Product Review: UUC Short Shifters

What’s wrong with the stock shifter in a BMW? Nothing, really, but don’t tell my wife that. She’d be even more perturbed that I swapped the perfectly adequate stock shifter in our 525i not once, but twice in the past year.

BMWs are renowned for smooth-shifting manual transmissions, but enthusiasts are seldom willing to settle for good enough, especially when they can buy an upgrade.

Actually, under normal driving conditions, most BMW manual transmissions can be stirred pretty well with the stock shifter. But under more extreme conditions, i.e., shifting quickly to go fast, there may be opportunity for improvement. In these circumstances, a shifter with a shorter "throw" than stock, i.e. a shorter length gate between the gears, can be an advantage.

With that in mind, several manufacturers offer short shifters for various BMW models. Indeed, BMW itself has a short throw shifter on the M Roadster, which some tinkerers have adapted to other BMW models.

Among the more popular of the aftermarket shifters are those developed by UUC Motorwerks in New Jersey (732.398.0001; www.uucmotorwerks.com). "UUC" stands for "Underground Upgrade Club," as in upgrades which one can sneak past one’s S.O., or explain as a safety feature if caught.

I obtained two different UUC shifters, one for each of our 5 Series. Both of the shifters were the latest "EVO" versions, which denotes the use of sealed cartridge bearings in lieu of the typical bronze, brass or plastic bushing materials.

First, the UUC Street EVO shifter. This was installed in my '93 525i turbo (112K miles). For the last 10 months (12K miles), this car had an M Roadster shifter which had been installed by a BMW dealership service department. I later added an illuminated leather M knob to this shifter. Athough the M Roadster shifter was shorter than stock, it was also rather notchy. I got used to it but was never quite satisfied with the feel. With the M Roadster shifter, which admittedly was not designed for this application, shifting was so much "coarser" that the short throws probably didn’t really improve shift times over the longer stock shifter.

The UUC Street EVO shifter has a longer throw than the M Roadster shifter it replaced, but of course shorter than the stock throw. (UUC claims 35% shorter than stock). The kit came with the optional Delrin bushings that reduce the sideways rotation of the factory aluminum carrier. With the UUC Street EVO shifter in place, the shifting is again buttery smooth, like stock. My wife, who has endured a year of me upgrading the E34 (turbocharger, wheels, springs, shocks, swaybars, gauges, etc.) was upset that I was changing the shifter again. However, in her first drive with the UUC Street EVO shifter, she blurted out, "I hate it when he's right." That is a resounding endorsement.

Next, the UUC Competition EVO with ERK (Effort Reducing Kit, an additional aluminum adapter cup which raises the shifter pivot point close to the stock position despite the shorter throw). This one went into my 2000 M5 (4300 miles). I must say that the stock E39 M5 shifter is very good. I've driven a '98 540i 6 speed for comparison and the stock M5 shifter is definitely better. Can't just be me, either. In every accolade-laden review of the new M5, I've not seen any complaints about the stock shifter. (Well, there was some mild criticism of the stock M5 shifter in the Robb Report, of all places. Hmmm, "Robb" Report. Rob Levinson is at UUC Motorwerks. Connection? No. Sorry I mentioned it.) This car is so immensely capable and balanced out of the box. Naturally, one would not expect the stock shifter to be a weak point in such a perfectly balanced machine, and it's not.

My initial impressions of the UUC Competition EVO with ERK are also favorable. Of course, the throw is shorter than stock (33%). As befits a piece described as "Competition," there is some tradeoff for the reduced throw. Namely, shifting effort is noticeably increased over stock, although I would not describe the shifter as notchy, or the effort as too high. In situations where I am seeking to shift very quickly, this shifter lends more of a race car feel to this monster sedan. In around town or stop and go conditions, however, the increased effort chipped away at a small piece of the perfect balance between Jekyl and Hyde that the M5 possessed. It's a little less Jekyl, a little more Hyde now. Of course, that's exactly what some folks want. If you're looking for a shorter throw, and don't mind a little extra shifting effort, the Competition shifter is a worthwhile, cost-effective upgrade.

UUC shifters range from $155 to $295. Included instructions are comprehensive, and a do-it-yourselfer can tackle this project. ( On the M5, it took some finesse to line up the shift rod with the sealed cartridge bearings on the new shifter, but it's not brain surgery.)   However, lacking a decent jack, jackstands, ramps, creeper, etc., I called upon my friends at a local independent shop, BMW Performance in Las Vegas (702.367.7140) to assist with the installation. It's certainly a lot easier with a lift! (That would be a worthy underground upgrade to my garage.) Thanks to Dan, Shelina, Dave and Nuk at BMW Performance, and Rob Levinson at UUC Motorwerks.

Richard Scheer

 

Click on images for larger version
M5stockshifter.jpg (258691 bytes)

Let's take apart our supercar. Stock M5 shifter exposed.

M5shifterUUCERK.jpg (274362 bytes)

UUC ERK (Effort Reducing Kit) aluminum adapter cup elevates Competition shifter pivot point to near stock position.

M5shiftersStock&UUC.jpg (313410 bytes)

Photo during transplant surgery. Stock shifter
top, UUC Motorwerks Competition EVO
w/ERK below.

M5UUCshifterinstalled.jpg (303435 bytes)

M5 UUC short shifter installed.

E34UUCshifter1.jpg (193765 bytes)

UUC Street EVO shifter installed in E34 ('93 525i turbo).

E34UUCshifter2.jpg (194122 bytes)

With boot and padding in place.

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All buttoned up, smooth, silky and short.