SOHC Automatic to manual conversion swap guide | Ford Explorer Forums - Serious Explorations

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SOHC Automatic to manual conversion swap guide


Well-Known Member
March 28, 2005
Reaction score
City, State
Lee, NH
Year, Model & Trim Level
97 2wd SOHC 5 speed
The start of the 5 speed swap. I scored this absolutely spotless 2wd 97 SOHC for $250 with a bad trans! I sold the wheels and tires the next day for $300 so I litterally started this project $50 in the positive. First step is to get the truck as high as possible safely on stands

This is the reason behind my 5 speed swap. I bought it with a thoroughly cooked tranny!

I bought a complete 2wd 5 speed OHV donor truck for all the swap parts. It was much cheaper this way and I got every piece I could possibly need. Unfortunately I bought this with a locked up 5 speed that needed a rebuild (we'll discuss that later) but the price was right. I paid $350 for the rust free purple Florida parts truck with brand new tires on it. Sold the rims and tires for $375, scrapped the cats for $140, sold the engine for $250, sold the rear axle for $150 and scrapped the rest of the truck for another $300. If your doing the math on it I got every piece I needed for the swap and put $865 back in my pocket after the price of the truck. So my total investment at this point is +$915!

Next step is to remove all the factory automatic pieces

You'll need to remove the front seats and console (if you have one) so you can pull the carpet back. Once the carpet is pulled back you'll see this silver plate on the floor

Remove all the bolts and pry the cover up.

-1997 2wd explorer sport, SOHC 4.0l, 5 speed conversion, Magnaflow exhaust, K&N, lowered a bit with some 18x10" Ford Racing Cobra rep's.
-1990 Bronco 2 sitting on full width 3/4 ton axles, lockers front and rear, custom linked suspension, 97 ex V8 engine and trans with full OBD2, 38" swappers.

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On to the parts truck!

Now get back onto the parts truck and start stripping it out! (Beer helps with this step!)

This is what you need out of the donor. After comparing pieces I found the driveshafts were the same for both the 5r55e and M5OD on the 2wd. The cross member was also the same.

From the interior you need the column, pedal assembly, clutch master cylinder and neutral safety switch. I found it was easier to pull the dash on the parts truck for this step to get to the upper bolts on the pedal assembly. Plus I didn't care about the parts truck and it didn't have to go back together.


This is what it should look like inside if you grabbed enough parts!

Close ratio gear set into the 4.0l M5ODR1

OK I'm not going to go into great detail on this part because I'm sure there's other write ups somewhere but it was a part of my particular swap so I'm including it here.

I started with the blown 2wd OHV 4.0l trans out of the parts truck and a second 2wd trans out of a 99 2.3l ranger. I had to use the 97 tailshaft housing because mine has the VSS in the housing and not in the rear axle like 98+ did.

I'd never gotten inside a transmission before now so this whole deal was learn as I go but it was fairly straight forward and i just took my time and triple checked things as I went along. First step is to carefully empty the 4.0l case looking for the cause of the issue.

I found it! That shaft is supposed to be completely smooth and as round as the raised lip seen in the pic. That happened to be my tailshaft out of the 4.0l trans. After lots of research and looking up parts lists for both transmissions I found out they only use 2 different shafts for all the M5ODR1 trans. One for 4x4 and the other for 2wd. This is for ALL years and all engine sizes.

The second issue was all the Synchro's being severely worn and damaged

Next up I gutted the 2.3l trans in a separate area of the shop so no parts were mixed up with the 4.0l junk.

I used EVERYTHING from the 2.3l in the 4.0l case. It had very low miles and everything still looked like new. Assembly was the opposite of disassembly and straight forward after I reread my notes and found the missing gear I forgot the first time.

**side note** if I were doing this swap again I wouldn't swap in the low gear set with the SOHC unless you have a 3.55 or 3.27 rear axle. I thought it would help my launches but with the combination of the 3.73's in my truck, the 245/45r18 tires and low gear set trans I could launch in second gear smoking the tires. At 83mph my truck thought it was going 108mph and would trip the speed governor. Perfect swap/upgrade if your running stock size or larger tires though!

Here comes the good stuff!

Ok, big things happening! Trans is now under the truck!! The flywheel from a 97 Explorer or ranger is the same 8 bolt crank pattern as the SOHC, earlier years are only 6 bolt and wont work. My parts truck happened to have all new clutch parts installed with the new tires so I scored there too and saved some more money. Once the clutch is aligned and torqued down the tranny slides right in place and bolts up just like the auto. Make sure to use the manual trans starter, it is different. The OHV starter bolts right on and works fine. Tighten up the crossmember bolts, slide in the driveshaft and bolt up the rear. Next up is reinstalling the exhaust. Almost done! Now move back to the interior.

First step here is removing the automatic steering column and peddles. I did this part without removing the dashboard or loosening any of it. It was not easy and I swore...A LOT...but in the end managed to do it all without removing any more than you see in the pics. Since you've already practiced removing all this in the parts truck this should go smooth with no broken pieces. One thing to note here is I reused my factory auto gauge cluster. On the shift indicator there is a clip that allows you to remove the indicator completely and snap in the blank plastic piece from the manual trans cluster. The manual pieces install exactly how the auto parts came out, you've done the removal twice now so your a pro at this point! Everything aside from the neutral safety switch bolts or plugs in as if its supposed to be there so you shouldn't get too confused on this part. The hardest part of the job is getting the pedal assembly in and bolted (you'll see what I mean) and installing the clutch master cyl.

Now over to the transmission plate. Install the plate from the 5 speed truck in place of the solid metal plate that you already removed in stage 1 of this write up. Put the interior back together and install the shifter.

Step back and smile because it looks bad ass!






Home stretch!

Now comes the stressful job of making your custom harness to trick the ECU into thinking it still has an automatic in it and its working correctly. There are other write ups on this particular part which I robbed my method from. Basic run down on it is you need to jump a few wires, loop a few wires together, remove the shift solenoids from the automatic and plug them into your modified trans harness, wire in the back up light connector from the parts truck and wire your manual neutral safety connector into the appropriate wires on the automatic harness. Or you can spend around $400 for a custom tune and an SCT tuner to remove the shift functions from your ECU. I finished mine quickly and didn't want to wait for a tuner so I made my own trick harness for free.

Since the exhaust was all removed I took advantage and had a custom bent Magnaflow stainless exhaust made for mine.

Here's the finished interior with my full length console reinstalled. There is a company who makes a shift boot specifically for using a full length console with a 5 speed.

Now go have some fun with it! The difference in power will surprise you.

Awesome. I'm getting ready to do this to the 4x4 I have. nice guide.

Well, I can't afford 4 grand for the lightning, so I guess I'll just do a manual trans on the explorer instead lol time to go shopping at jy's!
Btw, did you remove the steering column just to remove and reinstall the pedals?!