Thursday, November 1, 2007

It seems the price of gas just keeps going higher and higher. 

Two years ago we bought a Cummins diesel Dodge 2500 pickup, because we needed something with towing power for Allison's horses and at the time diesel fuel wasn't too expensive.  Flash forward and now diesel is at the $3.80 mark, and I heard something about it going to $5.00 per gallon.  Ouch!  The saving grace, though, is the diesel gets decent mileage for as big as it is - 15 to 22 MPG.  (Ok, I know that's not in the 50+ MPG range you get in a hybrid, I'm just saying....)

Now, on the other hand, if you are a high-performance muscle car owner, you typically don't think about the cost of fuel, since you don't drive them much except weekends and nice days.  Still, it's not uncommon to burn through $70.00 worth of gas on a "Sunday Drive".

That brings me to the following specimen: One 1970 Plymouth 'Cuda.  383 cubic inches. 4-speed manual transmission. 3:90 rear end gears.  4xx horsepower.  !!! Fun car. 8-) Lousy mileage. 8-(

Before AND After - No apparent modifications!

Now, in an attempt to combat rising fuel costs, I decided an overdrive might just do the trick.  Last year I installed a Gear Vendors Under/Overdrive unit in the GTO, and am VERY happy with the results.  Of course, the GTO is an automatic, and the 'Cuda is a manual - I can do an automatic with my eyes closed, however, I have never done a manual before.  In fact, I learned to drive a manual on this 'Cuda - hence, the second reason for touching the transmission in the first place: I pretty much got all the goodie out of the existing clutch ("Honey, what's that smell?").

With that said, I needed a "can't mess this up" solution.  After some searching and reviewing, I settled on a Tremec 5-speed from Keisler Automotive Engineering.  These guys carry what they call their "PerfectFit" systems - basically everything you need plus detailed instructions to get the job done right, an expert technical support.  I will tell you this - it's not cheap, but this package is engineered to fit perfectly with minimal goofing around and it works awesome! 

It's a good looking piece of machinery!

Since I didn't want to mess up my original bellhousing, what I purchased was the PerfectFit 5-speed TKO-600 kit, a new Keisler Big-Block bellhousing, new clutch assembly and flywheel (no sense in taking a shower and leaving your socks on!).   The drive shaft is included in the price, but wasn't in the box - a quick email indicated that since these cars weren't really built to "spec" in the good old days, that you have to make a couple of measurements and the driveshaft is custom made.  Only took a couple of days for it to ship.  Total out-of-pocket, including trans, misc fluids, pull ties, band-aids: $4,800.00. My calculator broke, so I can't tell for sure at what point the cost/gallon will offset the cost/trans, but I assure you, the fun itself is Priceless! (Hopefully the better half won't be reading this....)

The good stuff!

Speaking of email, the guys at Keisler are great.  I had a couple of questions and they had fast and right answers - very professional.

Step 1: Out with the old.

This is by far the easiest step.  Unbolt the driveshaft, prop up the trans, take out the crossmember, and remove trans.  In hindsight - it would have been easier to remove the 4 transmission-to-bellhousing bolts to get the trans out.  I opted for the knucklebuster-backbreaking take-your-life-in-your-hands method of removing the bellhousing-to-engine bolts and sliding the trans and bellhousing back as a single piece - which, of course, there's little or no room to do this.  Did I mention this is the first time I've worked on a maual transmission?  Once you get the bellhousing out it's a simple task to remove the clutch - or what's left of it.

Mmm... Could use a bit of scrubbin' under here....

Step 2: Test fit and a massage.

The initial fitment is pretty easy.  Before installing the clutch, you mount up the bellhousing, loosely bolt the new trans in and put in the supplied crossmember to hold up the tail section.  From here you have to check for floor/hump/trans cleareance.  It wasn't too bad on mine - I just needed to massage the hump a little bit to give me a little more space between the hump and the edge of the transmission.

Step 3: Install flywheel and clutch and do final trans install.

Having never put in a clutch before, this was a little unnerving - I mean, look - an automatic has like 3 bolts, the manual has 8!  Plus the opportunity for something to pop off and put my eye out (just like my dad warned me!).  After an initial trial and error,  it was actually pretty easy.  Key is to tighten each bolt like one or two turns in a pattern - this lets the clutch seat on the clutch disc without warping.  There's a plastic alignment tool included that helps you center the disc with the flywheel.

NOTE: Don't do what I did - forget to put in the pilot bearing.  Cause if you do, you gotta unbolt the trans, take off the bellhousing, remove the clutch, and then put it all back in.  Oh, yeah, it's in the instructions, I just got excited and missed the step.  As I was tightening the last bolt on the trans, out of the corner of my eye I noticed the bearing gleaming on the bench and though "Huh.  I wonder if that's important?"

Mmm... New Clutch!  Excellent fit!

Once installed, it's just a couple of quick measurements and a phone call to Keisler and then install the drive shaft.

Step 4: Enjoy.

Mmmm.... Very tasty!  I am impressed with how well the transmission feels.  Takes a little while to get used to the 5 speed pattern versus the 4 speed.  Getting up to speed on the highway, then grabbing 5th gear is AWESOME!  65 MPH at around 2000 RPM.  That translates to 1300 SPG (Smiles Per Gallon).

Epilogue: Contact insurance company.

You know what really stinks?  To take your car out on a state highway to work through the gears, only to have a deer do a face-plant into the side of your car.    This happened within 2 hours of tightening the last bolt.  I can't believe Mother Nature tried to kill me - probably has something to do with global warming....

Relax, the deer was fine - he does owe me a pair of underwear, though, if I ever catch him. After depressing my rear quarter with his cheek and kicking the door with his heels, he bounced back up and returned from whence he came.  At least it was the side of the car and not through the windshield.

How to make a grown man cry.....

Car is drivable - it's just like walking around with mustard on your nice dress shirt.  Arrgghhh!

 In summary....

I am very pleased with the new trans.  Easy to install and works great.  I have yet to check the mileage.  I'll need to wait until next summer for that.

I would HIGHLY recommend Keisler Automotive Engineering - these guys know their stuff, and the product is exactly as advertised and the documentation top-notch.  These guys carry more than Mopar, they pretty much have auto or manual trans' for just about anything.  If you're interested in contacting them, I dealt with Gene Charsha - 865-609-8187 ext 211.  He answered even my dumbest questions.

BJ Williams
President / Chief Software Archtect



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