You turn the TV on and flip to the racecar channel to watch the Formula 1 racers. With today's technology they can mount cameras all over the vehicle, and broadcast live footage into your living room. The greatest camera angle has got to be the one that sits just over the drivers shoulder. This angle allows a full view of what goes on in the cockpit, and if you pay close attention, you'll notice that the driver never has to take his hands off the wheel. With a flick of a finger he's up in the high gears, and with the flick of another finger, he's back down in the low gears.
For years, paddle shifting has become the exclusive domain of the high-end F1 racecars. Then the technology began trickling down to high-end production street automobiles. Today, you can walk into your favorite Chevy dealer and buy a six-speed automatic Corvette with genuine paddle shifters mounted on the steering column.
But what about the more humble Chevrolets? Retro-Tek, a company in Riverside, California, recently developed an F1-style paddle shifter that works effortlessly with almost any automatic Chevrolet transmission. Whether you have a TH-350, TH-400, 200-4R, 700-R4 or 4L60-E transmission, a wireless F1-style paddle shifter can easily be installed in a few hours.
How does it work? The actual paddle at your fingertips installs between the steering wheel and the hub. If your hands are in the 3 o'clock and 9 o'clock position, the paddles are at the tips of the fingers. Once the vehicle is in drive, the paddle uses a wireless signal that's transmitted to the Smart Shift computer (usually hidden in the dash, console, or under a seat). The computer receives the low RF signal and then controls the actuator, which is attached to the transmission, and this is where the shifting is mechanically performed.
You can't control the PRNDL functions from the paddle shifter; those actions are performed with the supplied keypad. It's truly a push button technology at your fingertips.
So what are the applications? Right off the top of our collective heads, we'd have to say racing and just plain old fun. Let's say you fancy yourself an autocross-road racer type, keeping your hands on the wheel and shifting up or down just before a turn is a great advantage. Or let's say you make the occasional dragstrip run with an automatic transmission. Once again, both hands on the wheel can be a big help.
Realistically, it will most definitely be used for the fun factor on the mean streets of America. When we rode around in this Chevelle after installing the shifter, the fun factor was multiplied as we jumped on and off freeways, and launched from light to light. Luckily the long arm of the law was reaching somewhere else when we were grabbing gears in this super Chevy.
As an interesting side note, the Retro-Tek paddle shifter is engineered in a way that works perfectly with a Gear Vendors gear splitter. It was demonstrated on another vehicle that had a Gear Vendors unit installed. With a Gear Vendors unit, instead of running through 3-4 standard gears, we now had 6-8 "over" and "under" gears at our trigger finger. And don't think for a minute you can't wind up the gears and chirp the tires 6-8 times, while building speed on an onramp.
And all this was done to an automatic transmission.