Mark Houlahan
Tech Editor, Mustang Monthly
December 16, 2013

Photography courtesy of the manufacturers

Using the stock-style mechanical clutch linkage in your classic Ford or Mustang today is akin to still using dial-up internet service—it gets the job done, but there are several better alternatives that are more efficient at doing the job. Such is the case with both cable-actuated and hydraulic-actuated clutch mechanisms. Converting to a cable or hydraulic clutch actuation means smoother operation, lowered pedal effort, and more room for upgrades like headers, rack-and-pinion steering, and engine swaps.

Making the transition to a cable or hydraulic conversion often means changes to your clutch pedal and the mounting of some new hardware, but it is still very much a do-it-yourself project we feel our readers can easily tackle in a weekend. There are, however, many variables to consider when looking for the right gear to convert your car. Are you still using the stock three- or four-speed transmission with its push-style clutch fork or have you upgraded to a modern five-speed that requires a pull-style setup?

When converting to a hydraulic setup, you also have to consider if you want an internal or external slave cylinder to actuate the clutch. The '05 and up Mustang transmissions utilize an internal slave/hydraulic release bearing, so if you're swapping a modern modular drivetrain into your classic Ford or Mustang, you don't have much of a choice, but there are aftermarket kits that offer either setup for other transmissions—just understand that an internal slave will require removal of the transmission for installation. This may not be an issue if you're upgrading to a five-speed swap at the same time, but if your trans is already installed, your best solution might be an external slave setup (that actuates against the stock clutch fork) or a cable-actuated setup.

We reached out to the major sources of both cable and hydraulic conversion kits for Mustangs and other classic Fords to see what they offer, how each conversion works, what is included in each conversion, and what their features, and optional parts are. Check out the hardware we found below and then determine what will be the best plan of attack for both your project and your budget.

American Powertrain

The crew at American Powertrain has hydraulic clutch solutions for vintage Mustangs that utilize a billet firewall adapter mount for their Wilwood-supplied master cylinder for a clean installation that requires the minimum of drilling. The Hydramax system from American Powertrain features a hydraulic clutch release bearing (similar to the '05 and up Mustang's OE hardware). This setup reduces clutter under the car and offers more room for exhaust and other under-car necessities, but it does require removal of the transmission for installation (which is rarely an issue as most people install their Hydramax kit during conversion to a five-speed). American Powertrain offers Hydramax kits for vintage Mustangs with Top Loader four-speeds, as well as all modern five-speed and six-speed transmission conversions. For classic Ford applications, American Powertrain offers an adjustable clutch master cylinder mounting system. With this setup, you simply align the universal mount over your existing clutch rod hole and adjust the master cylinder pushrod angle to achieve the proper pushrod stroke.

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Forte's Parts Connection

Mike Forte originated the aftermarket aluminum clutch quadrant and firewall cable adjuster for the late-model Mustang market way back in the early 1990s, and he's been behind his old-school performance shop's desk ever since, designing all sorts of transmission and clutch parts for vintage Mustangs, Factory Five Cobra replicas, and more—he even creates one-off parts to get Tremec's venerable five-speed behind all manner of unique rides (ever hear of an Iso Rivolta? He's got a trans swap kit for it!).

Mike's hydraulic clutch offerings for vintage Mustangs became extensions of his Tremec five-speed conversion kits for vintage Mustangs and Fords (for both small- and big-block) and feature CNC hydraulic external slaves in both push and pull configurations. Besides its hydraulic clutch conversions, Forte's Parts Connection offers a slew of unique parts for five-speed swaps including speedometer port plugs (for use when the TKO-500/600 built-in electronic speed sensor is utilized or for a T-5 when a GPS speedometer is installed), transmission mount spacers, mid-shift conversions, and more.

Determine what will be the best plan of attack for both your project and your budget

McLeod Racing

McLeod is a name synonymous with clutch components and has offered all manner of clutch discs, pressure plates, and other hardware for decades. The company's latest foray is hydraulic clutch actuation kits for various model cars with pre-fabricated mounting parts to make the job easier. McLeod Racing carries a full line of hydraulic release bearings for most any trans application, so if you have a driveline conversion or are building something special, its line of 1300- and 1400-series hydraulic release bearings will work with everything from ZF transaxles found in the Pantera to Top Loader four-speeds to the latest Tremec TKO-series transmissions. Whatever trans you're bolting up to your engine, one of McLeod Racing's hydraulic release bearings will fit it.

