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MG MGA - 5 Speed Intallation.. Experiences..

For those of you who do a job like this once per lifetime and also dont have friends who share their love of oil and grease I have made a few notes below on some of the areas that gave me problems/delays/frustration and sometimes bloodloss.
The whole job stretched over 10 days and I averaged about 3hrs a day but included other car jobs whilst I had about 24 to 26 hrs on the kit incl reverse light etc.
1) Get good quality and high stands..I went cheapo and got a clearance of 35cm and struggled like I was in a straightjacket. Your life for a long time is downunder...You need another 5 to 10cm.
2) The exhaust to manifold connection is held by three short pathetic brass nuts that go round if they are coughed on. It took me three days to get one of them off. I wanted to replace with Barneys idea of two ss nuts but could not get in time ( I live in a metric world ) but managed to get long brass ones.
3) Get a special sleeve removal tool for getting the existing spigot ( brass sleeve ) out of the rear of the engine .
4)The speedo angle drive was a nightmare.. it had to go on with the gearbox in near final position as it is vulnerable and flimsy. I spent 2 hrs using needle pliers tryng to get the spring washer in place before going and buying spring loaded special pliers..even then it was a struggle and I hacksawed grooves in the plier pins to get them to hold the eyes of the washer.
I also followed recent advice on the BBS and filed off a lot of material off the corner of the drive to increase the clearance inside the tunnel.
5) I prewired the reverse switch ( see pic on recent thread ) and it ended up with about 5 mm of clearance inside the tunnel and was easy to install and connect ..I fitted a Moss unit under the rear bumper and wired it up and works well and looks natural.
6)The lower of the two starter bolts bottomed out on the new bell housing and needed 2 thick washers..I had not trial fitted this bolt outside car during trial mating of the engine and box.
7)Hi-gear recommend removing and 'locktiting' two bottom bolts (on the bell to box flange ) and part of the new support assembley after installation of the latter..but they could not be withdrawn as a transverse section of the car is in the I just made sure they were truly tight and will check after a few weeks ...
8)Avoid a backstep...I had removed the distributor cover during engine removal and during re-installation I bolted up the starter to find the rear metal clip of cover had been trapped behind the starter so ..
9) The gear lever did not interfere with the existing cover cutout but the offset bar underneath is too close to the underside of the cover and hits the cover whilst it tilts... I had bought an MGB boot as per HiGear recommendation and so I cut out the hole to an oval as per the bottom profile of the MGB boot and also raised the whole cover about 2mm by inserting a hard rubber seal strip between it and the tunnel.
The end effect..once carpeted.. is very like the original.
10) I read all about the horrors of oil filling the gearbox so I dug amongst my old boat gear and came across the 500cc syringe ( see pic) . With the wheel off you can get this in horinzontal and the plastic pipe into the box and fill without a mess. The box took about 1.3 litres. So with this method there is no need for more tunnel holes. I also find it relatively easy to screw in the plug using an allen key from underneath.

The big jobs ( engine removal etc etc ) all went well and this site and the Hi-Gear instructions were great.
...and the car is transformed..precise, positive gear changing and no crashing into 1st. Recommend the conversion to everyone !!

Neil Ferguson

Pic of the syringe...

Neil Ferguson


Welcome to the joys of 5-speed motoring. I am sure you will enjoy it. I was surprised with your problem of the gear stick extension fouling the cover. It is a close fit but should not interfere. Are you sure you got the spacing washers on the correct side of the supplied cross member? i.e. is your gear box sitting slightly high?

I made my gaiter. I think it is along the lines of the MGB gaiter. I cut a number of triangular sections out of leather cloth and sewed them together.

I wondered about putting my reversing light under the bumber but decided against for 2 reasons:

1. I thought underneath would be just too low for other motorists to observe.

2. Mine is a NOS Lucas L494 and I thought it easier to monitor its condition and clean when sited above.

Will you have to recalibrate your speedo or did you get a right-angled drive with the correct ratio for your present set-up?

