It's a gearhead given: the faster you can rip through the gears, the faster you get from point A to point B. We submit that this is true for any transmission, whether manual or automatic. Even those who prefer to run a slush box still row the gears themselves, holding each cog out at as long as possible, when maximum acceleration is desired. In either case, however, there's one major drawback: you have to take a hand off the wheel to shift gears, which is a less-than-optimal posture during high-speed maneuvers. The fastest, hardest-turning guys of all-F1 racers-seized on the idea of steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. You get quick shifts, and both hands stay on the wheel. Holding true to the trickle-down theory, Retrotek Speed has made this technology available to the musclecar market with its Smart Shift with Paddle Shift system.
In our book, what makes Retrotek Speed's setup unique is that it brings paddle shift technology to older, non-electronic GM transmissions. That's not to say it won't work with newer, electronic trannys like the 4L60E; all that's needed is an aftermarket transmission controller, such as a Computech, to go along with the Paddle Shift unit, and fourth-gen guys are in business. By melding the electronic and the mechanical, however, Retrotek Speed enables the rest of us-guys with Turbo 350s and 400s, 200-4Rs, and 700-R4s-to partake in the paddle-shift experience. Here's how it works: the vehicle must be placed in gear using the Smart Shift keypad. Once underway, the Paddle Shift unit itself uses a wireless transmitter to indicate gear changes. The signal is picked up by a receiver that's attached to the Smart Shift box; the box, which is the brains of this outfit, works the transmission-mounted actuator, which moves the shift lever to actually accomplish the gear change.
Depending on your level of wiring phobia, installation of the Smart Shift with Paddle Shift setup on a 700-R4-equipped third-gen Camaro is straightforward, so we'll cover that in the photos to follow and skip right to the driving impressions. The paddles themselves fall readily to hand at 3 and 9 o'clock; grip is good, and the action is positive. A firm flick of the fingers-right for upshifts, left for downshifts-is all that's needed to change gears whenever desired. The driving experience is intriguing-you've got your right foot planted, and you're clicking through the gears on command (holding each to 5,000 rpm, as opposed to 4,500-rpm auto shift), almost without raising a finger. Downshifting isn't like what you'd find on a manual trans, and takes a bit getting used to, but, with experience, these shifts also happen smoothly. All in all, it's easy to get wrapped up in the driving experience when working this shifter.
In a nutshell, Retrotek Speed's Smart Shift with Paddle Shift setup multiplies the fun factor for Camaro pilots who run an automatic transmission, and is bound to turn more than a few heads when parked (if you're into that sort of thing). Follow along as we show you the highlights of this third-gen shifter transformation.