(Adding a Lowered RS Shifter to the Ferrari Wheel)
Let's face it, I love the Act Labs RS Shifter. This is quite amazing considering that I really didn't care for it much for the first week I used it. I hear so much about which games support it and which don't, that I think some people are really missing the point. You see, I don't really care that it's capable of gated shifting in some games. Sure, it's a nice feature that I enjoy, but I'm happy using it as a regular shifter. I enjoy using it so much that I added it to the Logitech Wingman Formula Force, which doesn't have a stick shift. Then to add to the realism, I made a lowering kit to give it a more natural position with the Force RS wheel. Of course, I had to try the lowered version with the Logitech as well.
I'm quite aware that the Guillemot Ferrari wheel already has a stick shifter. In fact, I included a tweak in one of my articles to make the shifting throw shorter and easier to use. Still, I was never happy with the position of the Ferrari's standard stick shifter. For me, it's too far forward (as many are) and being 6 or 7 inches behind the wheel is not extremely comfortable to use, although I did get used to it. Now, to add to the realism and because I enjoy using the RS Shifter so much, it only seemed natural to add it to the Ferrari wheel. And once again, the results were more than satisfactory. Not only does it work good, but it looks good, too. The colors of the RS Shifter and Ferrari wheel are the same silver on black. Although I couldn't resist installing my B&M leather wrapped steel shift knob, the stock RS shift knob also looks great with the Ferrari wheel.
Just a couple notes before I get into the article and pictures. First, when I added the RS Shifter to the Logitech wheel, I did it partly to help me get through the testing of the wheel, which was otherwise quite boring. This is not the case with the Ferrari wheel. Here it simply enhances an already fine product. Second, the Ferrari wheel has enough buttons to make gated shifting with the RS Shifter possible. I didn't do it for two reasons. One, it wouldn't be in the spirit of Tweaks & Reviews policy of easy, quick tweaks that "are truly worth the effort". Gated shifting would probably require inline diodes to isolate the shifter circuitry (as it did in the Logitech modification) and would be a lengthy modification if wired with all 7 forward gears and reverse. (If you decide you want to wire the RS Shifter for full gated shifting, I'd suggest you try wiring it to the 8-way hat switch.) And two, I already have the Force RS wheel which is a fine product and already works with the shifter in gated mode. So if you haven't bought a wheel yet and want gated shifting, simply buy the Act Labs Force RS and RS Shifter combo.
Take the wheel apart as shown in the article "Fine Tuning the Ferrari Wheel". Remove the 4 silver screws that hold the stick shifter printed circuit (pc) board in place and gently turn the board over.
Making the Connections:
Solder short wires, about 6 inches long, to the pc board at the points indicated in the picture. Connect the wires to a 1/4" stereo (3 conductor) phone plug (normally open). If you wish, you can use a smaller, 1/8" phone plug, but because they are smaller, they are harder to work with. The plugs are available at Radio Shack or other electronics parts stores. The actual connections don't have to be as shown, but it's best to at least solder the ground wire as it is in the picture. Before making the solder connections, drill a hole in the lower case for mounting the jack later. Use the pictures and the jack as a guide. When soldering the wires to the jack, it may be easier to mount the jack but only make the nut finger tight. Then you can rotate it so the connection you want to solder is on the top. If you're not familiar with these jacks, slide the plug in and see what each plug segment hits on the jack. The long segment is the ground, and I use the center as down shift and the tip as up shift (although the shift positions really don't matter). Once all the soldering is done, screw the shifter pc board in place again, making sure you aren't pinching any wires.
The picture below, left shows the pin color arrangement on the plug coming from the Shifter. This is provided for general reference. The top 2 pins on the left seem to be empty and only 7 wires used, so I assume some type of multiplexing must be used for gated shifting on the RS wheel. On the bright side, standard network cable and plugs could be used with an inline adaptor to make two interchangeable tips if you wanted to use the standard plug for the Force RS and a phone plug for another wheel. The picture below, right shows the installed phone jack. A phone jack, by the way, refers to head phones, not a telephone.
You'll have to cut the plug off the wire from the Shifter. When I cut the plug off, I left about 12" of wire with it in case I ever wanted to connect it again or wire the plug to anything else in the future. Once the wire is cut, strip the black casing off about an inch and trim the shielding wire and foil, and all the wires except the black, green and blue. Slide the plastic phone plug cover over the wire so you can screw it onto the plug later. When you're done, the black, green and blue wires should be about an inch longer than the rest. Strip the casing off these 3 wires about 1/4" and solder the black to the ground on the phone plug, the green to the center and the blue to the tip.
I decided not to reinstall the standard shifter (don't need two stick shifters) and finished the area by capping it off. The circle is about 2 1/16" in diameter. The plastic cap of a standard 4 oz. spray paint can fits into this well. Simply trim the cap so it's only 1/4" or 1/8" high. I opted for a domed look and used part of a large, plastic Easter egg, trimmed it to fit and painted it with semi gloss black paint.
Using the Ferrari wheel with the lowered RS Shifter is a real treat. I've been tearing up the roads in NFS:PU with the Porsche Moby Dick and 944S Turbo with this combination for a few days now and I couldn't go back to the stock shifter. Driving the Ferrari in GPL with the Ferrari wheel and the lowered RS Shifter with the B&M knob is just plain too much fun. It feels like I'm in the cockpit. I thought of adding side mirrors for even more realism, but when I tested the positioning all I could see in them was my wife standing behind me with a scornful glare. It scared me so much that I abandoned the project.
(Gary DeRoy )
May 20, 2000