Lucky 13: Converting A Fifth-Gen Camaro From Auto To Manual

When we decided to take on Project Lucky 13, we knew there would be some obstacles to overcome when it came to achieving our goals with the car. To bring you up to speed, Lucky 13 started life as a theft recovery we bought at auction with the hopes of turning it into our resident road racer. The car was completely gutted and missing its suspension and drivetrain. In essence, it was a blank slate for us to map out our dreams on—and we decided its calling was as a road racer.

What better model for a fifth-gen road race car than the Z/28? From that point, we had the direction we wanted to take with the car, but we still had to figure out the how. We knew we wanted to stuff a big 427 cubic inch LS7 between the fenders, which ended up being fairly straightforward thanks to some parts borrowed from the Z/28 and provided to us by Chevrolet Performance. However, we knew that the car had to be backed by a six-speed manual transmission.

Obviously, it wouldn’t be very fun tracking an LS7-powered fifth-gen without rowing our own gears. Naturally, since the Z/28 left the factory with the veritable TR6060, it would fit our fifth-gen perfectly, right? Well, we wish it was just that simple.

This is how Lucky 13 sat when we first brought her home, with the LS7 and Tremec TR6060 transmission waiting for their forever home.

Parts You'll Need

1. TR6060 Transmission with release bearing (PN 92246731)
2. TR6060 Install Kit (flywheel, clutch, bolts, cover, bearing) (PN 19259271)
3. Clutch Pedal Assembly (PN 92199595)
4. Brake Pedal assembly for manual trans (PN 92195945)
5. Manual transmission cross member (PN 92200277)
6. Transmission mount (PN 92200273)
7. Fluid line from Clutch master to slave (PN 92228715)
8. Brake master to clutch master hose (PN 92221530)
9. Clamps for BM to CM hose (2) (PN 11516215)
10. Brake master cylinder (manual trans) (PN 22788972)
11. Transmission cooler lines (PN 92221651)
12. Driveshaft assembly for manual trans (PN 92246788)
13. Chevrolet Performance Shifter Assembly (PN19299460)
14. LS3 –M10 Wiring Harness (PN 92238351)

Our donor car just happened to be equipped with a 6L80E slushbox when it left GM’s assembly line. That was fine and dandy for its previous life when an L99 spun its cogs, but it wasn’t going to work for what its future held.

So, since the car was basically already disassembled for us, we thought, how hard could it be? We’ll just stuff a manual gearbox and pedal assembly in it and we’re off to the races, right?

Wrong.

The process we took maybe a little more complex than most who are looking to do this swap, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to do things and, unfortunately for us, the right way is rarely the easiest. Suffice it to say, if you want to bang your own gears, it’s vastly less complex to just buy the car in a manual configuration to begin with. But, if you are feeling bold like we were, where there is a will, there’s a way. So, without further ado, here’s how we solved our many problems and eventually got a TR6060 to sit behind our LS7.

Lucky 13: The Dashboard

IMG_8305

After removing the dashboard, there was a lot of space to work with. Here you can see where the original automatic brake pedal attached to the firewall. This was replaced with the slimmer manual variant.

If you’re anything like us, the proposition of taking a completely gutted car and stabbing any drivetrain in it seems like a straightforward one. But that’s where you, and we, would be dead wrong. The first item that we addressed was the pedal assembly. Obviously, we were short a pedal, so that would have to be addressed before we moved forward with anything else.

And while it seemed like the pedal assembly would bolt in easily at first glance, that was anything but the case. The automatic pedal assembly was not a problem to remove. In fact, it was so easy to zip out that we thought we were home free. But alas, the car gods frowned upon us and would punish our hubris with hard labor.

Here you can see where the plate bolted to the firewall of our Camaro. With the new plate in place, the clutch master cylinder and pedal assembly easily bolt in place. In the second picture, you can see how the clutch master passes through the firewall plate.

When we went to bolt in our new pedal assembly, everything cleared except two bolts. That’s right, just two. And, luckily for us, the two bolts that needed to go into place required removing the entire dash. That is because there is a plate that bolts to the firewall that was installed from the factory when this car was designated an automatic. This plate is what has the template to allow the pedals to pass through the firewall and connect to the brake booster, or in the case of a manual, a clutch master cylinder. To install the manual plate, which we receive from Chevrolet Performance, the entire dashboard has to be removed. 

Remember when we mentioned that right way, wrong way thing? Well, this is where it comes into play. While it seemed to us that replacing the firewall plate was the right and best way to go about this swap, there is another way. There are people who have accomplished this swap simply by cutting the access for the clutch pedal, clutch master cylinder, and pedal assembly simply by cutting up the original automatic firewall plate. While this would save you some time, it won’t if you don’t get everything exactly right and could lead to more problems down the road. So, we took our time and did it the right way and that meant removing the entire dashboard.

