I recently recounted the story of finding the project car that my son Alex and I will be working on between now and when he’s able to drive. In doing so, I hinted at some of the distinctly unique experiences one can expect to have while shopping on Craigslist. For those of you in the market for car parts rather than a complete car, rest assured that you will not miss out on any of those thrilling, life altering experiences that will reinforce your belief that humanity only has gotten as far as it has due to shear luck.
Those of you who are more familiar with my previous automotive exploits will recall that I once daily-drove a 1995 Chevy Caprice ex-Virginia state police car into which I had swapped a T56 manual transmission. As the old expression goes, once you drive a T56, you will be remiss, if you don’t put one in all your project cars. Or something like that. So our build plan definitely includes swapping a T56 into the Cutlass.
When shopping for a T56, you will discover that there are numerous variations of T56’s, both new and used. At the pricier end of the spectrum, for about $3,000, you can buy a completely new unit (Tremec’s T56 Magnum) with a choice of gear ratios and shifter locations. Unfortunately, that’s close to our budget for the entire car, so we were forced to explore other, more wife-friendly (cheaper) options.
One budget-friendly option would be to find a transmission at a used auto parts store, or as those with a somewhat less refined palette might call it, a junkyard. The ideal donor vehicle would be a 1998-2002 F-body (Chevy Camaro, Pontiac Firebird/Trans Am) with an LS1. Unfortunately, they are impossible to find in junkyards in my area, despite hours spent searching every pick-your-own yard within a 100-mile radius.
Another option would be to search on what is the most complete collection of fine goods for sale online by only the most upstanding, thoroughly-vetted sellers, Craigslist. This opened up two sub-options: buying a transmission, or buying a car with a transmission we wanted and parting out the remaining car. Fortunately, used F-bodies don’t have very high resale values, so finding a car for barely the price of the transmission alone isn’t terribly difficult. The only drawback to this approach would be having to convince my wife that it makes sense for a home with three drivers to add a seventh vehicle. We had actually worked out a deal with one seller, but as I was about halfway through the hour-long trip to check out the car he was selling, he let me know that it had already sold. After I’d texted him to confirm I was en route to meet him at the place and time we’d arranged the day before, of course. We explored several other cars and transmissions for sale before stumbling on….
Option three, eBay. We happened upon a T56 from an LT1 Camaro for sale locally. The starting bid was $800. Fortunately for us, no one else seemed interested in this particular item, so our opening $800 bid won it. Ironically, upon arriving to pick up the transmission, I noticed in the same garage an engine that I’d seen advertised on Craigslist, in an ad that also mentioned a T56 for sale for $1800. Somehow, we’d scored the $1800 transmission for just $800!!
The more astute of my readers may be thinking at this point, “but wait, you’re installing an LM7, that’ll never work with an LT1 spec T56. You’re completely unqualified to be working on this beautiful, classic automobile.” But, as detailed in this article, converting an LT1 T56 to an LS-style T56 is a pretty straightforward procedure. The parts needed are readily available, and consist mainly of a new input shaft and front cover.
In a future article, I’ll detail the conversion procedure. In the meantime, I’ll be scouring Craigslist for a donor vehicle for our engine. There are a lot of GM trucks for sale at great prices from distant sellers who are willing to ship for free from far-away lands if I’ll just send payment electronically.