Column-to-Floor Shifter Conversion - AOD
For All 1983-88 Cougars/Thunderbirds with the AOD Automatic Transmission
Page Revised: 10 May 2019
If your AOD-equipped Cougar has the column shifter, you know how un-sporty that makes the car feel. While it gets the job done, there's nothing like having a floor shifter (particularly in conjunction with a console). Just because your car never came with a floor shifter doesn't mean you can't have one—this article will step you through installation of an AOD floor shifter in your car.
Before you go rooting through the local salvage yard for parts, you must know the semantics behind doing such a conversion. The shifter and transmission must be in sync with each other or you're literally not going anywhere. With a column shifter, your AOD is NOT ready for a floor shifter, so there is labor involved in that. Then you must work up the guts to cut a hole in the perfectly good floorpan. And you must also install a console in your car if you don't already have one. This is a very involved project that is not for the weak. But if you're convinced you can do it (or are paying a mechanic to do it for you), read on. It is highly recommended that you consult with a professional, refer to a shop manual, or both before you proceed.
Setting Up Your Transmission
You will have to do two things to the AOD transmission to prepare for a floor shifter: flip over the shifter lever, and get the correct arm for the outside of that lever.
First the shifter lever itself—it's what does all the action in the transmission, as it physically determines the gears. A small part of it is on the outside of the casing, but the business end is on the inside. With your current shifter setup, you'll notice that the linkage (or cable, depending on the car) is coming from the front of the car. With the floor shifter the cable (or linkage) will come from the rear side of the car. Without that lever in the correct configuration, P will be 1 and 1 will be P on the shift indicator (in other words, things will work totally backwards). The old trick is to remove the shifter lever from the transmission, simply flip it over, and reinstall. That will do the job just fine, but if you want to get the actual correct Ford part you can do so—either way is cool. This is a complex job and not to be taken lightly, as it involves removal of the valve body. It's also why you have to do everything in one shot.
The shifter arm is on the end of the shifter lever that's sticking out of the casing. On your car the arm (where the linkage or cable is currently attached) is facing toward the front of the car. For the floor shifter the tab must be facing down. You can simply order a new arm from the dealer for a few dollars. Please refer to the photo and information here.
You will need to also find a shifter cable bracket that attaches to the casing. This bracket will hold the cable in its correct position, away from moving parts and from the heat of the transmission. The bracket can also be ordered new, and you must get the bracket for your transmission type. The holes to attach the bracket to the casing are already there so you need not worry about tapping new holes. Refer to the illustration at right for the bracket location (upper righthand area of the image).
Transmission Replacement (Optional)
Perhaps the information above scares you a little...or maybe you feel your transmission isn't up to par anymore. Or maybe you're looking for an excuse to upgrade to a more solid transmission. In any case, it is perfectly alright if you simply use another transmission that's already set up for a floor shifter. You'll probably be looking at an AOD, which is a logical choice. However, you have to know the difference in AOD's before you shell out your hard-earned cash. The following chart will help you determine what AOD from a factory floor shifter car will work in your car:
|Car(s)||Model Years||Direct Fit for AOD?|
|Fox Cougar / Thunderbird with floor shifter option||1987-88||Yes|
|Crown Victoria / Grand Marquis||1984-92||Yes|
|Lincoln Mark VII||1984-92||Yes, with modification to driveshaft length|
|Lincoln Continental (RWD), Town Car||1984-87||Yes, with modification to driveshaft length|
|MN12 Cougar/Thunderbird (including SC and XR7)||1989-90||Yes|
Technically the insides of all the Fox AOD's are the same, save for the Mustang V8 version which seems to have more clutch packs from the factory. The MN12 non-supercharged V6 AOD's are identical to Fox AOD's. The supercharged AOD, however, has had significant enhancements including a one-piece input shaft, upgraded C-servo, and a revised valve body. If you're looking to just swap an AOD in, the SC-spec AOD is the one to get (if you can find one), or the Mustang AOD. You can use the Lincoln AOD (Mark VII, Town Car or RWD Continental) but it is heavier and has a longer tailshaft, which means you must have your driveshaft shortened and that's an additional expense you should avoid if possible.
