How Does a Hurst Shifter Work?

by Richard Rowe
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Hurst has produced a lot of shifters and shifter components over the years, from simple knobs and levers to complete mechanical assemblies. But Hurst's signature piece has long been its ratchet-type shifter, the darling of drag racers with automatic transmissions everywhere.

Ratchet Shifter Purpose

As the name implies, the classic Hurst racing shifter works using a kind of ratchet mechanism. Hurst has produced many variations on the design, but they're all meant to do the same basic thing: keep you from over-shifting to the wrong gear in the heat of battle. A ratchet shifter ensures that you never accidentally shift from first to Drive or second to Neutral while slamming through the gears. It's meant to keep you banging through the gears one at a time.

Using the Shifter

The classic ratchet shifter requires the driver to pull back slightly before pushing forward to shift up to the next gear, and pull the release lever or push the release button to shift down. On a classic TH400 three-speed, it would go something like this: pull the lever to bring the transmission all the way back to first gear. Launch the car, then pull back very slightly to release the ratchet mechanism before shifting forward into second. Pull back again, and push forward to shift into third, or Drive.


Shifters designed for overdrive transmissions like the 700-R4 may have a fourth position. Some variations require you to pull the release lever to go into neutral while others allow you to do it with another back-and-forth motion. "Trigger" types take the concept a step further, using trigger-like grips on the shifter that allow you to shift up a single gear by squeezing the trigger lever instead of pulling back. You have to release the lever and squeeze it again to move up another gear. As different as it seems, the trigger-type uses the same basic mechanism as the classic ratchet shifter.

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