Let us know how you find your driving experience.

Steve Gyles

1) I had access to a single post lift, and a four post lift. Along with more than one friend who is a professional mechanic. (I say 'I' frequently, but it was a team effort with me as a bit player.)

2) I removed the manifold at the head, instead of removing the lower fitting. However, I've got an exhaust leak there, so I'll need to deal with that later.

3) I used a standard puller/slide-hammer. There is no room behind the spigot for the puller fingers, so I just tightended the puller so the tips of the fingers bit into the brass. That worked great.

4) I started with a pair of circlip plyers with 90 degree tips, but I still messed with this in a similar fashion for twenty minutes before calling over another professional. He used a tool that looks similar to an awl, but with a couple of bends near the tip. This made easy work of pressing the upper part of the circlip into the groove. As the old legeng goes, it's all in "knowing where to put the x".

5) I installed the switch first, but had no trouble installing the plug later. I don't have a reverse light yet. I'm just planning ahead with the reverse switch.

6) I misplaced one of the bolts and had to use a new one. Replacements were either too long or too short, so I used a longer one with extra washers.

9) I used the standard MGA boot with no trouble. I thought I read that most of the problems with a stock MGA boot and cover interference was due to the non-short throw shifter. As all gearboxes now come with a short throw kit, this shouldn't be a problem (or did you not source the gearbox via Hi-Gear?).

10) The syringe is the same as what I used. You say there's a straight shot to the filler via the wheel well? I can't picture that being possible at all.
Dave McCann


You are correct. I had an early conversion (2000) with the long throw lever. The MGA boot had a tendency to pull the gear stck out of (I recall) 2nd and 4th when I lifted the throttle pedal - hence my home-made boot. I would imagine the MGA boot would work with the short throw which I recently bought. Must try it sometime.

Steve Gyles

Love the sound of that awl-type tool used for positioning the you said getting the upper part into the groove reqired special skills..and an arm with an extra joint! Do you have a photo or sketch of it as I think I will add to my tool kit.
Definitely got the oil in to gearbox from front and using syringe...there is space get syringe horizontal and reasonably close and the the hose in the box. Not sure whether there is some obstacle in LHD cars
Definitely had the gearchange interference and not sure whether I have the short throw stick ( I got kit from Hi-Gear in Dec last year and bumf with it also indicated need to cet and trim housing ). Definitely got all the spacers in right locations....anyway happy with the results.
...and got a special angle drive for my car set up and managed to use existing cable...speedo looks good but not been out on the mighty highway and checked with GPS yet.
Wired the light power single wire from the switched fuse and took the other wire back down tunnel then to left near battery holders and around to light ..fairly quick ..earthed the light on the body of the light .
Neil Ferguson


Peter Gamble has been supplying the short throw stick as standard for several years now. I have used both and neither interfered. Basically, it is the positioning of the extension bar on the lever shaft that determines the length of throw. But you have it sorted so end of story.

Because my reverse light wires came into the cockpit I ran one wire across the cockpit, down the edge of the floor and then strapped it on the the main wiring loom.


Steve Gyles

Now excuse my ignorance, but can somebody tell me what the advantages of putting a five speed gearbox in an MGA are? It seems like a lot of hard work to fit and a few things that are hard to service once it is fitted.
From the experience of my lowly 1500 with its humble 3 synchro box it's hard for me to imagine how it could be improved without losing the character of the car. Don't get me wrong, I'm not criticising those who wish to modernise their cars in this way, and I have never driven an MGA with an eighteen hundred engine and a fully synchro'd five speed box, so I don't know what the benefits are. But they must be something else because my car, in its standard trim, accelerates smartly through each of its four gears, cruises easily at 70 with extra in hand, and makes the most delightful noises in the process. Never do I feel the need to get into 1st gear whilst on the move, so tell me please, why do I need to join the ever increasing ranks of five speeders?
Lindsay Sampford

