Super Ford's T-5 T-Bird by R&E Racing

by Isaac Martin
photography by the author

Installing a T-5 manual trans in a late-model V8 Thunderbird

Those wanting a manual transmission in their '89 and later Thunderbirds have had a single option, the Super Coupe. It was a good package, but simply not a V8 as many insist. Ford worked the V8 part out in '91 and offered a 5.0 option, but only with an AOD, then the AOD-E automatics. Compared to the SC, the 5.0 car came across as pretty light duty, with torque, but not enough of everything else. Clearly a manual gearbox would have helped the enthusiast.

At R&E Racing they've recently engineered a prototype five-speed manual transmission installation kit for the V8 Thunderbird using mainly Super Coupe parts. Racing made them do it. The 1993 'Bird seen here is on a mission - to run in the 155 mph class in the Silver State Challenge. The body offers excellent aerodynamics wanting only minor tweaking to reduce front end lift. Based on a 25.6-inch-tall tire, a .68:1 fifth gear and a 3.08 final drive, this T-Bird will be flying at 168 mph at only 4500 rpm. The low-rpm power is thanks to a supercharged, 355-inch small-block stroker with nearly 500 hp.

The transmission selected is a T-5 out of a low-mileage '94 Mustang Cobra because it offers more durable internal parts. A tough alloy gear set is used on the third and cluster gears, plus roller-taper bearings are utilized between the input and output shaft. Carbon fiber synchronizer rings also contribute to increased strength, The gear ratios are 3.35, 1.99, 1.33, 1.00 and .68.

We've listed the Ford Thunderbird Super Coupe clutch part numbers used in this swap in a sidebar on page 56, and R&E would like to commend John Rondov at Antelope Valley Ford who dug into the microfiche to retrieve this necessary information.

Ford was unusually consistent in parts interchangability on the chassis. The AOD transmission crossmember fits the T-5 and so does the insulator. Not unexpectedly, the AOD driveshaft is too long, so it must be trimmed to fit. R&E, however, discovered an aluminum Aerostar driveshaft fits with no more than the correct transmission yoke. Furthermore, the wiring needs and clutch bracket, pedal and master cylinder mounting points are all in place in the V8 Thunderbird, simplifying installation.

The tough part is making the shifter fit the hole in the floorpan, a job handled on our subject car by smoke wrenching a second shift turret to the back of the existing T-5 turret.

Because there are over 500 horses on tap, a Centerforce Dual Friction pressure plate and clutch disc were installed. According to Centerforce, this unit produces a 90-percent increase in holding capacity compared to stock.

To sum up, the trans bolted right in, and it works great. It helps make a spectacular car. While the big T-Bird is a little pudgy, the supercharged 355 moves it with authority. Transmission operation is stock, as expected, and, generally, a supercharged 5.0 with a five-speed manual should have been a factory option back in '91. They supercharged 312s didn't they?

R&E Racing's is a prototype kit, so if you're interested in converting your Thunderbird, give them a call. If demand warrants it, they'll sell them.

R&E's first modification involved the throwout bearing. The stock SC bearing is part of the slave cylinder, and lives inside the bellhousing. The T-5 bellhousing need holes drilled to mount the SC slave/TO, plus another pass-through hole for the hydraulic line. Here we see R&E fabricated a new input shaft bearing from alunimum stock. The TO bearing will bolt to the holes drilled and tapped at the 2 and 8 o'clock positions.

Now the hydraulic throwout bearing is To accommodate the hydraulic fittings, two bolted to the fabricated bearing retainer. holes are drilled in the aluminum bellhousing. The slave/TO bearing mounts approximately 3/4 of an ince closer to the clutch than an SC's.

