Mid-Shift Kit - Mid-Shift: The Mystery Solved
A Better Way To Grab Your Next Gear
From the May, 2008 issue of Kit Car
By Dan Reiter
Photography by Dan Reiter
One of the great joys of building a replica vehicle is that there is no correct way of doing anything! In direct contrast to the restoration of classics, antiques, and muscle cars, we are given carte blanche when it comes to choices and options. When have you ever seen two identical street rods, Cobras, dune buggies, Speedsters, or any other vehicle covered by this magazine at any event? Good money is on never. Yes, a unique exception is a minority of replica owners who build a "tribute" car, in which the whole idea is to re-create the flavor of the original. Back to the choices, in almost every vehicle here, there are decisions for all parts of the car: paint, wheels, tires, interior, suspension, motors, and even the color of the seats. But, there has traditionally been one area where our choices are few: transmissions and shifters.
Since replicas are re-creations of a special car made eons ago, the originals used much older technology. Street rods are a perfect example, with the original manual transmissions having the shifters located directly centered in the gearbox part of the trans. The original Cobras had the problem of the shift linkage of the T10's putting the shifter handle back at the driver's hips. A simple solution was to mount a Mustang shifter handle backwards to have the knob closer to a regular position. It worked, but the pattern has always been awkward. Other replica vehicles have all suffered the same problem and coped with it in some manner. The only exceptions have been the family of cars with the drivelines out back, and the shifters are always a remote unit.
For a large percentage of street rods, a simple and practical solution has been to use an automatic transmission. It makes for much simpler installation, eliminates all clutch linkage, and the freedom to use any shifter for an automatic transmission is available due to either simple cable or a single rod connection. A little known fact is that an automatic transmission was offered on the original Cobras, but the final production numbers can probably be counted on two hands.
So, for those of us who like to "row the box," and demand a shifter-to-driver position that is comfortable and similar to our everyday performance cars, what are our choices? Happily, in the last few years, we have more than most know about. There are a few transmission choices, a myriad of shifter choices, even the ability to move the shifter. We also now can mate different engines and transmissions than offered by the factories. Your days of suffering with an awkward upshift or downshift are over! For those of us who race, we're doing handstands! I can't tell you how many times I've bungled a shift in my FFR roadster on the racetrack due to the awkward shift. So, may we offer some choices and information?
For most replica Cobra owners,...
For most replica Cobra owners, here is the cockpit layout. Two buckets splayed outward; an offset steering wheel; offset, cramped pedals; and a shifter so far back, you have to be Harry Houdini to shift like Scott Pruett. Not a happy place for long drives. But, we'll help solve the last problem: shifter location.
Probably the biggest challenge in this area is if you're contemplating a build, in the process of building, or have a complete car. This subject usually comes as an afterthought once the car is done. By doing more research, you can make a critical choice that will affect the entire ownership experience of your car. Sure, it may look great, but is it really a joy to drive? Is throwing a fast shift quick and easy, or is it a dreaded event? Wouldn't you really rather have that shifter right out front, just like in your Saab? So, what can you do?
It's actually very straightforward. Depending on your vehicle, the biggest factor is your driveline, more specifically, the motor and transmission. If your car is already built, what transmission is in it? If you're building the car, do you already have a driveline? If not, what are you considering? For all the previous questions, can the transmission you're using have the shifter moved? Big question. If you're serious about a new shifter location, this could lead to a new transmission purchase and very large cash expenditure, not to mention the physical effort of performing the swap. If you have a Tremec T5, T56, TKO 500/600/3550/3560, or other transmission that has the flexibility of re-locating the shifter, does your car allow for that? Where do you want the new location of the shifter to be? Are there frame or sheetmetal problems? If you don't want to pull the transmission out of the car and open it up, what about an external kit to relocate the transmission?
Shown with the arrows is the...
Shown with the arrows is the "Vertical H" most Cobra and other replicars with severe engine setback have to deal with. The pattern is unnatural, and inter-gate shifts are awkward and clumsy. After even a short time behind the wheel, we long for a more natural feel.
Now that we have thoroughly confused you, time to answer all the questions we just posed. We'll start with the easiest, and progress from there. We're sure you have heard of the term "mid-shift," but may not really know what it pertains to. In its most simplified form, a "mid-shift" conversion moves the shifter handle and/or mechanism farther forward towards the engine and/or the front of your interior. This is accomplished by relocating the shifter location in the transmission to a more centered, or "mid body" location. This can be done both internally or externally, depending on your vehicle, budget, and transmission. Allow us to further explain.
