I have never really been a fan of automatic transmissions. I have never seen an automatic transmission that was not leaking (but protecting the undercarriage from rust!). My first car (1967 Plymouth GTX) had an automatic transmission, but eventually was being shifted manually with a TransGo manual valve body kit. Every car I owned after that was either an original manual transmission car or converted by me to a manual transmission (1974 AMC Hornet 3 speed on the floor, 1969 Pontiac LeMans 4 speed on the floor, 1977 Chevrolet Vega automatic on the floor [converted to 4 speed], 1985 Chevrolet Cavalier 5 speed, 1986 Monte Carlo SS automatic on the floor [converted to 5 speed], 1979 Chevrolet Malibu Wagon 3 speed on the floor, 1983 Chevrolet Malibu Wagon automatic on the column [converted to 4 speed]).
I bought my 1986 Monte Carlo SS in 1989. After a few months, I decided it really needed to have a manual transmission. I decided to install a Borg Warner T5. I only had one requirement: the installation had to appear authentic, as if it was offered that way by the factory.
I began looking for a V8 GM F body T5, and found they were tough to find. Most V8 F bodies were built with automatic transmissions, while most V8 Mustangs were built with a T5. At swap meets, almost every T5 for sale was from a Mustang. The F body T5s for sale were almost always not for a V8 application. In the Spring of 1991, I finally found my first V8 GM F body T5 at a swap meet for $175.
The first time I performed this swap was in the Summer of 1991 when I put a 1985 F body non-World Class T5 in my 1979 Malibu Wagon, which was originally equipped with a 3.3-L Chevrolet V6 and a floor-shifted Saginaw 3 speed (Figure 1-1). The Wagon was my test mule for the swap. If the swap was a success, my 1986 Monte Carlo SS would be my next victim.
Figure 1-1: 1979 Malibu Wagon With Saginaw 3 Speed
I began collecting all of the manual transmission-related parts that I could find by scouring swap meets and junkyards, as well as buying a donor 1980 3.8-L V6 Malibu with a floor-shifted Saginaw 3 speed for $125 and a donor 1981 3.8-L V6 Malibu Wagon with a floor-shifted Saginaw 3 speed for $100. The remainder of each car was parted out to recapture the purchase price.
The second time I performed this swap was in October 1992, when I put a 1983 F body non-World Class T5 in my 1986 Monte Carlo SS (Figure 1-2). Since then, the transmission has been replaced with a 1989 F body World Class T5. I rebuilt the World Class T5 using the super alloy gear set that is used in the Ford Motorsport 2.95Z T5. The replacement gear set retains the 2.95:1 first gear and increases torque capacity to 330 lb ft. I purchased the replacement gear set and comprehensive rebuild kit from Hanlon Motorsports.
Figure 1-2: 1986 Monte Carlo With T5
The third time I performed this swap was in November 1992, about 2 weeks after I finished installing the T5 in my Monte Carlo. This time, the candidate was a 1986 GMC Caballero (Figure 1-3) belonging to my friend Bob. Bob had been keen on doing this swap and had been collecting the necessary parts to do the swap. In Bobís case, the swap finally occurred out of necessity, as the pump on the front of his TH200-4R seized to the torque converter and broke the pump into many pieces.
Figure 1-3: 1986 GMC Caballero With T5
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I no longer have my 1979 Malibu Wagon. The Wagon finally lost its life to rust. I have since bought a 1983 Malibu Wagon (Figure 1-4) with a 305H (4V) and have swapped in all of the manual transmission-related parts from my old Wagon. Because the new Wagon is equipped with a bench seat, I opted to install a Saginaw 4 speed instead of a T5.
Figure 1-4: 1983 Malibu Wagon With Saginaw 4 Speed
Originally Released 11 February 2002
updated 17 March 2010
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Copyright © 2001-2012 Marc Hichens