Installing a brand new T56 Tremec Magnum 6 speed transmission into your hotrod or classic muscle car

Today it is popular to swap modern parts into old hot rods. One popular swap is to upgrade the factory 3 speed automatics or 3-4 speed manual to a modern 5 or 6 speed transmission with over drive. Pre 1980’s cars typically had a final drive ratio of 1:1, these transmissions had no overdrive gears, thus can gain tremendous driving manors as well as fuel economy simply by swapping in a modern transmission.

The T56 manual transmission is a 6 speed with 2 over drive gears perfectly capable of handling up to 600 HP. Many claim the modern T56 called the “Magnum” will handle well over the advertised 600 HP limit. It is a stout transmission and its successor is still used today in a number of brand new vehicles. Luckily the company behind the factory intended T56 transmissions from the 1990’s to today also sells the transmission as an option for hobbyist as the T56 / Magnum.

Tremec T56 Magnum 6 speed transmission

A brief history of the T56 Transmission

The T56 was first introduced in the early 1990’s, designed specifically for the new Dodge Viper. The following years it was found in the 1993+ Pontiac Firebird and Chevy Camaro, as well as the Corvette from 1997+. In the 2000’s the transmission could be found in an array of cars made by various manufactures and car models including Aston Martin’s, Ford Mustangs, 2004-2006 GTO, and the Cadillac CTS-V. In the mid-2000’s it was replaced by the similar TR-6060 transmission, which has a lot in common with the original T56. The TR-6060 is still used in production cars including the Dodge Challenger and Chevy Camaro. More importantly, Tremec, the company that produced the T56 as well as the TR-6060 created a version of the TR-6060 specifically for hobbyists called the Magnum 6 speed in 2009. This is essentially a modern T56 with 3 shifter location options. Just last year (2019) Tremec released a new version, called the Magnum-F 6 speed, which is nearly an external clone of the 1998-2002 Firebird/Camaro T56 but with the modern internals. As Tremec creates variations of this wonderful transmission for hobbyists, we should see its use by hotrodders for many years to come.

Basic procedure for retro fitting and installing a modern T56 into a late model car or truck

This is the basic procedure for any T56 swap into a car that never originally came with a T56. These instructions assume you will opt for a hydraulic clutch setup for the most flexibility and that your car or truck will already have a clutch pedal that you can source for your swap, if you don’t already have one.

I broke these steps into 4 phases:

Phase 1: Prepare car for transmission

  1. Measure and cut initial hole in floor where shifter will come through. Be cautious not to cut too much as you cannot easily undo floor cuts.
  2. Bolt on the bell housing then T56 transmission to engine and jack up to the position where it will live once installed. Understand pinion angle here is important. It will make your life easier to do this step early on, before installing a flywheel, clutch and pressure plate. If you can hold off installing a pilot bushing or bearing that would also make it even easier to test fit your transmission.
  3. Make measurements where final cuts are necessary in your floor.
  4. Measure for, purchase/build, then install cross member.
  5. Measure for pinion angles and make adjustments as necessary.
  6. Unbolt the T56, followed by the bell housing.
  7. Make cuts to your floor to clearance your T56.
  8. Reinstall bell housing and T56 to test your cuts. This is now the opportunity to repeat steps 2-7 steps until you have the clearance you need. you should have at least 1/2″ clearance to accommodate movement and airflow.

Phase 1 will be where most of your time is spent.

Phase 2: Index bellhousing, install clutch, and index throwout bearing

  1. install bell housing with a centering tool to index your bell housing. I used the QuickTime Bellhousing Index Plates #RM-130 If necessary, order offset dowel pins. Follow the instructions that come with the indexing plate.
  2. Install pilot bearing or bushing
  3. install clutch with pressure plate. SEE NOTE BELOW ON CLUTCH CENTERING/ALIGNING TOOL.
  4. Install bellhousing
  5. Measure finger depth in relation to bell housing then depth with throwout want to have 1/8″ clearance between the bell housing and throwout bearing, assuming you are using a hydraulic throwout bearing. See throwout bearing section for more details.
  6. Install throwout bearing and any spacers if necessary onto transmission, route hydraulic lines as necessary through bellhousing.


