Rear noises in the 2000 Trans Am, replaced gear oil, axle shafts, wheel bearings and parking brake shoes

After getting the suspension sorted with the new Borla exhaust system, I went on a quick drive and found the rear axle was noisy, like marbles rolling inside a tin and the rear axle was wining louder the faster I drove.

When I put the car back up on stands and started testing things, I noticed a lot of noise on the drivers rear side of the axle. It really sounded like bearing noise, so I decided to replace the axle shafts and bearings to be on the safe side. The previous owner replaced the pinion bearing about 3 years before I owned it and there were no leaks. I assumed there should not be any other issues with the diff. Once I had the cover off, the oil was pretty much trash, though I didn’t find any major chucks or anything just typical gear wear and the gears looked evenly worn. I went ahead and replaced the axle shafts and bearings and added new seals, in the process I found the drivers side parking brake shoe was loose, you could easily grab it and shake it around. The lightbulb went off at this point, that the issue may not have been with the diff but with the parking brake. I got new shoes and brackets to hold them in and this time the new shoes were snugly installed. I refilled the diff with heavier oil and also added GM posi additive, even though some folks say not to add it for this style of rear axle, a Torsen, there was a service bulletin from GM in the 2000’s that recommended adding the posi fluid to fix noise issues, so I did it. I figure it cannot hurt.

2000 Trans Am rear diff, cover soon to come off
2000 Trans Am rear diff inspection
2000 Trans Am rear diff inspection
Old bearings and axle seal on 2000 Trans Am

Results

Driving the car with new diff fluid made an improvement, the wine at higher speeds was gone completely, but a new rattle like sound in the driveline is now apparent, a completely new sound, though quieter than the previous one. This sounds like a metal ring bucking back and forth or spinning around a shaft. I have not addressed it yet but further research it may be that the Torsen just makes this noise. It is only present when deaccelerating or letting off the gas at low speeds. It definitely has something to do with the thrust against the rear diff. My plan in the fall is to take the drive shaft out and take it to get new U joints to see if that solves the latest noise issue. If it doesn’t, I will wait until spring, change the diff oil again and reverify there is nothing bad going on inside. From what I read the Torsen diff’s are just noisy, and the 4th gen forums as well as ls1tech recommend replacing the rear axle with an aftermarket 9″ as the solution. I may just have to do that in 1-3 years if this noise doesn’t sort itself out.

The only other complaint is the car stance is slightly off, the rear feels a bit too low. Some weekend I will jack of the car and add a 1/2″ spacer to the spring upper rubber pads to lift the back a touch. A half inch will go a long way I think.

Next post will cover the Apple Carplay/Android Auto system with rear backup camera installed in this 2000 Trans Am, as well as back to projects for the 1981 Trans Am which includes a RetroSound Daytona M2 radio and New Vintage USA gauges. Stay tuned!

Strano Springs and Koni Shocks, new brakes, bump stops, an adjustable panhard bar, and rear lower control arms in 2000 Trans Am

This spring I replaced the shocks and springs in my 2000 Trans Am with Koni STR.T shocks and Strano SP141 springs. installation was fairly straightforward, though while I had the front suspension apart I replaced one of the wheel bearings which promptly failed within a few miles leading me to replace it again! I also replaced the rear bump stops, all 4 brake rotors and pads, replaced the rubber hoses, and bleed the brakes. First, the results are excellent. While I had the car apart I replaced the sway-bar bushings as well as the rear lower control arms, panhard bar with an adjustable panhard bar, and installed new bump stops in the rear as the originals were completely destroyed after 20 years of use.

2000 Trans Am with Koni STR.T shocks and Strano SP141 springs

It does appear the rear is about 1/2″ lower than the front, but I have measured the bottom of the car and it’s the same height off the ground all around, it is just the lines of the car give the appearance that the rear is lower than the front. Ride wise, the handling is rough but not as rough as it was previously. If you look at the previous suspension, you can see that the previous owner upgraded the lowering springs but kept the original orange shocks, which may explain why the shocks were all but dead and ride was beyond harsh with the rear bottoming out on nearly every bump.

2000 Trans Am with original orange shocks and aftermarket lowering springs
2000 Trans Am with original orange shocks and aftermarket lowering springs

The rear bump stops were completely chewed away leaving the axle to literally bottom out against the bottom of the car metal to metal.

2000 Trans Am with aftermarket lowering springs with bump stops completely worn away

While I had the brakes apart I went ahead and painted them with a Por-19 brake caliper paint that I brushed on. It holds up nicely but if I did it again i would use a rattle can paint as these calipers have smooth sections which lead brush strokes being visible when up close. From 5+ feet though the calipers look pretty good, which is fine for me. I also upgraded the rotors to Centric brand that have a special coating to prevent rust. I figure since I will be keeping the car for many years with minimal driven miles, if I can keep the rotors from flash rusting that would be a bonus.

2000 Trans Am with new Strano springs and Koni shocks, coated Centric calipers and Hawk pads
2000 Trans Am with new Strano springs and Koni shocks, coated Centric calipers and Hawk pads
2000 Trans Am with original orange shocks and aftermarket lowering springs
2000 Trans Am with original orange shocks and aftermarket lowering springs

I also converted the bump tops from the factory rubber to Suspension Techniques polyurethane versions. They worked out great with a 1/2″ aluminum spacer. Will cover this in a separate post.

Other details include a new rear stabilizer bar as the one I removed had rust at the bushing locations, the rear drivers caliper replaced with a reman unit due to the bleeder screw hole being stripped and other things like fresh brake fluid. In a future post I will write about the rear axle noise I had after I installed a new Borla exhaust system with a cutout, which lead me to replace the rear axle shafts and new bearings as well as new rear parking brake shoes only to find the sound is still there and more than likely an artifact of the 2000-2002 rear diffs being a Torsen style rather than an Auburn style rear diff. Following that I will post the installation of a Sony XAV-AX150 in dash Android Auto/Apple CarPlay receiver with a 7″ display. Stay tuned for those updates!

