American automotive enthusiasts from every generation of America have heard of the legendary company, Hurst. Throughout the muscle car era into the 1980s, Hurst was a name synonymous with quality, performance, and muscle car attitude, but what exactly was the Hurst company?
What did they make? How did they get their names? Why are they such a respected name in automotive history today?
This is a detailed look back at Hurst.
The Men Behind The Company
George Hurst, the man behind the Hurst name, was born in New York in 1927. After a short stint in the US Navy, George settled in Pennsylvania alongside his good friend Bill Campbell and created Hurst-Campbell, a small garage that was originally focused on automotive repairs in 1958.
George was a natural for promotions, similar to a charismatic used car salesman today, he knew how to get people in the door. Many companies at this time were very straightforward with marketing, selling a product based on simple facts and inoffensive anecdotes, but George Hurst went the extra mile to make advertisements that were flashy, attention-grabbing, and full of color.
While George and Bill were successful with their business, it was another man, Lawrence Greenwald, who helped start Hurst-Campbell on their rise to fame.
Hurst Campbell Gets Big
With the help of Lawrence Greenwald, an elderly inventor who would get his cars serviced and repaired at Hurst-Campbell, George Hurst and Bill Campbell started to make aftermarket bumpers for the popular VW buses at the time.
Alongside these aftermarket parts, Hurst-Campbell was also very active in the local drag racing scene, creating motor mounts for engine swaps in drag racing cars. Alongside these motor mounts, they also created floor shifters, which would gain in popularity rapidly over time.
Hurst Strikes Gold With Pontiac
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the manual transmission was dying. Automatic transmissions were sought after by most consumers, not only for their convenience while driving, but also because most manual transmissions at this time were not particularly sporty.
The standard manual transmission of the late 50s, early 60s was a three-speed column shift, which proved to be a clunky, slow-to-shift transmission that was not appealing for racing enthusiasts, who would much rather have a Powerglide automatic transmission.
With the success in the racing scene with Hurst aftermarket shifters, Pontiac started including Hurst shifters as standard equipment, and by 1965, Elliot “Pete” Estes convinced the higher-ups at GM to have the Hurst name emblazoned on the shifter of Pontiacs.
With this success, Hurst-Campbell became a household name in anything regarding transmissions and shifters.
What Made Hurst Shifters So Great?
In the muscle car era, many factory shifters were not built very well. Hurst made shifters and linkages that not only stood up to the test of time in daily drivers but on the track as well. Hurst products also came with a lifetime warranty.
Hurst didn’t just make shift linkages and floor shift kits for vehicles, but they also made their own original transmission creations as well, including the Hurst His & Her Shifter. The His & Her Shifter was a semi-automatic style transmission shifter.
On one side, you can put your automatic car in park, neutral, drive, and reverse. But on the other side, you can shift manually through the gears if you wanted more of a manual transmission feel, perfect for part-time drag racers who just wanted a regular automatic transmission for daily driving.
The implementation of Hurst shifters into Pontiacs was such a success that more deals were made between Hurst and other car companies including Dodge, AMC, Plymouth, and most notably, Oldsmobile; George Hurst’s favorite car company.
The partnership with Oldsmobile led to a special edition Olds Cutlass called the Hurst/Olds. This high-performance car was produced for nine years between 1968 and 1984 in very limited numbers, with no more than 3500 vehicles produced in a year.
Hurst Was Too Good To Last
While Hurst was an incredible brand at the time, making products better than any automaker at the time could, not everything was great for the company. Bill Campbell was fired by George Hurst, leading to the friends separating, and the Hurst company was bought by Sunbeam appliances who refused to follow through with their promises and denied George Hurst a position as an executive of his own company.
While the Hurst/Olds cars were made through 1984, Hurst as it was known in the past went defunct by 1970.
Where’s Hurst Today?
Today, Hurst products are still being sold through an acquisition by Mr. Gasket, and later in another acquisition by B&M under the Holley Performance Products line of brands. Restoration shifters are still made today under the Hurst name, but these are not created by George Hurst himself.
Unfortunately, George Hurst died in 1986 at only 59 years old, but his engineering lives on through his inventions. While Bill Campbell and George Hurst will always be known for their products in the world of transmission linkages, shifters, and motor mounts, they also contributed to automotive safety as well, inventing the Jaws of Life that are still used today to get people out of wrecked cars in automotive accidents, saving countless lives since their invention.
So as you are browsing at your next car show, take a look at the shifter on those old Pontiacs, you just might see the legendary Hurst name on the lever!
Why The 1969 AMC Hurst Lightweight AMX Was A Legendary Muscle Car