So what if the guy in the other lane is putting the holeshot on you with his 5,000-stall converter? Truth be told, outside of the top 1 percent of power-shifting studs out there, an automatic is the quickest way down the track. However, for many hot rodders the thought of becoming a stab-and-steer jockey isn't particularly appealing. Whether it's for apex clipping on the road course, streetability improvements around town, hearing loss prevention on the freeway, or simply having a dirty good time on the street, fully experiencing the visceral rush of going WOT requires a clutch pedal beneath your left foot and a shift lever in your right hand.
That's why folks like Jeff Mortenson of Classic Motorsports Group work hard to make swapping five- and six-speed sticks into your musclecar painless. CMG offers complete Tremec TKO and T56 conversion kits for just about every classic Chevy out there. To throw some pointers your way, we spent a day at Mortenson's shop and learned how to help you trade in that old-school Muncie or Powerglide for a modern overdrive manual. Thanks to CMG, it is much easier than you might think.
As is often the case, Classic Motorsports Group was founded by enthusiasts who discovered a void in the marketplace through firsthand wrenching experience. As Jeff Mortenson embarked on a Tremec five-speed swap for his Chevy musclecar several years ago, he noticed that no one offered a complete turnkey conversion kit. After dealing with the headache and expense of tracking down parts from several manufacturers and waiting for weeks whenever custom components had to be ordered, he recognized the need for bundled conversion kits and started Classic Motorsports Group with business partners Scott Lindquist and Jim Goodlad.
The concept of packaging everything for a five- or six-speed swap--including the trans, crossmember, shifter, clutch assembly, driveshaft, and hydraulics--under one convenient part number has really caught on. "It's really just a hobby gone wild. It started out as a weekend project in my garage, and just a few years later we became the largest distributor for Tremec in the country," Mortenson quips. "As demand picked up, we moved into several platforms such as the Camaro, Nova, Chevelle, Impala, and Corvette. Before we knew it, we had our own in-house R&D department, fab shop, and warehouse. I've always had a passion for doing things the right way, and it shows in our products."
The perceived difficulty of upgrading to modern overdrive manual trans may seem intimidating, but Mortenson says that it's the product of common misconceptions and assures us that the swaps are actually straightforward. "Whether you're running a small-block, a big-block, or an LS motor, our goal is to provide a bolt-in transmission solution for your car that requires little or no modifications, achieves stock shifter positioning within your stock center console, and retains a factory appearance. Some applications require cutting the floorboard, but with the templates and patch panels we include with our kits, it's not difficult at all. Our shifters come up in the stock location, and it's not even necessary to switch to buckets if you have a bench-seat car. We currently have turnkey kits for '67-81 Camaros, '64-72 Chevelles, '58-88 Corvettes, Tri-Fives, '62-74 Novas, and '60-69 Impalas