New Tires, Borla Exhaust and Electric Cutout at Y pipe on 2000 Trans Am

The exhaust system in the 2000 Trans Am was modified by the previous owner with a Y pipe-back LoudMouth system, and boy is it loud. Last year I took the car to MadHatters in Columbus and they replaced the LM muffler with a Magnaflow. They gave me the previous muffler, which was noting more than a bulge in an otherwise hollow pipe to provide the appearance of a muffler, most likely to pass an inspection. The System had a lot of drone, specifically around the 1,500 to 2,200 RPM range which led me to shifting early or late to avoid the drone, which is absolutely no fun. The Magnaflow solved the drone issue but it still didn’t sound all that great, just loud.

Borla 14780 3″ Adjustable Cat-Back Exhaust System

This spring I purchased the Borla 14780 3″ Adjustable Cat-Back Exhaust System. I wanted dual rear tips and the ability to adjust the loudness with the various plates provided in the kit attracted me to it, and Borla makes a very good quality sounding exhaust system. The bolt pattern is 3 bolts similar to what header collectors and electric cutouts use, which got me thinking that an electric cutout could be bolted in. After a quick search, not only can it be done, folks have been doing it since the 90’s! After doing some research I purchased an electric cutout from DMH.

Borla 14780 3″ Adjustable Cat-Back Exhaust System with dual exhaust tips on a 2000 Trans Am

As pictured, the dual tips on the Borla system are just awesome. Sound wise, the car sounds perfect inside, no drone at all. When the windows are closed it does not matter if the cutout is open or not, you get about the same loudness inside the car. The biggest advantage to closing the cutout though is at the drive thru line. I see no benefit of having the system partially open, either it’s closed because I am trying to talk to someone or its open. Best part is the sound inside the car is now normal, maybe too normal as I then started to pickup sounds from the rear diff which leads me to the next post covering the work I did to rear axle.

The previous LoudMouth system also had dual tips and looked good, but these Borla tips are something else. I would love to know if the tips also help with the quality sound from the Borla system or if they are simply for show.

Comparing Borla dual exhaust tips to Loud Mouth exhaust tips

Electric Cutout for the Borla 14780 System

I ordered a cutout from DMH based on recommendations on the various 4th gen forums. I was going to get a cutout from Quick Time Performance QTP QTEC30B / QTEC30 but after talking with the guy from DMH, I decided it was worth buying locally (from Ohio) and a nice guy on the phone. When it arrived however, I was expecting the rectangular switch from the pictures on his website and description, instead I got the round 3/4″ momentary switch, exactly like what is in the QTP cutout. Lesson learned but the same day I ordered the DMH I ordered a plate on eBay to mount the rectangle switch in my ashtray based on measurements from DMH’s website. I called DMH and he said he would ship me the rectangle switch described on the website. After waiting 3 weeks, I decided to order another plate from ebay for the ashtray this time with the 3/4″ hole instead of the rectangular cutout. The seller on eBay rocks, he got the plate to me in 2 days both times! The correct switch from DMH never came. Truth be told, I prefer the round switch as it is a bit lower profile and has a clean look in the center console.

I think the DMH cutout is good quality, but my experience with not exactly getting what was pictured rubbed me the wrong way at the time, and never getting that replacement switch was irritating. I will likely get a Quick Time Performance cutout if it ever needed one again, or if I order from
DMH I will have 20 questions ready to make sure I am getting what I think I am getting.

Installing the Borla 14780 System

I can’t say I am an exhaust installation expert, but I have replaced a dozen exhaust systems over the years with various degrees of success as well as a failure or two. The Borla 14780 3″ Adjustable Cat-Back Exhaust System was the most straight forward and easiest I have ever installed, and this is a system with multiple pipes and hangers. I’ve had harder times installing just a muffler! I was able to loosely bolt the system together then slowly move connections here and there to get it to fit perfectly. When I say perfectly, I mean perfect, perfect clearance over the axle and through the special angle built into the car between the pan-hard bar and the pan-hard bar structure. They took good care on clearances, every pipe slid on snugly, I only had to massage the pipe that transitions to the factory Y pipe slightly to get it to slide on, but that should be expected since the previous system used a traditional U clamp.

Wiring for the electric cutout and switch in ashtray

Wiring for the electric cutout was rather straight forward. While I had the car apart I took the opportunity to also run backup camera wiring along with the cutout wiring. I added a very small hole in the rear spare tire well on the inside and fed the wires through and added my own mid-point weather pack connector to make it easy to connect/disconnect at the spare tire. If I need to switch out the cutout, I can switch to another brand and simply re-splice the wires to a weather pack connection under the car and plug it right in.

Wiring is straight forward, you need a power source to the switch, then the switch has its own wires that run to the back of the car where the cutout is positioned. I used the accessory ignition tap connection from the fuse box and ran the wire under the ash to the center console. It is a tight fit, I had to cut a little bit of the top GM tap wire to get it to fit the Velcro fuse box cover.

I located the switch in the ashtray. I do not smoke, converting the ashtray to something useful was a no brainer. The plate simply lays in the ashtray. I did not glue it or do anything permanent, someday if/when I want the car all original I can pull the switch and wiring and put the ashtray back in. Honestly though I think the next owner will also prefer the cutout switch over an ashtray.

Electric cutout switch for Borla exhaust on Trans Am in center console ashtray

The switch on the left is yet to be wired, but I am planning on adding something in the future that I will turn on/off. More on that next year.

