Word of the Day: Lightning Rods

If one shifter is good, then three must be better, right? Okay, maybe that wasn’t quite what was going on here. Call the Hurst Lightning Rods, a popular sight in a mid-’80s issue of Hot Rod, a road-going take on a Lenco transmission.

Operation of a Lenco is fairly straight-forward: When it’s time to shift gears, simply pull the appropriate lever, with each gear having its own stick.

Here’s some fuzzy footage showing the operation.


Hurst decided to take that drag racing technology to the streets with Lightning Rods: available as an aftermarket part–and here’s where it gets really cool–as well as standard equipment on the 180-horsepower 1983-’84 Oldsmobile Hurst/Olds.


  

 

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NickD
NickD PowerDork
1/22/20 9:19 a.m.

Berkeley yeah! These are awesome.

D2W
D2W Dork
1/22/20 9:35 a.m.

As a young impressionable car guy, I thought those were rad.

A 401 CJ
A 401 CJ Dork
1/22/20 9:39 a.m.

Downshifting sequence is laid out before Upshifting sequence?

 

I guess you need to plan ahead when piloting a big hairy 180 bhp Cutlass 

Dusterbd13-michael
Dusterbd13-michael MegaDork
1/22/20 9:51 a.m.

The in car video is a mopar a body. Looks to be 72-73 from what I see. 

Aso, ive always wanted a set of these. 

NickD
NickD PowerDork
1/22/20 10:01 a.m.
A 401 CJ said:

 

I guess you need to plan ahead when piloting a big hairy 180 bhp Cutlass 

Its also hilarious that they threw an 8.5" 10-bolt in these. Because an Olds 307 would ever break the regular 8.2" rearend. But then they saddled the 4th-gen F-bodies with the puny 7.625" rearend, even with the healthy LS1s. You do you, GM. You do you.

Duke
Duke MegaDork
1/22/20 10:06 a.m.

When I was about 17 or 18 I got the chance to drive one of those Hurst/Olds, almost brand new.  'Rad' is the appropriate word.

 

ProDarwin
ProDarwin UltimaDork
1/22/20 10:12 a.m.

What gear would this make? (the red dots)

 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
1/22/20 10:48 a.m.

In reply to ProDarwin :

Does that tilt the machine?

AngryCorvair
AngryCorvair MegaDork
1/22/20 10:53 a.m.

In reply to David S. Wallens :

i love the "Word Of The Day" series.  

Gearheadotaku
Gearheadotaku UltimaDork
1/22/20 10:54 a.m.

I am betting the mechanism won't allow it. Who has one we can try?

Lightning rods are so cool to look at I would put up with the automatic is a real Hurst car. Seems like a good way to control a full manual valve body.

11110000
11110000 Reader
1/22/20 10:56 a.m.

In reply to ProDarwin :

kb58
kb58 SuperDork
1/22/20 1:08 p.m.

That picture at the top, ugh. I guess we're supposed to believe that she's thinking, "Oooo, he's got three shafts!"

A 401 CJ
A 401 CJ Dork
1/22/20 3:16 p.m.

I'm fairly proficient with a 5 spd main and 2 speed aux in our old Autocar road tractor and I can't even figure out the stupid diagrams.

Calsdad
Calsdad None
1/22/20 3:51 p.m.

I bought the Hurst Lightning Rods and installed them into my 75 Chevelle that I had setup for autocrossing back in the mid 80's.  I figured the 3 different rods would make it easier for me to "feel" which gear I had the transmission in as I was going around the cones.  Everybody knows the Lightning Rods from the Hurst Olds , but  you could buy them over the shelf and install them into any car. 

There is no real mystery behind them. You hooked up to your 3 or 4 speed automatic transmission and the right-most rod shifted between gears 1 & 2 , the middle rod shifted between gears 2 & 3, and the left-most rod shifted you between P->N->D if you had a 3 speed , or P->N-D-OD if you had a 4 speed.

It was still just one cable going down to the shifting pawl on the transmission.

All of the "magic" was in the shifter itself as it was setup so that you had to shift the rods in sequence to go between the gears. 
 

My Lightning Rods are still sitting in the car - which is currently in storage ...... waiting for the day when I can complete the resto-mod I started on it 20 years ago. :-(

 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
1/22/20 3:51 p.m.
AngryCorvair said:

In reply to David S. Wallens :

i love the "Word Of The Day" series.  

Thank you, thank you. More to come. 

Woody
Woody MegaDork
1/22/20 4:13 p.m.

I had that shirt.

noddaz
noddaz SuperDork
1/22/20 4:43 p.m.

The fact that I knew from the title that this was about a shifter makes me feel old.  *sigh*

Get off my lawn.

Ranger50
Ranger50 UltimaDork
1/22/20 5:57 p.m.

 

Yep, they are berkeleying awesome. Btw those are made by Kilduff Machine.

84FSP
84FSP SuperDork
1/22/20 7:47 p.m.

That is the strangest E36M3 I have never seen before.  Just wow.

Calsdad
Calsdad New Reader
1/22/20 9:09 p.m.

In reply to Gearheadotaku :

The mechanism will not allow it.  All the Lightning Rods do is add some more shift handles onto the shifter mechanism.  You're still just moving the shift cable back and forth to move the pawl on the side of the transmission.

The handles must be moved in succession to change thru the gears.

Calsdad
Calsdad New Reader
1/22/20 9:12 p.m.

