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4-Speed Shifter Tech Tips
By Dave Anderson/
Printable version
Degree of DifficultyModerate
Estimated Time240 minutes
240 minutes
Any Car Character Can Get Shifty -
The name Hurst will forever be linked to the 4-speed transmission. Though in production prior to the 1964 introduction of the GTO, the coupling of the two validated the performance of one another. Today, the 4-speed transmission and Hurst shifter continue to dominate the drivetrains of muscle cars.
4-Speed Shifter
Talk to any number of muscle car enthusiasts and most will recite moments of frustration with their 4-speed transmissions. At that all-important moment, running hard, side-by-side, a shift was missed and the other guy won. After being run hard for many years, it is not necessarily the transmission's fault—it is likely just an out-of-adjustment shifter, the mechanical one, not the one behind the wheel. We recently spent some time with fellow racer and "shifty character" Bill Baker to gain some insights into methods of keeping your 4-speed shifter on the mend. Baker has been rebuilding transmissions for decades.
Skill Level
Anyone with average mechanical skills utilizing normal hand tools can perform the checks, repairs and updates that we will demonstrate here. Welding may be required for some repairs, so make sure you have the proper safety equipment. The work is more easily performed with the transmission out of the car, but you can perform this Hurst 4-speed shifter tune-up with the transmission in your car. You may, however, need to remove the shifter and linkage as you make the necessary repairs.
Before any disassembly, take a good look at your shifter linkage as installed on the transmission. Give each of the shifter rods a jiggle and note the looseness of the rods. When reassembled, this rod shake will be nearly eliminated.
Shift Levers
One of the main wear items and one most overlooked are the shift levers that attach to the transmission. On hard 1-2 power shifts, wear occurs that diminishes the ability of the shift detent in the transmission to return to Neutral. To troubleshoot this problem, first place your shifter in Neutral then insert an alignment tool (¼-inch rod or drill bit) at the base of the shifter, aligning the three shifter levers. With your transmission now in Neutral, remove the alignment tool. Shift your transmission up into 1st gear, down into 2nd gear then return to Neutral. Place your alignment tool back in place at the bottom of the shifter. If this does not go in without interference, the likely culprit is worn shift levers at the transmission.
The lever nearest the front of the transmission receives the most wear (that hard 1-2 power shift) and is usually the culprit. Its rectangular hole becomes widened top and bottom giving the appearance of a bow tie. This slop prohibits the internals from returning to the correct Neutral position resulting in missed shifts or hard engagement. The quick and easy fix is to just swap the two levers, as the rear lever receives the least amount of wear. But this quick fix is only a short-term fix. You'll be back to complete the repair later.
Both of the levers on Bill's transmission required fixing. Depending on the amount of wear, there are two fixes easily performed. In the worst case, you will need to braze or weld the worn areas and then file fit each hole to fit back onto the transmission. If the lever is not worn too bad you can reshape the hole by using a hammer and center punch. Lay the lever on an anvil (the back of your vise) and make punches around the perimeter of the hole. This will swell the metal back into place. With these levers fixed, you can be assured of positive engagement and disengagement of the gears.
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