Yes, one of the only things that came with our car had to be removed before we could move forward with our build. Now, the brake pedal and clutch pedal assemblies come as two separate assemblies. The narrower brake pedal bolts back into place without a problem, but the clutch pedal assembly is where we ran into problems.

In order to mount the clutch pedal, the assembly was placed in the car and we marked two spots to drill the holes to mount our pedal assembly to the under-dash frame. However, these holes are far enough under the dash that it has to come out in order to access them as well. Thus, our dashboard was removed for more than one reason so that we could bolt the new pedal assembly into the car.

Here you can see the two bolts we were referring to in order to mount the clutch pedal assembly. Normally these would be hidden under the dashboard, but with it removed they are easily accessible.

IMG_8313

The clutch pedal finally mounted and ready to go.

Clutch Master And Reservoir

Here you can see that we cut off the nipple on the brake master cylinder reservoir in order to feed the clutch master.

After we had the brake pedal assemblies in place, and the dash put back in, we turned our attention to the brake master reservoir. In the fifth-gen, the brake reservoir feeds both the brake system and the clutch. The reservoir has a nipple built into it that needs to be cut off and the GM line connected from it to the clutch master cylinder in order to feed the system fluid. This is a straightforward process and simple to do.

Shifter

Obviously, the gear selector is much different for the automatic car than when equipped with a manual gearbox. Our stripped-out theft recovery just so happened to still have the automatic gear selector in it when we got it — one of the few things that were actually left in the car — so that had to go. Four nuts secure it to the transmission tunnel, and since the drivetrain was out of the car, removing it was a breeze.

As you can see here, the automatic gear selector is removed from inside the vehicle. However, the new manual gear sector is fed through the bottom and bolted in place from inside the cockpit.

The new shifter installs in a similar fashion, though the new assembly uses bolts instead of studs and nuts. While the automatic gear selector can be removed from inside the car, the new manual gear selector has to be passed through the bottom of the transmission tunnel and bolts into place from inside the car. In essence, it is the mirror image of the automatic sector.

IMG_8303

A side-by-side comparison of the automatic and manual gear selector variants.

The short-throw shifter is fed through the transmission tunnel from below and bolted into place.

The shifter we used for the car is an aftermarket piece from Chevrolet Performance (PN 19299460) that will shorten up our throws considerably. Chevrolet says the shifter “is the same 5.1 ratio shifter as in the production Camaro ZL1, but with shorter shifts.” But, whether you are using a different shifter or not, the process is the same. We’re guessing that if you’re taking this project on, you’ll probably opt for an aftermarket shifter as well.

Wiring

In our case, the wiring for our brand new manual transmission was pretty straightforward. Though we knew that an LS7 was headed for Lucky 13, we decided to go with the LS3 wiring harness for simplicity’s sake. Since we still had the original computer, it made more sense to retain it since it has the correct VIN still in it and a Z/28 computer would have given us a lot more headaches to get communicating with all of the controllers in the car.

Since the automatic and manual fifth-gen use the same operating system, a simple transmission segment swap would get us back in business—all without having to make a lot of changes to the computer programming. With this in mind, we simply yanked out the old L99/6L80 wiring harness and installed our LS3/TR6060 harness (PN 92238351).

Once the manual transmission conversion was complete, we slid in the LS7 and Tremec TR6060.

Once the manual transmission conversion was complete, we slid the LS7 and Tremec TR6060 in. You can see that the wiring harness is already attached to the transmission as we moved the assembly into place.

Conclusion

Though this swap may seem fairly straightforward here on paper, it was definitely a pain to get the manual transmission into the car and working. For us, it was definitely worth our while as Lucky 13 is already up and running. But, for the casual gearhead that is possibly thinking about taking on this swap in their driveway, heed our advice. While it can be done, that doesn’t mean it should be.

The easier solution to this problem is to start out with a Camaro that is equipped the way you want it from the get-go. Perhaps the process would have been easier had we been building a stripped down road racer, but if you’re interested in keeping your interior intact, and using the car for any reasonable street time, you’re better of with a six-speed car from the jump.  If you want to build your own road racer with all the parts you see here in Lucky 13, maybe start out with a manual SS and swap it over to an LS7–unless you’re a masochist and really want to rip out your dash and then reinstall it, in that case, be our guest to follow in our footsteps.

Article Sources

About the author

Chase Christensen

Chase Christensen hails from Salt Lake City, and grew up around high-performance GM vehicles. He took possession of his very first F-body— an ’86 Trans Am— at the age of 13 and has been wrenching ever since.
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