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Tremec 5 speed in 63 Avanti


Billy Shears
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I am just finishing up the installation of a modern 5 speed manual transmission in my '63 Avanti, a Tremec TR-3550. I bought one of Dan Giblin's kits, and carried out the installation using the one performed by Tom Rautio as a guide (a fairly detailed article describing the install can be found here: Studebaker Avanti TKO 5 speed install how to)

Since I used the exact same TR-3550 transmission Rautio did (the older TR-3550 as opposed to the newer TKO 500 or 600), the installation was almost identical in every way (almost because my car started life as an automatic, and I had to get new pedals and all the clutch linkage parts, and install them first). Since my transmission was a used unit, it came with a Steeda Tri Ax shifter attached, but that one could not be modified in the same way that the Pro 5 shifter used in Rautio's install was; the cylindrical part of the housing was too big, and sticks too far forward, and the shifter simply could not be made to fit without cutting the car, which I was determined to avoid. Rather than acquire a Pro 5 and modify it the same way as the one in this install, by removing the shifter stop plate and fabricating a new top with low profile bolts, and then shortening the shifter stub and fabricating an appropriate offset, I began looking around for a ready-made low profile shifter. I saw the Hurst Blackjack, and it looked ideal. But they don't make it for a TR-3550. Fortunately, McLeod Racing makes the perfect shifter for this application. It fits perfectly, with no modification. They make literally thousands of slightly different units, to fit just about any conceivable application, but if anyone is interested in doing this install, and wants to know which shifter to buy, the part number for the one that fits the TR-3550 equipped Avanti is 83-421-254-01. It has a 2.8 inch rear offset, and no lateral offset, but a small spacer bolted between the shifter handle and shifter stub solves that problem. As an added bonus, the McLeod shifter is made with belleville washers instead of normal coil springs, and they supposedly have a much longer fatigue life, so it should never wear out. It wasn't cheap, but isn't that much more than a new Pro 5, and works out to less, I'm sure, if one has to pay anyone else to do the modification to the Pro 5.

So my Avanti should be back on the road early next week, with the new transmission installed, and all set for my driving enjoyment. This is going to be a great Christmas!

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Let us all know how she runs and drives with the 5 speed. My Resto-mod was a complete frame off and was also a conversion from automatic to a Tremec 5 speed. The 5 speed was purchased new from Liberty Gear and is a TKO 600. I can wait to drive mine, it should be finished this spring.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Well, it wasn't as nice a Xmas as I expected. The very day that I was to get my car (and mind you, this project has been long delayed already), they told me I had water in the number 4 cylinder. They suspected a blown head gasket. Sure enough, that's what it turned out to be. But the heads had to be machined flat. Not only were they not, the gaskets that Nimesh Solanki used when he built the engine were much thinner than the new ones I bought from Myers Studebaker. Even the one that hadn't blown had black stains on it that indicated it hadn't seated as well as it should have, and I suppose it was only a matter of time before that one would have packed it in as well. So not only is the car in the shop a week longer than it should have been, I have to shell out another grand to get it back because of the need to replace the head gaskets.

They are promising that I will have it this week now, and it will run properly at last. I sincerely hope nothing else goes wrong.

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While it's not much consolation, it's better to have done it while it's already in the shop than after you get the car back.

Years ago when I had a '63 R1, one exhaust manifold cracked. I purchased a new one from Newman & Altman and took the car to a local exhaust shop as it needed a complete exhaust system as well. One of the manifold bolts snapped off in the cylinder head so the head had to be pulled to have the bolt drilled out.

When I got the car back and drove it to where I worked a few miles away the temp gauge pegged out in very short order! I called the shop and they came and had to flatbed the car back. It turned out when they reinstalled the cylinder head they inadvertently crushed one of the metal dowel guides that passed coolant through it. The engine block was unable to circulate coolant so all it could do was overheat. The shop made good on it and there were no further problems.

What I'm getting at is the situation could have been far worse...you could have been driving the car and suffered the blown head gasket and be waiting by the side of the road in winter time for a tow. It wasn't a good thing to happen but it occurred under the best circumstances.

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While it's not much consolation, it's better to have done it while it's already in the shop than after you get the car back.

Years ago when I had a '63 R1, one exhaust manifold cracked. I purchased a new one from Newman & Altman and took the car to a local exhaust shop as it needed a complete exhaust system as well. One of the manifold bolts snapped off in the cylinder head so the head had to be pulled to have the bolt drilled out.

When I got the car back and drove it to where I worked a few miles away the temp gauge pegged out in very short order! I called the shop and they came and had to flatbed the car back. It turned out when they reinstalled the cylinder head they inadvertently crushed one of the metal dowel guides that passed coolant through it. The engine block was unable to circulate coolant so all it could do was overheat. The shop made good on it and there were no further problems.