Ram Clutches 03-013 Steel Alignment Tool

RAM- clutches 03-013 centering- / alignment tool

If you do not purchase a quality clutch alignment centering tool such as the RAM 03-013, you will most likely have installation issues. The cheap plastic centering tool that comes with a new clutch kit will most likely be too loose for the precision that this transmission’s shaft requires. If the clutch splines are just slightly off, you will not be able to slide the transmission into the clutch splines and pilot bearing/bushing. I personally spent 6 hours trying to re-align my clutch with the plastic alignment tool and failed every time. I’ve watched 2 different TV shows run into this issue, one kept re-installing the clutch and pressure plate until they were able to get it lined up, while the other took a perfectly good T56 Magnum transmission and cut the shaft off to use it as a centering tool because they only had 12 hours before shipping the car to a car show. You would think that I would have learned my lesson watching these TV shows, but I didn’t. It wasn’t until I spent nearly 6 hours trying to install the transmission that I finally broke down and bought the RAM alignment tool. Purchase this tool ahead of time, it will save you a lot of hassle, frustration, time, and money if you have a deadline.

Phase 3: Install transmission, cross member and driveshaft

  1. Install Transmission onto bell housing.
  2. Secure cross member and transmission mount for your application.
  3. Get drive shaft shortened or custom shaft made then install.
  4. Fill transmission with Dexron III transmission oil.

This is the last opportunity to check for clearance and pinion angles.

Phase 4: electrical, clutch pedal, and shifter

  1. Wire the T56 transmission appropriately for your application (reverse lights, lockout, VSS sensor)
  2. Wire a T56 Reverse Lockout Module to prevent accidentally shifting into reverse instead of 5th gear. See STRONGLY RECOMMENDED: T56 Reverse Lock Out Module note below.
  3. Connect mechanical speedometer (if required)
  4. Bleed clutch
  5. Install shift handle, shifter boot, and shift knob along with any center console/floor finishing mods
  6. Adjust clutch pedal
  7. install clutch bump stop to prevent clutch from bottoming out (if it is possible for your application)

STRONGLY RECOMMENDED: T56 Reverse Lock Out Module

Jegs 82513 Reverse Lock Out Module

JEGS 82513 Reverse Lock Out Module

The Jegs 82513 Reverse lockout module will control the lockout mechanism built into the T56 by using the VSS signal to unlock a gate in the transmission shift mechanism to allow for the shifter to easily move to reverse when the car is not moving. If you do not install such a module, reverse is harder to move the gearshift into. With the module, the gate is locked even stronger when you are moving to make it more obvious while driving, preventing the driver from accidentally putting the car in reverse rather than 5th gear. When not moving, reverse can be shifted into as easily as the other 6 gears. Adding this module is a must in my book.

Test your T56 install

At this point you should be ready to rock. The first time you start your car, make sure the rear wheels are off the ground on jack stands for the following tests.

  • Test you can start the car with clutch pedal engaged without the rear wheels moving. The remaining tests should be performed with the car running.
  • Test you have plenty of pedal before the wheels start to engage
  • Test speedometer is working when you press the gas while in gear
  • Test that your rear reverse lights turn on when you put the transmission in reverse gear (assuming you wired this)
  • Test that you cannot easily move the gear lever all the way to the right when the speedometer is showing speed (assuming you wired a reverse lockout module)
  • Test that you can shift into each gear without any binding or issues

Once all of your testing of the car while off the ground is completed, you can turn the car off, check under the car for leaks and assuming everything is good, put the car down on the ground for its first voyage with your brand new T56 Magnum!

Tremec recommends driving the car for 500 miles with mild to moderate use. AKA do not start doing burn outs or quarter mile runs until you have gently broken in your new transmission!

Budget for T56 swap

I do not want to get too deep into pricing so the below are just rough numbers, your pricing will vary based on what you need to acquire for your swap.

  • T56 Magnum transmission: $3,600 – $4,000
  • Bellhousing, clutch and flywheel: $1,000 – $1,500
  • Crossmember and transmission mount: $0 – $500 (you could make this yourself, re-use your factory cross member, or buy a kit)
  • Hydraulic clutch, throwout bearing and related: $300-1,000
  • Custom made drive shaft with appropriate yoke: $200 – $500 (depending on new or cutting an existing)
  • Electrical, reverse lockout module, pigtails, wiring: $100 – $200

You can budget anywhere from $5,000 to $8,000 for a swap, not including labor.

Installing a T56 conclusion

If the above details scare you from such a swap, then join the crowd. Many classic restoration and hot rod shops prefer to swap in factory transmissions, or transmissions that at minimum fit into the factory sheet metal that can at minim use the factory bell housing.

Don’t be deterred however, searching the web is your friend. Specific model cars have been documented by others who have done the swap, paving the way for you to further prepare for and anticipate problems that may occur with your specific car.

If you are a hobbyist like myself and have done basic car work such as install a transmission or replace a brake booster, a T56 swap is completely do-able with your skill set. Remember to take your time and plan ahead as much as you can.

If you are still on the fence or want to know more about my T56 Magnum installation, stay tuned for next week’s post where I document specifics of installing a T56 into my 1981 Trans Am.

