I like to think that I know lots of stuff about cars of the muscle era and beyond but every once in a while I am reminded that there’s lots of stuff that I had no idea about, like the factory ratchet shifters that were available in General Motors cars from 1969 through the 1970s in various models. The shifters had an option code and everything. They looked just like the standard issue floor shifters of the day in cars like Firebirds, Chevelles, Grand Ams, and other models but they had a secret and that secret was the ability to be used as a ratchet shifter on the drag strip or on the street thanks to a basically hidden set of gates. Where were they? To the right! The shifter could be pushed laterally to the right and knocked up one gear at a time in an offset pattern to prevent skipping a gear or accidentally hitting neutral at full throttle. This video shows how the thing worked. Frankly, it kind of blew us away that this even existed and when we looked into it, there seems to be a lot of people who either didn’t know about it or are confused as to what these shifters were offered on.
From what we have gathered, Pontiac called this a Rallye shifter and it showed up on their models starting in the 1969 model year. Going forward they were available in A-body models from 1973-1977 and then Pontiac picked them back up around that time and made them available through the early 1980s, essentially until the advent of the third generation F-body Camaro and Firebird. The design is pretty ingenious because it looks and fits right where the normal factory straight line shifter would be and looks exactly like it as well. In reading up on this stuff, I saw a few stories where people either had no idea why the shifter moved to the side or actually had no idea that their car was equipped with this thing until someone physically showed them that it was there!
A weird footnote for sure, but a cool little nugget of info for this week’s Parting Shift!
PRESS PLAY BELOW TO SEE HOW THE “HIDDEN” FACTORY RATCHET SHIFTER GM OFFERED IN THE 1970s WORKED — SNEAKY STUFF!