In 1999 I bought myself a “happy divorce” present, a 1999 Ford Mustang Cobra.  With the new 320hp DOHC (dual over head cam) engine, T45 transmission, and sleek black paint I was well on my way towards achieving the desired major distraction.  In my mind Ford had finally moved the looks of the Mustang into something I very much enjoy looking at, yet the performance was merely acceptable.

 

In 1999 I bought myself a “happy divorce” present, a 1999 Ford Mustang Cobra. With the new 320hp DOHC (dual over head cam) engine, T45 transmission, and sleek black paint I was well on my way towards achieving the desired major distraction. In my mind Ford had finally moved the looks of the Mustang into something I very much enjoy looking at, yet the performance was merely acceptable.

 

Don’t get me wrong, 320bph (after the recall) in any 3400 pound car is going to feel spirited to say the least, and on paper this was the fastest Mustang in the ¼ mile and top speed ever.  More, with its 4 wheel independent suspension it went around corners better than anything to date as well.  Could it be the improved chassis, better brakes, and overall more modern car ‘tamed’ that power? I  think it did.  It certainly didn’t feel like the howling stump pulling 428scj in my 1968 Mustang.  In the end we settled on a Vortech supercharger kit , JBA headers, Bassani converters, Magnaflo catbacks, and other modifications that put the rear wheel power of our car at right under 500.   Not bad!

 

Don’t get me wrong, 320bph (after the recall) in any 3400 pound car is going to feel spirited to say the least, and on paper this was the fastest Mustang in the ¼ mile and top speed ever. More, with its 4 wheel independent suspension it went around corners better than anything to date as well. Could it be the improved chassis, better brakes, and overall more modern car ‘tamed’ that power? I think it did. In the end we settled on a Vortech supercharger kit and other modifications that put the rear wheel power of our car at right under 500. Not bad!

 

At the same time we changed out the full suspension,  putting the Kenny Brown Stage III components in their place which provided awesome cornering prowess. The Stage III kit came with Koni sport struts and shocks, sway bars, poly bushings, control arms, and many other components.  The standard shoes were weak so they were replaced with Steeda 18x9 forged wheels with Nitto 555’s later replaced with Nitto NT-05’s I still use years later.  We added many other smaller bits and pieces ultimately turning our car into a fun autocross and track day event car.   And over the 14 years we’ve owned it it’s become as much a part of our family as any inanimate object could.

 

At the same time we changed out the full suspension, putting the Kenny Brown Stage III components in their place which provided awesome cornering prowness. The Stage III kit came with Koni sport struts and shocks, sway bars, poly bushings, control arms, and many other components. The standard shoes were weak so they were replaced with Steeda 18x9 forged wheels with Nitto 555’s later replaced with Nitto NT-05’s I still use 12 years later. We added many other smaller bits and pieces ultimately turning our car into a fun autocross and track day event car. And over the 14 years we’ve owned it it’s become as much a part of our family as any inanimate object could.

 

Yet, the car had its warts.  The most serious of which was a transmission that fought to give up 1st gear and achieving reverse often required stopping the engine.  Many trips to several different Ford dealerships offered no remedy. I was basically told the T45 was a known weak link in the drivetrain and Ford offered no fix.  If you wanted the transmission to work as it should the more popular solution was to replace it with another model., the T-56 six speed.  And sure, upping the power and track events did put stress on the car, yet the clutch was lasted over 49,000 miles and I dare say had another 10,000-15,000 left.  On tear down there was no evidence of abuse, glazing, or anything along those lines.

We’re all familiar with the huge numbers older model year Mustangs go for these days.   And today I’d say very few owners don’t keep resale value in mind with every major change they consider and every hole they drill.  Even more for those with serialized and certified SVT Cobras, GT350’s, GT500’s, and even tuner cars like Saleens and Roush models.  Because of this I wasn’t at all keen to replace my transmission.  What I needed was a transmission that could easily handle the increased power and the heat generated during competitions AND to keep my original transmission.  So yes, I needed a magician to wave a magic wand over my original T45 and give it all the strength and functionality it should have always had.. but didn’t.

