Spend the Money on a Nice Shift Knob
If you're going to keep your car for a while, upgrading touchpoints is a worthy project.
When I was a freshly licensed philistine I freaking loved cheap car accessories. Actually, I decorated everything I owned. You should have seen the cellphone I rocked in high school – the thing had enough lights on it to be a SEMA prop in Vegas. Later in life, I laughed at myself for wasting time as a teen on goofy plastic parts that made my car junkier. But now my tune’s changed again; mods can make a car sweeter, you just have to get good quality ones. That may be obvious when it comes to picking performance parts that are critical to functionality, but don’t discount how great it feels to have high-end touchpoints even if your car is modest.
As of a few weeks ago, I have a new claim to fame: “Idiot who installed a $150 shift knob in a $100 car.” Hah, sounds like a meme about poor decision making. But actually, I’ve dumped thousands of dollars and dozens of my own hours into my 1984 300ZX so… uh… who’s laughing now?
Jokes about the awful economics of hobby cars aside, my Z has been a fun project. I have no regrets about investing in it and I really enjoy driving it. I’m enjoying it lately more than ever, in fact, because every time I change gears I get to wrap my paw around this Italian-made aluminum shift knob.
Now I’m not about to claim I can pretend I’m in a classic Ferrari when I close my eyes and shift – it’s not a great idea to drive blind anyway – my non-turbo VG V6 is still exactly as sloth-like as you’d expect an engine shared with trucks and minivans to be. No, really, I could do WOT pulls in front of cops they’d only light me up to shoo me out of their way. A base Z31 is not a fast car. Using the Nardi Ambition shift knob I picked really does appreciably elevate the driving experience, though. It makes the whole act of using the car seem more special, I guess.
I don’t have any kind of sponsorship deal with Nardi to say this, but it’s a well-established purveyor of quality steering wheels and shift knobs. You might have seen Nardi parts as elements of special editions for some cool cars, or in high-end cars with other nice mods. I went with the “Ambition” knob in particular because it matched the ’80s aesthetic of my Z31’s interior, I wanted metal (titanium would have been better but aluminum’s still nice), and I liked the look of the shape.
Between research on different designs and scouring the internet for various color options, I probably spent three hours selecting the Ambition out of everything else in the company’s catalog. I was dead-set on Nardi from the jump because I’m a sucker for hype, and the hype around the Nardi brand is “pairs great with classy, classic GT cars” which is what I’m going for with my Z here. I was also raised in northeastern Massachusetts, surrounded by preppy people and culturally conditioned to covet goods from Europe, so I guess I was predisposed to assign extra coolness to things made in Italy.
There are plenty of great brands making shift knobs – when you’re shopping for one yourself, look for nice materials and brand names that appear in exceptional cars to help narrow your search down to the good stuff. You can get plastic and vinyl knobs at most auto parts stores, but you’re only going to successfully class up your cockpit with a nice piece made with robust materials. I ended up dropping about $150 on this Ambition; good knobs can be had for under $100 but I’d be dubious of anything much, much cheaper. Of course, you could spend a lot more, too. A genuine vintage knob that happens to be rare could be listed for hundreds of dollars; I gave up trying to source a retro Nismo unit for my 300ZX when I realized they were bringing upwards of $500 on eBay.
My taste in shift knobs might not be shared by too many people considering the amount of, uh, patina I found on the box of my Ambition when it arrived in the mail. At least I must I have done picking something period correct for my car… it sure looked like the thing had been on a shelf since the ’80s. Whatever, the look is perfect, it installed very easily with the included instructions and screws, and I’ve loved every shift since screwing this thing on.
All this to say: If you want to give your car a very tangible upgrade without having to do much wrench work, a high-quality shift knob is a good splurge. It’s the same deal with a nice steering wheel cover (they do exist, read about the sweet Wheel Skins cover I recommend here) or a nice set of keys. Oh yeah, not all keys are created equal, either. I have a custom titanium key modeled after the one offered with a later Nissan dangling off a Wangan Midnight Devil Z caricature keychain. I’m telling you – excellent accessories, especially ones that you get to handle every time you drive, do a lot of lifting when it comes to making your car feel more fun. Even if it’s just a beloved jalopy you bought for 100 bucks.