2011 Ford Mustang GT 5.0: No More Stubby Levers
February 21, 2011
That's it, let's call a halt to the race to make shift levers totally stubby.
Apparently someone wants every shift lever to look and feel like it comes from a Mazda MX-5 Miata, except this Mustang's shift lever is a poster child for everything that's wrong with the whole idea.
It's a fine thing to have a short lever and a short-throw shift linkage, but only if you're dealing with a fairly wispy amount of torque, like from an Austin-Healey Sprite or something. (Actually the Miata's shift action was patterned after that of a Sprite.)
When there's a lot of torque like the 390 lb-ft here then the gears have to be pretty robust to withstand the forces involved as they mesh. And a short throw linkage simply makes the gears come together a little more rapidly that they might like and puts a lot of stress on the synchros besides. A short-throw linkage also inspires the unimaginative to rip the shift from first to second, and sometimes even second to third. The transmission is pretty much the most complex sub-assembly in a car, and the consequences of abuse involve digits with at least three zeroes behind them.
I'm also not a fan of a short shift lever like this because you have to move the shift lever with your hand on top of the knob, a kind of dexterity test that challenges your ability to find the next shift gate. And when I try to drop down my hand to grasp the lever from the rear, my elbow fouls the center console.
This short shift lever and short-throw shift linkage for this Getrag MT-82 transmission might seem like a good deal, but I'd rather have the shift lever and linkage of the Tremec 6060 gearbox of our former Camaro long-term test car. (Which is the only thing about the Camaro that I like better than this Mustang.)
Perhaps I've known too many racers from the 1950s, who have all told me that the transmission is the last place where you try to find lap time in a car. Carroll Shelby says he won lots of races in the crappy old Cad-Allard of his early days because he was smart enough to keep from abusing the Jaguar transmission.
Dan Gurney and his Riverside buddy Skip Hudson used their Ford hot rods to work out that you could take a car out of gear as fast as you wanted, but then you had to be deliberate while engaging the next gear. Gurney says that Ferrari racing cars of the late 1950s were a revelation because you could shift them as quick as you wanted, as they had been engineered to be the most robust part of the car (a reaction to the terrible reliability problems of early Ferrari transmissions).
And Bob Bondurant still teaches his students to be easy on the transmission, a lesson he learned in his early days as a Corvette racer, even though those Borg-Warner T-10s were apparently pretty good.
Every time I drive the Mustang, I think about how long the transmission is going to last.
Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunbds.com