How to Make a Short Throw Shifter
- Something to cut hardened steel (dremel, angle grinder, hacksaw, etc)
- #15 Torx
- Pliars, screwdrivers
- Welder (optional)
How To Do It
First, you need to remove the trim from around the shifter. This requires the removal of the center vent section and radio trim (just pop off), and one torx screw holding the console piece on. Then the console trim piece can just be carefully popped off (held in place by 4 clips, 2 on either side).
You can remove the knob and boot at any time. The knob (on the phase II Cavalier's, anyway) is held in place by a "horseshoe" clip or staple on the back side of the knob. Use a screwdriver to pry out the clip. The knob should then pop off. My knob was stuck on good, so I had to wait until the shifter was out of the car, and pound the knob off with a hammer. If you are reusing the stock boot, you will want to remove the plastic piece from inside, otherwise the boot won't slide all the way down and you won't be able to get the shifter any shorter.
Now that the trim is out of the way, you need to get the shifter out of the vehicle. All that is holding it in is a C-clip, and the shift cable connection. Pop off the C-clip using whatever method you deem necessary. Two flat screwdrivers, or a screwdriver and a set of pliers will work for this. Just be careful not to lose the clip! Then pry off the shift cable from the bottom with a long screwdriver. The shifter can now be removed.
Decide where you want to cut. I cut off about 1.5", and used the precut grooves in the shaft that the knob's locking staple hooked into as my mark to cut at. I would recommend using a power tool, such as a Dremel or angle grinder to cut the shaft, as the hardened steal will keep you busy for quite a while with a hacksaw.
If you are re-using the stock knob, you'll need to cut some new grooves for the staple. You will see by the location of where these grooves need to be cut to line back up with the knob, that even though I cut off 1.5" from the shaft, the knob can only slide down an additional 5/8", before it bottoms out. So, the shifter has actually only been shortened by that much.
If you are happy with the height being only a little bit shorter, you can stop now and reassemble. If you want to shorten even further, and shorten the throws even more, continue on. You can see the look of my shifter after performing the above steps in the picture below. It does sit noticeably shorter, and feels a little better.
Since the knob can only slide down so far before bottoming out, the shifter much be shortened by another method than just cutting the shaft. You could cut the shaft down to nothing, and the shifter wouldn't get any shorter, unless you installed a different knob with less height. To accomplish the further shortening, I chose to cut out a section from the middle of the shifter, and weld it back together.
Mark your cut lines on the shifter. I chose to cut out 3/4". You can do more or less, if you wish. Just be sure you don't interfere with the normal operation of the shifter. To further shorten the throws, I also chose to cut off the bottom of the shifter, and weld in an additional 1/2" of metal. This effectively shortens the distance the top half of the shifter has to travel to move the bottom half the same distance, shortening the throws.
Cut your section out of the top of the shifter. Cut off the bottom of the shifter, and cut an extension piece out of some scrap angle iron, or whatever else you have laying around. Then weld everything back up. Be sure your welds are good and strong. It doesn't need to be pretty, just strong ;) I'm going to assume you know how to weld if you plan to attempt this step. I can't be held responsible if your welds break while you're driving!
Be careful when extending the length of the bottom of the shifter. You can't extend it too much, or you will run into clearance issues with the rest of the shifter assembly. I ended up having to grind off a little bit of the assembly inside the car because the shifter cable was hitting, not letting me into first gear. You will also want to grind off as much on the very bottom of the shifter as you can, to try and prevent clearance issues. If you make it too long and can't remedy the problem by grinding, you will need to cut the piece shorter, and re-weld.
Now you can put everything back together, and go for a test drive! It is a good idea to apply some new grease to all friction points. It is also a good idea to get rid of that ugly accordion boot and plastic knob, and install something nicer looking. Or, go all out and fabricate an entirely new bezel as well, like I did. But that is an entirely separate how-to ;)