SAAB TECH—Short-Throw Shifter

Here you'll find detailed instructions on how to make your own Saab 900 short-throw shifter. This will stiffen up the shift, make much shorter throws, and make the gates easier to find. The benefits will be evident from the first drive.

You'll wonder why Saab didn't make the shift like this in the first place. This short-throw shifter moves the fulcrum, it does not shorten the shaft like some short shifters. The shift height will be the same as OEM but the shift-area diameter will be considerably smaller. This shifter retains the reverse-lockout function as well.

NOTE: make sure that the shifter shaft bushing and the shift linkage on your vehicle are not overly worn. The shifter shaft bushing is located at the front of the shifter housing. It is a plastic piece that fits around the shaft and is held into the housing with a rubber bushing. If it is worn it will cause sloppy and missed shifts. The shift linkage is located just in front of the firewall. It is a joint with a rubber "dogbone" bushing in it. If the dogbone is worn or cracked you will misshift. If you keep missing second gear, you probably need a new dogbone. I've seen both shaft rod bushings and shift ball bushings that were malled by weld splatter at the shaft-end ring and the shift ball. An extra little dot of weld in the wrong place can destroy a plastic fitting in no time.

Instructions for later-style steel ball shifter:

1. From a salvage yard or an Indy get a '90 or later manual shifter and housing. It should have a steel ball welded to the shifter shaft, not the plastic two-piece ball. If you have a steel-balled shifter in your car that you don't mind modifying you can just get the housing. The housings are the same on automatics and manuals from at least '86-'93.

2. Remove the three torx screws that attach the shifter to the housing.

3. Measure the reverse-lockout pin distance from the bottom of the shifter shaft to the tip of the pin and write it down somewhere. When you reassemble you'll need to put it back the way it was.

4. Remove the retaining pin and lower ball.

5. Remove the shift knob. It just pulls off.

6. Unscrew the reverse-lockout pin. It is threaded to a rod that connects the pin to the upper shift reverse lever.

7. Remove the reverse-lockout pin. Notice that there is a cavity in the pin. When you reassemble the shifter you need to make sure the cavity is aligned properly to set the lower ball retaining pin back in it's hole.

8. Remove the shifter boot and reverse lever.

9. With a large screwdriver, depress the tabs on either side of the shifter mounting flange to get the plastic center bushing out.

10. Remove the mounting flange.

11. Remove the plastic bushing. What you are left with is the shifter rod with the ball welded to it.

12. On the ball is a little alignment pin. Mark the shaft where the alignment pin is. We'll be removing the ball from the shaft and it needs to go back on in the same position.

13. Also mark the shaft 1" up from the top of the ball. That will be the new location of the ball. (Actually, you can make this height anytyhing you want, just make your riser that same height. People have made them anywhere from 1/2" rise to 1" depending on particular taste. The higher the rise, the shorter the throw.)

14. With a dremel or a grinder, remove the welds that hold the ball to the shaft. Don't grind the shaft, just remove the welds.

15. Once you get close to the ball there may be a little weld left that you can't get at without damaging the shaft or the ball. See the next step.

16. Place the shifter loosly in a bench vice weld-side down and tap the shaft with a hammer to release it. Don't hammer the crap out of the shaft. If a gentle tap doesn't do the trick, grind some more weld off.

17. Once the ball is removed from the shaft , carefully remove the rest of the weld from the shaft and ball. Then put the shaft in a lathe or drill press and clean things up. Dont remove the marks you made on the shaft. You may need to straighten the shaft as well. Roll the shaft on a flat surface. If it is bent, you'll know it.

18. Here is what things look like all cleand up and ready for the next step.

19. We'll be mounting the ball back on the shaft with a set screw. I used a 5mm screw slightly longer than the wall thickness of the shift ball. Place the shift ball in a vice and file a small flat spot directly across from the alignment pin. This is to keep your drill from riding around.

20. Drill a hole through the wall to the center of the ball. A little cutting oil makes this easier.

21. Tap the hole for the set screw.

22. Put the set screw in the ball and slide the ball back on the shaft. Align the alignment pin on the ball and the top of the ball with the marks you made earlier.

23. Seat the set screw and torque it enough to make a mark on the shaft. Then, loosten it and remove the ball.

24. Drill a seat for the set screw where it made a mark on the shaft.

25. Here's what things look like.

26. Put some threadlok on the set screw and set it for good. It should be flush with the outside of the ball. If it is proud of the ball, drill the set screw seat a little deeper. if is inset, get a longer set screw or fill the hole with JB weld.

27. Here is what the new shaft looks like next to a stock shaft.

Now you can reassemble all the components onto the shaft rod in reverse order from the first steps. Be sure you put the plastic bushing on the ball so that the alignment pin fits in the appropriate cavity. And be sure to lube the ball well. I used white lithium grease.

