Gear levers were originally connected directly to the gearbox to provide a better "feel" for the equipment in the days of non-synchronized units. Since the gearbox itself was directly under the floor, it followed that the gearstick would sprout from the middle of the floor where the driveline lived. Not counting the early experimentation with external gear lever placement, the floor shift stayed centered in the floor.
In 1938 General Motors offered an option for a column mounted gear lever. Called "Safety Gear Shift Control", it added ten bucks to the price of the car, but it was new and convenient. Passengers riding in the center of front seat were finally freed of dodging the driver's gearchanges on floor shifters. Soon, all domestic American cars offered a column change as an option and eventually it became the standard placement.
This elegant solution was not lost on our British cousins. Postwar, British carmakers offered a number of models with a three of four speed gearbox with column shift. Let's take a look at a few of them.
Sunbeam Alpine Mark 1
|Courtesy Alpine Owners Club|
Austin A90 Atlantic
|Courtesy Austin Owners Club|
As with most makers of saloon cars for those of moderate means, Morris also offered a column shifter in their Oxford family car. Unlike the two cars mentioned earlier, the "Farina" Oxford's stick was attached to a four speed 'box. The engine is the familiar B-series four cylinder found in countless cars and trucks built during the time. Check out this video of a somewhat needy '62 Morris Oxford under way. Some young readers may have never seen a column shifter in action.
Your faithful blogger had his share of column shift experiences, too. Ownership of an old Dodge pickup with linkage so sloppy that it would occasionally require some quick underhood reassembly, usually at traffic lights when it would go into a box-full-of-neutrals mode. A quick drive in a co-worker's fintail Mercedes was my first (and so far, only) experience with a four speed column mounted shifter back in the day.
Do you have experience with British-built column shift gearboxes? Tell us about it in the comments section.