Tremec T56: The Most Versatile Performance Transmission
Arguably one of the most versatile and performance-minded beasts on the market, the Tremec T56 transmission sets the standard high. This premier manual transmission offers an incredible amount of power, impressive gearing, great torque capacity, and reasonable gas mileage.
Boasting 6-speeds of engineering marvel, the T56 transmission was built and designed by none other than Borg-Warner. Borg-Warner later transitioned over to Tremec in 1998.
In its later years, we have seen the T56 rise to fame for its use in the popular LS-powered Pro Touring builds. That said, the T56 transmission has a storied past riddled with performance highlights. The debuting of this magnificent 6-speed manual transmission was in the 1992 Dodge Viper. Then in 1993, the T56 appeared in the Camaro Z/28. Fast-forward a bit and the T56 made big splashes when it replaced the ZF six-speed transmission in the Corvette.
Since that time, the Tremec T56 has evolved its platform to take on several roles and iterations among GMs makes and models. Each new transmission containing its own unique performance specs and nuances.
In this guide we take you under the hood to dive deep into what makes the Tremec T56 so special. We will go over how they are built and what makes them so unique. We even add a few performance tips to help you get the most out of your engine.
Grease up, gear up, and let’s get to it…
T56 Transmission Build Guide
T56 Transmission: Midplate, Case, and Tailhousing
To begin, externally you’d be hard-pressed to notice much difference between the units, with the notable exception of one vehicle; the Corvette.
With the Corvette, the transmission in the C6 and C5 is bolted directly to the rear end housing at the point of output. There the torque tube is connected to the input, housing a prop shaft that connects the flywheel and clutch. Because of this setup, the T56 6-speed transmission used in Corvettes uses a unique midplate. This midplate is engineered to seal the front of the transmission. This is in contrast to the usual arrangement, in which the bellhousing itself would bolt directly to the transmission.
Heading to the rear, the Corvette’s tailhousing is also unique, mating directly to the differential housing. Again, this is in stark contrast to all other T56 setups where the shifter would mount (we’ll cover this in more detail momentarily).
Converting to a T56 Transmission
Why convert the C6 or C5 T56, and what does this mean exactly? To convert means to change the arrangement of the transmission to make it fit another application. In most cases, the goal is to make the unit into a 98-02 fbody setup, utilizing the hydraulic clutch actuation setup. This is the most practical arrangement, which will fit most any GM application. In the case of the Corvette T56, it will need to be swapped over to the style. Then it will bolt onto the motor via a bellhousing. This will require replacing the mainshaft, shift rail, shifter lug, midplate, and tailhousing.
Other versions of the T56 & TR6060 can be converted to be more useful for various applications as well. For example, let’s take the LT1 T56. The majority of hot rodders want this to work with an LS1 engine, or in some cases, an old school engine. Again, it’s going to need to be made into the 98-02 fbody style, while starting from the 94-97 T56. This will require the midplate to be swapped (front plate that bolts to the bellhousing), as well as the input shaft (main drive gear). Once these two components are installed, you’re ready to go. You now have an LS1 fbody T56 unit ready for almost any GM application. Some gearheads opt to make the move for their hot rods, taking advantage of several performance adaptations that we’ll discuss further down.
T56 Build Packages Available
TDP offers a wide range of T56 and TR6060 build and upgrade packages. Your transmission will need to be disassembled and assessed in order to know what if any additional parts are necessary to get the transmission back to good condition. Let us help you with your dream build!
The Evolution of the T56 Transmission
Just when you thought you had the T56 figured out, GM hits us with the Tremec TR6060. We’d be remiss if we didn’t touch on this model throughout the guide. So here’s the deal on what you need to know as it relates to the casing, midplate, and tailhousing.
The GM TR6060 production unit features an integrated bellhousing. This is coupled with a remote shifter as well as a flanged output shaft yoke, making it prohibitive for some builds. That said, despite these limitations, this unit holds within it several advantages that motorheads will find appealing.
First up, the case itself is significantly thicker and reinforced at critical points such as the flanges. Secondly, the gear tooth contact area is approximately 30% larger, which equates to more power handling capability. Next, the synchronizer assemblies have been completely revamped, making the shifts as smooth as butter.
Thinking about using this unit in your build? You will need to convert it to the 98-02 fbody setup. This means the output shaft, tailshaft housing, integrated bellhousing, shift rail, and several other items will need to be swapped out. This can be costly, so it’s not the best option unless you got the transmission at a great price. It can also be used without swapping the integrated bellhousing/midplate. However, it is more difficult to install, and you’re forced to use the new style slave cylinder, which is also more expensive. The better option is usually to simply purchase a new Magnum F unit. We will delve more into this later.
T56 Transmission Shifter Location
As individualized as your prized car, each chassis has a shifter location specific to that application. The majority of you likely know that the shifter on the Corvette mounts on the torque tube rather than the transmission. Thus, necessitating a shifter bar that is comparatively unique.
By contrast, the F-body bolts directly to the transmission, on the tailhousing. As for GTOs, they mimic that of the F-body, with one minor tweak. They are pushed to the rear and slightly offset with the handle located behind the trans, resulting in an ‘indirect’ shift.
A bit more dramatic is the CTS-V’s shifter. This particular one resembles that of the GTO but moving it back ANOTHER 2”. This means it is positioned entirely behind the tailhousing.
Ideal Shifter Placement?
In short, most gearheads would agree that a mount directly to the transmission (as with the F-body) is the best option. This gives the best feel and tactile feedback. This mount places the shifter handle about 24” from the midplate, or 29” from the F-body’s bellhousing edge.
When it comes to the GTO and CTS-V, the distance from shifter to bellhousing is 33” and 35” respectively.
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What About the TR6060 and Tremec’s Aftermarket Upgrade for the T56?
The aftermarket setup of the Tremec T56, called the ‘Magnum’, is the same internally as a production TR6060. One common misconception is that the Magnum is a T56. However, it’s simply a non-production vehicle TR6060, although it is dubbed “T56 Magnum”. It’s a somewhat universal unit used in hot rods and custom applications (i.e. no conversion necessary). The T56 Magnum 6-speed clocks in at 1.5” longer than the F-body type. As for the TR6060 in the 5th/6th gen Camaro and Gen 2-up CTS-V, each use a remote mounting setup. It’s on par with the Magnum XL. Plus, it can be used to convert to a solid-mounted shifter in these vehicles, as well as the Pontiac GTO.
For those with a GTO, the F-body uses the same tailhousing. This means that you can effectively begin with a GTO core and easily convert it to an F-body type shifter. Simply by swapping the shifter offset lever. The same can be done with the new Magnum F unit.
One other key benefit of all T56 transmissions is that you can use a forward shifter location. This is approximately 13.5” from the rear of the bellhousing, making it ideal for oddball swaps and trucks. This conversion is simply a bolt-on with the GM & Ford Magnum units. However, with the Magnum F as well as the older T56 units, it requires disassembly and modification to achieve the midshift arrangement.
The Best T56 Build Packages
Now that you know what you’re up against and working with, ready to get started with your own Tremec T56 build? Texas Drivetrain Performance makes the task at hand easier, with high-performance T56 build kits and products tailored to a wide range of applications.
Get everything you need in one convenient package expertly curated to help you get more from your next project.