LS there are benefits as many owners on this site will testify to and they include better gearing over the engine power range and smoother/quieter running when at higher revs but I decided to go down the easier route of fitting a MGB 3.9 differential. As a MK 2 my car already had a 4.1 dif' and the MGB dif' took it to 3.9. Your car has I think a 4.3 dif' so you would get a noticeable drop in revs if you were inclined to do a swop. Takes about 2 hours to do the job but I fully understand your argument in defense of the standard setup.
J H Cole


My reason was primarily the frequency I had to travel the dreaded M6 for a couple of hundred miles or so. I put the 1800 engine and 5-speed in for that reason and it made an enormous difference. I then put in the 3.9 diff.

Basically, what you get out of your car at 70 I get at 80 and so I am better suited for keeping up with the motor way traffic. Whereas you tend to sit in the inside lane I sit in the middle or outer. All the MGA noises and acceleration are still there. It just makes the car more at home in today's traffic.

Steve Gyles

Am I right in understanding that the five speed gearbox alone does not up your overall gearing in top gear?
Lindsay Sampford

No, Lindsay, the fifth gear in the stock 5-speed has a .82 ratio, the fourth gear ratio is 1/1 which is the same as the forth gear in the stock MGA transmission. It actually works out to dropping about 800 rpm at cruising speed.
David Werblow

I love the 5 speed set up in my car and I would agree with everyone in that there is really no downside to the 5 speed conversion. It has a really slick change with almost no gear lever movement and is just a joy to use.
The gear ratios in the box are spread out better than the standard box too but I understand that you can select the ratios you prefer (at a price!) I would have chosen a extra high 3rd for overtaking, a slightly higher 1st gear and spread out the 1st and 2nd a little more, but Im still happy with it as it is.

I havent worked out the exact figure but I understand that the overdriven 5th gear combined with my 4.3 diff is approx equivalent to converting to a 4.1 diff.

The MGB engine in my car pulls really really well from low revs and my gut feeling is that it could probably pull a 3.9 diff without any problems.

The only slight niggle I have is that sometimes when I operate the starter, the modified bell housing sometimes knocks on the tunnel with a distinct "clonk". I have been advised that to stop this, I can loosen the new gearbox mountings and lever the box slightly to one side (then re tighten). Has anyone tried this?
Colyn Firth

If the fifth gear works as an overdrive I can see the attraction of the conversion. Don't think I'll be in a rush to turn my A into a motorway burner though, I've already got a car that does that job quite nicely thank you. I'll leave it the way it was designed and enjoy the nice peaceful A and B roads!
Lindsay Sampford

DW, I think your gearing is better than that. Your combination gives 0.82x4.3=3.52 equivalent differential. My best gearing is just the 3.9 differential. I calculate that at 3500 rpm your doing about 72 mph whilst I'm doing 65 mph. The 'best' combination of 0.82 fifth gear and 3.9 diff would give 79 mph assuming I've done my sums correctly.
J H Cole

Sorry , meant to say CF in my last post.
J H Cole

These are my figures I get with the 1800, Type 9 and 3.9 diff in 5th gear (not that I have tried it at 1000 RPM!):

1000 rpm = 23.5 mph
1275 rpm = 30 mph
1700 rpm = 40 mph
2000 rpm = 47 mph
2125 rpm = 50 mph
2550 rpm = 60 mph
3000 rpm = 70.5 mph
3400 rpm = 80 mph
3800 rpm = 90 mph
4000 rpm = 94 mph
4250 rpm = 100 mph

Referring back to Lindsay's comments about the modification, I guess it is all down to personal attitudes and requirements of this old 50s designed car. There are those who want concours; those who want the old feel of originality; and those who, like thousands of MG owners, take the basic cars and modify them to suit their desires.

