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 Steering-column gear shift

The steering column switch can be recognized externally by a much more stable lever than the turn signal switch, usually on the opposite side to the steering column. The center shift lever is missing accordingly. It is true that you have to let go of the steering wheel to operate it, you are pretty close to the steering wheel rim.

It first appeared in the USA in the late 1930s. There are probably two main reasons for the introduction. First of all, there is the automatic gearbox shown above, which was only just introduced, e.g. to attract more women as buyers, and because it only has two gears, it really does not require a complicated selector lever.

The second reason might be the bench seat, which was so popular not only in the USA at the time. Not only does it allow three people to sit upfront, but also easy switching, e.g. from the driver's to the passenger side. Center shift levers are more of a nuisance. The column shift was later adopted in Europe too, although the manual transmission was much more common here.

Admittedly, it was never considered particularly sporty. Rather something for relaxed types of drivers. It wasn't far to the gear shift. And it was good for the transmission, too, because nobody would have thought of parking their hand on a shift stick behind the steering wheel. Incidentally, one does this gear shift an injustice, because it was actually quite quick to operate. Only at that time the switching paths were still quite long.

Only the operation had to be explained to some newcomers to the vehicle in question. Absolutely leading was the shift pattern with first gear up front. This meant that the shift level was firmly 1st/2nd gear. Those for the third and fourth gear were behind, so further away in relation to the driver. To the reverse gear, you had to pull the lever even further towards you via a lock and then push it up.

But there was also, e.g. at Auto Union, the opposite shift pattern with the first gear at the bottom at the back. Just like the Trabant, with its direct linkage gearshift, sorts the gears completely differently than the French. Incidentally, this type of gearshift is not at all comparable to the steering wheel gearshift, which has a much more indirect route to the gearbox.

Basically, a rod parallel to the steering column is turned in one direction for gears R, 1 and 3 and in the other direction for gears 2 and 4. The switching level is changed by moving the rod relative to the steering column. Of course, the construction would have been a lot more complex if it had lived through the era of steering wheels that could be adjusted in all directions.

But it came to an end even before that, when only individual front seats became common, which then fixed the occupants a little later with more lateral support and three-point belts. It was the beginning from center consoles down to compact cars and a boon for airbag alignment. Perhaps one can turn a blind eye and call the shift paddles the legitimate successor to the steering-column gear shift

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