If you are still on the fence or want to know more about my T56 Magnum installation, stay tuned for next week’s post where I document specifics of installing a T56 into my 1981 Trans Am.

Related posts:

Installing a brand new T56 Magnum into a 2nd Gen Firebird Trans Am with Pontiac V8

Adding hydraulic clutch to 2nd Gen Firebird Trans Am / Camaro

Adding hydraulic clutch to 2nd Gen Firebird Trans Am / Camaro

Installing a hydraulic clutch into a 2nd gen Firebird, Trans Am or Camaro is not a simple task, but it can be done and the benefits are enormous. The optimal time to make such a swap is when you will be replacing the brake booster, as most of the work will require removal of the master cylinder and brake booster in order to add a new or modify your existing clutch pedal.

I Installed my hydraulic clutch while I was installing a Hydroboost power brake booster install in my 1981 Trans Am, then completed the install when I replaced my 3 speed TH350 automatic with a Tremec T56 Magnum (details of this swap coming in the next post).

I decided on going hydraulic as I was on the fence between doing a T56 Magnum or a TKO500/600 or maybe even sticking with a factory 4 speed. With a hydraulic clutch you can easily switch between various transmissions as well as not worry about the linkage interfering with the exhaust system. Future transmission swaps all I will have to do is connect the 4AN line followed by rebleeding the clutch and then call it done.

Options for 2nd Gen Firebird / Camaro

There are multiple options available for a 2nd gen hydraulic clutch swap. All options use the factory clutch pedal, which can easily be found at your favorite hot rod parts store. As for the hydraulic master cylinder, there are really only 3 options with 2 popular mounting brackets on the market.

Master cylinder bracket options

  • Detroit Speed bracket – It is not as thick as the McLeod bracket but if you bolt or weld it to your firewall it will be strong enough. It will accept a factory hydraulic master cylinder from a 98-2002 Firebird/Camaro, as well as the factory or McLeod master cylinder. The McLeod master will require a plate for sealing.
  • McLeod bracket – It comes with a kit, if you go with this bracket you will also use the McLeod master cylinder that comes with it.
  • Make your own – I wouldn’t bother, the Detroit Speed bracket is not that expensive, just get that if you are on a budget.

Master Cylinder options

  • McLeod master cylinder – This can be used with the Detroit Speed bracket but requires a custom plate to seal where the Detroit speed bracket has a gap.
  • Tilton master cylinder – This can be used with and is designed for the the Detroit Speed bracket.
  • Factory 98-2002 master cylinder – This can be used with the Detroit Speed bracket.

McLeod Hydraulic master cylinder kit for 2nd Gen Firebird / Camaro

I started out with a kit, the McLeod 1434005QD Hydraulic master cylinder and mount kit. The McLeod clutch master cylinder uses a Wilwood master cylinder and works well with a factory or factory like hydraulic clutch, which was what I planned on using.

The McLeod kit came with quality parts and a very nice machine aluminum mounting block for mounting the clutch perfectly with the clutch pedal. Their mounting bracket is very strong and thick and will not suffer from fatigue over time like others have complained about with other brand mounting brackets. The kit moves the clutch pivot point from the factory location which is centered with the clutch pedal to the left about 3/8″. This offset allows for the provided heim joint to be bolted to the side of the clutch pedal. This option is ideal that way the clutch pushrod does not collide with the clutch pedal arm.

Unfortunately I have a 1981 which has a blade style fuse box. I believe 1980 and 81 use blade fuses where-as 70-79 use glass style fuses which should provide more clearance for this kit. For the blade style fuse box the hazard flasher and right most row of fuses are very close to the clutch pedal arm. You cannot use the provided McLeod mounting bracket without relocating the fuse box.

McLeod clutch bracket hits fuse box 2nd gen Firebird / Camaro

Detroit Speed clutch mounting bracket for 2nd gen Firebird / Camaro

Out of desperation, I ordered a Detroit Speed clutch mounting bracket, part number 070430. From my research it appeared the Detroit Speed bracket placed the clutch pedal rod in the same location as factory, which is centered with the pedal. When the bracket arrived, I confirmed it is intended to use with the factory clutch hole, where-as the McLeod moves the clutch hole toward the fuse box by 3/8″.

Detroit Speed (left) compared to McLeod (right) clutch mounting brackets
McLeod on top of Detroit Speed clutch mounting brackets
Detroit Speed on top of McLeod clutch mounting brackets

The Detroit Speed mounting bracket is about 1/2 the thickness of the McLeod bracket. Though I do not foresee a strength issue, if you are concerned about strength along the firewall, I strongly recommend the McLeod bracket if you can mount it.

Interestingly, both the Detroit Speed and McLeod mounting plates can work with a factory 4th gen Firebird/Camaro hydraulic clutch.

