How to… shorten the gear lever

Words and pictures: Rob Bell

This page contains: Introduction | What you'll need | How to do it


Why on earth would anyone want to shorten the gear lever on their car? "Why wouldn't they" would be my reply - after all, MG Rover shortened the MGF gear lever themselves when they introduced the 2000 model year cars in 1999. But why do it? Mostly because you'll find that the gear shift quality improves. Which may seem a little odd, but because the gear lever is, er, a lever, it amplifies any slack at the selector assembly - which is essentially a two axis gimbal. Any wear in any of the pivots, and you'll feel the effect more the longer the lever. So in a way it is a bodge - but equally, it is what the more expensive quick shifts are offering. A shorter gear lever also means a shorter gear throw between gears - and that, in a sports car, is a desirable thing.

Standard gear knob and lever left, versus a shortened lever and Momo equipped lever right - you already know which looks and feels better don't you?

There are essentially two ways to do this - first would be to change the gear knob for an aftermarket item. Early cars had a very tall plastic gear knob which makes the lever even longer - so replacing it with a Momo or similar gear knob makes quite a difference. This was one of the very first modifications to my car in 1996, not long after I'd originally bought it... Using a gear knob that attaches using grub screws rather than the self taping thread on the lever will also make a small difference to the overall height.

The second option is to cut the lever down. How much shorter is very much dependent upon the type of gear knob you are planning to use. If it is a standard-type item, then you'll need to retain some thread at the top of the lever (I wouldn't go too much more than a 15mm chop in this case). But if you are using the universal grub-screw retained type, then you can chop away merrily to your hearts content! Brian's advice way back in 1998 (where I first read about folk cutting down the gear lever - in this case it was Dirk in Luxemburg) was to cut at 1/4" intervals until you were happy with the result. Still seems like good advice to me.

The first task is always to ensure that as much play has been removed from the selector mechanism (more on this here). Thereafter, the job ahead is very simple...

What you'll need:

Tools required:
  • Junior hack saw, with suitable metal cutting blade
  Materials required:
  • Replacement gear knob (optional)
  Time required:
  • 30 minutes

How to strip down and refurbish standard gear lever assembly

1. Prepare the area. Assuming that you are not going to remove the gear lever from the car (although this is certainly possible), you'll want to put down some sheets/ rags/ paper to collect any metal debris around the base of the gear lever to protect the trim.
2. Select a gear - it doesn't matter too much which one (I am assuming that you haven't left the engine running here, or else you'll have just shunted another car/ wall and your insurance company will not be happy...). I used first gear, which when sitting in the driver's seat meant I could easily work on the lever with the hack saw.

Remove the existing gear knob.

3. Holding the gear lever steady with one hand, cut the end of the gear lever with the junior hack saw. I cut down 15mm - but potentially you can cut down further, but consider which gear knob you have, and how it attaches to the lever.
4. Replace gear lever, and try for size. Cut down further. It's better to do in small stages, as it is much easier to shorten the lever than it is to lengthen again...