Shifter Lever Rebuild

After reading some positive comments regarding shifter performance after replacing the shift-lever bolts and grommets, I decided to see if this was something I could do myself. (Without harming any children or small animals in the process, of course.)

“Best twenty-five bucks and thirty minutes you’ll ever invest in your Mustang,” was the general message-board sentiment.

Well, the “twenty-five bucks” part was right; the “thirty minutes” part, not so much. But that’s to be expected, as I’m not at all a car guy. I can drive ’em, gas ’em, and keep ’em clean, but that’s about it.

Shifter Performance Before Rebuild

To know how big an improvement the shifter rebuild gave us, you have to know what shifting was like before that. Before I dug into it, the shifter was, in two words:

  • Sloppy
  • Noisy

Yeah, the shifter lever was extremely loose — all over the place. “Broomstick in a barrel” is the expression I often see, and that matched our shifter feel precisely. Were you in gear? Weren’t you in gear? Only one way to find out: Let off the clutch, and see what happens.

That, obviously, is not what you’d call “optimal performance.” Add it to the fact that, at certain transmission resonances, we’d get a nasty metallic rattle from inside the shifter assembly in the floor. Pretty annoying, that, especially after having gone to the trouble to sound-deaden a bit when the floor carpet and other interior items were being replaced.

3-Speed Shifter … Rebuilt With 4-Speed Kit

Our ’67 Mustang has a 3-speed manual transmission, but for the shifter-lever rebuild, I decided to follow the advice of a couple of message-board enthusiasts and use the 4-speed rebuild kit (part number HW1622 at CJ Pony Parts). The difference? The 4-speed kit utilizes springs beneath the metal shifter cups, whereas the 3-speed kit uses rubber grommets. The springs apparently give a tighter shifting feel (and hold up better over time, I’d imagine). That “tight feel” is most of what I was aiming for anyway.

As it turns out, the new 4-speed metal cups appeared to be just a tad — and I mean just a tad — larger than the 3-speed cups which came out of my shifter. But that wasn’t a problem, as you’ll see below.

Shifter Rebuild Process

There was nothing difficult about the rebuild, which consists of replacing some large bolts, washers, cups, and rubber grommets at the bottom of the shift-lever itself. Even for a guy like me, whose mechanical knowledge is just to the right of zero, it wasn’t a big deal. Took me far more than thirty minutes, though. More like a Saturday morning.

Here’s the article to which I referred for guidance:

Mustang Monthly: How to Rebuild a Manual Shifter

Aside from the rebuild kit itself and a set of standard wrenches, a few other garage supplies came in handy:

  • Can of brake cleaner (for cleaning parts)
  • Tub of lithium grease
  • Spray-can of white lithium grease
  • Metal-bristle brush (for cleaning parts)
  • Dremel tool with small routing head (for cleaning stubborn parts)
  • Telescoping magnet (for retrieving dropped bolts/washers)
  • Small Ziploc bags (for holding loose bolts/washers/screws)
  • Shop rags

Additionally, I bought a selection of heavy-gauge metal 3/8″ and 7/16″ grade 8 split lock washers from my local AutoZone. Since our shifter lever had some mismatched, deteriorated washers around the two large bolts which attach it to the u-bracket inside the shifter box, I have to assume that such washers are, in fact, needed for a correct shifter rebuild. Given the size of the mounting bolts, the washers seem pretty integral. Why they aren’t included in the purchased rebuild kit is beyond me.

Working the Rebuild

I performed the entire repair from inside the car — no underbody access required.

While the article above states that seats must be removed, I found that that wasn’t necessary. Once the chrome shifter plate, both lower kick panels, and both door sill plates were off, I simply pulled the carpet back from the firewall, folding it rearward toward the seats, and maneuvering it up and over the shifter lever. The carpet was pretty stiff, so I had to do this slowly and carefully to prevent tearing.

I then unbolted and removed the rubber shifter boot. This gave me pretty clear access to the lower shift-lever assembly. Getting the shifter lever’s two large bolts loose from the shifter-box mechanism was a bit of a task, as they were super tight and dirt-crusted in there.

Once I had access to the shift lever and its mounting bolts, it was easy to see where the sloppy shifting originated. The rubber grommets — both those around the large mounting bolts and those around the cups — were either entirely gone, or worn into fragments so small they were hardly discernible as rubber. Yes, forty-plus years of gear-shifting can do that to you.

(Thankfully, the cups came right out of the shifter, and hadn’t been previously hammered in, minus grommets — something that I’ve heard people used to do. As a matter of fact, the cup grommets were so deteriorated and dry that one of the cups fell out as I removed the shifter itself. This is where having the telescoping magnet came in real handy, as it made fishing out the loose cup a snap.)

Dremel To the Rescue

With the shift lever out of the car, I gave it a stout cleaning with spray parts cleaner, rags, and a metal brush. No matter how much I tried to clean the inside of the shifter cup-holes, though, I couldn’t seem to get them debris-free enough for the sturdy four-speed cups to slide in without binding. There was just too much caked-on grease and dirt that my brush couldn’t get to.

So I reached for the one tool that, to this day, my wife says I don’t use nearly enough (given the price she paid for it when it was gifted to me): my Dremel.

Sure enough, with its small metal routering head attached, the Dremel quickly ate away the hard black grime inside the shifter cup-holes. A few minutes of Dremel-work, and the cup/spring assemblies slid oh-so-smoothly into their notches in the shift-lever base. Surrounding them with lithium grease made them move even better, and gave the additional benefit of securing the cups/springs in the shifter while I reinstalled it.

Was the Shifter Rebuild Worth It?

It was hard for me to imagine, beforehand, that twenty-five dollars’ worth of bolts, grommets, cups and springs could make such a difference in the feel and performance of our Mustang’s shifter, but OH BOY DID IT EVER.

Shifting is now entirely different: It’s tight, precise, and the annoying metallic rattles are GONE. I’m not sure why, but I find that it’s nice to think that THIS is what the shifter might’ve felt like when it was fresh off the factory line in the late 1960s.

The improvement, in short, is just astounding.

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One Response to Shifter Lever Rebuild

  1. Mike says:

    Brother, you write a convincing story. So convincing in fact that I have a 3 speed manual sitting out of a car, in the garage, and I’ll rebuild it on your word alone. I don’t even think (uhhh) that I have a 65-70 Mustang or an extra 67, 68 or 69 (one of each) Cougar to drop it into. 🙂

    Thanks for taking YOUR time to convince MY mind it’d be worth it.

    Mike Grover
    Ford Man thru and thru

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