The Detroit Speed mounting bracket is designed for the Tilton clutch master cylinder and bracket adapter kit which has a larger footprint when bolted to the firewall. Because of this, the opening is larger. When placing the McLeod mount over top it left a large gab. To solve this, I used sheet metal to act as an intermediate plate between the Detroit Speed mounting plate and the McLeod clutch.

McLeod clutch on Detroit Speed mounting bracket
McLeod clutch on Detroit Speed mounting bracket mounted on car

The final result with bracket painted with a special made plate between the Detroit Speed mounting bracket and the McLeod master cylinder.

McLeod clutch on Detroit Speed mounting bracket mounted and painted on car

Note that I drilled the 2 holes for the master cylinder to accept 1/4″ button bolts both thrugh the bracket and through the firewall to provide a tight fit of the plate against the firewall. I also removed a rubber bumper that was centered for the brake pedal and drilled through the bracket so i could use a button bolt at this location as well. This is seen in the above picture just below the 4 bolt holes for the brake booster.

Drilling new hole in firewall

If there is a section you read from this article, it better be this one. Read carefully. There are two scenarios, either you already have a clutch pedal and a hole for it, or you do not because you are swapping in an automatic transmission. Either way this may also influence which kit you install and how you install it.

If you already have a clutch hole for a clutch pedal, and you do not wish to possibly modify the existing hole, you should go with the Detroit speed bracket. The Detroit speed bracket puts the clutch in the exact same location as the factory did. The McLeod should also clear but it may require filing of the factory hole depending on your situation as it is offset 3/8″ further toward the fuse box.

If your firewall DOES NOT have a hole for the clutch pedal to go through the firewall, you will need to drill one. the firewall has 3 dimples at the location where the clutch hole is located. It may be hard to locate but the dimples are there. The middle dimple will be slightly bigger than the outer 2. The outer 2 are intended for sheet metal screws that will hold a boot to seal against the firewall for the mechanical clutch rod to ride inside of. The center slightly bigger dimple is the centering hole where you will drill out a 1″ or larger hole. I believe the factory made this hole 1-1/2″ wide. The factory boot diameter is 1-13/16″ in diameter, more than 1-3/4″. Factory wise, you have a lot of variance.

WAIT!!! Please read the rest before you put the hole in the wrong spot!

If you went with the McLeod kit, DO NOT drill the factory location. If you already have a hole for your clutch, it should be big enough for the offset of the McLeod but you may need to file the hole slightly larger toward the fuse box.

If you went with the Detroit speed bracket, you can use the factory location without issue and drill it out to 1-1/2″ opening.

With either the McLeod or Detroit speed bracket, the optimal method is to bolt the bracket to the firewall and find the exact center where the clutch rod will go through, offset that slightly upward (as the rod will angle upward), then drilled a 1″ hole exactly where you need it.

I opted for the Detroit Speed bracket and my hole is only slightly about 1/8″ toward the fuse box of where the factory centering dimple was found.

For both brackets you may need to add seam sealer around the bracket to seal-in the engine bay to your mounting plate. I ended up not needing this as I used a smaller 1″ hole and drilled out the Detroit Speed 2 master cylinder mounting holes and also drilled through the firewall and used lockouts within the inside of the firewall to both hold the master cylinder and the bracket tight against the firewall. This added both strength and sealed the plate against the firewall.

Adding Clutch Pedal

Adding a 3rd pedal to a 2nd gen Firebird or Camaro is actually quite easy to do. The factory made it easy on themselves, all they needed to do was mount a 3rd pedal to the left of the brake pedal. Essentially a longer bolt for the brake pedal is used and the extra length covers the width of the clutch pedal. There are differences between the years, though those differences appear to be specific to the pedal size at the bottom, not the pedal arms or how they mount, which means any 70-81 clutch pedal + brake pedal assembly will work, as long as the brake and clutch pedals work together. See my final parts list at the bottom of this post for the pedal assembly I purchased.

Clutch and brake pedal assembly with clevis and heim joint with custom threaded extension that came with the McLeod clutch kit..

Above you can see that I had to add additional threads to the push rod extension that came with the McLeod kit in order to use the fork shaped clevis joint I purchased as the Detroit Speed relocated my clutch centered with the clutch pedal. I had to use a fork shaped clevis to attach to the clutch pedal arm for this situation.

Neutral safety switch

Doing some research I found that earlier Camaro and Firebirds 1970-1978 included a neutral safety switch that easily bolted to the clutch pedal and top of the factory reinforcement for the steering column. Unfortunately you will need to source the switch and switch pivot mount from different sources, no one sells both together for the 70-81 Firebird/Camaro.

