As will be shared in a future article, a group of friends and I had the absolutely brilliant idea to have a Cheap Car Challenge. One too many nights of sitting around drinking and watching Top Gear probably. Well, my partner and I had the amazing luck (fortune? bad fortune?) to find a 1988 Merkur XR4Ti on the local Craigslist here in Metro Detroit. So it came to be that on Christmas Eve, we were driving back home with a heavily turbo’d, dirty, white 80’s dream car.......that was missing 3rd gear. Luckily the seller had a T5 out of a Foxbody Mustang that he threw in on the deal. Unluckily for us, everything else about this swap was about to go very wrong.

Merkur and a Laguna Seca, why not?


First of all some history, the T9 stock transmission in the Merkur is known to be very horrible. Why it was chosen for this car when the mustangs, from the 5.0 to the SVO to the 2.3, came with the much better/stronger T5 we will never know. European reasons probably. So, as soon as you start to turn up the boost and make some power with these cars the transmission gives up. Luckily since the block is the same between the Merkur and the SVO/2.3 Mustang, you can use the same T5 those had. All you have to do now is source your parts.

The culprit



1) Working / good condition T5. Make sure you do NOT get a 5.0 trans, as these have a larger input shaft on the trans side than the 2.3’s. You could have it turned down, but its easier to just start with the 2.3 trans.

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New (to us) T5


2) 2.3L Bell housing. I say this because the trans we had did not come with a bell housing, or a clutch fork. This shouldn’t be an issue, junk yard part or eBay.

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3) 2.3L Clutch fork. You should be seeing a theme here now....as the bell housing we bought did not have a clutch fork. Guess what is about impossible to find for the 2.3 T5. Yup, the clutch fork. Its not the same as the Ranger / Turbo Coupe (hydraulic clutch vs. cable), and its not the same as the 5.0 (different pivot ball location). There are about 3 still around in unsed stock from Ford, for $150. As this was for the CCC, cost was an issue. We ended up getting a cheap Ranger fork and drilling a hole in it for the cable.

4) Mustang drive shaft. This is actually really easy and cheap, just get the steel one not the aluminum as those are a larger diameter and will not fit. As it is, you will have to clearance the floor / E-brake brackets for the drive shaft to fit.

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Old drive shaft, Mustang is a 1 piece. Yes, that is also the exhaust that was on the car...

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5) Drive shaft adapter. Come on, you didn’t think it would be as easy as just bolting on the new drive shaft did you? The Merkur’s diff flange is a non-symmetrical bolt pattern for some reason, and the Mustang’s is not. Now, luckily there is a random machine shop out of VA that makes these called 460 Machine. They will sell it to you with all the required hardware for $180 and it is well worth it.

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Now that you have all of your parts its time to start tearing apart the car. Take everything apart and yank out the T9, you will have to remove the stabilizer bar from the body to make room. Now, the hardest part of this is getting the bell housing of the T9 out of the tunnel. Wiggle a lot, and I mean a lot, and it will eventually come out.

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Finally, its out!


Next step is to install your new clutch, followed by the bell housing and clutch fork. The T5 trans is wonderful in that it is separate from the bell housing and can be bolted together in the car. Slip the trans into the clutch and bolt to the bell housing.

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You can reuse the trans mount from the T9 with just 2 holes drilled into it. Take out the center section of the mount, screw it back to the body to position and mark where your holes will go. Drill, find some bolts that will screw into the T5, mount, add some poly and you are good to go.

Attach the drive shaft adapter to the diff, followed by the drive shaft to the adapter. The u-joints will hit the body, so watch where you will have to pound away and make room.

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Fill the trans with fluid, then attached the shifter. It “almost” fits in the same hole. A little massaging to the body is all that is needed. Attach the shifter and check your work!

This is the part of the story where I tell you all that hard work paid off........except the trans we had gotten from the seller of our car didn’t have 5th. Yes, we had traded a trans with no 3rd for one with no 5th. Next step? Source another trans and undo most of the work you had just done. Luckily for us this next trans came with a bell housing and clutch fork! So, 21 fasteners later (yes I counted) we had the “new” trans back in place!

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Back under the car...


Only this one makes noise, and doesn’t like going into gear, and did I mention CCC was in 3 days and we didn’t have time to shake down the car? Yea, its gonna be a fun weekend. Wish us luck! A full write up of the competition will follow sometime next week when we have time to put it all together.

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Finished product with new exhaust tip!