Determining Your Shifter Type
Not all factory Cougar/T-Bird floor shifters are alike! You must make sure that you have the shifter that's correct for your transmission type. All C3, C5 and AOD transmissions will use the same kind: with 6 detentes, or notches. You cannot use a shifter meant for an A4LD transmission, like those used in 1987-88 Turbo Coupes, since they have 7 detentes. The following chart will help you determine what's needed to use on your car, and subsequently from what car that you can use the shifter:
|Your Transmission||No. of Detentes||Floor Shifter Reads:|
|C3 (4-cylinder turbo, 1983-86)||6||P R N D 2 1|
|AOD (V6 or V8, 1987-88)||6||P R N (D) D 1|
|A4LD (4-cylinder turbo, 1987-88)||7||P R N (D) 3 2 1|
The only difference between the C3 and AOD shifters is the indicator plate that's bolted to the shifter. So if you have an AOD but can only find a C3/C5 indicator plate, for example, you can use it but you'll just have to remember that D is actually overdrive, or (D). Vice versa is also true— (D) would just be D on a C3/C5.
Like most things for your car, you're going to find the local salvage yard or eBay to be the most accessible places to find the parts for the floor shifter conversion. You will need the following:
Shifter Assembly with Cable
You will need to get the entire assembly with the cable attached and all bolts as well. It is very difficult to change a cable, or attach one to the shifter if it's not there. The factory Cougar/Thunderbird AOD shift cable is extremely difficult to find these days; using a Mustang cable may be possible but that is yet to be determined. Refer to the drawing at right for all the specifics and parts necessary.
Shifter Cable Bracket
If you can get the cable bracket from the donor car for the side of the transmission, that's perfect. It may sound strange but mid-1980's Crown Victorias and Grand Marquis with the AOD also had that bracket, so there you go—one more place to find it. It's relatively inexpensive new if you want to use a new part instead, your choice. Again refer to the diagram above for more information.
Steering Column Top Cover
When you remove the shifter arm from the column, you'll have a hole in the top column cover where the arm was. Simply replacing the top cover with one from a floor shift car will make things look complete.
Console/Shifter Cover Plate
If you already have a console, you'll simply need to get the shifter cover plate to complete the console trim. But if you don't have a console, you'll need to get the whole deal from a donor car. This includes all metal brackets (3 in all), screws and wiring. It's pretty much impossible to put in a factory floor shifter and not have the console. See here for instructions on installing a console in your car.
Radio Panel for Console Cars (1985-88)
If you are installing a console at this time, you'll need the console-oriented radio panel to complete the transition between the dash and the console. You'll also need to lose the push-out ashtray and put a lighter panel in its place. Those can all be had from the donor car. Refer to the illustration at right.
Before you begin, if you don't have the console already, you will need to install it first (see here for a complete guide to installing a console). This is because you will use the console as a guide for cutting the hole in the floorpan. It is extremely difficult to cut that hole without the console in place. Make sure the console is exactly how it needs to be before starting the floor shifter conversion!
First and most important, disconnect the vehicle's battery! Then remove the console cover plate and set it aside. Take a thick black magic marker (or white china marker, for those with darker-colored carpeting) and trace the edges of the console on the inside in that area. This will represent the maximum limits of the console, and consequently the farthest you can cut when you begin to do so. You can then remove the entire console assembly from the vehicle and set it aside.
Get the car all the way up on jack stands or wheel ramps, or both. You'll want the car as high as you can get it but not higher than you can reach. You do not have to remove the H-pipe or Y-pipe unless you are removing the whole transmission. MARK YOUR DRIVESHAFT AT THE REAR. Put a line on the shaft, and on the pinion, BEFORE YOU TAKE IT OUT. Your driveshaft is supposed to be "balanced", but it can make a major difference to your ride quality if you don't do this. Then remove the driveshaft. Note that if you must have your driveshaft shortened (when you use a Lincoln AOD), you must either take measurements before removing it. Talk to your driveline specialty shop first.
Next, remove all shifter linkage from the vehicle, including the brackets by the exhaust manifold on the driver's side. When you're done with this step, get back inside the car and get ready to remove the shifter lever from the column. Remove the steering column covers (top and bottom) and examine the lever itself. Note that it is held onto a separate shaft, known as the shifter shaft (highlighted in orange in the illustration at right). This shaft runs through the firewall to the engine bay, where the linkage hooks onto it. Turn the key forward and put the car in N, then turn the key back. Tap the pin from the shifter arm and remove the arm. Note that the lever MUST be in neutral if you're leaving the shaft in the car.
You must decide at this point whether or not you're going to remove the shifter shaft from the car. It's not necessary but it does make for a clean looking installation, and it also eliminates some weight and unnecessary components from the car. If you're going to eliminate it, you'll need to remove all the brackets from down by the pedals and from the engine bay (see illustration at right). Note that if you have the automatic parking brake release option on your car, the vacuum assembly is attached to the shifter shaft. You may need to remove that section and attach it to the firewall in order to keep its functionality; otherwise you'll lose it.