Wiring of the neutral safety switch is simple. I purchased 12 gauge purple wire and cut the purple wire coming from the ignition switch wiring to my steering column and ran each end to the 2 connections to the neutral safety switch. The circuit is only complete when the clutch is depressed. Safe and simple, just wish the parts were easier to source.

Since I purchased these items, I now see that Firebird Central has both parts available, though as separate items. I ultimately purchased the pivot bracket and the neutral safety switch from separate eBay vendors.

Firebird / Camaro Neutral Safety Switch

  • GM part number: 3983965
  • Firebird Central part number: DAS-288
  • Ames Performance part number: FM364D

Firebird / Camaro Neutral Safety Switch Pivot Bracket, the harder to find part

  • Firebird Central part number: CLU-72
  • The Stop Shop: TSS263

Hydraulic Throwout bearing for T56

When I opted for a T56 Magnum, I decided to go with a Luk factory OEM throw-out bearing that would match with the volume provided by the McLeod master cylinder (and also a factory clutch master cylinder). The only problem is the factory throw out bearing uses factory style push-lock connections. As I assembled my transmission with the T56 bell housing I quickly discovered clearance issues with using the quick disconnect that protruded from the throwout bearing. To solve this, I converted the lines from the throwout bearing to 4AN with 4AN adapters and used 90 degree elbow 4AN lines to provide clearance.

Changing the line into the throwout bearing requires the removal of a roll pin. Once the roll pin is removed you can slowly pull out the factory quick connector and replace with a clutch to 4AN adapter. There are a few brands that provide such an adapter which can also be used to convert a factory clutch master cylinder to 4AN line as well. I research and tested 3 and decided on the Jegs version as it seemed to fit snug. The Jegs version had the gasket pushed into the wrong location however. If you go with the Jegs version plan on slowly pulling the rubber seal off completely then re-seat it at the tip. For what ever reason whom ever is stuffing the packages for Jegs is not aware how this adapter seals and the 2nd gap is for the roll pin to hold it in place, it is not meant for the rubber seal.

The bleeder screw was also replaced with a 4AN adapter. This allowed me to run a regular 4AN line to a remote mounted bleeder. I used a Russell Hydraulic Clutch Speed Bleeder, it includes a bracket for mounting like a brake hose.

LUK throwout bearing remove roll pin
LUK throwout bearing with 4AN adapters
Russell Hydraulic Clutch Speed Bleeder assembly mounted at the transmission mount to make it easy to bleed clutch
LUK throwout bearing with 4an 90-degree end lines

Parts numbers:

  • 1998-2002 Firebird/Camaro T56 Throwout bearing, LUK LSC265B
  • Allstar Performance Adapter Fittings -4AN Male to 10mm x 1.5 Male ALL50036
  • 18″ and 24″ 4AN hydraulic braided hoses
  • Russell Hydraulic Clutch Speed Bleeder Assembly 641380
  • Earl’s 4AN Clutch Adapter Fitting LS641001ERL (did not like the fit of this one)
  • Jegs 4AN Clutch Adapter Fitting 601132 (ended up using this one)
  • Russell 4AN Throwout bearing fittings 641001 (This one did not come in time but looks almost identical to the Jegs version with slightly bigger opening)

Summit Racing has a Clutch Adapter Fitting as well but it is 3AN.

I almost switched to the
Tilton Throwout bearing

When I first ran into clearance issues with the LUK factory throwout bearing (before I discovered converting the lines to 4AN), I went to the store and picked up the Tilton throwout bearing 60-6105. I loved the flexibility with adjusting this throwout bearing and it has an interesting way to lock in the correct position so you have pretty close to the 1/8″ gab between the throwout bearing and the fingers of the pressure plate when not engaged. Unfortunately while reading the documentation I found that I needed to use the Tilton master cylinder which has much more volume then the factory or McLeod master cylinder,. Going with the Tilton would mean I would have travel issues as the throwout bearing’s hydraulic fluid volume requirements would be bigger than the master cylinder could provide.

Learn from my mistakes!

I learned a lot in the process of using the McLeod kit as well as finding out how the Detroit Speed / Tilton kits work together, and how the factory master cylinder can also be used. Based on my experience, this is what I would recommend for 3 different scenarios…

  1. Budget minded hydraulic clutch: Get a factory 1998-02 F body clutch & factory LUK throwout bearing and use a factory clutch line. If you cannot use the factory clutch line, switch to 4AN lines and use the throwout bearing to 4AN fittings to convert the fittings on the master cylinder and throwout bearing.
  2. 1970-1979 Firebird/Camaro: Go with the McLeod setup, the mounting plate is much thicker and the master cylinder provides the most flexibility with either the McLeod throwout bearing or a factory throwout bearing.
  3. 80/81 Firebird/Camaro: You almost have no choice, either go with the Detroit Speed bracket with a factory throwout bearing with a factory master cyinder or mcleod master cylinder, or go completely Tilton master + throwout bearing.

