The shifting woes of the Getrag MT-82 six-speed transmission as installed in the 2011-current Mustang are well-documented; the shifter in factory form is nothing more than a stock mounted to a plate on a remote linkage that’s attached to the transmission through a series of rods and bushings, and offers all of the shift feel of a limp noodle that’s been sitting in a bowl of water for far too long.
For MT-82 owners, the fix is in. The issues have been handled in a big way, with a shifter developed by George Ciamillo and the folks down at MGW Shifters in Augusta, Georgia. Ciamillo, who has a background in manufacturing precision gun parts and pieces, has taken his love of the Mustang and late-model performance cars as a whole and fashioned a business around providing the no-compromises fix for shifting woes in these cars.
Everything required for installation comes in the kit, down to the small packets of thread locker, the shift knob allen wrench, and the single zip tie you’ll need to secure the shift boot. The Compact Race Spec package is well-engineered from start to finish.
This time around, it’s with the company’s newest redesign of their Race Spec shifter, which has a number of design features that have been developed to completely replace the factory shifter arrangement with precision CNC-machined pieces, which promote positive shift feel and virtually eliminate the chance of missing a gear – a common problem with the wishy-washy factory shifter design. We recently installed one of the company’s Compact Race Spec shifters into Project Grabbr; read on for the details and a driving impression of our experience.
The 2011-current Mustang’s factory shifter uses the aforementioned rods and bushings to attach the shifter to the transmission, and adds on a rear shifter mount assembly that connects the rear of the shifter housing directly to the vehicle’s body through a rubber/stamped steel mounting bracket.
While this arrangement is great in terms of eliminating any noise concerns, it does nothing for shift feel and will cause missed shifts. As the engine and transmission torque over under power, the shifter will become misaligned with the transmission, leading to drive frustration, or worse, lots of broken parts inside the transmission as it’s not built to take this type of abuse. Kudos to Ford’s bean-counters for saving a buck, but shame on them for saddling the company’s performance vehicle with such an atrocious arrangement.
The robust construction of the Compact Race Spec shifter is, put simply, BEEFY. MGW relies on their years of experience producing precision gun products and turns that manufacturing capability into the no-holds-barred shifter you see here.
The MGW Compact Race Spec short-throw shifter outdoes the factory design in every parameter, from the all-billet construction to the mounting design. Every piece has been engineered with a “no-compromises” approach, and while this shifter isn’t the least expensive out there (in fact, it’s probably the most expensive unit available for these transmissions), the old adage of “you get what you pay for” applies in spades.
The shifter assembly completely replaces the factory arrangement; gone are the rubber bushings, stamped-steel mounting plate, cast aluminum shifter bucket, and sloppy linkage. In its place, a billet shifter assembly with nicely-weighted centering springs, billet mounting struts, and solid steel linkage rods are installed. Every part you’ll need for installation is included, and MGW offers a number of different shift-knob designs as well. We chose the weighted knob with the MGW logo, but they offer knobs with the shift-pattern, the Cobra logo, or even a running-horse logo — it’s up to you.
Removing the console is a relatively straightforward operation. Take off the shifter ball and associated collar, open the console lid, and pull straight up at the rear. Take care not to pull too hard, as there are a couple of electrical connections underneath. Unclip those plugs and set the console out of the way. In our case, we were able to remove the shifter from the top side of the car (note the small notch in the body we made for access), although most applications will need the bottom-right shifter bolt accessed from underneath.
While the shift throws are not as short as some other units on the market, Ciamillo cautions that this is by design.
“We did a lot of testing on the track and on the street to get the smoothest throw. We also did a lot of research with people that are running high-horsepower applications,” says Ciamillo.
“What we found is that it depends on how much power is going to the transmission, as well as how fast people are shifting. It’s impossible for you to slow down your arm speed, so what we needed to do is engineer the pivot and the throw reduction so that you can shift it as fast as possible and you’re not putting undue stress on the transmission. We set ours to a throw that’s shorter than stock, but a very mild reduction. The reduction is not the number one priority for us. The number one priority is reducing missed shifts, and we do that by making the shifters as smooth and solid as possible.”
