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Replacing An Automatic Transmission With A Stick

Mark Johansson wrote about converting a three-speed automatic to a manual transmission:

I did this 2 years ago to my 85 Chrysler LeBaron Convertible. I installed an A525. I understand the A555 is a stronger trans though. It's doable but a pretty big job. I think it's definitely worth it. The acceleration is so much better, it's like a whole new car. I got all my parts except the clutch at the pick-n-pull.

You might want to consider getting a Centerforce High performance clutch. I didn't and kinda wish I had. The stock clutch slips A LOT before hooking up when I try to accelerate hard from a stop. Anybody on the list ever try one of these?

What follows is my best recollection of how I did it. I'm probably forgetting something here!

Make sure you have a factory service manual. Study all the relevant diagrams before you start. The Chilton/Haynes books won't cut it for this job!

Find a car that still has everything you need at a pick-n-pull place. I got mine off a Dodge Daytona. Removing everything from the donor car yourself will make it easier when you install it on your car.

Here are the parts you will need:

  • Transmission - if you buy a used one that hasn't been rebuilt, either have a trans shop look it over or disassemble it and check everything out internally. Mine had a disintegrated bearing inside. Make sure you get one out of a turbo car as it will have some high strength parts that non-turbos don't have.
  • Motor mount (Driver's side)
  • Transaxle case upper cover
  • Transaxle case lower cover
  • Flywheel - make sure it has the same number of bolt holes (6 or 8) as your crank. Have it resurfaced at a machine shop. - -Clutch, pressure plate, throwout bearing. - -Transmission torque strut. This is the small "shock absorber" thingie that connects the back of the trans to a bracket on the K-Frame. The bracket is, of course in a different location so you will either have to move the existing bracket or replace the whole K-Frame. If you do, make sure the mounting points for the rack and pinion are OK, the k-frame has a tendency to crack in this area. (Mine did)
  • Clutch cable
  • Clutch cable retainer - attaches to the driver's side strut tower. - -Clutch cable grommet- for the hole where the cable goes through the firewall (you will have to drill this hole) - -Clutch and brake Pedals. These are attached to the steering column support bracket under the dash. Removing & installing this is BIG PAIN #1. You have to remove the steering column to get it out.
  • Shift Cables
  • Cable Grommet - this is where the shift cables go through the floor pan. You will have to cut the hole for this.
  • Shifter - This is BIG PAIN #2.

Because the convertible has a "tunnel" on the floor that the other K-Based cars don't have, the shifter is the one part that doesn't just "bolt in" After you remove the old shifter and cable, you will have to cut away some of the tunnel so the new one will fit into the opening. Then you will have to bolt it to the floorpan using some spacers to raise it up to the correct level. There is very little clearance in this area so it is REALLY hard to mount the shifter, connect the cables to it and get the linkages adjusted. You might want to consider cutting some "access holes" on the top and sides of the tunnel and then making removable sheet metal covers for them when you're done. You'll have to peel back the carpeting to do it though.

Last but not least, you will need to make a plate to fill the gap between the hole in the console where the shifter comes up and the shifter boot.

Wow, now that I've written this it sounds more complex and harder than I remember! Just make sure that you can be without the use of the car for a week or 2 so you can take your time, study the FSM and get all your parts ahead of time.

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