Gearing a Classic Camaro for Road RacingA Keisler Tremec TKO-600 five-speed transmission is the answer
As many enthusiasts will tell you, nothing tops the experience of driving their favorite Chevy along a twisty road, whether the car is a late model or a modern-equipped classic.
And when taking such drives, a manual transmission is practically a must … and the more gears, the better.
For that matter, when was the last time you saw a road race in which a car with an automatic transmission beat its manual-transmission competition? Most likely, never. Manual transmissions dominate the road race and autocross circuits, as well as the drag strip.
So it was no surprise to Craig Hurst, marketing/parts manager for Guldstrand Motorsports (Burbank, California), when a customer whose ’69 Camaro the shop was setting up for road racing wanted them to install a Keisler Engineering five-speed manual transmission.
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“We’d already installed SPC Performance’s adjustable upper control arms, Pro Springs and front sway bar, new QA1 Motorsports shocks, and Wilwood disc brakes all the way around,” Hurst said. “The car has a 502 V-8 putting out 570 lb-ft torque, but it had an old Muncie M20 four-speed. So the Tremec PerfectFit™ TKO-600 five-speed transmission, which can handle up to 600 lb-ft torque, was a perfect upgrade.”
Keisler Engineering in Knoxville, Tennessee, started in October of 1991 as an electrical component restoration company for 1960-1970s Mopar cars. By the mid-’90s, Keisler had grown to include reproduction molded lamp lenses for those same Mopar cars. By the end of the decade, they developed a complete, modern-technology, five-speed conversion kit for the Jaguar V-12, and then several Mopar drivetrains, all of which became successful worldwide.
Since then, Keisler has continued to develop a full line of retrofit manual and automatic transmission kits with that same commitment to engineering excellence, including a line of Tremec direct-fit replacement kits for most popular Mopar, Ford, and GM vehicles. Keisler is an authorized Tremec distributor, and they service their products in house, under full Tremec warranty, to avoid hassles. Keisler also provides a two-year window for installation before the warranty activates.
Aside from unexpected problems caused by the old bell housing and an unusually thick flywheel, the installation was a breeze, and everything fit perfectly. It’s unlikely such problems would be encountered often, but the solutions were simple. Follow the photos as Mark Duncan and Dick Guldstrand show you how simple it is to gear up for road racing with Keisler.
1 A Keisler Tremec TKO-600 five-speed for 1967-’69 Camaro/Firebird (with a .64 overdrive) was ordered, along with a new crossmember and driveshaft. The transmission can also be ordered as a complete kit that includes a new shifter kit, bell housing, flywheel, clutch and much more.
2 The Muncie four-speed had an old GM bell housing with such a large center hole that it had totally fried the pilot bearing; new pilot bearing was installed and a Classic Industries 11-inch, high-performance bell housing (P/N 14053) was chosen.
3 To check concentricity of the new bell housing, a steel plate was bolted to the flywheel to provide a flat surface for the magnetic base of the dial indicator.
4 The new bell housing was bolted up, a dial indicator was attached, and the concentricity of the bell housing and alignment of the center bore with the crankshaft were checked by rotating the engine one full revolution and marking the runout at eight different points. Total indicated runout (TID) was less than 0.005 inches, well within limits.
5 The Camaro also had a McLeod RST twin-disc clutch assembly, which Guldstrand sent to McLeod to have rebuilt to match the requirements of the new transmission. Then it was assembled for mounting and an old output shaft inserted to help seat and align the clutch assembly.
6 The clutch was then aligned with the flywheel, using the mark made showing the original position, and loosely bolted to the flywheel. (Note: Duncan puts blue Loctite on all bolts before installing them.)
7 The flywheel bolts were then tightened (in a star pattern) to proper specs with a torque wrench.
8 Duncan then slipped the new bell housing in place and bolted it up to the engine. He then tightened the bolts to spec with a torque wrench.
9 The next step was to use a straight edge and ruler to measure the distance from the transmission mounting surface of the bell housing to the point of the clutch fingers that contact the release bearing.
10 Then, with the combination concentric slave cylinder (CSC) release bearing fully compressed, the distance from the transmission mounting surface to the straight edge was noted. There was less than the 1/8-inch extra room needed to keep the clutch from bottoming out from disc wear and expansion from heat. The solution was to remove the extra-thick flywheel and shave it 0.100 inch. The flywheel is still 0.550-inch thick at its thinnest point.
11 The supplied high-pressure hose (with bleeder) was then installed in the CSC, being careful not to cross-thread the fitting.
12 Next, Guldstrand stepped in to finish the installation, first jacking the transmission up in place and bolting it (loosely) to the bell housing.
13 The transmission came with a certified and serialized high-strength steel driveshaft, automatic-welded and computer-dynamic-balanced with premium, solid-sealed U-joints, painted satin black, and a no-flex/no-problem, rigid, welded, box-construction-design crossmember with integrated isolator perch and gusseted mounting flanges, finished in gloss-black epoxy powder paint.
14 Next, the new Keisler crossmember was slipped in place over the frame rails and bolted (loosely) through the existing frame holes.
15 An Energy Suspension polyurethane transmission mount (set #3-1108) was then attached (loosely) to the transmission and crossmember.
16 The jack was lowered, and the lines and hoses attached. The driveshaft will be installed after some third-member work is done, at which time everything will be aligned and all bolts tightened to proper torque specs.
17 At press time, the owner of the car hadn’t decided which shifter he wanted to use. Dick offered a suggestion … but maybe not.
The article featured on this page is from the February 2010 issue of Chevy Enthusiast Magazine.
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