How to rebuild the shifter on your '64 to '81 Corvette

text and photography by Greg Donahue

Is your shifter so loose that you have to hunt for each gear? Or, do you have to make a perfect shift pattern to get it into gear? Maybe the shift handle moves around so much that you feel like you are stirring a mystery brew with a spoon.

Sound familiar? These symptoms all point to a worn shift mechanism. Through use, the levers and pins all wear, eventually causing hard or sloppy shifting. In the past, about the only thing you could do was buy a new shifter and mechanism, but that has all changed. Zip Products has come up with the perfect solution - a four-speed Shifter Rebuild Kit.

These kits cover the years from '64 to '81 and eliminate the need to replace the shifter and mechanism. This is really a complete rebuild kit. It includes instructions, a new ball, reverse T-handle with rod, springs, shafts, pins and two different interlock levers to tighten up the mechanism. The best part about this kit is that it is inexpensive and relatively easy to do. Our '77 project Corvette had an extremely worn shifter in it, so we ordered a new rebuild kit from Zip and went to work. The installation was easy, only took about four hours and made our sloppy four-speed into a real slick shifter. Now, let's get our hands dirty and rebuild that four-speed shifter.

You will also need some parts: cleaning solvent (mineral spirits will work), white lithium grease, chrome polish, normal hand tools, jack, jack stands and a shop manual for your year Corvette. Shop manuals are also available from Zip.

Start by removing the ball, spring, T-handle and reverse rod. Now remove the shift rods. Make a diagram or mental note so you'll know which rod goes where. The E-clip can now be removed from the mechanism shaft. Slide the shaft out and separate the shift handle from the mechanism.

The shift handle can now be removed from the bracket. Remove the spring clip and slide the pin out of the handle and bracket. The shift handle can now be pulled out of the bracket from the bottom. We had to remove a nut and bolt on our shifter. It had been repaired with a 1/4-inch bolt and nut instead of the correct pin and spring clip.

The shift levers and interlock can be removed from the bracket. Again, make a diagram or mental note so that you remember how each lever is placed in the bracket. Here is our shifter and mechanism totally disassembled with all the pieces displayed.

Thoroughly clean all of the levers and brackets in a parts solvent (mineral spirits will work). The cleaner the better. Check all parts not supplied in the kit for cracks, wear and damage. These parts are usually all reusable, but if any are damaged, contact Zip for replacements. We wanted everything to look new so we sprayed the levers, brackets and shift rods with Eastwood's Spray Gray.

Now is a good time to polish the shift lever. A little of The Wax Shop's Metal Polish will bring the chrome luster back and make the shift lever look new.

When all of the parts are clean and dry, start the re-assembly. Start by lubricating both sides of the levers and the thinnest interlock where they touch each other with white lithium grease. Now, place them into the lever bracket in their correct order and check for looseness from side to side. If it is loose, remove the thin interlock lever and replace it with the thicker one supplied. These two interlock levers allow you to take the play out of any loose lever assembly and return it to a tight stock feel. Also, remember to lubricate the inside of the bracket.

Lubricate the inside of the shift lever bracket, shift lever and pin. Slide the shift lever into the bracket from the bottom. Line up the holes in the bracket and lever and install the pin and clip.

Now, you will slide the shift handle bracket into the shift lever bracket. Keep the shift lever falling to the left side of the interlock (when looking from the back of the shifter). When they are aligned, install the shaft and lock into place with the E-clip.

Install the shift rods with new spring clips. Do not use cotter keys. These spring clips do not come with the Shifter Rebuild Kit but are available from Zip separately. Also, remember to lubricate all mounting points with white lithium grease.

Reinstall the shifter mechanism into the car as instructed by your shop manual. Now is the perfect time to replace those worn or split shift boots. Remember you can have both an upper and lower shift boot. Place the T-handle with lockout rod and spring into the shifter handle. Install the new supplied shift ball to complete the assembly. Now, take your Corvette out and see what a new shift mechanism feels like.

Zip Products, Inc.
8067 Fast Lane
Mechanicsville, VA 23111

Editor's Note: The author would like to thank Scott Coral of Greg Donahue Collector Car Restorations, Inc. for his assistance with this article.


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