Main.TrailIndexPage | Transmission and Clutch | TransmissionClutch.Shifter


This component is part of Transmission and Clutch.


The shifter is the handle that operates either the Manual Gearbox or the Automatic Gearbox. Connected via a system of rods and bushes (Linkage) it selects the gear or operation mode of the gearbox.

Define the component. Include, if known, the german language word for the component, as well as the English or American equivalent. Show a picture, a diagram.


Describe, in general terms the function of this component. Meaning what is it there for and what role it plays. Describe how it works, the inside mechanism. Use diagrams to explain.


Describe common maintenance procedures, and common faults that may occur. Describe how these may be diagnosed and resolved. Again, include diagrams, photographs and explanations. Where possible, include measures, tolerances, weights etc.

  • Symptoms when it faults
  • How to test if it is faulty - what tools to use
  • How to fix / change

Link to related components where appropriate.

Manual Gearbox Shifter Maintenance

When the shifter bushes are worn, gear shift becomes sloppy and when completely worn, the cab shift lever ball may fall through the mounting plate. Oftentimes, as the gear lever is forced against the snap ring, it will be damaged and may come off completely, in which case gear change becomes inpossible. When not fully tightened, the lower lever may also disengage frome the yoke at the gearbox end and make shifting impossible.

For refurbishment, the cab lever bottom end can be accessed by removing the tunnel carpet and removing the 4 bolts holding the plastic cover to the tunnel. The two nuts seen in the cab lever picture hold the lever mounting plate in place with the help of two long rods on the gearbox. The gear shift knob is not threaded but splined and pulls straight up.

To remove the gear knob you need to get a small rag and wrap a pair of adjustable (channel lock or vise grips) pliers and leave the jaw open enough to not touch the chrome shaft, but touch the plastic ball. Then you need a rubber mallet or small hammer and hammer on the jaws of the pliers in an upward swing, to force the plastic ball off the grooved chrome shaft. When installing you need to use the weight of your palms and push the new one on (mind the gear inscription is facing the correct way). The floor shift lever is bent 55 dgrees so it appears to be virtually straight when in 4th gear in later cars. Early 230SL's (upto Chassis 14258) have a straight shift lever.

The gearbox-end yoke can be accessed by removing the cover on top of the transmission tunnel nearest to the firewall.

Exploded view of shifter parts

Below is a list of parts needed to refurbish the gear lever assembly.

The cab lever mounting plate on early 230 SLs is slightly different nad requires different parts which are listed separately.

Parts needed:

Illus #Part#DescriptionQty Req'd
230SL < chassis 14258
276111 268 0697Lower Boot1
268111 992 0210Bush, Shifter plate2
230SL > chassis 14259; 250SL, 280SL
276111 268 0797Lower boot1
264111 992 0310Bush, Shifter plate2
All 113s:Common Parts
258111 267 0086Bush for spherical ball2
250198 990 0048Wavy washer1
262000 994 7041Snap ring1
274111 268 0497Upper boot1
290198 268 0150Bush, Shift lever to yoke4
192111 267 0083Bush, Gearbox to yoke2

Picture shows the ball on the cab shift lever and various related parts. Notice this late lever bends forwards.

Picture shows the damage to the cab shift lever when the bushes are worn and the lever knocks against the sharp circlip.

Picture shows the shift link at the gearbox end: Two bushes required between yoke and gearbox shift lever. The vertical position of the cab gear lever can be adjusted by how far in or out the splines engage in the yoke.

Auto ShiftGate

This section describes the auto shift gate: how to remove; re-install; and the various internal components.

The shiftgate is attached with 10mm (x4) bolts. First remove the auto shifter ball. Wrap ball in a soft cloth and position pliers and/or vise-grips under the ball, without completely closing pliers. Leave them open enough to avoid touching the chrome shift rod. This will avoid any scratches. Use a small hammer and carefully tap the underside of the pliers, moving hammer around the underside in order to evenly tap and loosen the shift ball. The shift ball is pressed onto the rod, so it should just pop off. Again tap slowly and evenly to avoid pressure on any one side.

Shift gate removed

Once the shift ball is removed, remove the 10mm (x4) bolts. Carefully lift up on the shift gate and disconnect the transmission shift linkage rod, attached to the lower end of the shift gate. It is connected with a plastic shift bushing and is simply pressed on. To remove, carefully wiggle and pull free. The use of a screw driver may help to pry loose.