Michelin Super Sport 245/40R18 tires

The previous owner, I believe in 2008 upgraded the wheels and tires on the Trans Am. The 18″ wheels are actually pretty cool, Halo HE834 18×8. I did some research and found they weigh 22lbs, which is comparable to anything I would buy today to replace them. Since they are in nearly perfect condition, I decided to keep the wheels and get new tires. After shopping around I decided on Michelin Pilot Super Sport 245/40R18 tires from Costco. These are summer tires only, which is fine as I do not plan on driving this car in weather when it’s below 40 degrees and never ever in snow. What a difference the tires made! I purchased the tires first before I started the suspension, brakes and exhaust work. Of the modifications made, this had the most dramatic improvement. The previous tires were on year 12 according to the date stamped on the rubber. Even though they had plenty of tread, they just didn’t feel right and now that I have new rubber on the car I know why. These Michelin tires stick to the road like no ones business. Maybe too sticky! With the previous tires I could do burnouts and side the rear easily, maybe too easily at times. These Michelins provide nothing but grip, now I have to really put some effort to get the wheels to chirp. If your tires easily slide and slip and its really easy to to burnouts, its time for new tires!

Michelin Pilot Super Sport 245/40R18 tires with Halo HE834 18×8 rims on 2000 Trans Am

Next post I will cover the suspension work I did, including replacing the brake pads, rotors and replaced the shocks, springs, and bushings.

RetroSound Daytona M2 installed in 1970-1981 Firebird Trans Am

Earlier this year I ordered a new RetroSound Daytona M2 radio for my Trans Am to go with the recently acquired 77 dashboard. For those who are not aware, the 70-77 dashboards and the 78-81 dashboards are identical except for the size of the radio opening. In 1978 GM changed the radio size to be narrower, about the height of the newer 1 DIN standard we have today. With the 77 dash I got, the radio opening is slightly higher and since this dash I got was not cut, I didn’t want to cut the better dash up to transfer the CD player over, instead I acquired a more period correct looking radio, the RetroSound Dayton M2 to be specific.

First, take a look at the Aiwa receiver I had in the Trans Am. I believe I purchased this radio in 2003-2004 for my car at the time because it had a high output amp (over 50W x 4), an aux input jack, and it could play mp3’s from CDs essentially expanding the songs I can have on a disc from 12-18 to 120-180. It’s still a great radio but today we have features like Bluetooth and USB ports with a limit of 100,000 songs.

Aiwa CD mp3 player with aux input jack in 1981 Trans Am

The 1977 dash I acquired is red and will soon to be changed to Laudau Black to match the rest of the interior. Other than a couple spots where there are little dents, the dash is in great shape compared to my current 81 dash with the sink hole found under the carpet cover I have on it.

I purchased a new 70-77 stereo bezel and test fit the new RetroSound Daytona M2 radio, it installed like a glove! The RetroSound kit includes a thick strap similar to a pipe strap which I used to attach the back of the stereo inline with the center screw used to hold the ashtray to the dash frame. It works perfectly, the radio is very stiff mounted with just that strap and the 2 radio knob threaded shaft points with the low profile nuts. The knobs cover the nuts and the threads without issue, just like the older radios did in the 60’s and 70’s.

I believe I ordered the kit with the chrome radio knobs, I then ordered a 2nd set of black knobs (4 pieces total) and used the chrome knobs for the back knobs and the black knobs for the front. It gives the radio a clean period correct look. The knobs are heavy steel, which at first felt too heavy but once installed they give you a very positive quality feel to them where-as the cheap plastic knobs commonly found during this time period feel cheap.

Over the winter I plan on installing the newer dash when I install a Vintage Air air conditioning kit. Until then, I decided to pickup a 78-81 radio bezel and for now I installed the RetroSound Daytona radio in my 81 dash. It looks great and only required moving the knobs outward about 1/4″ on each side.

1981 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am dashboard with RetroSound Daytona M2 radio installed

The RetroSound Daytona radio includes 2 aux input jacks as well as 1 USB jack that you can run to your glovebox or let them slide out under your dash. To provide a cleaner look, I purchased an USB and AUX flush mount dash extension panel at the rear of the center console. I picked the rear of the center console because it is not hard to find that back plastic panel found on the back of the 70-81 center consoles, and it is a location no one will notice the jack unless they are literally in the backseat and looking for it.

1970-1981 Center Console back panel with USB/Aux input jack installed for RetroSound Daytona radio

My interior lighting is white. It only took a few taps of the dial and I converted the radio to match the same white color.

1981 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am dashboard with RetroSound Daytona M2 radio with white backlit gauges

Even though the Daytona model is intended for 70-77 dashboards, I would not hesitate to recommend this model also for 78-81 Firebirds and Trans Ams as well.

The RetroSound’s sound quality is excellent. Even though the radio is slightly less powerful than the Awia (45W x 4) it replaced, the volume powers the speakers perfectly and now I have the perks of handsfree calling, Bluetooth, USB drive full of mp3’s, an Aux jack, and now the radio looks period correct too! Great job RetroSound!

Fuel access door for 2nd Gen Firebird Trans Am using a Tanks Inc fuel injection gas tank

If you are installing a Tanks Inc Fuel Injection gas tank such as models TM201-T or TM203-T into a 1974-1981 Firebird, Trans Am or Camaro, this write up is for you.

Firebird and Camaro uneven trunk floor 1974-1981

The 1975-1981 Firebird and Camaro trunk floor includes a lower and upper section with an angle almost center of the tank. This design makes installing a fuel access door a challenge. I have no idea why they made the trunk like this but it is what we have to work with. If you are like me and installing a Tanks Inc fuel injection tank, you want to be able to easily access the fuel pump in the event there is a problem or failure. Tanks’ answer is to install a fuel access door, such as models AD-66/AD-85/AD-44. The numbers indicate the width and height of the inside of the access door. If the floor was flat, the AD-85 would be perfect installed perpendicular for easy access to both the fuel pump and fuel sending unit. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

1974-1981 Firebird and Camaro trunk floor with possible access doors marked on an Auto Metal Direct floor pan

With measurements where the fuel pump comes through from the Tanks Inc tank, I confirmed it is possible to put the access door in the sloped portion of the trunk pan. Thanks Auto Metal Direct for a great photo of your product which made it easier for me to visualize for others where to cut.

