When I bought my 1998 Firebird Formula well over a decade ago, I promised myself that I wouldn’t get out of hand with the modifications. Just a nice exhaust and maybe a good air intake was as far as I ever intended to go.
See, that stock 320 horsepower Formula is a totally different beast as it has evolved quite a bit over the last ten years -- it has an extremely aggressive camshaft, ported cylinder heads, and basically everything you can upgrade/add on an LS1 besides forced induction.
Not to mention, it was born an automatic and was raced that way for about 7 years with a high stall torque converter until we retired the car from the track a few years ago. When racing the car every weekend was off the table, a T56 6-speed manual swap was the next logical (for a car junkie at least) step.
I bought a full conversion, had the transmission beefed up to handle the engine’s output, and then put it together with friends in our garage. The clutch I bought to go with it was a LS7 clutch -- the new T56 felt amazing, but the clutch was weak from the start. I’m not trying to spark a debate about LS7 clutches, there’s plenty of forums having that same debate right now -- I’m just saying that something about it has always been less than impressive. About 3,000 miles later, the clutch is toast under very tame driving conditions.
Since all the work done on my car is done by me and my husband, there's a huge lump in my throat whenever we invest time or money into a part that doesn’t function as expected. I’m pretty thorough when it comes to researching parts for my car -- and the results I was finding for the big brand names in clutches were unsettling. I won’t mention those brands because I can’t verify exact quality myself, but they’re the ones that would come to mind when you think of buying a clutch.
Reviews included unnerving commentary like:
“The first one I bought from (brand X) was professionally installed and it failed within two weeks.”
“Now the (Brand X) clutch wont disengage until it’s near on the floor and sometimes grinds gears mainly 3rd & reverse it seems.”
The “big name” brands all seemed to come with big complaints from users, especially those with cars that had some power behind them. It was almost on accident that I found out about Monster Clutches, and when I did I knew that was my next buy. If this clutch lives up to its current reputation, it could be the next big name in clutches (they also sell kits for many other applications & makes/models).
So I placed my order for a level two kit with optional premium option that includes the addition of the slave cylinder and bolts.
The massive box was hastily carried to my doorstep by two delivery drivers who didn’t look too pleased about having to carry it, but in my adrenaline filled excitement, I drug it into the garage myself and my partner in crime and I installed it the following weekend.
Getting ready for the installation, here are my parts:
- Monster Level 2 Clutch, Pressure Plate, and Billet Flywheel
- Pilot Bearing
- Pilot Bearing Puller
- Release Bearing
- Slave Cylinder
- Clutch Alignment Tool
- Transmission Jack (borrowed from our friend Joe!)
- Various Socket Wrenches & Torque Wrench
Install Time: Should Take About 5 Hours
*Please note as you scroll through my pictures that this car used to be an automatic and some of the components, like the sensors, are still in place -- those aren’t relevant to this project.
I’m not going to bog you down with what size each bolt is or what to torque everything to, those details are easily found online or in your trusty Haynes manual. This is just meant to offer you a clear picture of what it takes for a “home mechanic” to install a Monster clutch.
Getting it into the air safely is priority #1, please refer to an article I wrote about this here for my full rundown on at-home jack stand safety.\
Just like with any auto project, getting started is a matter of getting things out of your way to reach your part.
Start by removing your shift knob and center console, followed by your shifter and stuff a rag into the transmission (this will keep the transmission safe once you pull it out).
I can’t speak for the stock exhaust, but I’m pretty sure if you have a stock exhaust, you’ll need to take it down. We had to take mine down because it got in the way of pulling the transmission down.
You will need to unbolt and remove the driveshaft next, the transmission crossmember, and the tunnel brace. Then you’ll want to put your transmission jack into place and unbolt, then lower the transmission.
Removing the old pressure plate, clutch, and flywheel is just as simple as unbolting them and pulling them off the back of the engine.
Getting the pilot bearing out will require a special tool you can rent for less than $40 from any local auto parts store.
Pulling the new Monster Clutch Kit out of the box, I noticed a few unique things about it. First, the quality is really impressive, second, it’s really awesome looking -- and it’s really a shame that you can’t see it when it’s done.
A huge thing that made this install go more smoothly than the LS7 is that you don’t need to shim the slave cylinder -- if that needed to be done, the install would’ve been pushed back another week looking for the shim. I do, however, urge you to measure it to confirm for yourself.
Like with all clutch kits, be sure to thoroughly clean the part before installation, dirty parts equate to premature wear and tear -- you invested in the part, invest in the few moments it takes to clean it.
Put the flywheel on the crank and line up the bolts. Use red loctite on these bolts and torque to specs. Next, install the clutch disc with the alignment tool, followed by the pressure plate -- install the torque bolts with red loctite and torque to spec.
Reinstall your transmission and crossmember and torque to spec. Then, install the driveshaft and torque arm, and torque bolts to spec -- now you can finally get out from under your car.
Since the shifter is already off, it’s easiest to fill the transmission up with fluid from here, so pour away. Once that’s done, reinstall the console, add a bead of RTV around the opening, install the shifter, boot, knob, and you’re done on the inside.
Next, you’ll want to bleed the system and you’ll need to adjust the master cylinder if you have an adjustable one.
As my last note about the installation, I started documenting this with the idea that there was going to be something “special” that needed to be done since it’s an aftermarket kit, and ended up discovering quite the opposite. This clutch kit installs exactly like a factory replacement.
I don’t say this lightly, and I’m not the kind to over exaggerate but so far, this clutch has lived up to its reputation as far as I’m concerned. The clutch feels like a stock clutch but can actually handle the power that’s being thrown at it -- it shifts very smoothly, doesn’t stick at all, it’s really transformed the way my car drives as a manual. I had no idea what I was missing by using the LS7 clutch initially and I’m so thrilled with my selection.
In conclusion, I am more than impressed by not only the kit, but the easy installation, and results. I can’t wait to get this Monster to the track and throw it up on a dyno in the upcoming months to see exactly how much difference it makes when you have a clutch that’s made to handle the power output of the car.
My final thought: this product is superior in every aspect -- I will be recommending the brand with confidence. We will also most certainly be installing another one of these in our 1974 Formula with LS1/T56 swap when it comes time to finish that project in a few months.
Author Elizabeth Puckett is first and foremost an auto enthusiast. Raised by a race car driver, Elizabeth has worked to set up several south east based car clubs, spent her youth on a race track, and is somewhat of a LS1 guru. Her passion has turned into a career where she works with sites like AutoFoundry.com and GMPartsOnline.net as a professional auto blogger.