Regular readers of the Nocturnal Bandit may have noticed a common theme among the Ferrari stories that frequently appear on the pages of this journal: all of them have gated shifters.
Initially, I had voiced my affinity for these mechanical marvels in every story about a car from Maranello. Eventually, with five Ferrari stories under the Nocturnal Bandit’s belt and hopefully more to come, it became repetitive. Thus, I decided to devote a story to the gated shifter and why I like them so much, leaving future prancing horses free from a detailed account of this beautiful piece of machinery.
What is a gated shifter?
A gated shifter is a manual gear shifter with an open gate i.e. it does not have the leather boot extending from the gear knob down to the gate. This allows us to see the ‘H’ pattern into which the shifter moves.
In recent years, an increasingly vocal majority has risen within the auto enthusiast community, demanding the return of the manual transmission in all cars. Unfortunately, with hard consumer data dictating how manufacturers spec their cars, it seems unlikely that manual transmissions will ever be as dominant as they once were. Sportscars like the Toyota 86, the Subaru Impreza STI and even the BMW M2 and M5 are still available with row-your-own gearboxes, however, it remains to be seen how long this continues for.
Why do we covet manual transmissions so much?
For starters, it is more engaging and allows the driver to exert more control over the car through the gears. Additionally, it makes the driver feel more mechanically ‘in touch’ with the car.
So where does the gated shifter come into the picture?
Besides the fact that gated shifters predominantly appeared in numerous Ferraris and Lamborghinis, there is a certain emotional attachment to the whole thing. It is extremely satisfying to rev an Italian engine up to about 4000 rpm, engage the clutch, and then move the shifter out of and then into gear, with a mechanical ‘clink’.
Additionally, there is less danger of going into the wrong gear, since the whole thing is exposed. Peer through the gate and you can just about see the workings of the transmission.
The emotional aspect can barely be put into words. Grab the gear knob and you can feel something alive in the vibrations that are transmitted into your arm. Whenever a gear shift is necessary, it’s almost as if man is at one with machine. Metal on metal, with the sound of the exhaust note in the background. It’s a surreal experience if you take in all the little details that come together to complete this wondrous process.
The whole process causes your lips to twitch. Eventually, by the time your drive – however long or short – comes to an end, there’s a beaming smile on your face that carries you through the rest of the day.
Nostalgia can be extremely powerful. After all, that is a major reason as to why we love classic cars, planes, boats etc. There is something in them that doesn’t exist in modern machinery. Practicality and safety have replaced character and emotion.
If you do get the opportunity to ride in or drive a classic Italian car, take it. Watch the gated shifter do its work. In my opinion, it’s the closest thing to magic.
To illustrate my point, I’ve recorded a gated shifter in action below. You probably want to turn up the volume for this one.