Tanks inc fuel access door in Firebird or Camaro along angled trunk floor first cut

I decided to install the AD-85 8″ x 5″ access panel in parallel with the front/rear of the vehicle along the angled portion of the trunk floor. As you can see in the photo above I cut the floor along the angled center section. The way I cut the opening was on purpose; I wanted to leave about 1/2″ of the lip of the floor at the top intact to provide some strength to the floor panel. My cut technically means that part of the access door on the right will flow above the body panel seam. To mount the access door flush to maximize position to the right I took the access panel and set it on a piece of round stock and gently hammered a bend at the top of the door swing frame to match the contour of the body panel. The end result is what you see below, the access door with a slight bend at the hinge side.

Tanks-fuel access door test fit Firebird or Camaro trunk floor

Once test fit looked good, I hit the corners with a file then sprayed some VHT satin black Roll Bar and Chassis paint to seal the bare metal spots.

Tanks fuel access door cut and painted for a Firebird or Camaro trunk floor

I proceeded to install the access door with rivets. The final result is clean and gives me perfect access to the fuel pump.

Tanks Inc fuel injection pump access door in Firebird Trans Am

I am currently in the process of replacing the rear leaf springs and did not permanently mount the gas tank into the car just yet. Once I do, I will be using black seam sealer around the perimeter of the plate to seal the access door. I will also use very thin rubber strips to outline the perimeter of the inside of the access door to form a seal. The seal will also absorb possible vibrations.

Where to cut the Tanks fuel access door?

For those who are curious where I positioned the opening, I used the reinforcement ribs on the right as a reference for the perpendicular cuts and the upper over the axle panel bend for the parallel cuts.

The furthest right cut is 12″ to the left of the center reinforcement rib.

Tanks access door from right reinforcement in trunk of a Firebird or Camaro

The perpendicular cut closest to the front of the vehicle is 9.25″ from the rear axle floor sheet metal bend.

Tanks access door from over axle bend of a Firebird or Camaro

I first used a step drill bit at each corner to make the hole large enough to insert a sawsall blade. The perpendicular cut was 5″ long and the parallel cut was 8.75″ long. My cut lines were not perfect, I may have gone over about 1/8″ in spots. If you want more precise cuts I would highly recommend using a body saw.

Tanks fuel access door installed

I’m pleased with the results. As I noted before, I will follow up with seam sealer around the edges and add a thin layer of rubber along the inside perimeter of the hinge to seal the door when closed as well as absorb possible vibrations.

Tanks fuel access door test fit in Firebird or Camaro trunk floor
Tanks fuel access door in a Firebired or Camaro installed
Tanks fuel access door in a Firebired or Camaro installed view from underneath

Installing a brand new T56 (Tremec Magnum 6 speed) into a 2nd Gen Firebird Trans Am with Pontiac V8

In my previous post, I outlined the basic steps in performing a T56 Magnum (Tremec Magnum 6 speed transmission) swap into your hotrod or classic muscle car. This post will go into detail how I installed a brand new Tremec T56 Magnum transmission into my 1978 Firebird Trans Am.

For a basic outline what is necessary to perform a T56 swap, please see my previous post Installing a brand new T56 Magnum into your hotrod or classic muscle car.

Tremec Magnum vs T56 6 speed transmissions

The T56 transmission is a transmission that was made for specific applications in the 1990’s and 2000’s. IT was then replaced by the TR-6060. The transmission mentioned in this post is actually the “Tremec Magnum 6 speed”. It is similar to the T56, but it is also more similar to the newer TR-6060. It has the same bolt pattern and similar casing and gear ratio options and is made by the same manufacturer of the original T56. In actuality it is a newer and better version than the original t56 from the 1990’s. For the sake of this post post I refer to the transmission at the T56 Magnum, but in actuality the product name is the “Tremec Magnum 6 speed”. You can learn more about the differences in the 6 speed Tremec transmissions on the Tremec website.

Preparing 2nd Gen Trans Am for a T56 Magnum

The first second step is to cut a hole in your floor! I hope this does not come to a shock but you will need to cut a hole in your floor to accommodate a T56 transmission. By the way the first step is take lots of measurements!

Now we got the bad news out of the way, I am happy to report that Hooker has created a shifter hump for the 2nd Gen Firebird/Camaro with a T56 Magnum transmission paired to their Hooker LS engine mounts. This is perfect if your car will have an LS engine in it using Hooker engine mounts designed for the hump.

If you are doing a T56 Magnum swap with a Chevy or Pontiac V8, I am pleased to report you can also use the Hooker shifter hump with minimal fineness. It may require some modification to provide clearance at the forward shifter mounting plate (forward most shifter location on the T56 Magnum).

This is not to be confused with a factory F-body T56 transmission. Note the 1998-2002 Factory Magnum locates the shifter further back than the aftermarket T56 Magnum. If you are using a factory T56 the Hooker shifter hump will not work for your application.

Many hotrodders have reported that an F-body 1998-2002 T56 can swap into a 2nd gen with minimal floor modifications, while others have had to make more signification cuts to make a T56 fit. The fitment appears to be attributed to your front subframe and how it is mounted to the rest of the car. If you are using new factory bushings or solid body bushings that use the factory height, you should not have any issues. If you used lowering bushings or your bushings are shot, you will most likely have clearance issues. Either way, the Hooker shifter hump will not work for a 98-02 F body T56 as the shifter is located further back.