My original clutch was replaced at 49,000 original miles, including the cable and quadrant, with the hope the transmission would work better.  Crater Lake Ford of Medford Oregon pulled my car from storage a few weeks before my return (after 7-8 years) from Thailand, and cleaned the entire fuel system, change all oils including the transmission and rear differential, replaced the clutch with a Centerforce Dual Friction clutch and pressure plate, Ford Racing throw out bearing, Ford Racing Pilot bearing, Ford racing cable and quadrant, a new set of Nitto NT-05’s, and whatever else they think it needed for its trip across the country to its new home in Central Illinois.

The new clutch components did nothing to help with the issues going into 1st and reverse over the next 1000 miles or so the transmission really started heating up as evidenced through the huge heat transfer through the shifter arm and later by installing an actual Autometer temperature gauge.  The transmission became very difficult to shift in any gear and in desperation we drained the fluid to discover old burned oil that definitely wasn’t changed when it was supposed to be.  We put in Royal Purpose Syncromesh and it got better and we could shift again, but it became obvious the transmission was on its last legs.

Scouring the enthusiasts forums one name kept appearing for the T45’s over and over again. The T45 Source (thet45source.com) , a small company ran by whom I believe to be (I never asked his age) a young man named Zak Harty.  The conventional wisdom was to let Zak work his magic, or replace the transmission with the newer six speed model.  It wasn’t an easy decision so I thought it was time I chatted with Zak.  I sent him an email asking him to call me when he had a chance to discuss my T45.  I remember being surprised when less than 30 minutes later the phone ran and Zak introduced himself. (throughout the next six months I used the email method to ask Zak to call me no less than 10-12 times with the same callback success.  He must have someone monitoring his email)

I told Zak the entire history.. and he did something no one else has ever done when it came to my Cobra.  He didn’t interrupt and listened all the way through.  I told him I wanted the transmission to shift smoothly and above all else, be a pleasure to drive.  It hadn’t worked right from the very beginning and if he couldn’t give me a transmission that could handle my power levels, shift smoothly, and be a pleasure to use.. then I really needed to go with the newer six speeds.

He told me he could do all of that.  And my T45 would be able to handle the power levels my car needed, and it would be stronger and smoother shifting than a stock 6 speed model would be.  He described how he would do it, Kevlar this and that, carbon fiber thingys, 26 spline input shaft, billet shift forks, and the list grew.  Still, the quoted price was well below that of a stock six speed replacement!  He also recommended and sourced a new aluminum flywheel, pressure plate, clutch disc, throw-out and pilot bearings, and new bolt sets for each.  He took the guesswork out of the experience and I was grateful.

The time came to send in my transmission and Zak sent me a shipping label so I could take advantage of his shipping discounts, and instructions on how to pack the transmission in a stout but not too stout box.  Without a lift this was to be a job for my local mechanic in Champaign Illinois Peter B’s.   I’d met Peter as an autocross event and was immediately struck by how helpful he was.  A visit to his shop later on revealed an ultra-modern private shop equipped with multiple bays, new supporting equipment (air compressors, lifts, tools, etc), and a friendly staff.

A peek in the parking lot revealed this was the place in town anyone with an expensive hot rod, European model, or even competition cars came to get the best possible work.  I came to know Peter well over the following 6-7 months and he never displayed a temper, shortness, impatience, or unwillingness to get the job done.  He stayed on track and when the bill came it was surprisingly fair.  It’s not often I feel good about paying a car repair bill.

Well, a day later Tom (one of Peters mechanics) has my T45 out and on its way to Zak.  And a few weeks later Peter called to say he’s received the rebuilt transmission and new clutch parts and would begin reassembly the next day.

I’m not going to go into the specifics of the next 5-6-7 months, but its important to know the transmission wasn’t right the first time.  Zak took it back and inspected it, and sent it back fixed.  He even paid Peter B’s R&R invoice.  All of us were mortified when the second transmission also wasn’t right.  We were disappointed  and maybe a bit depressed, but when I talked to Zak he was professional the entire time.  He never avoided me, even the day before his wife delivered his first child, and constantly gave his encouragement that he’d get to the bottom of things and he promised I’d get what I originally asked for.