In reply to ProDarwin :

That  would be the gear you can select when it was broken.

Datsun310Guy
Datsun310Guy UltimaDork
1/22/20 9:30 p.m.

Intimidating car stuff when average folks get in your car.  

"Don't touch these - I'm highly skilled in operating this".  

Knurled.
Knurled. MegaDork
1/22/20 10:24 p.m.
A 401 CJ said:

Downshifting sequence is laid out before Upshifting sequence?

 

I guess you need to plan ahead when piloting a big hairy 180 bhp Cutlass 

How about a 600 horsepower Buick?

 

mad_machine
mad_machine MegaDork
1/23/20 12:33 a.m.

so the precursor to paddle shifters? I would have rather had a single stick with a "pattern"

Knurled.
Knurled. MegaDork
1/23/20 6:07 a.m.
mad_machine said:

so the precursor to paddle shifters? I would have rather had a single stick with a "pattern"

It's more like a shifter conversion to look/work like a Lenco shifter, as pointed out in the first post.

 

Look at the shifter assembly on the car Ranger50 posted above.  Unless that is a REALLY good fake that is what a Lenco shifter looks like.  Lencos are basically multiple 2-speed transmissions that get stacked inline to make however many gears the transmission needed, and each transmission had its own shifter.  You keep pulling each one back until you're out of gears smiley  The small lever would be the shifter for the reverser box.  These were used up to the 90s in Pro Stock until they figured out how to make a clutchless dogbox work and live. 


The thing with Lencos is they are PLANETARY gearsets, and they were pretty lossy, which is why Pro Stock moved away as soon as they could.  They also (apparently, I never got to drive one) shifted as fast or as slowly as you moved the lever, so they weren't unstreetable.  In the Pro Street era you used to see cars with a gaggle of shifters sticking out of the center console because the guy had a Lenco in it to further look like a Pro Stock car.

 

ebonyandivory
ebonyandivory PowerDork
1/23/20 6:55 a.m.

That equates to a theft deterrent (like a manual transmission) nowadays.

Woody
Woody MegaDork
1/23/20 7:16 a.m.

Lightning Rods on FM, $500. Not mine, etc...

From ad: 

for sale a complete lighting rod shifter, it was made to look like a lenco in the car ,, and also parts to make it a factory one,, 500 buck with shipping to lower 48, PM me with any questions. comes with all parts .

Ranger50
Ranger50 UltimaDork
1/23/20 7:30 a.m.

In reply to Woody :

Damn those kilduff version is same money roughly. And that's brand new!

ProDarwin
ProDarwin UltimaDork
1/23/20 8:23 a.m.
Knurled. said:

  Lencos are basically multiple 2-speed transmissions that get stacked inline to make however many gears the transmission needed, and each transmission had its own shifter. 

Isn't this basically what an automatic is?  Instead of a manual shifter though, there are automatic ways to engaging the clutches to switch the gear in each planetary set?

 

As I posted earlier though, the trans you have shown there has 4 planetary gearsets in it, so technically it has 16 forward speeds, right?  Yes, a bunch of them may overlap or be too close to have value.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
1/23/20 9:00 a.m.
kb58 said:

That picture at the top, ugh. I guess we're supposed to believe that she's thinking, "Oooo, he's got three shafts!"

Whoever took that photo was an amateur. MG knew how to imply interest in shafts.

Knurled.
Knurled. MegaDork
1/23/20 9:24 a.m.
ProDarwin said:
Knurled. said:

  Lencos are basically multiple 2-speed transmissions that get stacked inline to make however many gears the transmission needed, and each transmission had its own shifter. 

Isn't this basically what an automatic is?  Instead of a manual shifter though, there are automatic ways to engaging the clutches to switch the gear in each planetary set?

 

As I posted earlier though, the trans you have shown there has 4 planetary gearsets in it, so technically it has 16 forward speeds, right?  Yes, a bunch of them may overlap or be too close to have value.

That one is a five speed.

 

You probably could do something goofy like have a 1.2 ratio box here and a 1.3 ratio box there and a 1.4 ratio box there and do some serious gear splitting, but the point of the device is to get a 7 second car down the quarter mile with no chance of missing a shift.  Grab the first lever and pull.  Grab the next lever and pull.  Etc.

 

Incidentally, one of the big names in race transmissions (Jerico?) got its start from an inventive racer in the 70s who had mobility issues and could not shift forward with his right arm but he could pull back good.  He modified a 4 speed to have dogs instead of synchros and rigged a bungee cord to pull the shifter into 3rd.  He'd start in 1st, pull to shift to 2nd, let the bungee grab 3rd for him, and then he'd pull back to 4th.

drainoil
drainoil Dork
1/25/20 9:58 a.m.
Datsun310Guy said:

Intimidating car stuff when average folks get in your car.  

"Don't touch these - I'm highly skilled in operating this".  

Also perhaps a good anti theft device in today’s world?

APEowner
APEowner Dork
1/25/20 12:15 p.m.

I always thought that those were both stupid and cool at the same time.

gearheadmb
gearheadmb SuperDork
1/25/20 1:52 p.m.

In reply to APEowner :

I can't think of any reason why these would ever be better than a ratchet shifter, so stupid, yes. But definitely way cooler. 

pres589 (djronnebaum)
pres589 (djronnebaum) PowerDork
1/25/20 4:58 p.m.

The story about the start of Jerico is correct, and the guy's name was Jerry.  http://jericoperformance.com/about.html

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