Remember that back in the 50s there were no motorways in the UK. Sport car manufacturers were hell bent on producing a 'cheap' sports car that accelerated well and could achieve that magical ton. The gearing was optimised for acceleration, with sustained high speed driving not top of the list, just the capability to get to that target speed. The MGA gearing is, therefore very low and, as we all know, the engine is revving like mad when those top end speeds are reached. The Ford Type 9 sorts this issue out and allows us to get to those top speeds in much the same times but, most importantly, allows us to sustain them at reasonable RPMs. My 10 pence (cents) worth.

Steve Gyles

I suppose a lot depends on where you live. Here in East Anglia there is a real dearth of Motorways, the M11 is the only one that comes near us and it doesn't stay for long. The A14 is a curse no matter what car you are in as it tends to close at the drop of a hat or when some lorry driver whose driven half way across europe has a little nap whilst in charge of his 40 odd tons worth, so best avoided. So I tend to use the old routes, some of them can be almost deserted and realy enjoyable, and besides, are we in a rush to shorten the time we spend behind the wheel of an A? For instance, when we go north we avoid the A1/A1(M) and instead, use the A15, a lovely road where you don't have find a slip road to get off, but if you see a nice spot/pub for a break, you just do it. It goes straight through the mioddle of Lincoln, right past the cathedral with hardly ever a hold-up. A bit of a fiddle around the Scu*thorpe/Goole area, but then onto the A19 and away again. Much more fun than sitting on the M1 or the M6 for mile after boring mile.....but there, that's just me, I've got an excuse to avoid motorways if I can and I'm going to stick with it!
Lindsay Sampford are right does depend on where you live..and also why you bought the MGA and what you want from your car ..
The MGA was the first sports car I was aware of when I was a sprocket back in the 50s and I lusted after one. It took me another 30 years or so to quench the lust and I love my been part of the family for 20 years...but obviously it has the mechanical design of its time.
I spend most of my time on the far South Coast of NSW and there is the Great Dividing Range of mountains just inland I have to drive usually on very winding and hilly terrain and sometimes long distance and have always found the mushy gearchange a wee bit sad and a poor match for the excellent road talents of my car ( I am a total philistine..I have a non original front anti-roll bar,72 spoke 15by5 chrome wire wheels and 195/60R15 tyres.. and the car sticks like glue to the road) .
For me the 5 speed is a revelation... and not just because of the extra gear.... it is the pleasure of the swift precise change . The car seems now in a beautiful balance and whilst not powerful.. in modern terms.. I can now direct the power very efficiently .

..but we all have different approaches to many things in life..not just cars...and thank god for that. Otherwise we would be a boring bunch !!!

PS One result of all the work ..for the first time ever the clean cardboard under the car has no oil spots. I replaced or tightened every seal I could get at whilst the car was disembowelled . Wonder how long this nirvana will last!!
Neil Ferguson

I suppose my 5 speed conversion gives me the best of both worlds.
Whenever I attend one of the mg meetings or tours I seem to have a 100mile plus journey just to get there and usually it means me leaving either early evening after work or very early on the morning of the event.
So although I would much rather choose a B road route to the venue, I usually just dont have the time spare.
So the 5th gear helps me get there at modern traffic speeds (not saying how fast) and it is still much more fun in the MGA on the motorway than in my modern car.
Then I can enjoy the B road motoring when I get to the event and just use the 4 speeds like everyone else.
To be honest, once the car is moving I usually find I am mostly changing between 3rd, 4th and 5th.
If my car had arrived fitted with a 4 speed box I would have probably only considered changing to a 5 speed when the box needed replacing. But, having driven the 5 speed, I would now never change it back!
Colyn Firth


I think Neil and myself have said and experienced much the same, even down to the lack of oil spots.

I would add that I also hate the motorways, but needs must when the greater family are all located well south of Birmingham and I am 'stuck' up in Lancashire - and I am not knocking Lancashire. The roads and scenery up here, as you will undoubtedly know, are terrific, with the nearby Lake District stunning. There is nothing finer than being alone down the country lanes, the air blasting around the face, scarf horizontal out the back and the gear stick firmly embedded top right!

