes but I seem to recall that the selector lever was shall we say a little more agricultural in it's size and operation.

As a lad I was fascinated by the pre-selectors on buses which were a small box, maybe 3-4" square? With a very short lever (with round plastic knob) and a gate from aluminium sheet.


Cornish Jack28/11/2017 13:52:29
919 forum posts
120 photos

"So when was the earliest appearance of a floor change?"

Martin - If we ignore our 'septic' cousins, other than the up-market pre-selectors, almost everything pre WW2 would have a floor mounted gear lever (and a foot operated dip-switch! AND trafficatorsdisgust). Post WW2 we were trying to export and so 'design' migrated towards USA styling and their favoured column changes. Thr French had the Citroen Light 15 example to work from and made what was (for me) the ultimate in lustwothiness - the DS19/21 decapotable with electronic gear change, drool, drool. A navigator mate on S&R had one and driving home for the w/e had a blowout at 70 mph - he only discovered it when he got home!!



ChrisH28/11/2017 14:06:20
827 forum posts
12 photos

"Better than a friends ghastly French car in the early 80s which had an umbrella handle sticking out the dash" I disagree Neil.

I had a Reno 4 in the 1970's, with the 845cc engine and the gear lever - umbrella handle sticking out the dash - was spring loaded to the middle vertical of an elongated 'H' - (elongated meaning it had 3 verticals in the 'H', R-1 up/down on the left, 2-3 up/down in the middle and 4 up on the right!) which gave the 2nd and 3rd gears. The system worked so well, going up and down 1-2-3-4-3-2-3-4-etc the box was so logical and easy, made driving a pleasure. You just push/pulled as required and gave a little turn to the right for 4 and left for 1 or R and it was as quick to change as I can write it!

Mind you, the car did need half an hours notice of trying to overtake anything but it was a very fun car to run and drive.


Edited By ChrisH on 28/11/2017 14:08:29

Martin Kyte28/11/2017 14:07:59
1472 forum posts
24 photos

Aha CJ, now we are getting somewhere.

If, as you say, manufacturors migrated to column change from pre-existing floor stick it would probably have to be for reasons of a desireable selling point to make the added complexity bearable. Totally trashes my ideas that they were just not bothered about simplifying things. American influence wether by virtue of attempting to break into their market or holding our own against their imports seems likely to be a factor. Comments regarding the bench seat may also have a bearing on the subject .

regards Martin

Clive Foster28/11/2017 15:34:57
1807 forum posts
59 photos

Probably no simple single answer. Ultimately many seemingly technical issues are down to the manufacturers best judgement of solving the price / performance / cost to make / buyer appeal conundrum. Ultimately buyer appeal wins out over purely technical considerations. Something frequently overlooked when using 20/20 hindsight is that whatever is designed had to be made using, mostly, existing factory equipment and components that can be bought in appropriate numbers.

When independent front suspension came along engines and gearboxes migrated forwards hence the long flex-wand gear levers needed to give direct connection to the gate on the box. So if you re going to have a remote linkage anyway putting it up on the steering column lets you sell three abreast on a bench seat. Car buyers are rarely logical or properly technologically aware so some things become accepted as the norm in certain eras and marching out of step can cost serious sales.

The superficially simple floor mounted remote gear change link is a classic devil in the detail engineering problem anyway. Bolt it direct to the gearbox and its position relative to the engine mounts can have it jumping around in a big way as the engine - gearbox assembly shifts on the flexi mounts. Bolt it to the floor with its own gate and a flexi in the link system can be just as problematical as a column system in old age. Cables give full isolation and can be either the answer or the problem. As BMC / Leyland found out. 1800 land crab cable links work fine, Maxi Mk1 version upsets the journalists and by osmosis all informed opinion agrees its hopeless. Not that I ever had problem. Hand flat on the top of the lever, roll slightly opposite the direction it needs to go and it will shift as fast and accurate as you could ever want. The springs will centralise it. Grab and stir like its a Ford and you get nowhere.


Samsaranda28/11/2017 15:53:51
776 forum posts
5 photos

Back in the mid 60's the wife's cousin acquired an Armstrong Siddley Saphire, a beautiful gleaming black beast with two large chrome headlamps. He carried out a conversion on it and changed it's knackered engine for a Perkins Marine Diesel, he was an automobile engineer so not too difficult to achieve, can't remember whether it was column change or not, turned into a beautiful car to ride in if not somewhat noisy with th diesel propulsion unit. Lost track of the car over the years but believe it ended up at the Montague Motor Museum at Beaulieu.

Dave W

RRMBK28/11/2017 16:08:17
128 forum posts
18 photos

Peugot, Citroen & Fiat used column change very successfully on their 90's range of Left hand drive mid range transverse engine vans. The column rod was designed and located to fit directly onto the the top of the selector rod protruding out of the top of the gearbox. It rotated a 1/4 turn either side of neutral and up and down about 1/2 above the centre, to give a sort of vertical gate. When new they were beautifully smooth changing with virtually no lost motion.

The vans were sold in the UK using the Talbot brand name which Peugot owned. Unfortunately whoever was given the thankless task of trying to convert this vertical and rotary movement into a Right hand drive, floor mounted gate about 3 feet away from the selector rod and also with its pivot point below it, ended up creating a pretty good replica in rod and wire, of a ball of wool after the kitten got hold of it.

So many joints that lost motion was inevitable and excessive, as a result of this the vans were never really successful in the UK, whereas in Europe there are still lots of them hard at work.

Couldn't agree more about the beauty of the delectable DS, but the balance characteristics carries on to some new models . I have had two punctures on the rear of my Citroen Picasso at speed and not realised either of them until another motorist flagged me down . No rear passenger in though , I suspect this would have made a difference.

I also learnt to drive on an early side valve Morris J and that gear lever behind you was odd till you got used to it. Even more awkward was that my instructor ( dad ) had to stand up, barking in my ear ( very noisy old vans ) as it only had one seat - no passenger seat fitted to save costs.

V8Eng28/11/2017 17:15:53
1313 forum posts
27 photos

Moving upmarket.

Some Bentley cars used to have the gear stick on the right hand side of the drivers seat (my boss had one in 1973).

I think one particular Riley model featured that as well.


Edited for spelling

Edited By V8Eng on 28/11/2017 17:20:23

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