Measure Existing Pinion angles and distances

Measure before you remove anything, you will thank me later! First, jack of your car then put the wheels on stands (I used a buddy’s that raise the car 15″ using 2×4 crossed like Lincoln logs) where you plan on working on it during the entire swap and then promptly use an angle finder and take measurements at specific points. Having the car on its wheels, specifically the back wheels allows you to measure angles with the weight of the car on the suspension.

Before you measure pinion angles, you will want to measure distances to use as references to know where to cut. I used the hole for the automatic transmission shifter hole to measure between the block face to the hole. I used this measurement to then factor in where the hole needed to be cut when a 6″ long bell housing plus the T56 Transmission attached will come through. You do not nee dto be precise, you can be off by a good 1/2″ and that will become your buffer area which will work out fine. The shifter hump will want a lot more transmission tunnel removed, do not worry.

Take your angle measurements! I recommend taking some at the oil pan, along the starter (both should be the same if the oil pan is true), drive shaft, and rear axle. I took a few at the rear axle as there is no real good flat surface for the 8.5″ axle. Write all your values down and keep them in a safe place. The plan is to make sure everything is at the same or close to same angles you had before you started.

Engine pinion angle pre install

When measuring angles, decide which direction is positive and which is negative. I decided that if the arrow points toward the front of the car that it would be positive angle, and to the back is negative

In my case I had +1 degree at the center of my oil pan, 0 (though hanging toward -1 ) degrees with drive shaft, and +1.5 degree at the rear axle.

Once you have measured your drive shaft angle, you can remove the drive shaft and then measure the rear axle just for your satisfaction. I used the flats where the u-Joint butts up to the pinion shaft coming from the rear axle. AS mentioned earlier I got +1.5 degree at the rear axle.

Now you can put a block of wood behind the engine’s head (between the head and firewall) and then remove your cross member then transmission. The block of wood (I used a 4×4 cut at about 2-3/4″) will hold the engine from tiling further back. Do not worry, the weight of the engine will not damage your firewall, most of the weight is held by your engine mounts.

You should now have measurements and have everything out of your way to start cutting.

Mark for your first cut in the floor with shifter hump as a template

If you are going to use the hooker shifter hump, the first step is to position the hooker shifter hump plate on the transmission tunnel where you think it may go based on previous measurements and reference points. I used the transmission hole position as a center of reference then made my marks a bit more forward than the measurements came to (1/4″ more), and slightly back (1/4″) than your measurements allow. IF your cut is perfect, you will have a 1/4″ gab on all sides. Mark the inside then remove the plate. This is now the safe area where you can cut your first opening.

Mark the smallest hole you can cut from inside the shifter hump

Cutting a hole in the floor

The first cut I made in the floor was following measurements from the block + depth of the bell housing to determine roughly where the transmission would come through the floor. Here are some measurements to keep in mind:

The face of the transmission to the shfiter at the rear most position is 21.125″. You want to add the thickness of the bellhousing you purchased to get the total depth you need for where the shifter position comes out. You also then need to factor in further back clearance for the back portion of the shifter area of the Tremec Magnum. In my case my furthest back cut from the back of the bellhousing was at 30″, or 6+21+3. You can see it just cleared the shifter but I needed to cut back another 1″ for the casting shaft area.

Tremec Magnum 6 speed transmission shifter position measurements

My first cut was crude but did the job. I was cautious not to remove too much as re-adding floor would be a major pain in the rear. As I found later, you really do not have to worry about cutting too much, you will definitely be removing more floor for this shifter hump. When I finally did remove more for the shifter hump I removed a lot more (see photos).

First cut in tunnel to accommodate T56 transmission.

First, drill 4 holes at each corner of your marked cutting area. Then make your first cuts between those holes. My first cuts I did with a sawsall which was very quick (cuts in seconds). The only downfall with a saws-all is it does create rough edges, and it is not as easy to be precise.

I was lucky and could install my transmission without doing more cutting, though thought it allowed me to then focus on where to position the shifter hump. The final markings I made with tape, first around the outside of the shifter hump, then the inside. I then cut along the outside edge of the inside tape.

Final outline with tape before cutting.

When it came time to cut the final hole, I used an electric body saw. This tool was great once I put a course blade on it, I was able to cut at a reasonable speed and with great precision. It does create a lot of dust but it is worth having the ability to cut right along a line without leaving a jagged edge.

Final installation with 1/4″ bolts with lock washers at 5 locations

Final installation I used 1/4″ x 20 bolts with lock washers at 4 corners plus a #10-24 thread bolt with lock nut at the top center to help draw the entire hump down tight against the factory floor. I also slightly bent the ears (left and right sides) of the shifter hump to contour better with my transmission tunnel. I then followed up both sides of the shifter hump with Jegs black seam sealer.

More about Hooker’s Shifter Hump

The Hooker shifter hump is intended to work with Hooker LS engine mounts. The LS engine mounts appear to mount an LS engine in approximately the same location as a Factory engine plus 1″, which aligns the back bell housing in the same location for both a Chevy and a Pontiac V8. This is a very important detail. For the Hooker setup, this will put the hump further forward than in the described location for this posting about 1″ to 1-1/2″.

For a Pontiac (and should be the same for a Chevy) V8, the shifter position will be moved back 1.5″. This is due to 2 factors: The engine mount offset of 1″ forward plus the bell housing thickness for a BOP T56 swap is 6″ where-as a factory T56 LS bellhousing is 5.5″.

Note: I may be wrong on the Hooker mounts being +1″, but I believe this is the case as hooker designed it to move the engine forward slightly to also clear the frame for their front engine accessory belt system. Hopefully someone can leave a comment confirming or correcting me on this.

When using this shifter hump with a T56 Magnum with the Hooker system it appears the shifter is forward about 1-2″ and is said to put the shifter right in the same spot as the factory. This makes sense to me as with my setup as you will find out I had to move my center console back 1″ for the factory position in my manual center console to line up.