What I'm getting at is the situation could have been far worse...you could have been driving the car and suffered the blown head gasket and be waiting by the side of the road in winter time for a tow. It wasn't a good thing to happen but it occurred under the best circumstances.

Oh don't get me wrong. Not only are you exactly right, I told myself the exact same thing. In fact, they noticed the problem far sooner than I would have, so I have likely avoided all kinds of damage to the bearings and so forth that would have occurred had I been driving it a while like this, and any amount of coolant gotten into the oil. If the trouble had to occur, it did it in the best place possible. What irks me about it all though is not just the delay in getting my car back, it's that this is a practically brand new engine. I doubt it's run even twenty hours since Nimesh built it. After what I paid him for this, and given his reputation for being meticulous, this simply isn't trouble I should be having at all.

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I've never dealt with Nimesh but have heard many, many good things about him...and probably an equal number of negative things. I really don't know what to believe...but...it shouldn't have happened. I agree with you 100%.

I know things happen...but someone with a supposedly good reputation should not have those things occur. It makes me wonder whether everything in your engine should be checked to make sure everything is within spec.

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Oh don't get me wrong. Not only are you exactly right, I told myself the exact same thing. In fact, they noticed the problem far sooner than I would have, so I have likely avoided all kinds of damage to the bearings and so forth that would have occurred had I been driving it a while like this, and any amount of coolant gotten into the oil. If the trouble had to occur, it did it in the best place possible. What irks me about it all though is not just the delay in getting my car back, it's that this is a practically brand new engine. I doubt it's run even twenty hours since Nimesh built it. After what I paid him for this, and given his reputation for being meticulous, this simply isn't trouble I should be having at all.

Billy

I'm just curious if you have contacted Nemish about the issue you encountered and if has responded to that request.

Bob

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Billy

I'm just curious if you have contacted Nemish about the issue you encountered and if has responded to that request.

Bob

I haven't. I actually bought the engine from him back in 2009 (I said this had been a long process), but the first mechanic who was to put it in for me (and who had been recommended to me as reliable) quickly proved to be in over his head. He didn't actually do much, and the car just sat for a long time (a very long time) behind his shop. He never even got it started, and it had to wait for the new mechanic to take the job over before I finally got to hear it run.

But after two years, I can't prove that the problem was of his making, and I learned when I bought the engine that Nimesh doesn't accept criticism very well, even when it's mild. Let me give you an example of what I mean: when I picked the engine up (it was brought up from Georgia by another customer of Nimesh's who was taking his own engine to Maryland, and brought mine north with him, since I was on the way). When I pulled the engine off the trailer, it was sagging down at a 30 degree angle, because the bolts holding it to the engine mount weren't quite tight enough, and as they loosened, the engine was no longer held firm on the mount, and was able to bounce a bit as the trailer rode over any bumps or imperfections in the road. Over the course of several hundred miles, this was enough to bend the arms of the engine mount a little. That and the loose bolts are why it was sagging on the mount. No harm done really, the engine was undamaged, and if the mount was bent a bit, so what? The engine was coming off it anyway. I pointed out what had happened to Nimesh, and he responded back "those bolts were torqued down by ME to X foot pounds, etc. etc..." He actually capitalized "ME" and seemed actually a bit offended at the suggestion he might have made a small mistake, even a harmless one. As I said, it was a matter of no real consequence, so I let it drift. But the fact is, the bolts were loose enough to let them back part way out on their own during the drive up from Georgia to Maryland. The guy who carried the engine for me certainly didn't loosen them, nor did gremlins get into the trailer and do it.

Now if Nimesh wouldn't admit something like that, when it was a trivial matter, and cost him nothing, I can't see him smiling and agreeing to eat the cost of removing and re-machining the heads flat, so the new gaskets will seal properly, especially when the problem crops up two years after he finished the engine. This is even more true if this was an isolated problem. And I imagine it can't be widespread. He could hardly have stayed in the business of selling people engines all these years if they routinely came with imperfectly machined heads.

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Well, the good news is I got my car back. The bad news is it cost me a fair bit of money to have the heads taken off and machined flat (they weren't). The other bit of bad news is that my carburetor seems to be loading up at lower RPMs, and I have had the engine stall out a couple of times when slowing down to make a turn. I'll see if I can get the carb tuned in in the coming week. Other than that, it's running well, and makes lots of power. The five speed makes a world of difference, especially on the interstate. It's nice to do 2500RPM at highway speeds instead of 4000. The car accelerates better from a stop too, thanks to the lower first gear. The Tremec's a noisier transmission. But when I redo the car's interior, I was planning on adding some sound and thermal insulation, like Dynamat, and that will probably take the noise level down a bit.

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