Shift gate on the bench

The next step is to remove the light housing (installed on later model 113's). The light housing is held onto the underside with 2 small plastic clips, molded and part of the shift gate. So... again, careful so as to not break off these 2 clips. Lay light housing, with attached wire, off to the side for later re-installation. Note: while apart, go ahead and install a new light bulb.

Underside of shift gate

These two pictures show the shift gate taken apart and all pieces carefully laid out in the order they were removed. This helps in reassembly later. Note that there is a "front" and "rear" of the housing. Pay special attention to this so that reassembly is correct. There are 2 "ring" plastic bushings that should be replaced.

Clean up all pieces, removing old dirt and grease. With the spring clip correctly installed, the shift rod will return nicely into each gear position, as you shift. If your shift rod is loose, it will still shift but will be loose and can easily be bumped out of the selected gear.

These two pictures show the shift gate reassembled and greased with some new white lithium grease. Good for another 30-40 years...

This picture shows where the shift gate connects to the shift linkage. There is a round plastic shift bushing that should be also replaced. Soak the plastic bushing in hot water for 15 minutes. This will make the plastic softer and allow for an easier installation. The bushing has a small hole side and a large hole side. The small hole side is what you reattach to the shift gate. It should "pop" in with a little force.

Make sure to install front side towards the front of the car. Use a hole punch to correclty align the holes with the nuts. Install shift gate with cover, align, then install the 10mm (x4) bolts.

Shift gate reinstalled and ready for the shift ball to be popped back on. Use a rubber hammer and carefully tap the ball back onto the shift rod. You're done!

Auto Shiftgate Insert

There seem to be at least 2 "correct" shift gate inserts. One for the early, unlighted, shift gate and one for the later lighted shift gate (all 280 SLs I believe ).

The picture below shows the lighted shift gate with the new plastic (probably aftermarket) on the left and old original plastic on the right. See the slot in the plastic at the top. It is needed to allow for a wire retainer for the light wire. Also see the feature in the metal part where the wire fits (a depression to allow clearance for the wire).

The picture below shows the wire location close up.

The next picture shows the new insert installed. It is not perfect because it is slightly deformed. I tried hot water, boiling water, and a hair dryer. All of these failed. The boiling water distorted the plastic. DO NOT use boiling water... A dremel was used to undercut the boss on the plastic insert that sticks out through the metal. That way the metal could slip under the boss and give enough clearance to get it in. Advice: First see if it fits. If not, start with the dremel and you'll be done in no time.

The console shown above is for a 280SL/late 250SL Pagoda. The console for the 230SL/early 250SL is functionally identical but significantly different in looks. The main differences are that the earlier one is not illuminated, the numbers are on the left side and the neutral position is indicated by the number "0".

The plastic insert on the 230SL is oval on the top and has no opening for tab that holds the wire. However, the currently available inserts will fit this console.

The next picture shows on the right a nylon insert so as it can be currently buyed by Mercedes Benz. The main differences with the insert for a 230SL is that the upper left tab has no slot to pass through. Everything works simply with a new slot and an excavation on the side that here is not visible. On the left of the following picture you can see the result of this adaptation and how , in early 230SL (feb.,1964), there wasn't the fifth tab on the front side to keep the nylon insert in position.

Also note that the foam spacer underneath the rubber boot has no cut-out for the lamp holder in the 230SL console.

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While parking my manual trans 280 SL the other evening, the transmission misbehaved. I heard a "pop," then something in the linkage immediately went awry - the shifter went all floppy and refuses to go into any gear, though the clutch pedal is normal and there is no loss of fluid. A fellow owner told me he thinks the culprit is some kind of nylon bushing that sits above the transmission. Can anyone shed some light on this and will I have to drop the transmission to get at the part?

When I first got my 230 SL 5-speed, it had the same problem - I took it in to my mechanic and he fixed it pretty quickly. He called it the shifter bushing. He didn't have to drop the transmission to fix it.

If the bushings are your problem, the fix is fairly easy: Remove the carpeting covering the transmission tunnel, remove the three plates screwed into the tunnel, replace the bushings in the shifter linkage. All the work is done from inside the car. The parts are inexpensive.

In replacing the bushings I found that the plastic is quite hard at room temperature and that if you place the bushing in a cup of water and warm it up in a microwave oven (do not boil) it will with a little white lithium grease go on easily.

