This article is one in a series that have been released in conjunction with Wayne's new book, 101 Performance Projects for Your BMW 3 Series. The book contains 272 pages of full color projects detailing everything from performance mods to timing the camshafts. With more than 650+ full-color glossy photos accompanying extensive step-by-step procedures, this book is required reading in any 3 Series owner's collection. The book was released in August 2006, and is available for ordering now. See The Official Book Website for more details.
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One of the most popular additions to the BMW 3-Series is the installation of a short shift kit. The kit shortens the length of throw on the BMW shifter, theoretically giving you the ability to shift faster. Installation is a moderate task, and should take the better part of an afternoon.
There are currently many popular types of short shift kits on the market. They are basically all the same - they replace the shift lever with one that has a shorter throw. A little-known secret is that you can swap out a shift lever from another BMW model into your car for significantly less money than a short shift kit will cost you.
If you have an E30 or E36 318, 325 or 323, then you can swap in the BMW E46 325Xi lever (part number 25-11-7-527-252-BOE, about $64) to obtain a 29% reduction in the shift throw. Or, you can swap in the E36 M3/328 lever (25-11-7-527-247) which basically was a "built-in" short shift to these cars, and offers about a 1/3 reduction in lever travel. If you own an E36 M3 or a 328, and you want an even shorter throw, you can swap in the shift lever from an M-Roadster (25-11-7-527-254-BOE, about $64). The bad news is that if you want to use the M-Roadster lever, you may have to bend it slightly to make it fit properly. Use a bench vise and bend it to match your stock lever.
For the purpose of this tech article, I chose the Short Shift Kit from UUC. This kit allows you to adjust the height of the shift lever to suit your driving style. Another manufacturer that I like for short shift kits is AutoSolutions which offers an amazingly detailed kit that replaces many shift bushings and eliminates many points of failure for the shifter.
The UUC kit is shown in Figure 1. It comes complete with everything that you need to replace your shift lever, and replace many of the shift bushings that have a tendency to wear out. Specifically, this kit contains Delrin bushings for the shifter arm, and ball bearing bushings for the shift lever. The kit is very well constructed and all of the parts fit together with very tight tolerances.
The process of installing the short shift kit involves basically swapping out the shift lever with the old one. The removal of the shift lever is detailed in the Pelican Technical Article, Replacing Shift Bushings. Look to that article for precise, detailed instructions on how to remove and replace the shift lever.
The short shift kit works by replacing the shift lever with one that has a longer throw on the bottom half. (Figure 2) shows the original lever along side the UUC short shift lever. The difference can be see in the length of the rod between the ball and the bottom bushing.
This particular shift kit comes with ball-bearings that fit into the bottom of the shiftlever. These bearings will virtually last forever, and will never wear out (Figure 3). A set of small aluminum spacers are required to make them fit with the stock shift selector rod (Figure 4). In addition, I found that my shift selector rod was a bit too big for the new bearings, and required a small bit of sanding to allow the rod to be inserted into the bearing cartridge (Figure 5). Once it fit in there, though, the fit was very tight (Figure 6).
After you install the kit into the car, double-check the shift selector rod and its location with respect to the driveshaft and driveshaft flex disc. Because the throw on the short shift kit is longer underneath the car, there may be a tendency for the selector rod to now interfere with the driveshaft. If this is the case, then you can slightly bend and bow the shift selector rod to clear any drivetrain components. The only downside to this bowing is that the shifter will lean backwards slightly when fully installed.
It took a short while (no pun intended) for me to get used to the new short shift kit. At first, I didn't really care for it, but after driving the car with it installed, I didn't want to go back to the standard shifter. If you're not sure about whether you'll like the short feel, I suggest that you drive someone else's car who has a short shifter installed. The procedure to remove the kit takes as long as the one to install it, so if you're not sure, then try it out beforehand.
On a side note, many people install short shift kits in their cars thinking that it will fix problems that they are having with their transmission. This will not solve any problems, and will in most cases make a poorly shifting car shift even worse. The reason for this is that with the short shift kit, the torque arm on the shift lever is much shorter, giving you much less 'resolution' on your shifter. It's similar to having a gas pedal that only travels 1 inch over its range instead of 2-3 inches. You have less precision in how much throttle you want to give the car. In a similar manner, with the short shift kit you will have less precision on where the shift rod is placed. It's a wise idea to tackle the core problems with your transmission (synchros, shift bushings), prior to the installation of the short shift kit.
Well, there you have it - a lot of work, but if you walk through it step-by-step and follow the photos I have published here for you, you should have no problems. If you would like to see more technical articles like this one, please continue to support Pelican Parts with all your parts needs. If you like what you see here, then please visit our online BMW catalog and help support the collection and creating of new and informative technical articles like this one. Your continued support directly affects the expansion and existence of this site and technical articles like this one. As always, if you have any questions or comments about this helpful article, please drop us a line.