p Here are the clutch components. On the left is a hydraulic line, clutch master, clutch reservoir, clutch pedal bracket and clutch slave cylinder that functions as a hydraulic TO bearing. In the right photo is a Centerforce Dual Friction pressure plate and clutch disc, plus the T-5 transmission.
Here's a peak at the supercharged 355, built using R&E Racing's stroker kit. Stroke is increased from 3.00 to 3.50 inches and the bore was opened .020 of an inch. Motorsport GT-40 aluminum heads, lower intake and short-tube headers were added. Also the Thunderbird upper intake plenum was modified to provide increased airflow from the Motorsport blower, which was hung with R&E's Thunderbird V8 installation kit. It comes with all brackets and an air intake tube for a bolt-on installation. With 9 lbs. of boost, engine output is estimated at 550 horsepower and 500 lb. ft. of torque. Transmission removal is pretty standard. Remove the driveshaft loop and driveshaft, remove the torque converter dust cover and undo the four flex-plate-yo -torque converter nuts, disconnect the cooler lines and snake them out to the front. Then, undo the throttle- valve cable at the throttle valve and down at the transmission. Also, unplug the transmission wiring harness at the neutral safety switch, back-up lights and speedometer. Next, use a couple of long extensions and a swivel to reach the bellhousing bolts. Finally, undo the transmission crossmember. The trans will then come out, a job made eaiser with a transmission jack.
Inside the car, remove the console housing so the shifter assembly can be unbolted and removed. Installation began with a 10,000 RPM aluminum flywheel and a pilot bearing in the crankshaft. These were topped with a Centerforce Dual Friction clutch using a clutch alignment tool.
With the T-5 on the jack, it's moved into position with it's input shaft ready to go into the pilot bearing. Install the bellhousing bolts and rear crossmember (a bolt in). A cover for the bellhousing clutch fork opening will be fabricated and installed. When the clutch master cylinder is installed, you can connect the hydralic line between it and the hydralic throwout bearing.

Now the bad news. The shift lever comes right to the front edge of the transmission opening. The hole could be notched, but the shift knob would end up tight against the radio and heater controls. One solution would be to fabricate an L-shaped shift handle.

Rather than bend up a shift lever, R&E decided to build an SC-like tower. First a shifter turret was cut from a second T-5 and secured to the subject T-5 with aluminum straps (ARROW A). The existing shifter shaft was cut and a shaft extension welded to it (ARROW B).
The photo shows the new unit with the shifter in place. A fabricated aluminum cover was installed on the existing turret (ARROW C). The extension positions the shifter in the middle of the transmission opening. Whith the modified trans back in place, the driveshaft can go back in.
Detailing the clutch bracket and pedal assembly would require the same space as the shop manual, so it's best to read it there. Basically, the dash is unbolted from the cowl and lowered to gain access when bolting the clutch pedal bracket to the firewall. The bracket location dimples are already stamped in sheet metal, so their easy to identify and drill. Because the automatic brake pedal is retained, trim the left side for additional room between the clutch and brake pedals. Here's where the hydralic clutch master cylinder passes through the firewall. The dimpling for the locating and drilling the hole for connecting the rod to the pedal is already stamped. The clutch reservoir and tube are attached to the wheel well hump.
The last step is to hook up the modified transmission wiring. The AOD had a neutral safty switch at the trans, but now it's located on the clutch pedal bracket. The wiring has to be spliced to accommodate the T-5 connector plug. The wiring for the neutral safty switch is in place. Consulting the shop manual wiring schematic is a good idea here. Here's the final shot. Ford utilizes two transmission shifter boots. There's a lower (E9SZ-7277-C) which seals the transmission tunnel opening, or you can fabricate your own. The leather shift boot illustrated (E9SZ-7277-B) makes the installation look factory.
Transmission Swap Part Numbers
Description                                                 Part Number
Clutch pedal and bracket                             E9SZ-7B633-A Clutch Master Cylinder                              E9SZ-7A543-A Clutch Slave/Throwout  bearing                  E9SZ-7A508-A Clutch reservoir and tube                            E9SZ-7A508-A 10,000 RPM flywheel                                9519-F Centerforce Dual Friction                            DF021057
Sources: 10,000 RMP 42541 6th St. East Lancaster, CA 93535 (805) 942-1312
Midway Industries/Centerforce 2266 Crosswind Dr. Prescott, AZ 86301 (520) 771-8422
R&E Racing 44533 N. Sierra Hwy. Lancaster, CA 93534 (805) 948-7622