Cutlass Trans Tricks
Shane Bonnie, via CarCraft.com: My cousin's got an '83 Olds Cutlass and would like to put a five-speed in it to go with the 383 I built. Any junkyard ideas on what parts can be taken to get this done?
Jeff Smith: Before we get into details on the manual trans you want to run, we should first get into clutch linkages. Some G-bodies from '78 to '81 were equipped with manual transmissions, and these cars had mechanical linkages with pedals and the entire Z-bar arrangement. To say these are rare would be an understatement, but after a quick eBay Motors search, we found a pedal assembly that did not include the rest of the linkage. It was listed for $65 with two days left on the auction, but we wouldn't be surprised if it went for $100. If you're talented, it would be possible to fabricate the rest of the linkage from heavy-wall tubing and spherical rod ends. We've also heard that a mid-'70s Cutlass Z-bar will work if you can find one. Next, the only real junkyard five-speed available that will work is a third-gen F-car (Camaro/Firebird) T5 trans, used from '83 to '92 but only with 305ci engines. The '88-and-later boxes are all World Class, which means better gear material, better synchros, and stronger parts. But these T5s are rare and also were tilted 17 degrees from horizontal, which then means you need a matching mechanical-linkage bellhousing. Our research points to only one year for that bellhousing-the '83 F-car-so again you're on the hunt for a rare part.
If you can't find the linkage and/or bellhousing setup, then you'll be forced to go with a hydraulic clutch system. Plenty of fourth-gen Camaros have hydraulic masters, but you're still going to need a pedal assembly. The Monte Carlo Mailing List Web site (Monte-list.nu) has a great rundown on a T5 trans swap that goes into far more detail than we can here. The owner also offers tips on using an F-car pedal assembly. With the trans and matching hydraulic '84-'92 F-car bellhousing, you can use all factory parts, which makes replacement parts easier to find. You will have to move the crossmember to mate up to the T5, and the driveshaft will have to be cut to fit the longer T5 trans. Obviously you will need to saw open a hole in the stock floor for the shifter. Hurst and B&M both make shifters that will bolt right in.
The nagging overall question is how well the T5 will hold up to the torque of that 383. From what we've learned, it will take abuse but will break if subjected to power shifting of any kind. We're working on an upgrade to improve the life of a Ford World Class T5; that story should appear in the next few months. G-Force offers a bunch of parts for this transmission, including gearsets, improved slider assemblies, a heavy-duty cluster support plate, and all the goodies to upgrade your T5. The upgraded gears are $1,095, while a hardened mainshaft is another $335.
G-Force Transmissions; Cleona, PA; 717/202-8367; g-forcetransmissions.com
Keisler Automotive Engineering; Knoxville, TN; 865/609-8187; keislerauto.com
|TKO-500 ||TKO-600 |
|First ||3.27:1 ||2.87:1 |
|Second ||1.98:1 ||1.89:1 |
|Third ||1.34:1 ||1.28:1 |
|Fourth ||1.00:1 ||1.00:1 |
|Fifth ||0.68:1 ||0.64:1 |