65 Mustang Shifter

My son Ian finally bought himself his dream car: a 1965 Mustang. His car came with the original wheezy inline 6 and an automatic transmission. Before too long, the original I-6 engine got sold on Craigslist, and he had acquired a 1993 Mustang GT V8 as well as a T5 manual transmission. The transmission came with a non-stock shift lever that looked like it had been fabricated by some total hack out of the junk in their junk pile. "Wait a minute", I thought, "I'm a total hack and I have a junk pile." Naturally, I volunteered to make Ian a better shift lever.

Here's the shifter that came with the transmission. If you look closely, you can see a lot of porosity in the weld. I think whoever made it forgot to turn the shielding gas on. Not that I have ever done that. Anyway, the porosity didn't seem to bother the original fabricator because after grinding off the worst of it, they chrome plated everything, including the weld.

The original was really short, and was a long reach forward. We agreed that a new shifter would want to come a bit more rearward so Ian could bang off 2-3 power shifts in style. With that vague design in mind, I set off to dig through my scrap collection.

I did find some nice 1/2 inch stainless rod. I started by boring the end of the rod about 1.5 inches deep. Then, I used my home-made bender for flat stock and rod to put a nice bend into the rod. With 6 feet of mechanical leverage on it, the bender handled the stainless steel without any trouble.

The bend in the shifter allowed me to clamp it in a vise without having the shaft rotate under pressure. That would be handy because I needed to thread the end of the shaft with internal threads to make a mount for the shift knob. I was instantly reminded that working with stainless is a bear: it work hardens so fast that I was only able to cut about 3 rotations of a pretty beefy 3/8 tap before I could see the tap flexing and threatening to snap off. Having snapped my share of taps in my lifetime, I decided that 3 threads plus some permanent Loctite would have to do, and moved on.

Because there weren't too many threads in the shaft, I lathed the threads off the first inch of the bolt I was going to use as a threaded rod for mounting the shift knob. Because the bolt still had its head at this point, it was easy to wrench it down into the shaft. I wasn't worried about the minimal number of threads: the real holding power would come from a liberal application of permanent Loctite along the entire length of the bolt inside the shaft.

While the Loctite was hardening at one end of the shaft, I looked into welding on the mounting tab to the other end. I was a bit nervous about that job, because messing up the weld would mean re-doing everything to that point. I really didn't want to have to re-thread any more stainless.

I welded the mild steel to the stainless using mild steel wire and gas. I think if you are needing x-ray quality welds for a nuclear plant, then you would use stainless wire and tri-mix for the shielding gas. For my farmer jobs, using mild steel wire and 'normal' gas seems to work just fine.

When it comes to welding, jigging and tack welds are the key to everything I think. I'm pretty sure that a real welder knows how to jig things the best possible way in the least possible time. I take a lot longer, but I think I get acceptable results.

In this case, I clamped everything to a piece of thick flat stock to maintain alignment. The tab at the end was clamped to the flat bar with a washer of an appropriate thickness slid under it so that it was raised to the proper height. The shifter handle was purposely clamped to the bar at an angle so that with two clamps, I could guarantee that it would be both aligned parallel to the flat surface and unable to rotate.

Things were just not quite precarious enough, so I added a bag of cat litter before proceeding.

I started with a tack weld...

...then I flipped everything over and did the first real weld. After that, I flipped everything back and did the final weld on the tack-welded side.

In case you were wondering, all my vise grips have weld spatter on them by now.

With a successful welding job in the books, the Loctite had enough time to harden, and it was time to finish up.

Cutting off the bolt head would leave about 3/4 inch worth of threaded rod for mounting a shift knob. To make my life easier, I had pre-threaded a die to the bolt before gluing it in place so that after cutting the bolt head off, I could trivially spin the die off the shaft to clean up the mess caused by the hacksaw. That worked great!

The finished shift ball mount looked like I hoped it would. Not that anyone will ever see it.

I wire brushed the weld and polished everything up. I think it turned out nice.

For the very last step, I stamped both sets of our initials and the date into the mounting tab. Don't be stealing that car: I can ID the shifter!

Yeah, Baby!

RIght at home. That's a badass shifter.