Will Samples says: all work on the shifter bushings for a manual transmission is done from inside the car. It is a straightforward job, takes about 1-2 hours depending on your skill level, how skinny you are, and how much you want to restore the unseen linkage rods. You need normal hand tools and open/box end wrenches. Never heard of one that stopped shifting. Sloppy shifting and inability to go into reverse, yes, but never a complete loss. It helps to look at the shift linkage in the picture parts catalog that came with the car.

Pete Lesler: no you do not need to drop the transmission. I believe the bolt holding the shift lever to the main shift tube has fallen out. Even if all your bushings were bad, you could still engage gears. Simply remove your transmission tunnel carpet, then pull up the shift lever rubber boot, then you can see four ten mm nuts which hold down a plastic cover plate and some lower plates. Once these are removed you might see the problem. There is also a plate further forward on the transmission tunnel which gives you access to the front bushings. I would renew all bushings at the same time. All of the reputable parts purveyors such as Star Quality have the bushings.

The gear shift rod on my automatic trans for my 71 280 sl rattles against the plastic gear shift guide. Any suggestions for a fix?

Tom Hanson: replace all the bushings in the unit under the chrome cover. Maybe a dust boot too.

On my 230SL the shift lever moves farther, particularly from left to right, than seems sensible. I assume this means I need new bushings at both ends of the rod that connects the shift lever to the transmission. I'd appreciate any info from anyone who's done this job. Will I need to remove the tranny, for example?

Walter Klatt: Chris, your car is a manual correct? If so you can remove the shifter assembly from inside the car and remove the carpet covering the tunnel and then remove the small metal square screwed into the hump slightly ahead of the shifter. You should be able to access the rubber washers attaching the shifter rod to the small lever protruding from the transmission. I believe it is a 10mm bolt there.

Tom Hanson: Chris, Just replace all the bushings. Easy job and easy on the wallet. I have the parts and the illustration of them.

I recently decided to replace the gear shift bushing on my SL. I removed the carpet from the center tunnel. Then I removed the hatch cover so that I could remove the gear shift rod and two support rods which connect the trans to the base of the gear shift brackets. On top of the transmission directly in front of the left support rod there is a switch. I assummed this was the backup light switch because it appears to be activated by a linkage pin on the transmission. I ordered and received a new backup light switch which does not look like the switch on my transmission which has come apart into 2 pieces. I'm told by the guys at Bud's that they shipped the correct part. They say that the switch I am talking about is a switch which prevents the car from starting if the transmission is in gear. Is this switch the Electromagnetic starter valve, #31, on page 181 of the Hayne's manual? Can anyone confirm the purpose of this switch and the necessity for replacement. It has been suggested that I not replace it.

Item 31 on p.181 appears to be the cold start injector on the intake manifold. If you have a 4spd. then I don't think you should have a starter cut-out switch. Have a look on p.77 figure 3.77 item 5: it appears the automatic had a combination reverse lamp/starter cutout switch, whereas you just want the reverse switch (item 24 p.180). Most likely Buds sent you the wrong one.

Thank you so much for getting me on the right page. The switch that is broken appears to be a micro-switch on the transmission cover as described in paragraph #23 on page #77 of the Haynes manual. I incorrectly assummed it was a backup switch when I ordered the part from Bud's. Now that I'm in the right section, emmision controls, I have found a photograph of the broken switch in figure 3.114 on page 85 of the Haynes manual. I have broken part #19, 4th gear switch. Now I wonder if it it necessary. It looks like a bear to replace. The bolt under the 3rd gear switch, part# 19 is hard to get to from the opening in the tunnel. Does anyone know if these switches should be maintained? Has anyone replaced them?

I don't think I would worry about replacing that switch - it just means that when you're coasting in 4th, your car is back to a "normal" pre-emission SL. For the small amount that most of us drive our cars, that wouldn't be a big deal as far as pollution is concerned. Just make sure that there is no live wire flopping around, or else it might blow the fuse, and by-pass that system altogether (which I don't think is a big deal).

Tom Hanson: it could be related to emission controls if your car is a 70/71. I know there are one or two strange switches there, but I haven't sold any for a while.

This 4th gear switch same as the switch on the 3rd gear are used to cutoff fuel at the injector pump. The engine has to be at a certain temperature and the clutch is not depressed are the other 2 conditions from what I can remember. There might be another criteria.

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