After the steering wheel and the pedals, a car’s gear lever is likely to be one of the parts you interact with most. Yet for many manufacturers, a gear selector is just a tool – an opportunity to be as bland and play it safe in the styling department.
But others use gear selectors as a design feature and spend many hours ensuring that the resulting shifter looks and feels as amazing as it can possibly feel.
We’ve rounded up some of our favourite gear shifter designs through history…
We’ll start with a fairly modern one. Audi’s R8 supercar has always had plenty going for it, but sharing a platform with the Lamborghini Gallardo gave first-gen models access to a six-speed manual.
Audi fitted a gorgeous gated shifter with a brutal, burly and solid metal shift knob. It suited the R8 down to the ground, and purists bemoaned the lack of a manual option when the second-gen car debuted with only a seven-speed automatic.
Honda Civic Type R (EP3)
On the standard Civic hatch of this generation, the high-set gearlever was a practical touch – freeing up floor area for storage and allowing passengers to ‘step through’ the front of the car. On the Type R, it just added to this iconic hot hatchback’s appeal.
With a gorgeous metal gearknob and ideal placement just inches from the steering wheel, this shifter mixed quirky form with perfect function and was all the better for it.
Car nuts love to see their vehicles working in front of their eyes – it’s why we adore a see-through engine bay cover on a supercar or exposed suspension link. The exposed gear linkage on the utterly barmy Spyker C8 is perhaps the natural progression of this.
The Spyker’s steampunk-style interior was completed by the polished chrome gearknob and totally exposed linkage. An immaculately judged addition to an already very interesting car.
Volkswagen Golf GTI
The Golf GTI was barely any different visually from the standard Golf, with just some red detailing, tartan seats – and a new gearknob. The golf-ball shaped knob is a feature that’s since become iconic, featuring on every Golf GTI since.
It’s more than just a design feature too, as it actually makes for a comfortable and grippy gear shifter.
Volvo S60 R
Swedish simplicity strikes again, and the so-called ‘Spaceball’ in the S60R was a great example of that. Eschewing a baggy gear gaiter in favour of a cast aluminium surround and smooth spherical bottom, it’s slick and stylish.
Combined with the S60 R’s interesting design and barmy colour scheme, the Spaceball was the perfect shifter.
Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren
The joint venture between McLaren and Mercedes was quirky in many, many ways, but one of the best features was undoubtedly the gearshift.
Though it was only a straight automatic shift, you had to flip open the top to access the starter button – just like a secret agent. It’s just an extra element of theatre that made every drive feel like even more of an event than it otherwise would have.
Lotus Exige Sport 350
Lotus’ core mantra of ‘simplify and add lightness’ extended to the gearshift on the Exige Sport 350, and plenty of Exiges since. After all, why bother covering up the gear linkage with a panel when you could leave it exposed?
The bare-bones gear linkage mated perfectly with the Spartan cabin and became as much of a styling feature as a weight-saving measure.
Porsche Carrera GT
The ultra-hardcore Carrera GT featured a V10 engine and was a hairy-chested sports car in every sense of the word. So it featured a beefy, solid metal gearshift, right?
Wrong. What the Carrera had instead was a high-mounted, almost delicate shifter with a gorgeous wooden shift knob. Worth every penny.