There was a time when life was simple. Race cars were built using race parts and street cars were put together with factory parts. But as time progressed more street cars started being pressed into occasional track duty. The result was that parts that held up fine under “performance street” situations just weren’t up to the task of being thrashed on at the track. The obvious cure was to put race-bred parts into the street car, but bits designed for the track sometimes alter the demeanor of a street car. It’s a fine line that needs to be carefully negotiated.
Our 2001 Chevy Camaro Z28 project car has been plagued with an annoying clutch issue. At high rpm, like seen on a road course or dragstrip, shifting was nearly impossible. It would either grind or just flat out refuse to go into gear. We replaced the clutch, added shims, and bled it over and over, to no avail. We even tried doing the “drill mod” to our factory GM clutch master, but the problem persisted.
Eventually, someone pointed us over to Tick Performance. After talking with them, it was determined that the problem was our GM clutch master. It seems like GM didn’t want to pay for transmissions and related parts under warranty, so they designed the clutch master to be particularly anemic and slow to transfer fluid. This slowed down shifts and, even though it killed performance, kept the warranty costs down. Our weak master became even more problematic with the addition of an aftermarket clutch, which tends to require more fluid to disengage.
Their solution was to fabricate a bracket, which would let LS-powered fourth-gens run a race (and street) proven Tilton clutch master. This is the same sort used in NASCAR and is capable of feeding enough fluid to even the most hard-core race clutch. The bigger bore results in a shorter pedal, which is great for quick shifts, and the adjustability enables the user to dial in their engagement and disengagement points.
The part prices out at just over $300 and expect to spend a couple of hours doing the swap. A lift isn’t needed, but you’ll need to get under the car to disconnect the clutch master line from the trans and wrangle out a few bolts holding in a heat shield. Considering what a pain iffy shifting can be, we think this is a mod every manual trans ’98- 02 Camaro owner should look into.
For the install, we cruised over to Don Lee Auto, in Rancho Cucamonga, California.
01 The clutch master on a fourth-gen Camaro is just below the power brake booster, in a very difficult spot to reach. And while it make look (if you could actually see it) impossible to remove without pulling the brake booster or exhaust system, it can be done with a little effort and a sprinkling of colorful language.
02 Inside the car, we first pulled the lower dash using a Phillips screwdriver and a 7mm socket. We then pulled the insulation panel. This gave us better access to the clutch master. After using a flathead screwdriver to remove the clip that secured the clutch rod to the pedal, we removed the two nuts securing the master to the firewall.
03 We then disconnected the master from the Tremec T56 transmission. Tick sells a tool for $5, or you can get it done with more effort using a flathead screwdriver. The stainless line ran through a factory heat shield that also had to be removed.
04 After disconnecting and plugging the clutch fluid reservoir, we could pull the GM clutch master. Like we said earlier, there’s not a lot of maneuvering room, but it did eventually come out as shown.
05 The GM clutch master is a good piece, but it was designed with a price-point in mind and not optimized for the kind of fluid transfer speeds needed in track applications. The retention U-bolt used made pulling the stocker way more trouble than it needed to be.
06 The new LS1 F-body clutch master from Tick Performance is built right here in the good old USA, around a Tilton 7⁄8-inch bore cylinder.
07 This is the same master used in NASCAR applications, and the adjustable rod lets you tailor the amount of fluid needed to fully disengage the clutch. The hydraulic line is braided just like factory, but Tick Performance also added a heat wrap to better insulate the line and the fluid inside. The line is also unrestricted, so there’s no need to perform the storied “drill mod.”
08 Due to the increased bore size over the stocker, you should notice an estimated 15 percent decrease in the pedal travel. And while the pedal will be slightly stiffer, it should also be easier to modulate. It’s also leaps and bounds better in terms of quality and will hold up to hard use far better than the low-bidder GM master.
09 To make the installation easier, we removed the adjustable rod from the new clutch master.
10 For obvious reasons, the new unit didn’t come pre-bled from Tick Performance. To do this, we put the unit in a vice, hooked up a hose, and then “MacGyver’d” a funnel. After pumping the master a few times, we used a small screwdriver to pop the end of the transmission fitting to release the air pressure. When all the air seemed to have been purged, we pulled the hose and used a small vacuum cap to keep the fluid in the master.
11 The new master went in the same hole where the old one came out … with a fight. Part of the problem was a wire bundle down by the frame, but mostly it was just that the working space was so cramped. But eventually it popped into place. Pro tip: it’s easier with two people since one can lie inside the car and guide the rod through the firewall.
12 Once through the firewall, the next challenge was getting the two bolts in place. The task was made even more daunting thanks to the support bracket. We found the easiest way was to have the person on the interior direct the guy in the engine bay on what direction to slowly move the master.
13 Once the threads were in sight, we used a small screwdriver for final alignment then got the lower bolt threaded in. With that bolt in, we were able to rotate the master until the upper hole lined up. It actually ended up being easier than we thought.
14 We plugged the master back into the T56 transmission and reinstalled the factory heat shield. With that done, we connected the hose from the fluid reservoir to the Tilton master and secured the hose with one of the included zip ties.
15 The trickiest part of the process was adjusting the clutch. There’s a fine line between where the clutch fully disengages and where the pedal will over-travel and potentially damage the clutch. Starting with the rod in the shortest position we then slowly lengthened the rod until we could easily shift into First gear. With the rear of the car up on jack stands we could determine if the clutch was fully disengaging. If the wheels didn’t move, we were all good. Pro-tip: we used small locking pliers to keep the rod from coming out of the clutch master from spinning during adjustment.
16 At first, the shorter pedal travel felt weird, but after some driving around we got used to it and noticed how much easier the car went into gear. Tick Performance told us we could also remove the small clutch return spring for even better feel, but we left it in place for now. Our problems with shifting at high rpm are now history, and that makes for quicker times at the dragstrip and road course. The money and time spent on this project were well worth it.