The shaft itself is pressed into the actual steering column casing by the steering wheel, on the right side. You may have to remove the steering wheel to see it. Once you've detached all the brackets by the firewall, get a punch and hammer and place the punch on the end of the shifter shaft, or follow the directions in the diagram at right. Then go to town—it's going to take a little while to get the shaft to pop out of the casing. But once it does, the entire shaft should be free to remove. You may find that it's easier to remove it from underneath the car, rather from inside. Take your time and be patient. Once you're done, you can replace the steering column covers.
- If you are doing the internal transmission work yourself, proceed to remove the shift lever, flip it over, and replace it. You can reassemble the transmission at this point. Also, install the new arm on the outside of the shift lever. Refer to this website for photos and instructions.
- If you are removing the transmission, do so now. Once the transmission shop has finished with flipping the arm for you, change the arm on the outside of the shift lever. Don't put the transmission back in just yet though; it's easier to install the floor shifter with the transmission out of the car.
The next step involves cutting the hole for the floor shifter. Cut the carpeting near the lines you drew, but come in about 1" from the actual lines. If you cut too much out, the console may not be able to cover it up. Remove the insulation as well, until you can see the actual floorpan. Be extremely careful not to cut any wiring! You now need the template to draw on the floorpan which you can download below. Note that it is roughly "plus"-shaped. Follow the directions and carefully measure out the areas until you're confident you have the spot. You can be off a little but it's imperative to get the cut as close to perfect as possible. Draw the outline in the area. Then....get out the reciprocating saw and make your cuts. Be very careful as the metal is not real thick and can jump around. Refer to the photo at right for a reference to what your shifter hole should look like when cut. For the bolt holes you need only to drill them out and slot them. Install the clips to the mounting holes, then bolt the shifter in temporarily. Be sure to put the shifter in Park.
For a template and instruction manual on cutting the shifter hole in the floor, download the PDF file here:
A technical note here: cars with factory floor shifters have a reinforcing plate welded to the floorpan underneath the actual shifter. This, in turn, raises the shifter up about 3/4". The instructions provided here do not allow for this reinforcing plate. If you have the time and the technical know-how to fabricate one, feel free to do so. Or if you've managed to acquire the plate from a donor car, install it now. Otherwise, the rest of this article will assume that you're simply going to bolt the shifter directly to the floorpan. While this is perfectly fine, any additional reinforcement you provide can be beneficial.
Now you can reinstall the transmission, if it's not already in the car. Reinstall the driveshaft and be sure the transmission itself is in Park. Then install the bracket on the side, the cable to the shifter arm, and the kickdown cable (again refer to the illustration at right). You'll note that there is an adjustment where the shifter lever bolts to the arm; you'll be adjusting it later but for now, clamp the nut down in the middle of the slot. You will now have to install a clamp to hold the shifter cable away from the exhaust, and from hanging down underneath the car. From the factory the clamp is pop-riveted to the floorpan, underneath the driver's seat. Be VERY careful when drilling the hole so that you don't pierce any wiring. You can use a pop rivet or a simple screw to attach the clamp. Get everything buttoned up underneath the car and you're almost home free. But be sure to leave the car in the air for the time being.
Next, put the console back in the car along with the radio panel. Put it together all the way, and temporarily install the new shifter cover plate. You're going to concentrate now on getting the shifter to look good, and line up with the cover plate. There is actually a bit of latitude in adjustment here. You can move the shifter, or the indicator plate, or the bezel on the cover plate, to get everything nice and square. If you don't have any reinforcements underneath the shifter, you will notice that the indicator plate is sunk below the cover plate. You will need to use shims on the indicator plate (washers are fine) to bring up the plate. Factory floor shift cars have their indicator plate sticking up out of the cover plate about 1". It would probably be impractical to try and raise it that high. Once you've got it all looking good, you're pretty much done. The last step is to check the gears, and having a friend help here would be a good thing.
Both the shifter and transmission should be in Park. Push the shifter button in, and go through all the gears. Your indicator should be in the middle of each letter as you do this. You should feel no binding or resistance when shifting. If either the indicator is off, or you do feel resistance, the cable must be adjusted at the shifter arm on the side of the transmission. Loosen the nut, slide the cable, and carefully tighten the nut, then cycle through the gears again. Once you've got it perfect, put the car in Park, jack up the car, take out the jack stands, and lower the car. You're now ready to start the car and put it in gear. If all goes well, you've done the job correctly and are finished. Enjoy!