Remember, if you use a Tilton master cylinder, you need to use the Tilton throwout bearing, and if you go with a Tilton throwout bearing you also need to use the Tilton master cylinder so the volume of hydraulic fluid between the two sides of the system are paired together.

Bleeding the system

At first when I started to bleed the system I was not seeing any fluid coming through. I ended up taking the bleeder screw completely out and then pressing the clutch a couple times to pull in plenty of hydraulic fluid. Once I got the system filled with fluid, i then re-inserted the bleeder screw then cracked it open slightly to utilize the built-in check valve. From that point, bleeding the system went very quickly.

Hydraulic clutch results

Amazing! The clutch pedal is smooth to press and has solid engagement with my T56 Magnum. Once I figured out the bleeding, the process went fast and I have not had any hydraulic leaks or issues with the clutch. Watch for my next post as I write up installing a T56 Magnum into my 1981 Trans Am!

Related posts:

Installing a brand new T56 Magnum into a 2nd Gen Firebird Trans Am with Pontiac V8

Installing a brand new T56 Magnum into your hotrod or classic muscle car

Installing Hydroboost in my 1981 Trans Am

Installing Hydroboost in my Trans Am was rather straight forward once I knew what was involved. Though it took some time to acquire the parts necessary for the swap, I found it was worth the effort ten fold. The amount of brake pressure and confidence hydroboost gives an old car is indescribable.

For those who are curious to see an installation of Hydroboost on video, check out the TV Show Wheeler Dealers episode 162 where Ant installs a Hydroboost unit into a 1971 Chevrolet C-10 Truck.

To get started, you need to assemble the parts necessary to make the swap, select your hydroboost unit, prepare it if necessary, then install. Installing can be tricky based on your situation. In my case, I needed to replace the master cylinder which lead to replacing brake lines and the proportioning valve. I also wound up replacing the power steering pump and hoses. When all said and done the changes were a good thing but required sourcing additional parts during the process.

Parts and Tools Necessary for Hydroboost swap

A Hydroboost swap requires the following parts:

  • Hydroboost unit (Bosch 02040A2121 for 1997-2002 Astro Van for a 2nd Gen Firebird) Other units may be more appropriate for your vehicle, please read this entire post before purchasing parts.
  • Master Cylinder compatible with Hydroboost unit (if yours is not compatible). 1982 Corvette Master cylinder (Dorman M39052 or Cardone 13-1749) for 4 wheel disc brakes works well if you have disc brakes all around.
  • Wilwood 4 wheel disc adjustable Proportioning valve (if your current prop valve is not ideal for your setup or you take my advice and get an adjustable prop valve so you can dial in your brake pressure front and rear)

If you buy a hydroboost unit that is not designed for your vehicle you may need the following additional parts and tools:

  • Mounting plate appropriate for your vehicle (ebay is your friend)
  • Brake clevis / heim joint or other 3/8-24 threaded method to connect hydroboost to your brake pedal arm
  • 3/8-24 thread Irwin hex die
  • 1-7/8″ Crowfoot Wrench (Sunex 97750) for removing Hydroboost nut from back of bracket.
  • Power steering pump for Hydroboost
    • Type 1 pump (found on pre-1990’s vehicles, typical v belt pump): Borgeson 800323 Hydroboost 2 return line power steering pump
    • Type 2 pump Saginaw TC series (found on modern vesicles, LS engines, serpentine belt drive systems): Lots of companies make a Type 2 pump most have a remote reservoir. Your reservoir would need to allow for 2 lines.
  • Custom made power steering hydraulic hoses (6AN lines or custom made with SUR&R PS repair hose)

Acquiring a Hydroboost unit

There are 4 ways you can acquire a hydrboost unit:

1. New with mounting plate for your vehicle

This is the most expensive route but may save you the most time and hassle. There are retailers on the web including Hydratech Braking, Tallon (have to call them to order), and vendors on eBay that sell direct bolt-in units using for various model cars using new Bosch Hydroboost units with adjustable clevis/heim joint. Expect to pay $500+ depending on your vehicle.

2. New Bosch unit for a late model car you will need to modify

This is the route I took. I acquired a Bosch Hydroboost intended for a 97-02 Astro van. This required me to have to use a die to thread the push rod and also a special tool to remove the nut on the back to move the hydroboost to a special aluminum plate I purchased specific for my vehicle. Otherwise this was rather straight forward swap.

