Row Those Great Hurst Shifters

Hurst floor shifters were expertly engineered, dependable, and visually arresting, and its marketing was contemporary, catering to the burgeoning muscle car culture of the 1960s. They were marketed by advertising, a plethora of contests, and other special initiatives, which included Hurst-sponsored giveaway automobiles. In the early 1960s, several automakers, including Pontiac, began selling Hurst floor shifters as dealer extras. Hurst’s business expanded greatly in 1964 when its shifters were factory-installed on manual transmissions in the new Pontiac GTO and the Plymouth Barracuda equipped with the four-speed transmission. By 1970, everything from the AMX to the Z28, as well as a slew of muscle cars in between, were equipped with Hurst manual gearbox shifters, and some even employed the Dual Gate shifter for automatic transmissions.

The former Pennsylvania-based performance legend dates all the way back to 1958 when it began as a manufacturer of engine swap mounts and floor shifters. However, through the 1960s, founder George Hurst and partner Bill Campbell rapidly extended Hurst-Campbell Inc.’s product line. Among other products, Hurst produced Hurst wheels, Line/Loc, and Swifter Shifter gloves. Later, Airheart Brakes and the Schiefer Manufacturing Company, which manufactured clutches and other driveline components, were bought. Even Hurst’s dragstrip presence at numerous NHRA National events during the “We” decade was multidimensional. The “Shifty Doctor,” Jack “Doc” Watson, and other staff members assisted racers with pit-side repairs at the Hurst Performance Clinic and the Hurst Saf-T-Center. The Hurst Hospitality Center served refreshments and light fare. The most renowned “Hurstettes” included Miss Hurst Golden Shifter, Pat Flannery, and the legendary Linda Vaughn, who paraded down the track in Hurst-prepped automobiles behind a big shifter protruding from a platform on the decklid. Additionally, there were display racers like the Hurst Hemi Under Glass Barracudas and the Hurst Hairy Oldsmobile twin-engine supercharged 4-4-2 from 1966 and 1967. The roadshow dazzled the crowd and would have made P.T. Barnum proud.

Hurst shifters made their way into the NHRA, NASCAR, off-road racing, and a variety of other disciplines. The corporation sponsored a revolutionary Indy vehicle and was the holder of the land speed record. There were the Hurst GTO give-away cars, the infamous GeeTO Tiger campaign, and the “Date at the Daytona 500” contest for the military, which included Linda Vaughn and a brand-new 1967 Firebird convertible, to mention a few. Promotions appeared to be infinite.

George Hurst’s goal to supply affordable speed parts was tempered by increased attention on safety. For example, the company’s Saf-T-Centers, the Hurst wheel, which incorporates a forged aluminum center and a heavy-duty steel rim for added safety and style, and the Hurst Rescue Tool, which was developed to extricate accident victims from damaged cars, trains, and planes more quickly and safely than conventional methods. The company quickly expanded into the development of specialized vehicles as well. Several examples include the Hemi Dart and Barracuda racing car conversions in 1968, the Hurst/Olds race cars from 1968 to 1969, the Hurst SC/Rambler race cars from 1969 and the Hurst SS/AMX race cars from 1969. To broaden its consumer base, The Hurst Hustler Club was founded, which published a monthly newsletter, and The Defenders, Hurst Armed Forces Club, which distributed a monthly bulletin to our soldiers in Vietnam. As a World War II Navy veteran, George was always a stalwart supporter of the military. Hurst also did not overlook print advertising, as fascinating shifter advertisements appeared in a variety of automobile periodicals. We’ve chosen a few that are truly distinctive for this article. Never one to pass up an opportunity for cross-marketing, when Ply-Road mouth’s Runner was named Motor Trend’s Car of the Year in 1969, the business ran a full-page advertisement informing readers that the Road Runner’s four-speed came standard with a Hurst shifter. It stated that if your Road Runner is equipped with an automatic transmission, a Hurst-authorized dealer can offer you the company’s Dual Gate shifter.

Finally, you can tell folks that you witnessed an elephant attempt to bend a Hurst shifter. This 1964 advertisement captures the viewer’s attention immediately with its dramatic image and follows it up with tongue-in-cheek wording about the company’s lifetime warranty and how this particular event would void it. How is Hurst capable of reviving a marriage? Naturally, with a Dual Gate shifter-how else? She is under automatic control, whereas he is under manual control. Hurst briefly ventured into marriage counseling for this ad, despite the wording being considered sexist by contemporary standards. It was different from most of its shifter advertisements in that the shifter was not the primary picture. Hurst was acquired by Sunbeam in 1970 after going public in 1968. George left the firm shortly thereafter, but not before completing a lengthy project, the Hurst Rescue Tool, allegedly against Sunbeam’s desires. The 1970s saw ongoing success with the ’70 Chrysler 300-H, ’70-’72 Hurst Grand Prix SSJ, and ’72-’75 and ’79 Hurst/Olds. Hurst Hatches gained popularity after being put on the ’75-’76 Buick Century Indy Pace Car replicas and as an option on GM and other manufacturers of cars, although they were often leaky, prompting customer resentment. Following Allegheny International’s acquisition of Sunbeam in 1981, Hurst was put up for sale and was acquired in 1982 by Dick Chrysler’s firm, Cars, and Concepts. Dick knew Hurst’s rich history and desired to add to it. He worked his way up from a floor sweeper to various jobs, including mechanic on the Hairy Olds, and eventually to senior management before setting off on his own. Two highlights of the brief ownership were the sought 1983-1984 Hurst/Oldses.

Hurst was acquired by Mr. Gasket in the mid-1980s, and the company had some lean years as Mr. Gasket battled financial difficulties before being acquired by Echlin in the 1990s. B&M acquired Hurst in 2007 and has continued to manufacture a full line of Hurst shifters and other components. It built Hurst Performance late-model Mustangs, Camaros, and Challengers.