The Hooker shifter hump, even though it is intended for the LS swap, will work for the Pontiac V8, but it does require some slight modification with a hammer and also changing 2 forward most bolts to button head to give you just a touch 1/8″ of extra clearance. My clearance is now about 3/8″-1/2″ which I am comfortable with.

T56 Magnum clearance added by replacing hex head bolts with button head bolts

Parts necessary for installing Hooker shifter hump

I added 4 nutserts to the top of the hump plate for mounting a plate to the top. I ended up using sheet metal screws and scrap metal from an Ikea metal shelf which was cheaper place to buy steel than at the normal home improvement store.

Final installation with plate made from Ikea shelfving sheet metal.

Once the shifter hump was bolted where I wanted it I used seam sealer to seal the seams just as the factory would have done

Indexing your T56 bellhousing

Due to the precision of the T56 transmission and to ensure warranty, the bell housing requires indexing. The transmission shaft should align with the drive shaft bearing/bushing within 0.005″ (five thousands of an inch).

Order the QuickTime Bellhousing Index Plates #RM-130 before proceeding!

There are plenty of websites and resources that explain how to index a bellhousing, I will not go into detail on that. I will share some important tips however.

First, make sure the back face of your engine block is clean and free of any paint. My first indexing I had issues and they stemmed from the fact that the bottom of the one side of the block had paint on it, which was causing the bell housing to point upward. If I did not remove the paint, I would have inadvertently got offset dowel pins to move the bell housing down 7 thousands of an inch, which would have actually caused an issue. Once I had the paint removed and the back of the block clean as a whistle, the indexing of my bell housing was within spec, 0.002″ to the passenger side, 0.003″ toward the top of the engine. This is within the 0.005″.

The only reason I cleaned off the paint from the back of the block was after watching a video on the subject. My first measurement showed I needed offset dowel pins, which lead me to watching videos on the subject, which is when I stumbled upon the video made by QuickTime. They specifically state that the surfaces need to be completely clean (I did that) and free of any paint (what?). Thinking about it, obviously paint would impact the alignment, paint can typically be measured in mils or 0.001″, which is exactly the accuracy we’re measuring. The following video made by QuickTime specifically for their indexing tool was more informative than the instructions that came with the tool.

How to correctly use the RM-130 to correctly index your bellhousing

Just as important, use a torque wrench when bolting on the bellhousing to the block before indexing. If the bolts are not 100% clamping down the bell housing to the block you may end up with a false reading.

Invest in a quality dial bore gauge with mounting accessories as well as purchase or borrow the Quicktime indexing plate RM-130. There is no other tool that works for this, you have to get this one to do the job right.

Throwout bearing adjustment

Throwout bearing adjustment is confusing and different for each product and situation. if you use a McLeod or Tilton throwout bearing, follow their directions to a tee! From what I read both of these throwout bearings have a .75″ total throw and a pressure plate requires about .5″ of travel, which means the throwout bearing when not depressed only has about 1/4″ (.25″) of variance. Most recommend .125 (1/8″) air gap, or a range of 0.1 to 0.15. This provides another 0.1 – 0.15″ for clutch wear. This is very important you get this detail right if you use those throwout bearings.

Luk factory 98-02 F body throwout bearing adapted to 6AN lines

The factory 98-2002 throwout bearing has a 1″ throw, though I am not 100% sure it uses the entire distance when paired to the factory master cylinder, it is more forgiving than the aftermarket products. Even so, Tick Performance sells spacers of various thicknesses to shim a throwout bearing to achieve an optimal 1/8″ (1/8″ 0.125″ to 3/16″ / 0.1875″ is acceptable) gap. The only challenge is that the factory style throwout bearing uses a spring to constantly apply the throwout bearing lightly against the clutch fingers. This is actually a smart feature as the factory clutch is basically auto-adjusting. You will need to compress this completely to find out the bare minimum distance then subtract from there. The Tick performance spacers come in 3 sizes: .055″, .113″, and .180″. For my application I used one .113″ spacer, which got me at 0.13″ of air gap.

Because of how the factory throwout bearing is engineered with the spring constantly applying light pressure to the fingers combined with a total throw of 1″, I think a factory throwout bearing would work without the spacer for my application. I did lean on the side of caution and added the spacer, which should not harm anything in my situation but I also do not think it was necessary. A 2002 Camaro T56 will not use a spacer and could also have an gar gap of 0.24″ and be just fine.

Once adjusted, install the throwout bearing with pressure lines attached to your T56 transmission.

Pilot Bearing or Bushing, what should I use?

I’m not going to tell you which answer is best as it really comes down to your situation. The more important factor is to index your bellhousing otherwise you could mess up your pilot bearing or pilot bushing!

Some facts: The LS engine with a T56 from the factory used pilot bearings.

In the 1960’s-1970’s Pontiac typically used pilot bearings where-as Chevy typically used pilot bushings.

The purpose of the bearing/bushing is to keep the center of the transmission shaft aligned with the center of the engine drive shaft.

From a hobbyist stand point, they both do the job. Tremec recommends the use of a bearing when possible.

If you do research you will find opinions on this, and for most it doesn’t matter but for some, it comes down to what you are comfortable with. A bushing will not fail like a bearing could, rather it will just not perform as it was intended as it wears. A bearing however when it fails, can cause a lot of issues. Typically the issue with a pilot bearing not working is also tied to improperly indexing your bellhousing. Index your bellhousing correctly you will most likely not have issues.

With that said, I opted for a pilot bushing simply for the simplicity of installing. Longevity with a bearing vs bushing is not an issue in my case, I put about 1,000 miles a year on my hot rod, getting 100,000 miles out of it is not a worry in my case. Also If I was installing this on an LS engine, I would go with what GM recommends, which is a pilot bearing.

