I’m pretty sure most of us, given the choice, would want a lovely, precise gated shifter for our manual cars. But the truth is we don’t usually have a choice, and society dictates that the point of contact between shifter and chassis is somehow unseemly, so it must be hidden with a modesty boot of some sort. Of these boots, there are really only two basic kinds: rubber accordion boots and leather, bag-like boots. I maintain that rubber accordion boots are far superior, even if they’re currently very out of favor. Hear me out.
The shifter boot is an important detail in any car’s interior, and, for what it’s worth, it appears that leather shifter boots have won. I blame this on society’s miserable obsession with the concept of “premium” things and materials. Leather (or synthetic leather) is perceived as being more upmarket, more expensive, more status-telegraphing than rubber. Rubber is seen as utilitarian, not luxurious, which is why it’s so hard to find a modern car with a rubber shifter boot.
Hell, even utility vehicles like cargo vans have leather shifter boots now. Look at this Fiat Promaster cargo van:
Why does this thing need a leather shifter boot?
My real problem with leather shifter boots is that, for all their pretention of being “nicer” or more premium or whatever, they just look worse than a nice, architectural rubber accordion boot.
Honestly, when you see a shift boot like this, what do you think of?
Let’s just not, um, beat around the bush here. These things look positively scrotal. It’s a scrotum for your shifter, and we all know it. Like scrotums, they’re not really the most objectively attractive things in the world.
Look, if all the ballsack references are distasteful to you, how about this?
You know what these two objects are? One is a leather shifter boot, the other is that filthy Sorting Hat from the Harry Potter books and movies. Really, if you just chewed the tip off the hat, you could use it as a shift boot just fine. There’s plenty of shifters that look like that’s exactly what happened.
So why do we put up with this? Why did we all decide that we’d rather have these misshapen, wrinkly lumps at the base of our shifters instead of satisfying molded rubber constructs that look capable and clean and appealing?
Here, look at these two shifter boots from Datsun 280Z cars:
I love vintage-looking things as much as anyone, but, come on, that leather boot with that ridiculous leather bow is just stupid. You can’t tell me that actually looks better, objectively, or that the stupid leather laced bow isn’t going to get untied all the time, giving you an extra, unwanted annoyance.
That rubber, ziggurat-styled shift boot, though, it looks striking and crisp and capable and sporty and fun. I love it. It’s mechanical and appealing and those stepped sections are going to flex in a really satisfying way.
Here, let’s look at another comparison, this time in Porsche 911s:
If anyone can explain to me how that rhino-dick looking thing is somehow better than the tidy, cool-looking round accordion boot on the upper 911 picture, I’m happy to listen, briefly, before rolling my eyes.
Also, leather shifter boots tend to form little pockets from folds in the rubber, and trap all kinds of crumbs and dust and crap in them, which proves to be a pain to clean out. A rubber accordion boot can be easily wiped clean, with a paper towel wrapped around a finger used to sweep out between the folds.
With a leather boot, you have to pull it taut, spilling all the gross crap into the area where the boot meets the bezel and it’s all just a hassle. Not worth it.
There’s no reason to put up with this. Leather boots look worse, are harder to maintain, and don’t offer any advantages over rubber, other than some vague cultural classist status bullshit.
I’m not even sure the last time I saw a modern car with a real rubber accordion shifter boot, but I’m officially demanding them now. Bring back rubber accordion shifter boots!