Though its lines of hydraulic release bearings, external slaves, and master cylinders have been available for many years, McLeod Racing's new '65-'66 Mustang firewall kit saves a lot of installation hassle by providing a pre-cut and formed mounting bracket for the master cylinder that also doubles as the mounting bracket for the hydraulic fluid remote reservoir. All hardware included makes it easy to connect to the stock clutch pedal as well. Just pair it with the appropriate hardware at the transmission (internal or external slave) and you're in business.

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Modern Driveline

Bruce Couture's Modern Driveline is another transmission conversion and hardware company that was born out of Bruce's necessity for quality parts, after he bought another company's product for his own '65 Mustang way back in 1996 to convert his coupe from an auto to a T-5 five-speed. The T-5 five-speed, commonly found in '83-'95 5.0L Mustangs, was starting to take off as a nice conversion for early Mustangs to add a lighter, stronger manual trans with overdrive and Bruce wanted to add one to his coupe. He was less than enthused by what came out of the parts box when it arrived, launching Bruce full steam ahead into Modern Driveline and creating a plethora of conversion kits, upgrades, and more. Modern Driveline's latest is its LF hydraulic clutch kits to complement the company's long standing cable clutch conversion kits it has offered for years.

The cable clutch conversion offered by Modern Driveline has been one of the company's top sellers for years, and there's an easy answer for that—it's easy to install and it works! The kit features a reinforcement bracket that bolts to the firewall, which also locates the clutch cable, requiring a hole to be drilled for cable passage through the firewall (the old clutch rod hole is plugged). The kit is designed for modern five-speed conversions, but with an optional aftermarket bellhousing the cable conversion can be retrofitted to older three- and four-speed transmissions as well.

Modern Driveline's new LF series hydraulic clutch kits can be had with an internal hydraulic release bearing design or with an external slave cylinder design. They both have their merits, with the internal bearing requiring trans removal, yet offering more under car room and the external slave being easier to install but possibly interfering with exhaust or other under car hardware. Both systems use Wilwood master cylinders and Modern-Driveline-designed attaching hardware. The master cylinder mount doubles as a bracket for the cantilever assembly that goes between the firewall and pedal assembly. This ensures proper pedal ratio with the master cylinder mounted in the original clutch pushrod hole location. Modern Driveline also offers reproduction clutch pedals with a unique two-piece assembly (pedal and cross shaft bolt together) for easier underdash assembly.

For Steve Wilkes, aka Mustang Steve, figuring out a way to adapt modern brakes, manual overdrive transmission, and other goodies to enhance the driving experience of his '66 fastback led to his rising list of products on his Mustang Steve website. For his T-5 manual trans swap, he developed his own cable clutch conversion kit that is one of his top sellers. Steve's cable clutch conversion kit, like all of Steve's parts, uses as many OE Ford parts as possible to facilitate future servicing or road-side repairs.

"We use the same cable as the Ford Racing M7553-E302, which is readily available from Ford or other vendors, as well as through me," Steve explains.

Steve's kit can be ordered several ways, including a base kit that you assemble yourself (welding required). You can also purchase master kits that include pre-modified clutch pedals and a pedal support with ball bearing shaft conversion (also sold separately). These are available for '65-'68 Mustangs and '67-'68 Cougars. The design of the Mustang Steve kit introduces a constant radius lever that pulls the cable straight through the firewall, reducing effort and wear on the cable. Essentially, Steve has taken the design aspects of the Fox Mustang cable clutch and retrofitted the design to the vintage Mustang, while adding adjustability to the design (what many Fox owners do with aftermarket firewall adjusters and cables as well).

Steve's kit can be ordered several ways, including a base kit that you assemble yourself (welding required)

Ron Morris Performance

When it comes to clutch conversions, Ron Morris Performance (RMP) offers two different cable clutch systems. These two kits are for '65-'68 Mustang applications using a late-model cable Mustang bellhousing (Fox Mustang or aftermarket equivalent) for modern five-speed transmissions like the T-5 and other aftermarket Tremec five-speeds. The first kit RMP offers is for '65-'66 Mustangs and requires drilling one hole in the firewall over the master cylinder for cable routing. This kit pulls the cable from directly over the top of the pedal with an adapter and clears power brake boosters. It also features a firewall adjuster for easy on-car adjustments. The second kit that RMP offers is for '65-'68 Mustangs and is a "no-drill" solution, as it routes the clutch cable through the original clutch rod hole in the firewall and connects to the clutch pedal and clutch pedal support via custom brackets. This kit is adjustable as well, but uses a threaded cable end at the clutch fork instead of a firewall adjuster because in the case of this kit, the outer cable sheath actually moves in the engine compartment to actuate the clutch fork.

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