December 1, 2003
Here's the stock shifter (left) versus the aftermarket Steeda Tri-Ax. Draw your own conclusions as to which one you want taking driver input.

I've written all sorts of stories for 5.0&SF. I've helped cover the hottest races. I've gone to the ends of the Earth to find the best technical stories [I didn't know Cincinnati was the "end of the Earth"-Tech Ed]. I've gone the extra mile to bring you the inside scoop on the hottest Mustangs on the face of the planet. But I've never written the ubiquitous shifter installation story. Why? Well, probably because I haven't installed a shifter since 1987, when a Kaufman-modified Hurst five-speed unit found its way into the trans tunnel of my beloved '86 GT (which I still own).

Things changed for me on October 30, 2002, when I took delivery of my new '03 SVT Cobra-the fastest pro-duction Mustang ever unleashed on the general public. I fell in love with the car. My plan is to slowly add the necessary pieces until it becomes a world-class street car that can handle any-thing I encounter on the open road that doesn't have a rollcage. Early on, it became apparent that something had to be done about the stock shifter-quite bluntly, it sucked! Oh, while milling my way down the thruway, everything was fine. But trying to slam Third gear in this thing meant gambling with the T56's life.

So, a call to Steeda was placed, and Dario Orlando dispatched his flagship shifter, the Tri-Ax. It's stronger, tougher, smoother, and-most importantly-more precise than the stock "spoon in a bowl of Jell-O" shifter. It also has a proven track record few parts in this industry can match. I couldn't wait to get the shifter in my new Cobra.

This is a project that can be handled in the typically-equipped home garage. My friend Tim Probst (remember the '01 Cobra drag test?) handled the installation while I snapped the pictures.

Steeda ships all of its Tri-Ax shifters with excellent directions. Access the shifter by removing the stock shifter knob and pulling out the plastic trim-take care not to lose all the metal clips. Once you get that far, the weather boot attachment bolts are readily accessible. Unbolt the stock shifter and either give a quick blow to release it or use a prybar as we did. With the shifter out, clean the trans surface and prepare for the Tri-Ax installation.

This is the only trick piece we used during the install. Tim scored some high-temperature urethane sheeting material that he fashioned into gaskets for the shifter-to-trans and shifter-to-handle contact areas in place of the usual RTV silicone sealant. We've been in other '03 Cobras with the silicone, and it doesn't help keep out transmission and road noise. The urethane sheets keep the noise to stock levels without leakage of trans fluid.

Access to the shifter is good, and the parts are easily reassembled as shown. Make sure not to strip the bolt holes on your $3,000 transmission!

After reinstalling the weather boot and console, the shifter is in. It will take a few hundred miles for the new Tri-Ax shifter to break in and feel as it should. When it does, you will be rewarded with one of the best feelings in the world-total confidence that the car is going to do exactly what you want it to do, especially during those all-important full-throttle upshifts.