Without a doubt, the easiest scenario is when you're still building the car, and collecting parts. Your choice of driveline is the key. Which transmission is sitting in your garage? If you have any of the current "rail" shifter transmissions, such as the family of Tremecs, you have many choices. You can buy a kit to actually relocate the shifter on the transmission. The older T5 and T56's only have one alternate position to move the shifter forwards roughly 8-12 inches on center, depending on the kit selected, but that may require a new tailshaft housing on the older transmissions. The modern TKO's all have the flexibility of two other shifter locations on the transmission. From here, both kits for the user, or a pre-converted transmission are available. Once you choose which transmission you'll use, and where you want the shifter to be located, the choices all will become quickly clear.
If your car is complete, or going inside the transmission is an option you wish to avoid, a solution is to mount an external mid-shift conversion, which relocates the shifter handle forwards and closer to the driver, but can reduce the 'snick-snick' feeling of a direct shifter. Another consideration with this conversion is access to the transmission and any obstacles from the vehicle chassis itself.
Rather than get into a lengthy technical discussion on each shifter and conversion, we will show you as an overview the most common problems, their corresponding solutions, and some interesting options to allow you more flexibility and creativity in your build. If you have any serious technical questions, please contact one of the sources listed at the end of the article. They are the true experts in this very technical field. Be sure to tell them that KIT CAR sent you.
So, when grabbing that next gear, make sure it's a fun one!
Street Rods can also suffer...
Street Rods can also suffer from the shifter location problem when using a manual transmission. Depending on engine/transmission location, trans selection, and interior ergonomics, the shifter can end up being located virtually anywhere on the tunnel.
Shown here in the author's...
Shown here in the author's car is the new shift motion when converted to a mid-shift. The pattern is back to a horizontal flow, your arm is in a natural position-no more missed shifts. This is what we all dream about, but we usually compromise for the sake of looks or because of not knowing the alternatives.
Here's the most popular transmission...
Here's the most popular transmission in the land: the venerable, bulletproof Borg Warner T5. Used in Mustangs and other American vehicles for years, there are millions of these available. They are usually bolted to the similarly indestructible Ford 5.0 motors.
The first upgrade for the...
The first upgrade for the T5 was the world class Borg Warner T56 six-speed transmission. It was stronger, had different ratios, and had the second shifter placement location available. Shown here is a T56 with both shifters installed.
The current five-speed transmission...
The current five-speed transmission that works great in Detroit's muscle cars and many replicas is the Tremec TKO series, the 500 and the 600. These transmissions are top quality, very durable, offer different locations to install the shifter, and bolt up to the modular motors that Ford is now producing.
A popular fix for the T5 is...
A popular fix for the T5 is to replace the tailshaft housing with one from a GM S-10 pickup equipped with the V-6/five-speed combo. It bolts right up, keeps the length the same, and moves the shifter forward roughly 8 inches. The only drawback is the speedometer cable attachment, as this tailshaft allows for an electronic sensor.
Shown here is a Tremec TKO...
Shown here is a Tremec TKO 600 five-speed transmission with a mid-shift kit installed. The 600 designation indicates how much torque the transmission can handle. This particular mid-shift kit moves the shifter to the center location, comes with the required cover and hardware, and locates the shifter in a much more natural location in the replica cars. A very simple and effective alternative to the internal mid-shift conversion is an external conversion.
Here's the shifter just shown...
Here's the shifter just shown in its finished interior. The result is very well executed. Hard to see is the increased height of the tunnel cover, up roughly 3 inches from the original. But, this extra height can be used for cup-holders, change cubbies, and other uses.
For the author's conversion,...
For the author's conversion, here is his FFR MK II with the trans cover off. There isn't much room to work with. Fortunately, the chassis braces could be avoided. In many mid-shift conversions, chassis braces can get in the way and usually take some creative frame modifications to clear.
Here's another external mid-shift...
Here's another external mid-shift done on a T5 equipped Cobra, owned and raced by the author (see "Mr. Hyde's Cobra," January 2008). This conversion moves the shifter forward and offsets it to the driver side. It also allows for different handle heights and locations. Since this car is a track warrior, the linkage was left exposed for the competition look.
Simplicity is key. Including...
Simplicity is key. Including all parts, hardware, and tools, this is all it took to install the mid-shift kit in the author's car. One hole was cut into the trans tunnel cover-the full process took 20 minutes. Really.
The key to the author's system...
The key to the author's system was finding a location that felt natural and cleared all chassis tubing. A bracket that bolts to the transmission tailshaft housing bolts mount the spherical rod-end, which provides the tough mounting for the handle, unrestricted movement, and adjustable height. The shifter boot from the car was moved forwards to keep road dirt out of the interior.
For vehicle owners of different...
For vehicle owners of different brands who previously couldn't bolt up a modern transmission to their motors-such as Mopar, older GM's, and other motors-here's a solution. The Quick Time company offers bellhousings to fit almost any V-8 engine and adapt it to all the modern transmissions.