When the Race Spec shifter initially hit the market, there were concerns from some users that it was difficult to install, and some of the shifter had to be assembled on-site rather than it being ready to install out of the box. So Ciamillo went back to the drawing board and redeveloped the shifter assembly itself, shrinking the dimensions so that it could be installed from the top of the car – that’s the one we’re installing here. This redesign shaves quite a bit of install time from the process; as we discovered during our installation, it’s really not difficult, although a second set of hands is helpful during one step, which we’ll explain shortly.
We then went underneath the car and removed the previously-installed shifter bracket, dismounting the shifter bucket from the bottom side. Then, pull out the plastic bushings, and lift the metal shifter bucket out through the shifter hole in the body.
The unit retains the factory push-down reverse actuation and comes pre-adjusted from MGW. It will even retain reverse-camera function for those vehicles so equipped. Ciamillo says that a small number of users may need to adjust the reverse linkage stop to ensure proper 1-2 shift operation, but the company provides excellent instructions in the video below should this step be necessary. The video was also immensely helpful during our installation process. Beware – it’s about an hour long, but we found it immensely useful during the installation of our shifter.
Our installation was a bit different from just removing the stock parts and tossing them aside, as we had previously done quite a fair amount of work trying to cure our shifting woes in this car.
Drop the transmission mount, unbolt the shifter bucket mounting brace (the bolt head peeking out of the top), remove the bolt from the shifter linkage itself, and pull all of these pieces out. You'll never use them again.
The most recent shifter setup in the car – a new mounting bracket from another aftermarket supplier and a short-throw shifter from a different company – worked pretty well, but we just weren’t happy with the shift feel overall. That’s not to say there are problems with these components, as we’ve spoken with a number of enthusiasts that have used that exact setup with no issues whatsoever. To each his or her own, right?
The only piece that gets re-used is the small foam damper from the original shift linkage. Pry this out of the hole in the original piece with a pick, and insert it into the new arm as seen here. Use the supplied thread locker on the pin fastener, and install the shift arm onto the transmission. Make sure you get this pin seated all the way before tightening it down. You'll feel it pop into place when it's fully seated. Install the supplied Dynamat damping material onto the shifter brace and put it into place. Move back up to the top side of the car, install the new Compact Race Spec through the shifter hole, and install the fasteners. Don't tighten everything down at this point -- you're only checking shifter operation to ensure each gear selects properly.
Rather than running down every step of the installation (George does a great job of that in the video referenced above), follow along with the photos and captions for a visual aid of what it took to fit the Compact Race Spec into Project Grabbr.
Once you've ensured the shifter operates correctly, go ahead and finish up your installation, making sure to use threadlocker on all of the fasteners. We used a vise to hold the shifter in place while we installed the boot around the base. It'll take a little bit of wrestling to get the shifter back into place before securing the boot to the body, then move to the underside of the car and finish off the fasteners.
Simply put, the Compact Race Spec shifter from MGW has turned Project Grabbr into a completely different car. Prior to its installation, we didn’t care for how notchy the previous system felt. For some people who don’t put their car through its paces regularly, or mostly-stock vehicles that are daily-driven, that feeling might be OK, but we regularly take Grabbr to the upper ranges of the tachometer.
On the top side, install your shifter boot bushing onto the shaft, lock down the shift knob, then move under the car one last time to install the supplied heat shield material around the shifter. That's it -- enjoy your precision shifting experience!
The complete and utter lack of drama during shifts with the new shifter has been a breath of fresh air, and the car is now immensely fun to drive as a result. Positive shifts, no stress, no wondering whether you’re going to go 2-3 or 2-5, or 3-4 or 3-6. The shifter just guides itself into the right gear, every single time. For those of you who’ve owned a Fox-body car with a T-5, you’ll appreciate the positive feeling the Compact Race Spec offers, as it’s quite familiar, reassuring, and solid as a rock. Click, clack, it’s time to take back the transmission — and the Race Spec does it. Period.