This second time back he kept it longer.  He installed it in a test car, drove it, ,fixed it, did it again, and through this process fine tuned and I dare say perfected my transmission.  Why not the first time?  To be fair I should say that I’m an ASE certified mechanic from the late 70’s so I have some knowledge of cars, but have been out of it for decades.  I do remember transmissions though, and they can take hours to assemble, more hours to install, and THEN you find out it needs tuning of some kind and you must remove, tear down, reassemble, install back in the car.. again.  Each evolution takes days.

And when you’re running an obviously thriving business those days come as a premium.  Zak’s job was to get to the bottom of the transmission problems, Peter’s job was to take care of my car and install it when it was sent back and my job was to have patience and not push too quickly for the resolution to an obviously difficult problem.  Zak obviously needed time to run his business and if he’s anything like me, when faced with an especially difficult problem I need to be in the right mood, not hurried, and allowed the time to get it done.

They say the third time is the charm, and UPS dropped off the transmission once more.  We decided to pull the clutch assembly as a precaution and I’m glad we did. What we found was a chewed up flywheel and clutch disc.. far worse than the 50-75 break in miles that were on it.  Frankly I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Calling that company I also wasn’t surprised when they first blamed it in an inexperienced mechanic, and then my driving, and everything but what it really was.. the wrong setup for the application.

 

They say the third time is the charm, and UPS dropped off the transmission once more.  We decided to pull the clutch assembly as a precaution and I’m glad we did. What we found was a chewed up flywheel and clutch disc.. far worse than the 50-75 break in miles that were on it.  Frankly I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Calling that company I also wasn’t surprised when they first blamed it in an inexperienced mechanic, and then my driving, and everything but what it really was.. the wrong setup for the application.

 

They say the third time is the charm, and UPS dropped off the transmission once more.  We decided to pull the clutch assembly as a precaution and I’m glad we did. What we found was a chewed up flywheel and clutch disc.. far worse than the 50-75 break in miles that were on it.  Frankly I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Calling that company I also wasn’t surprised when they first blamed it in an inexperienced mechanic, and then my driving, and everything but what it really was.. the wrong setup for the application.

 

Zak took back every part and gave me a full refund.. and we went back with the CenterForce Dual Friction assembly which has turned out to be a great product.  No chattering, positive engagement, and with our first assembly (before this transmission rebuild) , after a season of autocross and track events.. still looked like new. Properly setup the pedal pressure was a ‘bit’ less than stock.. surprising.  But by this time we went with Maximum Motorsports cable, quadrant, and firewall adjuster, and an Autometer transmission temperature gauge, Ford Racing pilot and throw-out bearing, clutch fork, and a custom build aluminum driveshaft.. and the end result is perfection.

And the third time was a winner. I have roughly 200 break in miles and the only vibration was narrowed down to flat spots on my Nitto NT-05’s from sitting in Peter B’s shop in one place too long. I’m still hoping they’ll work themselves out.

The more I drive the car the more I wish I would have done this long ago.  The transmission always bothered me from the day I picked up the car new with only 5 miles on the odometer.  The heat through the shift lever was enough to make inside the car uncomfortable.  Now it runs at a steady 160 (cool) on extended highway trips, and a brief stint on the track locally.. and it rose to 175 after five laps.  Not bad.  Well, great actually.  With just a bit of care on the drivers part each shift is smooth and right on.  I’ve had a smile on my face since.  And it grew bigger when Zak sent me ac check for the returned parts and the latest R&R fee Peter charged.

If you allow me to indulge:   Most people look at these last 6-7 months as a horror story.  I don’t.  I look at it as taking 6-7 months to rectify a wrong Ford should never have put in that car.  It was their flagship performance car of 1999. and frankly that transmission in stock form sucked.  But Zak waved his magic wand and now it’s better.  It’s what it always should have been.  And in the process I had the opportunity to meet and work with two very talented and honest mechanics and businessmen.  It would have been very easy for either one to stop working with me, to blame the issues on something else, etc. but they didn’t.  Both Zak and Peter stayed with me and got the job done and instead of a sour taste in my mouth, I have two great guys in my address book to call when the next problem finds me.  And it will.  It always does.

Thank you Zak, Peter, and Tom.  I can’t tell you how much it means to me and my family to have this particular car running this well.

Steve

 

Thank you Zak, Peter, and Tom.  I can’t tell you how much it means to me and my family to have this particular car running this well.