B&M Racing and Performance’s involvement in performance and racing transmissions goes back to the early 1950s when it developed the first four-speed automatic transmission for racing, known by gearheads as the Hydro Stick transmission. But besides transmissions themselves, B&M also saw a need to provide other performance parts for automatic transmissions, and performance torque converters and shifters were added to its arsenal of racing-inspired components for street and strip applications.
Many of us are familiar with the various shifter styles and designs available from B&M, but one design that has been a favorite among enthusiasts has been the ratcheting shifter. B&M ratchet shifters are available in several designs and configurations, each able to safely and accurately perform shifting duties.
What makes the ratcheting shifter unique is that it includes a one-handed lockout from reverse and park, and provides positive shifting in the forward gears without accidental or missed shifts. The ratcheting shifter doesn’t move the shifter through several positions when moving through gears; there is a detent that maintains the shifter in one final position while the ratcheting mechanism moves the cable and the shift lever on the transmission. Working much like a bump-shifter, once the shift lever is moved to the forward gear positions, a simple bump forward or backwards will allow shifting to the next gear only – it is impossible to shift two gears at a time.Along with the ability to prevent mis-shifts, the beauty of ratcheting shifters is the reverse-lockout function. When shifting manually, the shifter will shift past drive and into neutral, but it will lockout and prevent shifting into reverse. To put the vehicle into reverse or park, the shifter must be placed in drive, the trigger must be lifted, and then the shifter can be moved forward into reverse or park. The problem of over-shifting into reverse or park is a major safety issue and, per the NHRA, it is a requirement for all shifters used in competition to have this reverse-lockout function.
A closer look at the ratcheting mechanism shows a series of levers and gears on the shifter that keep the lever from moving too far. As the lever is moved forward or back, the cable is pulled and the mechanism is locked out from moving any further. Releasing the lever returns it to the prior position, ready for the next up- or down-shift. Whether the transmission is a three-speed or a four-speed, the same shifter can accommodate a variety of automatic transmissions from Ford, GM, and Mopar.
There are several methods for placing the shift lever into the forward-gear mode, depending on the shifter design and model. We previously had a hammer shifter on our ’65 Belvedere but, with a new transmission being installed and the conversion from a bench to bucket seats, our entire configuration was going to change. We felt that an update to the shifter position would be more comfortable on the driver, so we put in B&M’s Quicksilver ratcheting shifter.
We connected with B&M’s Dale Dotson to talk about all of the different ratchet shifters; according to Dotson, “B&M currently offers six models of ratcheting shifters, with three of those models available for console applications. With the exception of certain console-specific models, all of B&M’s automatic shifters would be considered a universal fit and will operate many different vehicles and transmissions. All you have to do is choose your preferred shifting mechanism and look for your vehicle.”
Dotson expounded on their line of ratcheting shifters, stating, “The main difference between our ratcheting shifters is the look – fundamentally, they all shift the same way. The one difference is the way the reverse lockout functions between shifters.
“On the shifters with a small T-handle trigger, such as the Pro Ratchet shifter, you will lift the trigger to move the shifter out of Park and into gear. The Quicksilver shifter functions the same way as the other models that have a trigger, with the exception of lifting the shift ball handle straight up to access forward and reverse gear functions rather than using a trigger. Also, the Pro Ratchet has a small reverse-lockout lever that can be pushed to unlock the reverse-lockout so you can access the parking gear.
“After giving us all the details on their current ratcheting shifters, we asked Dotson what B&M has for us to look forward to in the future. Dotson replied, “We’re currently developing and introducing new B&M products every month; we have numerous ideas on the drawing board for both shifters and other products. With manufacturers making five- and six-speed automatic transmissions these days, B&M is also looking into ratchet shifters for these. There is no set release date, but we always encourage customers to provide us with feedback and ideas.”
So whether you’re looking to take your track day performance to the next level, shave time off your quarter-mile, or just for a better way to shift your street machine, check out the B&M website and pick the ratchet shifter that’s right for you.