We get a constant flow of e-mail from CHP readers asking about the availability of a kit to install a five- or six-speed manual trans into a G-body. Based on a rear-wheel-drive configuration, GM produced these mid-size full-frame cars from 1978-88 (depending on model) as A-bodies (1978-81). From 1982-88, they were known as G-body platforms. Regardless of reference, there is no question that they're a great alternative to the high-priced musclecars of the '60s. Since GM made only a handful of these cars with manual transmissions during the late-'70s, today, gathering old GM parts to make the conversion is just about impossible. Even at that, you'd have to find an overdrive transmission designed to withstand modern power. Well, there's good news.
Keisler Automotive Engineering has just released a complete kit that includes factory-appearing clutch and brake pedals and most of all the other parts you'll need to convert your automatic car to a fun-driving manual-tranny ride, be it a five-or six-speed Tremec transmission. Last year, we featured Keisler's swap kits for Camaros, Novas, and Chevelles in our June and July issues. During the Hot Rod Power Tour 2004, we got to drive several cars with Keisler's kits, including its awesome '65 Maximum Overdrive Corvette and Don Turner's sleeper COPO clone '69 Chevelle (Oct. '05). These cars drove as though they came from the General equipped with the modern overdrive due to Keisler's system engineering approach to transmission swaps. Starting with a new Tremec TKO 500/600 five-speed or T56 six-speed, Keisler completely redesigns the shifter mechanism, case, and mounting configuration to allow the transmission to properly retrofit the body style, and places the shifter position in the correct factory location-a very important point for most owners.
The company also includes a custom-welded box-construction crossmember, Spicer chromoly steel lightweight driveshaft, speedometer cable and driven gear, isolator mount, roller pilot bearing, hardware kit, and illustrated instructions. Its patented internal offset shifter with removable billet shifter mechanism actually fits within the original floor tunnel-a feat unachievable with a bone-stock Tremec TKO. Clearly, Keisler has set the standard for Tremec swaps.The featured '87 El Camino for the installation belongs to Jim Loveday of Knoxville, Tennessee. Originally equipped with a 200-4R overdrive automatic, Jim had longed for more performance and a bit more excitement to go with it. He wanted a manual transmission with overdrive to put more power to the ground and get more control over engine rpm while still having the benefits of quiet, low-rpm highway cruising. Jim opted for Keisler's 550hp five-speed kit, which is based on the Tremec TKO500 and GM ZZ4 crate engine. With the ingredients in place, he took the car to Keisler's local installation facility, B&M Automotive, where owners Bob Marshall and Tom Carden took care of the upgrade.
Because Jim's car was an automatic, the changeover to the straight shift required more parts than just the five-speed kit. Again, Keisler had prepared all of the requiredparts to make the swap a straightforward affair. This included: a new super-duty titanium-aluminum 11-inch bellhousing, a flywheel, a modern pedal effort clutch, a clutch and brake pedals, a complete hydraulic bearing kit with a direct-fit master cylinder, a chrome shifter handle with a knob, and a boot and trim ring. With the car on the rack, the entire swap-from removing the exhaust, automatic transmission and shifter to installing the complete five-speed kit with accessories-took 14 hours to complete. Follow along as Keisler and B&M change this lazy grocery-getter to a performance street hauler.