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Cool Shift

By September 13, 2010Uncategorized

Though I installed the Gearstar 200-4R transmission in my project ’49 Chevy months ago when the motor went in, I never fitted the trans cooler or shifter. With all the big fabrication jobs out of the way the time had come to do so. I’ve reached the point in the project when all the “little” jobs that take so much time to get done are required, with the exception of fabricating the exhaust system and installing a wiring harness. They’re the two “big” jobs outstanding.

Gearstar supplied a Hayden trans cooler with the Level 2 200-4R, and I’d originally planned to fit it under the car, but space constraints meant I could find nowhere suitable, and though I could have switched to a finned aluminum “log”-style cooler, the Hayden unit is supplied by Gearstar for a reason; it is matched to the requirements of each particular trans they supply. I decided to mount it at the front of the car, behind the grille. Common practice seems to be to mount a trans cooler to the A/C condenser, then mount them both to the radiator, but that puts a lot of restriction on airflow and makes the fan’s job that much harder. The fact that I didn’t have room on the front of my condenser notwithstanding, I elected to mount the cooler off to the passenger side, where there’d be more airflow around it, also giving me the added benefit of it hiding the A/C hose fittings from view through the grille.

In most of my previous projects I’ve either used a stock shifter (’39 Ford trans), column shifters, or modified stock automatic shifters, but for the ’49 I made a call to Lokar for one of the trans-mount shifters, as well as a kick-down cable, throttle cable, throttle pedal, and trans dipstick. The Lokar throttle and kick-down cables are designed to work together on the same bracket at the carburetor end, so it made sense to source all components from one company.

While I, and I suspect you, hate to see tech stories where a manufacturer’s product is bolted in step by step, I will show just how simple it is to mount the Lokar shifter, as well as the company’s neat new adapter that allows virtually anything to be used as a shift knob, eliminating the push button in the stock snob and converting it so that the knob is simply pushed downward to change gears and overcome the lockout positions in Park and Reverse. The Lokar instructions are simple and precise, with the hardest part of the job being to decide where to cut the hold in your trans tunnel! This was made easy on the ’49 as the top of the tunnel is a removable panel, so fitting the shifter was a snap, as was the location of the hole. This will be slightly more difficult on a regular “fixed” trans tunnel. Let’s get out in the workshop and get the Chevy one step closer to the road!

1 – The first step to installing the trans-mount shifter was to insert these aluminum 5/8-inch plugs into stock recesses on each side of the transmission casing. They have recesses in them to locate the setscrew mounting bolts.

2 – Following the instructions, the main plate and side mounts were assembled using the hardware supplied.

3 – A pair of 3/8-inch Allen setscrews act as tension bolts, locating the aluminum plugs we already installed. Once the side-mount brackets moved 1/8-inch away from the trans casing, jam nuts were added to lock the setscrews.

4 – None of the bolts were tightened fully at this stage, as I now had to decide where I wanted the shifter. I’d selected a short 8-inch lever as I wanted the shifter to be as unobtrusive as possible, and wanted to mount it as close to the seat as I could. This shows the shifter in the First gear position, very close to seat with no leeway for moving the seat forward if needed. The shifter would come through the floor quite a ways forward of the seat here too.

5 – By turning the lever around it could be mounted as far back on the main plate as possible and still allow room to move the seat forward, even in First gear as shown. The gear plate can also be rotated in the “banana” holes (arrow), and was rotated to allow the level to be as far back as possible. The arrangement looks a little weird when the shifter is in Park though, with the lever bending forward.

6 – Once the shifter position was determined (I went with the second option above), all the bolts were tightened and the tension setscrews fore and aft on the main plate were bolted down against the trans casing, setting the position of the assembly.

7 – Once the shifter position was determined and the assembly bolted down, the length of the threaded rod (arrow) that connects the shift gear lever to the transmission lever could be determined, as per Lokar’s instructions. This is supplied over-length, with two rod ends. All that’s required now is to check all gears select as intended, and wire the neutral safety switch.

8 – While the Lokar shift knob with its push button and shift pattern is a nice piece, it doesn’t really fit the theme of the Chevy. However, Lokar has developed a shift knob adapter that allows the use of most aftermarket knobs with a 3/8-16 or 3/8-24 tread, or indeed anything that you can tap with these threads. It does lengthen the shifter by a couple of inches though. Once the jam nut and knob were removed, this new jam nut and inner sleeve were installed on the level. Note the cable protruding from the top that allows gears to be selected. The slots in the sleeve (arrow) allow the outer adapter to slide up and down to operate the cable.

9 – The outer adaptor was installed as per the instructions, with the two setscrews located in the slots on the inner sleeve. Shown is an eight ball knob selected from Lokar’s range, along with its threaded adapter.

10 – With the new knob installed, instead of using a push button on the knob, the whole knob is now pushed downward to select gears.

