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