Short Throw Shifter


This page documents the modifications I made to the gear shift lever in my 1996 Dakota V8 5-speed. This may or may not work on other model years; I would immagine this technique (or a variation thereof) would work on just about any Dak, but I have no way to be sure. (i.e. Use at your own risk.) Now go and give those auto drivers what for... happy shifting! :-)

What's the deal with this mod? Well, the stick in the Dak (and most trucks, actually) is pretty long, which is a disadvantage for drag racing. Generally, the longer the throw, the more time it takes to shift, and while you're shifting, you're not putting the power to the ground. So basically, I wanted to get a short stick in there to try and speed up my shifts. There wasn't anything available on the aftermarket though (surprise, surprise) so if I wanted a shorter stick, it was gonna be up to me...

One note: I decided that I wanted a T handle on the top with a button in it which I could use at a future date for something like a line lock or nitrous. I narrowed it down to 2 Hurst T-handles that I saw in the Summit catalog. One has a 7/16-20 thread, and the other has 3/8-20. If you don't want the button, you can save $9.

To get an idea of what might be involved, I looked in my FSM and took apart the boot and the shifter. At first glance, this seemed like something that would be fairly easy... The stick is screwed on top of a small rod that comes out of the tranny. I figured I'd just put a rod coupling nut on there, buy a piece of rod, and stick a knob on the top. It didn't turn out to be quite that easy. Why? Because of the metric system. Yes, that's right... This is yet another place where Ma Mopar saw fit to use this evil system on 'merican iron. The rod that comes out of the tranny has a 14mm-2 thread. Although perplexed, I was still optimistic at this point. I figured "OK, I'll get a 14mm-2 rod coupling nut, some 14mm-2 rod, and either grind the top down to a standard size and cut some threads with a die, or tap new threads in the handle. Wrong. Do you think I could find a 14mm-2 rod coupling nut? Heck no! I did find one place on the Internet that had them, but they only sold in quantities of 100 or so, and I didn't want to spend that much on this project. I did finally find a hardware store that carried 14mm-2 rod, but without the coupling nut, it wouldn't do me any good.

At this point, I thought maybe I could make my own rod coupling nut. I thought I would buy a large bolt and tap 14mm-2 threads through it. At this point, I decided that I would make half of the coupling 14mm-2, but the other half would be standard so that I could put some standard rod in there and screw the handle right to the top without having to worry about grinding down the 14mm rod. I wanted to try and find some brass or aluminum or something so corroding wouldn't be a problem (and also to make it easier to drill and tap), but wasn't having much luck. I bought the tap I needed, but then someone suggested a machine shop might be a good place to check. Feeling like an idiot for not thinking of it sooner, I checked into it and found that they would do the job for slightly less than what I paid for the tap! This was a no brainer. They made it out of some sort of bronze/steel alloy so it looks really nice, and its as strong if not stronger than steel. They went with the 7/16" for the extra strength, so one end is 14mm-2, and the other is 7/16-20. (It is drilled and tapped all the way through.)

With a sigh of relief, I paid the machinist... I finally had the missing link! :-) Well, I didn't actually sigh at the machinist; that would have been pretty strange. It was more of an internal kind've sigh. You know, like a sort've... ummm... What the heck are you reading this for??? Shouldn't you be checking out the install? Weirdo.
The install:

Here you see all of the parts... The Hurst "T-command" handle, the 7/16" rod, and the mutant coupling.

This is the "before" shot; sort of... I had actually been driving around for a month or so with the boot and such removed; I just set everything more or less back in place for these pictures.

Speaking of driving around with the shifter boot removed... There is a lot of noise that comes up through there!! That little boot blocks a surprising amount of sound.

To remove the stock shifter, you need to stick a screwdriver or something down alongside the cap with the shift pattern printed on it, and pry it out. I don't know of a way to do this without damaging the knob. Maybe if you heated it first? You might be able to get away without removing the knob. Try pushing the boot down until the "nut" down there is exposed; you might be able to pull the lever out of the boot instead of removing the boot over the lever.
Anyway, if you do decide to go this route, once you remove the cap from the knob, slap a socket on the nut in there and remove it. A 14mm socket worked for me. Once you get the nut out, the knob just unscrews from the top of the stick. I apologize for the quality of these 2 pics. (Darn camera...) :-P

The plastic piece at the base of the boot isn't held in by clips or screws or anything; just the pressure of the boot above it. Grab it and pull it out. Once you do that, there are 6 screws around the base of the boot that you need to remove. A 5/16" socket did the job. An extension helped to remove the ones at the back. The rubber of the boot will want to push the socket off the screw, so you'll have to push down at first.

To remove the stick, crank counter-clockwise on that "nut" which is sort've integrated into the stick. It didn't want to budge for me, so after much frustration and trying to jockey for position in the cab, I introduced it to Mr. Pipe Wrench, which snapped that thing loose so quickly that I wished I had thought of it 5 minutes before... After the initial loosening, an 11/16" wrench worked just fine.