Instructions for earlier-style plastic ball shifter:

1. Remove the retaining pin and take the lower part (on right) off the shaft. It's a good idea to mark the shaft where the alignment key on the lower half of the upper ball is. If you put that part on backwards during reassembly, your shift knob will be backwards.

2. Using a screwdriver in the relief channel, pry the lower ball off. It may break, that's OK.

3. Here's what things look like when it's off.

4. Cut the lower portion off as close to the flange as possible.

5. Align the reverse-lockout pin next to the shaft as shown. Leave 7/8" of the pin exposed below the bottom of the shaft. Mark the shaft just below the top of the relief channel in the reverse-lockout pin, then drill a hole through the shaft. The distance between the holes should be about 3/4"

6. Here is a new lower ball. If you cannot get one at a dealer, you can use one from a steel-ball shifter, or cut it from another plastic-ball shifter (cut it off right at the base of the upper ball). You will also need another retaining pin. You can use a standard cotter pin in a pinch.

7. Reassemble the parts of the shifter. Mount the new lower ball where the original lower part mounted. Mount the upper ball in the new hole you drilled.

8. Here's the finished shifter with the upper ball raised 3/4" up the shaft.

Instructions for making the riser:

1. Now that we've moved the ball up the shaft to change the fulcrum, we need to move the mounting point up an inch as well. We'll be using the spare shifter housing. First, remove the two long screws from the bottom of the housing. SAVE THEM. WE'll be using them to mount the new shifter. You will need a third one as well.

2. On the underside of the shifter housing you will see a flat area just inside the shift mounting point. We need to cut the housing down to this point.

3. I used a band saw. I did not try to cut to the flat spot right away in case the blade wandered. I left a little extra meat that I will remove later. The red line shows where the cut should be made.

4. Once you cut the mounting point off the housing, cut or grind away all the excess castings from around the cylindrical area, but leave the three screw mounting channels in tact.

5. Here's what it looks like from the bottom side. All the excess castings have been cut away and there is a little extra meat below the flat area we still need to get to.

6. Cut off a little more of the excess to get closer to the flat area. Then sand or grind the last bit to the flat area. I used a belt sander for this.

7. Once you have sanded the flange down to the flat area, drill out the holes all the way through just big enough for the long screws you saved from step 28 to pass through. Don't make the holes much larger than the screws or things will be sloppy..

NOTE: If you are using a plastic ball shifter, your riser is done. If you are using a steel ball shifter that has been raised over 3/4", you'll need to make an additional specer--read on.

8. Get a 1 1/2 inch PVC coupling from the hardware store. Put the flange on the end and measure 1" (or less if you've raised your ball less than 1"). Mark the PVC and cut the piece off. A chop saw is good for this. Make sure that the donut you cut off is the same thickness all the way across or your shifter will mount crooked.

9. Place the PVC donut on the bottom of the flange you made from the shifter housing. As you can see, it overlaps the screw holes a bit. Mark the PVC where the holes are and grind away JUST ENOUGH PVC so that the screws pass through.

10. Here is a well ground chanel. Just big enough for the screw to pass by.

11. Here's what it looks like with the screw in place. Obviously you'll need to do this for all three screw holes.

12. Here are all the parts for the new mounting flange.

13. Here's what the bottom of the flange looks like.

14. Here's the flange put together.

15. Here is the shifter mounted in the flange. NOTE: the lower shift ball, reverse lockout pin and shift boot are not on the shifter shaft in this photo. The little blue area you see is just a rubber band I used to hold things together for the photo.

16. To mount the new shifter, place your car in neutral and remove the three torx screws which hold the shifter to the housing. Place the new shifter with the new mounting flange aligned exactly as the one on your shifter housing, i.e. the alignment cavity should be in the same place on both the housing and the new flange. The longer screws thread into the OEM shifter mounting points. It is a good idea to use some threadlok here as well. And don't forget to put some shifter grease on the lower ball and reverse-lockout pin. The oem boot should fit over without a problem. The shift will look stock but will drive a whole lot better.

I've begun making my spacers out of plate aluminum. I've never had a PVC one fail (except in my power-shifting son's car) but these are decidedly more sturdy. The profile is cut to match the base of the riser.

NOTE: You can also choose to leave the bottom spacer out and move the ball down on the shaft 1/4". This will give you a slightly longer throw than with the spacer, but still shorter than the stock throw.

Additionally, you may choose to make the shifter shaft shorter as well. It is best to cut the top, and then recut the channel for the shift knob alignment with a grinder. If you cut the bottom, you will have to rebore the spring cavity because it is a larger diameter than the internal opening in the rest of the shaft. Also be sure that you clip the same amount off the reverse-lockout connector and bend it at the top.

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