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.
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
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.
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
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
Hurst shifter handle (p/n 1538510)
2 7/16-20 nuts to tighten rod
flat head screwdriver
14mm socket wrench
5/16 socket wrench
11/16 open end wrench