I just find the driving so much more pleasurable with my set-up. It does not detract from the car's looks, sounds, performance nor drive ability. In some ways it is so improved that the whole experience is enhanced.

Having engineered all these bits and pieces into the car, I look on it as part of the family. It's all mine. I did it all and it gives me enormous pleasure maintaining it and fiddling with it.

As you and Neil quite rightly say, everyone to their own. I am delighted with my own.

Steve Gyles

I just thought that I would add my two pennith Yep 5 speed the only way to go. Transforms the car. Am I the only guy who took out the floor boards and tunnel and did the job from inside the car in total comfort. you can leave every thing intact in the engine compartment. I first did this when I had the original box recond and it seemed natural to do this with the 5 speed conversion

David swaine


I hope I am not hogging this thread too much; that's what comes of being bored, detached from the car and dog sitting.

I installed the 5-speed from underneath, much like Neil. I found it a straight forward and easy modification, taking barely an afternoon. Subsequently I had a problem with the speedo offtake and removed the engine and geabox in the conventional way. I then found I had not fixed the problem and did it your way, removing seats, carpeting, floorboards, handbrake, tunnelling et al. Absolute pain. I wish I had never started.

Looking back, if I have to do gearbox work again I will go the conventional engine and gearbox out route every time.


Picture of 14 week old Harley attached. Run out of MGA photos.

Steve Gyles

Steve, we've got the five speed version!

Lindsay Sampford

...and this is my one speed ,no synchro or reverse, Scottish import.

Neil Ferguson

My Dogs drive the 5 speed... but then they are Border Collies.

Jim Ferguson


Yes I guess it would be a pain taking out the seats, floor boards etc. but mine had just had a total rebuild everything just came apart as every nut bolt or screw was new. I also dont have lifting gear. any way as I dont want to send you sad lot a picture of my dog I will sign off

David swaine

Neil Ferguson, sorry I took so long to get back to you. I thought I'd find this in the Snap-On online catalog, but I'm not sure where they're hiding it. Bent Awl seems to be the best choice of names for searching online. I found this picture on

Dave McCann

Dave.....many thanks for following through. Presume method is to hold spring washer closed with the special pliers and work the awl up to back of the washer and push back of washer up into this correct ?
Neil Ferguson

Put tension on the circlip then force it's top into place then release it. Without the tension I think it's difficult to move into place even with the right tool. Once the top is in the right place the bottom is much easier to place, or that's the way it looked to me when it was done. (The bottom is the open part and the top is opposite that.)
Dave McCann

It's a bit late to be addng to this thread but I thought I'd add a couple of points.
For filling, I made a right angle 'nozzle' out of copper tubing that fits on the end of a flex hose from a funnel in the engine bay. Worked a treat.

I drilled and tapped a hole in the bottom of the gearbox for a drain plug. I drilled a standard drain plug and safety-wired it. I don't agree with some 'engineers' thinking that suction pumps are great. Or that gearboxes never need draining. The hole is centred on the circular magnet in the bottom of the box.

The five speed is great. I wouldn't want to go back to the original MGA box. Better top gear; better second gear ratio; syncro on first.
Fraser Cooper

Would appreciate knowing if anybody ( or everbody ) else fitting the Hi-Gear kit had the same problem as Item 7 of my original thread starter ie

7)Hi-gear recommend removing and 'locktiting' two bottom bolts (on the bell to box flange ) and part of the new support assembley after installation of the latter..but they could not be withdrawn as a transverse section of the car is in the I just made sure they were truly tight and will check after a few weeks ...

I asked Peter Gamble of Hi Gear to drill and fit a drain plug in the unit he supplied yourself I consider it essential .

..and suddenly realised just what Dave's 'awl' tool reminded me dentist picked up the same this morning for exploring my teeth.

Neil Ferguson

This thread was discussed between 11/04/2010 and 15/04/2010

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