3. Acquire a used one from a donor vehicle

If you like junk yard diving or purchasing used parts online, you can acquire a used Hydroboost from the ideal donor vehicle. Same steps as option 2 apply, you will need to modify for your vehicle.

4. Purchase a re-man unit (WARNING)

This sounds like a good idea, and it is except for some reason, reman units seem to not include the rod that is mounted inside the hydroboost that pushes into the master cylinder. Be aware that if you do purchase a reman Hydroboost unit this part will most likely be missing and you will also have to acquire this push rod. If this is the case for you, google “Hydroboost Pushrod Kit” to find one for your application. Depending on the inner bore size you may need a small or large pushrod kit, which includes a spring and a 6 sided start shaped retainer that holds everything in place.

Preparing Hydroboost

If you purchase a hydroboost unit intended for a modern car/truck, it will most likely require you to cut the end and thread it to adapt your own clevis to it. I purchased a quality die (tap and die set can also work) with 3/8-24 fine thread. The 3/8-24 fine thread is the most common used for such clevis joints when you go to an auto parts store or hot rod shop such as Jegs or Summit Racing.

Mounting Hydroboost

In some situations the existing mount plate on the Hydroboost may work for your application. For most of us, it will not work and you will need to remove the hydroboost and find a mount for your vehicle or buy a blank plate on Ebay and retro fit into your vehicle. In this case, you will need the 1-7/8″ wrench mentions above. The Sunex 97750 has been used successfully to remove the existing nut for the Hydroboost.

Depending on the mount plate you acquire you may need a special Hydroboost socket as pictured below. I first purchased one from eBay (furthest to the left) from someone who makes them from scratch. Avoid this version, it is not strong enough and you can visually see the 4 points spread apart if you use this tool. The middle photo is a GM Kent-Moore version, it is a very strong tool meant exactly for this purpose but is hard to find (don’t ask how I got one). The 3rd is what I got with the mounting plate I purchased from Tallon Hydraulics (no longer selling hydroboost units online, you must now call them). The Tallon one on the right is a one-time use only tool, unless you take it to get hardened according to their documentation. I opted to use the factory Kent-Moore tool. Depending on clearance though you may be able to use the mentioned crowfoot wrench.

Since I did my swap last year, I have found a number of other vendors who now make Hydroboost sockets at an affordable price. A quick Google search I found a Hydroboost socket from Maximum Motorsports for $35, it has a good design and will not have the spreading issue as the one pictured on the left.

If you cannot find a mounting plate for your specific application, search eBay for “blank Hydroboost Mounting Plate”. Going this route gives you a couple of advantages: You will not need the special hydroboost socket to attach the hydroboost unit to it (you can use the crowfoot wrench which is much cheaper), and you will have complete control of the mounting position and angle. The only downfall with this option is you will need to do more fab creating brackets and measuring angles to find the optimal position and angle to mount the Hydroboost for your application.

Installing Hydroboost

Installing the Hydroboost unit should be straight forward. I purchased a machined aluminum block designed to put the Hydroboost at the perfect angle mounted to a 2nd Gen Firebird/Camaro. It places it at an angle that puts the Hydroboost push rod centered between the upper power brake mounting hole and the lower manual brake mounting hole.

Hydroboost installed in 1981 2nd Gen Firebird Trans Am

If I had one suggestion, I would recommend to Tallon to position the push-rod angle to center with the power booster mounting hole of the brake pedal. It is recommended not to put too much angle on the hydroboost push rod as it can cause uneven wear within the rear of the hydroboost. Though this angle is not dramatic in this situation, it could become an issue over time. More importantly, the brake ratio dramatically changes when mounted at the manual hole as it shortens the pedal travel ratio in relation to the distance the rod travels into the hydroboost. I created a new mounting hole on my brake pedal at the optimal angle for their hydroboost mount angle which was right between the upper power brake mounting hole and the lower manual brake mounting hole. What I found was the brake pedal travel was aggressive compared to factory. I now have it mounted at the upper brake booster mounting position and my brake travel is perfect. In other words, the factory brake pedal mounting position for a vacuum power brake booster is also optimal for a hydroboost power brake booster.

Master Cylinder, Brake Lines and Prop valve

I will not go into detail how to run brake lines, attach master cylinders and adjust prop valves. I will though mention some very useful resources that helped me.

82 Corvette Master Cylinder

A 77-82 Corvette Master cylinder will bolt right up to the 97-02 Astro van hydroboost unit. Brand new master cylinders from Dorman M39052 or Cardone 13-1749 can be found inexpensively at any parts stores as well as Wilwood and other popular brake part brands also sell master cylinders that bolt right up without modification.