After you remove the stick, this is what you're left with. The pic at the right shows what it looks like with that rubber guard out of the way. If you look through the hole, you can see your tranny, Y pipe, upstream O2 sensor, and the ground. (Which can be a bit disconcerting if you drive with it off. Another thing that is a bit disconcerting is the amount of noise generated by the engine and the tranny. At 3,000rpm, your engine sounds like its ready to blow up! Its pretty loud.) :-)

Here, I have screwed the mutant coupling onto the nub, and I'm trying to get an idea of how long I want to make the rod. I found a pen floating around in the cab. When I stuck it in there and put the handle on top, it seemed just about right, so I went with it.

Finally, time to make the rod! I grabbed the 7/16-20 die, then positioned the rod on a countertop along with my high-tech measuring pen, to decide where to cut it. Unfortunately, I made my mark at the middle of the coupling. As it turns out, the nub on the tranny doesn't actually go half way up, its a little less. That meant the rod had to sink down further into the coupling and made the shifter a bit shorter than I intended. Fortunately, I've got over 2 feet left, so I've got plenty of opportunities to mess up. :-)

I cut the rod to the desired length, (note to self: next time you cut a piece of rod with a hacksaw, do not put tap and die lubricant in the cut! It prolongs the life of the tools, but also makes the saw about as effective as a butter knife), beveled the edges slightly with a file to help the die to get started, then cut the thread. Its important here to keep the work lubricated and especially to make sure the die is threading straight down the rod. I managed to get a bit off center, but fortunately not enough to ruin the entire thing.

Put all the parts together, and this is what you get. Not too shabby; its almost exactly half as long as the stock unit! (16 vs 8 inches)

I put the coupling on the nub, and tightened it as much as I could by hand, then screwed the rod into that. I used two 7/16-20 nuts to tighten the rod into the coupling. (thread them onto the rod, tighten them against each other, then wrench clockwise on the top nut to turn the entire thing...) After replacing the boot, I installed the T handle, tightening it against the 7/16-20 nut that came with the handle. I routed the wire into the boot and out the left side. I don't have a use for it at the moment, so I've just wrapped it around the boot, underneath the plastic molding. All you have to do now is to put the plastic molding piece back on, and go for a drive!

Here is the final product, from a few different angles. After these pictures were taken, I turned the handle counter-clockwise a bit, to make the handle more perpendicular to the throw of a shift, as it felt more comforatable that way.

Driving impressions:

The throw is about 3 1/2 inches. I don't recall what stock was, but this is a lot less. Yes, you do have to lean forward a little bit to shift, especially for a 2-3 or 4-5 shift, since you have to "get down" on it and push forward. For a 1-2 or 3-4 shift though, I can simply grab the handle with my fingertips and flick it down.

Did it help the shifts? I'm not sure... The NV3500 tranny has a lot of resistance inside. When you get rid of that huge lever, you've got to use more force to get the shifter into gear. (Try shifting your truck by grabbing the stick way down at the base sometime...) So anyway, that resistance in the tranny is multiplied by the reduced lever. Yes, the travel is much less, but it takes more force to push it into place. As it stands, I don't know how much the shifts have improved (if at all). The 3-4 and 4-5 shifts are definitely quicker, especially the 3-4 shift where you can easily flick the lever down. The 1-2 and 2-3 shifts have a lot more resistance than the upper gear shifts though. The jury is still out on those. I think what I am going to do is to make another rod about an inch to an inch and a half longer. There should be some happy medium here between force and speed... I'll post the results of my experimenting here.

One thing that I noticed immediately with the new shifter was that I could now operate the radio in 1st, 3rd, and 5th without the stupid lever getting in the way. :-) I'm still getting used to the shorter lever; I'll often get inside the truck and reach for the lever to put it in neutral, only to find air since I'm grabbing where it used to be... :-) The interior of the truck looks a lot better, and when I'm driving I feel like I'm cruising in an old 'vette or something. :-) Hopefully a slightly longer rod will result in the performance to match the looks.

Note: A few days after I wrote this report, I lengthened the rod by 2 inches, and I am much happier with the shifts now. I've had it to the strip with the new shifter, and the shifts are nice and quick. 3-4 is a "blink and you'll miss it" kind've deal. I'm not sure if its because of the shifter or not, but I'm now getting a little chirp in 3rd gear at the track.

3" Mutant coupling$10.00
7/16" rod$3.65
Hurst shifter handle (p/n 1538510)$29.75
2 7/16-20 nuts to tighten rod$.40

Tools used:

flat head screwdriver
14mm socket wrench
5/16 socket wrench
pipe wrench
11/16 open end wrench
7/16-20 die

If you find any errors, or if you have any comments or suggestions, please let me know.
Jon Steiger (jon@dakota-truck.net)
March 25, 1999
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