Installing clutch, pressure plate and bellhousing

McLeod clutch with T56 Magnum and Pontiac 400 v8

Next step is to install the clutch, pressure plate and bellhousing. This is all rather straight forward, but I do have one tip:

USE A QUALITY CLUTCH CENTERING/ ALIGNING TOOL

Ram Clutches 03-013 Steel Alignment Tool

Read my other post Installing a brand new T56 Magnum into your hotrod or classic muscle car to learn why this tool will save you a lot of time and grief when it comes time to slide your new transmission into position.

When installing the flywheel, clutch pressure plate and bellhousing, make sure you follow the correct torque specifications.

Ram clutch centering alignment tool with T56 Magnum

Installing T56 magnum and crossmember

If you have a friend, picking up and installing the T56 Magnum may go easy for you. Otherwise, plan on borrowing or buying a transmission jack which will allow you to tilt and align the transmission as you slowly install the transmission.

Once I had the clutch disc correctly aligned with the RAM alignment tool, I was able to install the T56 in about 5 minutes. I spent more time using the torque wrench and going around the 8 bolts than I did sliding the transmission into place

Which crossmember should I use?

Crossmembers: Hooker HOK-12616HKR (top) and Trans Dapt 6519 (bottom)

Good question! Because I was using the hooker shifter hump, I decided to go with the hooker cross member HOK-12616HKR. 2 weeks before i started the swap however, I got cold feet. My concern came from reading the fine print that this crossmember only works with the LS engine mounts. I went to the store and purchased the Trans Dapt model above and to my surprise it mounts the transmission in exactly the same way. Angles matched and even the depth it offsets when bolted to the subframe were identical. Obviously they are engineered slightly differently but otherwise they will both put the transmission mount at exactly the same angle and position.

Once the transmission and crossmember is installed, it is time to install the drive shaft. Remember to torque the bolts to spec at the u-joints, over tightening can cause issues here, and under tight can be dangerous.

Measure New Pinion angles

Remember those measurements we took earlier? Now we take them again!

The rear axle we assume did not change. Now we take a measurement of the engine. I now have an angle of +1.5 degrees. This should be sufficient as it matches our rear axle. More importantly, there is no need to put too much thought into this at this point as adjustments are done in 2 degree increments. Since the change is not even 1/2 of a degree, there is nothing much else we can change here.

Engine pinion angle post install

The drive shaft angle in my situation did not change, it is still about 0 degrees with slightly more movement toward the negative side.

T56 electrical wiring

Electrical can be organized into 3 needs: reverse lights, reverse lockout with a reverse lockout module, and neutral safety switch. In addition, if you are using a modern speedometer the vehicle speed sensor (VSS) can also be used for the speedometer but I am not covering this here as I assume you are installing this keeping your original gauges as did.

Reverse Lights wiring

The reverse light switch wiring is rather simple. It does not matter which is ground or which is not, the 2 wires simply need to connect to the transmission at the appropriate pigtail, the transmission will connect both wires together within the transmission when the reverse lights should come on.

Reverse lockout and reverse lockout module

The T56 transmission comes with a reverse lockout solenoid. This solenoid controls how the gear shift level can or cannot easily go into the reverse gear. You can do 1 of three things: not connect this (not recommended), connect this to the brake light switch (not recommended), or invest in a reverse lockout module (recommended).

STRONGLY RECOMMENDED: T56 Reverse Lock Out Module

Jegs 82513 Reverse Lock Out Module

JEGS 82513 Reverse Lock Out Module

Simply follow the directions included in the reverse lockout module. Wiring is fairly simple, but you will need to provide the appropriate pigtails for your application. I mounted my reverse lockout module underneath thecenter console.

Neutral safety switch

The 1970-1977 Firebird manual transmission cars came with a very simple neutral safety switch which was mounted to the clutch pedal. These parts can be sourced from vendors and is easily bolted on with one 1/4″ body bolt to the metal reinforcement brake pedal assembly.

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 (via eBay): TSS263

If your vehicle does not have wires for connecting to this neutral safety switch, you can install your own wiring by using 12 gauge wire to and from this safety switch spliced into the purple wire running to your steering column. The purple wire is the starter wire. When the clutch is not engaged, the starter wire cannot provide power to the starter, its that simple.

Hydraulic lines

The clutch hydraulic lines can be a bit complicated. In my case I used a factory throwout bearing, but I wanted everything to be 4AN lines. To achieve this ,I had to get adapters and for my bell housing, 4AN lines with 90 degree elbows to clear the bellhousing. changing to 4AN lines allowed me to also use a remote bleeder, which I purchased with a speed bleeder to make bleeding the clutch easier by locating the bleeder screw in a convenient location, by the tailshaft.

T56 Magnum with 4an lines
T56 Magnum with clutch-bleeder screw near tailshaft for convenience

Parts I used (you will most likely need different length 4An lines for how you want to setup the clutch):

Note: The Russell (Edelbrock) speed bleeder with bracket is hard to find. You can use the 3AN kit they offer and use a 4an male to 3an female reducer adapter to utilize the 641370 3an bleeder with 4an lines. The reduction from 4an to 3an at the bleeder will have no effect on the hydraulics between the master cylinder and throwout bearing.

Luk throwout bearing with-russell clutch adapter and 4AN fittings

Tip on bleeding the clutch

When I first started bleeding the clutch I had a hard time getting fluid through the lines. I would press the clutch all the way down and nothing would come out of the bleeder. I had so much air in the system that it could not overcome the checkvalve in the speed bleeder. What ended up working well was to first remove the speed bleeder and allow the clutch lines to simply spit fluid through them to get the bulk of the air out. Once I did this to the point where I started to see a good flow of fluid come out the end of the bleeder line I then put the bleeder screw in. I then cracked it open just a little like I would for bleeding brakes, it then only took a few pumps to get all the air out of the line and I was done.