Wilwood Adjustable Proportioning Valve

The Wilwood 4 wheel disc adjustable Proportioning valve is an ideal replacement prop valve for 2 reasons: adjustable & uses 3/16″ brake lines at all ports.

There are various mounting brackets available for proportioning vales. I used a similar prop valve bracket found on Amazon which allowed me to mount the prop valve on the side of the master cylinder and put it at a slight angle to clear my inner wheel fender.

Note that this prop valve is intended for 4 wheel disc brakes. If you use rear drum brakes you may want to opt for a different prop valve that accounts for the pressure difference for drum vs disc brakes.

Easy to bend and flare copper-nickel brake lines

I decided to re-do my brake lines between the master and prop valve and between the prop valve to the front wheels and rear axle. To achieve this, I relied on Amazon and purchased the following parts and tools:

The cooper nickel brake line is easy to bend and flare. The armor is perfect for where you run lines that may experience rock or other debris, it protects the brake line from getting damaged. I would never run brake lines without it under the car unless enclosed by body panels.

The Eastwood/Titan flaring tool made it very easy to flare 3/16″ lines perfectly every time. The copper nickel brake line is easy to handle and bend, practically by hand but you can also use a simple pipe bender like this one.

Power steering hydraulic changes

Hydroboost requires you to make pluming changes to your hydraulic power steering hoses in order to power the power brakes. Essentially the power steering pump first feeds pressure to the Hydroboost unit, which then “chains” a 2nd line from the Hydroboost to the high pressure entry port of your power steering box. Essentially Hydroboost simply taps into the existing pluming.

It is not quite that simple. Though the high pressure side is in series, the return low pressure is routed in parallel. Many posts in various hot rod forums and sites have conflicting advice on if you can merge the return lines into a T and continue to use your existing power steering pump. GM did do this on some vehicles, but in later years all hydroboost vehicles used power steering pumps that had 2 return inlet ports. I personally prefer to rest on the side of caution and go with a new power steering pump with 2 return inlet lines just to be safe.

Power Steering pump with 2 return inlet lines

I decided to run a power steering pump with 2 return lines. My first attempt was to run a re-manufactured power steering pump for the 1980’s Turbo Grand National. The Grand National came with a Hydroboost unit, though different older version than what I installed, should have had the same requirements for pressure. Unfortunately the reman unit I had was not up to the task of providing enough pressure to both my hydroboost and power steering. I ended up purchasing a new Borgeson 800323 pump.

Borgeson Power Steering Pump mounted using Pontiac brackets
Borgeson power steering pump with Pontiac V8 brackets

For those who are not aware, there are 2 pump styles. The first was typically found in GM vehciles from the 60’s through the 90’s typically paired with v belts. Today they are referred to as “type 1” pumps. The other style is referred to as “type 2” and commonly used with serpentine belts. Type 2 pumps have a lot of flexibility and are typically setup with the reservoir remotely mounted in the engine bay. In this situation, the low pressure lines from the hydroboost and power steering box go to this remote reservoir. There are aftermarket remote reservoir with multiple return line ports available, but it may be easier to add a 2nd port to an existing reservoir by adding a 6AN bulkhead fitting.

Using 6AN hoses and fittings

My final setup I went with traditional 6AN fittings and lines. I will not cover how to make your own lines in this post, but i did make my lines to my desired lengths.

I required the Unisteer Banjo fitting at the power steering pump due to clearance issues. Pontiac Power steering pump mounts in front of the Pontiac drivers side head which only provides about 2″ of clearance. Once the Borgeson 2 return line power steering pump was used, I could not easily use the factory bent hose as it collided with the return lines. The banjo fitting solved this issue.

Making custom hosts with SUR&R Power Steering repair hose

When I first did the swap, I made the hydraulic line that ran from the Hydroboost to the power steering pump with the SUR&R Power Steering repair hose. I took the factory hydraulic hard lines and cut them clean then used the SUR&R repair hose and attached them following the instructions to make new hoses to meet the length needs I had for my setup. I also tried to use this product for the hose from the Power Steering pump to the Hydroboost but had no luck finding starter tube that would clear my situation. When I ended with the banjo solution with the 6AN fitting, I decided to also re-do the other line to 6AN hose so everything matched. Though I do not use this product in my car at the moment, I had no issues with eh line i did make and I think it is a better “factory” looking approach to making custom power steering hoses for your hot rod.

Final results with Hydroboost brakes

The power of hydroboost brakes and the confidence it gives to a muscle car cannot be over stated. This may have been the single most signification upgrade to my Trans Am to date. If you have the patience, money, and desire to upgrade your brake booster to hydroboost, I strongly recommend it.

Final install of Hydroboost brakes in my 1981 Trans Am. You can see the Corvette master cylinder and Wilwood adjustable proportioning valve.