11 – By way of illustration that anything can be used as a shift knob with the adapter kit, here’s one of Dennis McPhail’s shift knobs in place of the eight ball. I have a large aluminum Easter Island head that I may modify for use in the future, as with careful machining I’ll be able to hide most of the hex-shaped adapter inside the knob. We’ll see…

12 – I ordered a shifter boot kit from Lokar too, which is supplied with this stainless trim ring, which I used as a pattern to scribe and cut the hole in the trans cover. My trans is pretty close to the tunnel, and the neutral safety switch contacts are somewhat close to the sheetmetal. I’ll probably fabricate a small tapered raised section and re-install the trim ring and boot an inch or so higher for clearance.

13 – With the shifter sorted it was time to move to other trans-related components. The dipstick was sourced from Lokar, though I fabricated a deeper mounting bracket than that supplied. A small plate with two round carriage bolts welded to it made light work of mounting it through the toeboard from inside the car.

14 – This was the neatest place to mount the top end of the dipstick, next to where the fuel lines protrude on the lower right side of the firewall. The deeper bracket was required to clear the sheetmetal lip.

15 – Before I could install the kick-down cable I had to run the throttle cable, which meant fitting a pedal! This black floor mount Eliminator pedal from Lokar’s Midnight Series best fitted my needs, most closely resembling a stock pedal. I made sure to leave enough space for carpet beneath the pedal before drilling the mounting holes and cutting the slot for “through-the-floor” cable mounting.

16 – Here’s what the cable mounting bracket under the floor looks like. The cable itself is a “cut-to-fit” item. The small setscrew at the top of the arm is an adjustable throttle stop. There’s one on each side of the arm. The cable was fitted as per the instructions, and is supplied with necessary bracketry.

17 – With the throttle cable bracketry installed at the carburetor baseplate, I could fit the kick-down cable. The outer cable was cut to length after determining how long it should be by installing it without the inner cable. Masking tape shows where it needs to be cut.

18 – As with the fuel lines a couple of months ago, the braided cable was cut with a cut-off wheel. The masking tape prevents the ends from fraying.

19 – The lower end of the inner cable looks like this…

20 – …and was connected to the kick-down hookup in the trans as shown, before locating the outer cable and locking down the bracket. It’s recommended that a little silicone sealant be added to the O-rings to prevent leakage.

21 – To set up the kick-down cable, Lokar recommends holding the throttle to wide open and pulling the kick-down inner cable as tight as possible. The cable stop should then be tightened as shown, up against the cable slide fitting. Gearstar recommends using a geometry kit (available from Summit Racing) to install the kick-down cable. I’ll see how it works as shown first.

22 – All that was required for my transmission to go “live” now was a fluid cooler. Gearstar supplied this Hayden item with my Level 2 200-4R, but with no space to fit it under the car, at least not if I wanted to run an exhaust system, I elected to mount it up front, behind the grille, for maximum airflow.

23 – Of course mounting the cooler at the front of the car meant I had to fabricate fluid lines to run along the inner chassis rail. My local hardware store sells steel brake/fuel lines in pre-made lengths, so a couple of these were pressed into service. One is shown already bent to fit, one as bought.

24 – The advantage of the pre-made tubing was that each end already had a perfect double flare and nut. I used the flaring tool I got from Classic Performance Products when fabricating my bake lines to put a double flare on the other ends of the lines once cut to length and bent (though without the nut). Though they’ll have rubber hose clomped to them, the flare will prevent the hose from pulling off.

25 – The short section of tube shown in the previous picture was formed to make one of the two cooler lines entering and exiting the trans. Gearstar supplied my trans with unions to accept 5/16 double flared fuel line fittings (arrows). The reason for the cooler lines running so high is to clear the exhaust pipes and they’ll have to run through here. I’ll use Thermo Tec heat shielding on the lines to protect from the heat. While probably unnecessary, I always like to double clamp any rubber hoses on trans or fuel lines for added safety.

26 – No expense was spared when it came to fabricating a mounting bracket for the cooler! Four household plumbing clamps were modified to accept ½-inch rubber captive nuts, while a couple lengths of leftover steel fuel line were bent to form a bracket.

27 – With the plumbing clamps cut off at the bends and welded to the rubbing, I had a lightweight cooler mount with insulated rubber mounts for the cooler itself, for under $10 and a couple of hours of time invested!

28 – Here’s the cooler mounted behind the grille. It doesn’t block airflow through the condenser and radiator, has plenty of airflow around it, and has the added bonus of hiding the gold-colored A/C line ends from view through the grille.

29 – I’ll paint the bracket semigloss black when I get around to final paint and assembly. This shows the trans cooler lines running down through the lower front pan. You can get a better view of the captive rubber mounts here. And yes, I still have to add hose clamps to the cooler lines!

30 – The trans cooler lines were routed along the cassis rails, terminating just under the radiator core support. Separate lines were then routed up in front of the radiator to the cooler. I’ll paint these semigloss black to camouflage them.