Fluids!

The last step in any transmission install is to make sure you have transmission fluid in the transmission and brake fluid in your hydraulics. Tremec recommends using Dexron 3 (Dexron III) transmission fluid. I used Dot3/4 brake fluid for the hydraulic clutch. Specifics are linked.

Test with rear wheels off the ground!

Before you take the car on the road, make sure everything works with the car off the ground. I have a detailed list in my write up Installing a brand new T56 Magnum into your hotrod or classic muscle car, please reference that list before taking your car on the road.

T56 Magnum Install in a 2nd Gen Firebird / Camaro done!

Congratulations, you just walked through all of the steps needed to swap in a T56 Magnum into your 2nd Gen Firebird, Trans Am or Camaro! Please feel free to leave comments and feedback below.

Final Parts List

The final list below is all of the parts you will need to swap in a T56 Magnum into a 2nd Gen Firebird/Trans Am with a Pontiac V8. This excludes interior modifications (covered in a future post), shift lever, shift knob, standard wiring supplies, typical bolts/fasteners, and fluids.

When you order a part from the list below, please click the link, it will register my Amazon affiliate which supports the time and money I spend writing and documenting all of this.

If you search eBay you can find a set of 5 or 6 of the driven gears above if you want to have all possibilities on hand.

Thank you!

Thank you Nick from Tremec for his detailed support on questions I had for the Tremec Transmission.

Thank you Don Johnston from DCI Motorsports for your help and advice with various parts of the transmission swap.

Thanks Joel for all the help and for loaning me your transmission jack, it made slipping the T56 a breeze, well once I got the pressure plate lined up right that is!

Related posts:

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

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

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 bearing.you 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.

NOTE: USE A QUALITY CLUTCH CENTERING/ ALIGNING TOOL

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 Amazon.com. 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.

Hydroboost power brakes – how to pick and plan to install in a hot rod

In this post I will explain the Hydroboost swap in my 2nd gen 1981 Trans Am. This swap was not too difficult but took some time to source parts from various vendors. If I did it over again, I would order the kit offered on ebay rather than piece the system together. This guide will help you if you plan to piece everything together.

What are Hydroboost brakes?

Hydroboost is a method of providing power braking by using the hydraulic pressure built by your power steering pump.

Modern cars use engine vacuum, as most engines provide plenty of vacuum during de-acceleration and at speed driving, perfect for filling a balloon with pressure that can then assist your pedal with applying your brakes. These are called vacuum brake boosters.

Cars without power brakes require much more effort to press the pedal. Such cars will move the pivot location of the brake pedal to a position that allows you to use more leverage and foot travel to apply pressure to the master cylinder. In this case, no power assistance is needed, but requires much more effort by the driver.

Some car engines, such as a diesel, or cars designed for performance like the 1987 Buick Grand National or 2000 Ford Mustang GT have little to no engine vacuum. In these cases, car manufactures used the hydraulics produced by the power steering pump to assist with braking. Between GM and Ford, Hydroboost has been installed on a variety of cars and is still used today for large vehicles.

In more recent years manufacturers have opted stick with vacuum style brake boosters with the assistance of an electric pump to keep the internal balloon full of pressure to assist with braking. Prius’s for example, use a brake booster and have an electric pump that you can hear pump up every time you start the car. Brake boosters work great and are still used today in new vehicles. Hydroboost are also still used today but for the most part are reserved for large vehicles where extra power assistance for brakes are necessary.

To learn more about Hyroboost, check out this article: Hydro-Boost: The Non-Vacuum Booster. Want to know more than you need to? Check out this page that explains the history of assisted brakes.

The extra power of hydroboost and the fact that it does not require an electric pump is why many hot rodders opt for setting up such a system in rather than adding an electric vacuum pump in such situations.

For those of us who want the most powerful brake booster, Hydroboost is the only way to go.

Planning Hydroboost swap

Planning a Hydroboost install is straightforward, but requires some knowledge about which vehicles have Hydroboost and for what applications they were intended for.

Identify Types

For the most part there two types of hydroboost systems. Luckily, the style you want is easy to identify: it has a silver or or bronze plated reservoir tube in one corner of the unit. Some vehicles like the 1980’s Grand National had this reservoir as a 2nd piece. I would recommend avoiding this style.

Matching Internals

I believe the internals of a Hydroboost unit is tuned for the application, primarily based on the weight of the vehicle. Though I have not confirmed this, it makes a lot of sense when comparing the vacuum booster variations are also different based on the weight of the vehicle. Because of this, it is recommended to pick a Hydroboost unit from a vehicle of similar weight as yours.

2000 Mustang Hydroboost will be the optimal hydro-boost for a small light vehicle. Motorcraft BRB39

For a 2nd gen Camaro/Firebird that weighs about 3,500-4,000 lbs, the Chevy Astro Van hydroboost from 1995-2002 is the perfect match. Bosch 02040A2121

If you have a truck, you are in luck, there are lots of trucks with hydro-boost systems to pick from and you can most likely find a brand new unit for a late model truck that will work perfectly for your application.

Installing Hydroboost

Installing a hydroboost requires the following:

  • Mounting plate or adapter to mount hydroboost in place of your current brake booster (google for your application as someone may sell something for your model car already)
  • Custom made hydraulic power steering lines (custom 6AN lines)
  • Powerful power steering pump, optimal pump would have 2 return lines
  • Master cylinder compatible with Hydroboost unit
  • Helm joint or clevis, 3/8-24 thread die, and jam nut for connecting hydroboost push rod to your pedal application.

Google is your friend here. If you have a popular model car chances are someone has retrofitted hydroboost and bragged about it on their website, a forum, or on a social site like facebook.

Please see my next post on installing Hydroboost into a 2nd Gen Firebird Trans Am (post coming soon)