For most people who have driven a car with an automatic transmission, the one thing that is common is that you can easily shift through all forward gears, and neutral, simply by moving the shifter. One thing this does for the daily driver is that it makes it easier to get into and out of drive, but usually people put the car in gear and the shifter doesn’t get touched again until it’s ready for park or reverse.
From a performance standpoint, however, the three or four forward drive gears will get used more often. If you have a factory automatic shifter, you know that you can easily blow a shift by skipping into the wrong gear – or worse, you could accidentally slam the shifter into neutral. Hitting neutral instead of ‘drive’ when you’re at your shift point could mean engine damage from over revving.
B&M Racing and Performance has been around for 60 years; they brought us the Hydro Stick in the mid 1950s – the only patented 4-speed Automatic Racing Transmission. They now develop a shifter that is geared towards the performance enthusiast, with a very cool feature that helps avoid shifting into the wrong gear. Utilizing a ratchet mechanism, B&M’s ratchet shifters won’t allow you to jump two forward gears at a time, nor will it allow you to accidentally shift into reverse without using a lockout lever.
With the vehicle in park, the lockout lever must be pulled to get the car into reverse. From reverse, one click brings you back to neutral, and back to reverse requires the lockout lever. In neutral through low 1, the shifter will only allow moving into the next upper or lower shifter position. That means that being in low 2 you can’t accidentally push the lever into neutral until you’ve moved it into drive and let the shift lever rest.
The ratcheting shifter allows the driver to concentrate on the road in front of him, and not on the transmission shifter. – Victor Pham
Unlike a typical automatic shifter, as the B&M lever ratchets, it stays in one position and the ratcheting mechanism is where the shifting takes place. What does this mean for the driver? As B&M Design Engineer Victor Pham says, “The ratcheting shifter allows the driver to concentrate on the road in front of him, and not on the transmission shifter.” That alone, can take a tenths of a second off your quarter mile times because you have the confidence to shift one gear at a time, without accidentally shifting too hard and skipping a gear.
We took a tour of the B&M Shifters offices recently, and spoke to Pham about the design and engineering process at B&M. He said they put their shifters through testing that has proven the shifter to be so strong and durable that the shifter testing equipment often breaks. Their goal now is to develop a tester that will withstand the millions of shifts that these shifters are put through. Given B&M’s reputation for quality and performance, chances are that whatever technology is used to design that testing equipment will likely make it’s way into the shifters themselves, and the desire for stronger testing equipment will be needed.
While the shifters are not manufactured at their facility, the design and engineering that goes into their shifters is done in their offices. The parts are manufactured, and then tested and calibrated by B&M before they are assembled and put into production. If those prototypes don’t meet their rigid standards, it’s back to the drawing board and the design is improved upon. Two lab techs spend their days measuring and calibrating shifters to make sure that tolerances are minimal and that each mechanism functions properly.
Pham told us that they often design shifters based on consumer requests and also on vehicle popularity. When it comes to a shifter, the quality of many of the latest factory shifters is acceptable for a daily driver. But for the performance enthusiast, the shifter is put through its paces far more than any daily driver sees in its lifetime.
B&M must take into consideration the factory consoles and linkages, and design their shifters to work with many factory transmissions. This often means a cable system that will be easy to connect, and all of the proper brackets and levers to make those shifts.
If the B&M shifter won’t fit under a factory console, the task is on the team at B&M to design a new console that will fit in place and look right at home. The bottom line with performance shifters is that they do more than just get you in and out of the driveway – they can also get you into the winner’s circle by giving you the confidence to shift gears without taking your eyes off the road ahead. For more information about B&M’s line of ratcheting shifters, check out the B&M Racing and Performance web site where you’ll find applications and other performance parts for your classic or modern musclecar.