`Fact: Musclecars are cooler with a stick shift. If yours has an automatic, you know you'd think it was better if it had a clutch pedal and a stick to slam. It's an undeniable appeal. Ever been to a car show and heard someone exclaim as they peered into a big-block Chevelle, "Cool, it's got a
Powerglide!" No, you haven't. But anytime a Hurst shifter is spied poking out from a factory console or even a jagged hole in the floor, motorheads dig it. Such thoughts swirled in our heads as we pondered the state of our '69 Camaro project, revamped in the July '05 issue. The car left the factory with a Turbo 350, and that's what had served it ever since, though the latest one was on its last legs. It seemed the perfect excuse for a manual-trans swap, but with future Anti-Tours and other road trips in mind, an overdrive was also on the wish list. That's when we saw the Keisler ad.
By using modern Tremec five- and six-speed manual transmissions as a foundation, Keisler Automotive Engineering has developed an array of manual-trans-swap kits that offer overdrive with musclecar-level durability. The Tremec transmissions have been in production for some time, but for the most part, they aren't direct bolt-ins for muscle-era vehicles. Particular swap issues vary depending on the vehicle, but conflicts with bellhousing and clutch mating, trans mounting, driveshaft yoke and angle, and shifter location are typical obstacles to expect. Keisler developed its kits not simply to cope with such obstacles, but to make the conversion process as simple as possible while requiring the least amount of modification to the host vehicle. The resulting PerfectFit series of kits covers models from the Big Three, and for many factory manual-trans applications, requires no modifications at all.
Kits for first-generation Camaros are among those that can be installed as a total bolt-in, provided the host car had a floor-shifted manual to begin with. But Keisler also offers automatic-to-manual swap kits, and as we found, required cutting was absolutely minimal. The five-speed kit we selected uses a Tremec TKO 600 gearbox with a Keisler-designed tailhousing and shifter to locate the handle in the factory four-speed location, plus it included a bellhousing, driveshaft, crossmember, flywheel and clutch kit, speedo cable, and all the hardware. Just about everything needed can be obtained from Keisler, though we did get some of our stuff from other sources.
We're not going to pretend this is a budget-oriented deal, but if you consider the cost of finding and rebuilding a Muncie, plus all the associated parts and pieces, or the cost of a performance-built automatic overdrive with a new high-stall lockup converter, the Keisler kit is not unreasonably priced. The installation was pretty simple, as you'll see.