A lot of the enjoyment of a car comes from the things you touch. In a car with a manual transmission, a whole lot of parts need to work harmoniously for the experience to be positive. Not only does the gearbox itself need to operate correctly, but the linkage, gear selector rod, and even the outer surface of the lever all need to have a certain feel. While there are some great cars with absolutely terrible shifters, my old Saab 900 comes to mind, most great driver's cars are defined, at least partially, by that point of contact.
Before we get started with this post, we need to thank Michelin. As many of you know, Michelin is a long-time sponsor of FLATSIXES.com. Recently, they have generously offered to sponsor Project 944 GTS as part of their involvement with our site. Please consider checking out what Michelin has to offer by clicking their banners on this page. Without Michelin's support, and others like them, this site really wouldn't be possible.
My 944's shifter was not long and ropey like my 900's, but there was definitely room for improvement. Though the 944 uses an Audi-based transmission, the linkage in a 944 is totally different to the one used in an Audi. I felt the side-to-side part of the throw was entirely too long, much like many classic Audis. If any of you have driven an Audi 90, you'll know what I'm talking about. Volkswagen Golfs and Jettas suffered the same issue through the early 2000s, though the similarity there was purely coincidental, and far trickier to resolve.
Shortening the Throw
In a 944, the shifter throw can be altered using either an aftermarket gear lever, like this unit offered by Lindsey Racing, or by changing the pivoting linkage on the transmission end. Since I rather liked the stock shifter-to-steering wheel distance, I opted for this pivoting linkage from Only944.
Installing the new linkage requires surprisingly few tools. This is basically everything I needed, save the impact driver I used to remove the lug nuts, and the little magnetic trays I stowed removed nuts in.
Access to the linkage is via the left rear wheelarch. The first steps in the process are to tie your dog off a safe distance away, jack the car up, and remove the rear wheel. Of course, if it is hot, keep a hose handy to spray yourself down and refill the water dish.
With the wheel removed, access to the selector is fairly good. If the car is on a lift, this is a bit easier, but it's doable with the car on the ground. There are three bolts to remove to get the selector out of the car. Two have conical tips which fit in to recesses on the selector(one is under the rubber boot), the third is at the top of the selector. The car is in first gear in the photo, which makes accessing the upper bolt a little easier. Once I broke the nut loose, I returned the car to neutral and removed the nut and bolt the rest of the way.
Old Vs. New
The old selector was a bit stuck to the shaft on the transmission due to corrosion, so removing it required some finesse. I stuck a piece of rod between the selector and the transmission case to keep it from moving, and tapped gently on the end of the selector rod with a brass hammer. Emphasis here is on being gentle. The force required probably wouldn't have hurt my fingers much if I stuck them between the hammer and the selector, but it was enough to break it free. The new selector is a much nicer feeling piece than the stock item, and is slightly lighter.
Installation is the reverse of removal, and takes about 1/3 the time, and 10% the frustration, because tightening a bolt in a tight space is much easier than breaking one loose. I'm very pleased with the end result, and the shifter now feels very crisp. Shift effort is not increased substantially, though I'm certain the fact that I lubricated all of the moving parts in the shift linkage affected this. Throws are reduced 30% fore and aft, as well as side to side. While I didn't feel the 944 needed much reduction in throw fore and aft, you cannot get one without the other, and it does feel spectacular.
Improving the Tactile Feel
I'll admit, the shifter in project 944 GTS didn't LOOK too bad, but the thirty year old leather had gone beyond that desirable broken-in feel to something much worse. It was waxy, the material flaked and left black deposits on your hand every time I shifted, and was just generally gross. Repeated cleanings with leather cleaner and conditioner didn't improve things, so it was time for a change.
I fitted a new cover, though I am going to skip the how-to step as I am not to be trusted. The manufacturer supplies good instructions, and I took things a little too far at step 11. I trimmed too much material off, and the edge of the cover did not slip neatly under the shifter cap. The fault with this install is with the installer, not the product. Praise where praise is due, the material feels wonderful, and it is a great improvement over the decaying stock knob. It fits well around the base, and is all around an improvement over the original. Honestly, I like the new leather well enough that I will redo this job in the near future.
The e-brake boot, which required no trimming by me, slipped on perfectly, and replaced the original item which had long since dried out, and felt more fake than the vinyl rear seat.
With each small step, project 944 GTS is getting tighter and tighter. The big steps are still to come, with new struts, shocks, and a rear seat delete on the way.