Being able to test our project vehicles to the absolute limits, we are able to find out what we can do to better the components we use. For example, bolting on parts to an engine so that we can improve performance for the street or racing is done all the time. But what about the five-speed transmission? What can we do to make manual transmissions shift better or handle the higher rpm's of today's engines?
Doing the research I came up with the conclusion that there is no one answer to that question, but rather several answers. The previous transmissions were built to handle power up to 250-300 horsepower from the factory. The T-5 and the later TR-3550 five-speed transmissions were great for swapping into hot rods, but unless you were the guy pulling it out of the donor vehicle you didn't really know what you had.
The transmission could be total junk inside from someone not maintaining it or possibly racing it everywhere. Another thing to think about is what the T-5 came out of? I did a quick search about the T-5 and it came out of everything from a Chevy Astro Van, S10, Jeep CJ7, to a Ford Mustang. A few major differences were the shifter location and the higher horsepower applications; for instance, the Mustang and Camaros got what was called T-5 World Class, and for the most part those handled more horsepower.
With that all said and done there is really something to say about today's TKO-500 and TKO-600 transmissions. Sure, I would like to hold the gas pedal down and be able to bang the next gear like an old four-speed, but I also realize the TKO is a better overall transmission in that its got a fifth gear and for me that makes all the difference in the world.
The TKO's bigger brother, the T-56 six-speed, is also a great transmission. It costs more and can present firewall and transmission tunnel clearance issues, but can handle tons of power and high-rpm shifts. I'm not going to pretend that I am some kind of transmission expert or that I've been into tons of five-speed transmissions, but rather pass what I can on to the readers. I can tell you that pulling a TKO apart is no harder than installing heads on a SBC and that it's really no big deal. I needed large snap-ring pliers, a universal magnetic micrometer, and a bunch of sockets. Let's get started.
9. This is where the fifth gear synchro is hiding.