Exploring old scrapbooks often brings laughter as we reminisce about the fads and styles of times gone by. This sentiment extends to automotive history, where unusual trends sometimes emerge. A prime example is Hurst Lightning Rods, an aftermarket performance shifter that gained popularity in the 1980s. This gadget, featuring three shift levers, aimed to replicate the functionality of a single lever but in a uniquely flashy manner.
The inspiration behind the Lightning Rods came from the drag racing scene of the era, particularly the NHRA Pro Stock category, where the Lenco transmission was a star. The Lenco, designed for straight-line racing, utilized planetary gear assemblies and a separate shift lever for each gear set, ensuring straightforward and reliable performance.
Taking cues from this drag racing setup, Hurst adapted it to fit production automatic transmissions, allowing everyday drivers to mimic the experience of their drag strip idols by using a distinct lever for each upshift.
From a functional standpoint, the Lightning Rods operated similarly to a standard automatic gear selector, displaying a conventional PRND shift pattern. What set it apart were the two additional levers: the right lever and release button facilitated the 1-2 upshift, while the middle lever and button handled the 2-3 upshift. Alternatively, drivers could opt for simplicity by leaving the lever in D for drive or OD for overdrive. In essence, the Lightning Rods bore some resemblance to the earlier Hurst Dual Gate, also known as “His ‘n Her” shifters.
Hurst introduced the Lightning Rods through its regular speed shop channels in various versions, including kits tailored for the GM F-Body Camaro and Firebird. A universal model with a standalone floor console was also available. Notably, the Lightning Rods found a place as standard equipment in the 1983-84 Hurst/Olds, marking the final chapter of the Hurst-equipped muscle cars.
With 3,001 units produced in 1983 and 3,500 in 1984, the Lightning Rods left an imprint on automotive history before Hurst/Olds production concluded. In hindsight, this quirky shifter may seem like a whimsical idea, but as with many things, the silliness adds a touch of fun and nostalgia to the automotive landscape.