Reference Manual

Chapter 7: Interior: Lighting Rods Shifter Rebuild

Article by: Wes Worsham


The following article is the result of my experience with the Lightning Rods shifter in my 84 Hurst/Olds.  The shifter never worked quite right, as it hung up quite often.  A few months after I bought the car, it gave out completely, locking the car in second gear.

If your shifter locks up while driving, you can remove your top plate and disconnect the shift cable from the shifter.  This will allow you to turn the base of your steering column (the area where a column shift lever would be) to shift the car.

You can send off your Lightning Rods to Hurst, and they'll repair and rebuild them.  If you’re like me, though, do you really want to send off their ORIGINAL L-Rods to Nevada to let unknown people manhandle them and scratch up the chrome?  Maybe I’m just paranoid… :-)

The Problem With L-Rods...

When my L-Rods locked up, I took them apart and discovered the problem.  The base of each shifter rod has a spring loaded pin with a key on the side of it.  The pins go into holes in a central cylinder, which rotates.  The cylinder has an arm on the end that moves the cable.

The spring for each pin is held in by a steel spring-ring, and two of those were broken, and the pin inside the Left rod was sheared in half.  These pins are constructed from two pieces of material – a key and a pin.  The two components are welded together, and mine had failed at the weld.

The Rebuild:

This summer, I had a revelation, and located a very nice set of 3-speed Lightning Rods.  Because they are cheaper than 4-speed rods, and use many of the same parts, they are a great source of parts for the 4-speed rods.  The pins, retainer rings, and springs are all the same in 3 and 4 speed shifters, as well as the knobs and buttons.


To disassemble a shifter, start by removing the snap ring on the passenger side of the shifter’s main cylinder.  Snap ring pliers are best for this, but I’m sure one could improvise with other tools.  Do not disturb the bolt that holds the flat metal lever to the left side of the cylinder.  Slide the cylinder out of the shifter, to the left.  You may now work free the spacer rings between each shift lever.  Be sure to keep these spacer-bushings in order, as they are not all identical.  The rods may now be removed by lifting up on the retaining bar that rides on the detents on the front of the shifter rod bases.  Take care not to scratch the chrome rods against the base unit.

You may now inspect each rod’s condition and operation.  Keep in mind that the rings should have just one split in them.  If any other cracks are visible, the ring should be replaced immediately.

If you need to replace parts that are internal to the shift rods, they may be further disassembled as follows.  Before disassembly, make note of how far the retainer rings have been tapped into the bases of the rods.

Remove the button, and then the knob.  These are both threaded, and should unscrew easily.  Loosen the Allen set screws to remove the button retainer from the actuator cable.  Make note of how far the cable is inserted into the button retainer before removing it, so that proper adjustment will be retained upon reassembly.

Remove the retainer ring in the rod’s base by tapping it out with a small screwdriver.  Use the keyway slot for access to the top side of this ring.  Once this ring has been removed, the spring will slide out of the bottom of the rod, and the pin and cable will then slide out.

The pin is attached to the cable using Allen set screws.  Be sure to mark the pin’s position on the cable before removing the pin from the cable.


Before reassembling your shifter, thoroughly clean all of its parts with a good solvent, such as “white gas” (Coleman fuel).  Lubricate all moving parts with a coating of white lithium grease, or equivalent.  Do not use a grease that will “gum up” in low temperatures.

Reassembly is basically the reverse of disassembly.

I devised a helpful method for reinstalling the retainer rings in the bottom of the rods.  Acquire a small hammer and a ¼ inch drive 11/32" deep socket.  Tape the ring to the socket, and insert it through the access hole in the bottom of the cylinder bore that goes through the base of the rod.  Place the detent plate on the rod’s base on a wooden block for support, and tap the ring to get it started in its bore.  Then, remove the tape and tap the ring into place.  Tap it into the rod to its original depth.


Getting my shifter lined up took a while, but it finally seated into place.  I then clipped in the cable, and attached the cable end to the lever arm.  I bolted the shifter down to the studs on the lower mounting plate, and installed the top plate.


I found a method that works pretty well, and is fairly simple, but requires 2 people.

Put the shifter in 3rd gear (left rod all the way back, middle and right rods forward).   Crawl under car and loosen the bolt that holds the end of cable to the shift lever of the transmission.  It is metric, size 14mm.

Put transmission in 3rd, if it is not there already, and have a friend get in the car.  Tell him/her to hold down the button in 3rd, with the lever remaining in its "natural" position.  This should be the point where everything is perfectly aligned.  Tighten the bolt a little, and ask the assistant if the button pushes perfectly and freely, without having to move the rod at all.

If it does, that’s good.  Tighten the bolt completely, and you are finished.  If there is some interference in pushing the button, ask him/her if it works better if they push forward a little or back a little on the lever.  When they reply, push back or pull forward the cable a tiny hair, respectively.  When everything aligns nicely and the button pushes freely, tighten the bolt, and try out the shifter -- it should work fine (hopefully).

These shifters are VERY sensitive to cable adjustment, and it can sometimes be pretty tedious to get them properly aligned.

Good luck!

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