How To Make The Subaru SVX The Car It Deserves To Be

Illustration for article titled How To Make The Subaru SVX The Car It Deserves To Be

Welcome to Fatal Flaw, where I choose a cool car that is made significantly less desirable by one major, glaring fault — and show you how to fix it. Today's feature is on the Subaru SVX, and how to make its driving experience as sporty as its iconic looks.


(Photo by Alden Jewell on Flickr)

The Fault

The Subaru SVX is the Japanese automaker's foray into the grand touring coupe market. Its Guigiaro-styled body is best described as incredibly futuristic for the 80s, but a bit dated for the 90s. The car had a split window, the impractical likes of which were only available on the Lamborghini Countach until then. The only thing missing from the car is a factory installed bumper sticker, saying "THE FUTURE IS NOW!".

The SVX also housed Subaru's largest naturally aspirated engine to date, the 3.3 liter EG33 flat six, which was no slouch, with its dual overhead cams, 10:1 compression, and over 230 horsepower on tap. The engine, at least, was a contender against the likes of the naturally aspirated variants of the 300ZX, 3000GT, and Toyota Supra. That's what I would've said if it didn't only come equipped with a soul-sucking slushbox of a 4-speed automatic transmission. Although the entire drivetrain didn't suffer from any major reliability issues, the lack of a snappy manual transmission meant the high expectations for the model were never actually met.

That's why you can currently find these cars for less than $2000 is decent shape, pretty much everywhere.

The Fix

You're going to yank out that tired excuse of a transmission and put in something where you're master of your domain - a 5-speed transmission from a 90's Subaru Legacy, or you can go for broke and get the more expensive 6-speed transmission from a 2004+ WRX STi. The price for parts ranges from less than $1000 for used parts from a 5-speed junk car locally, to $5000 and up for the 6-speed with mostly new components, sourced on eBay.


My advice for a project this big would be to either buy a car with a blown engine and part it out, or buy parts slowly, that way you'll have a better sense of where the budget is going. Also, if you're not mechanically inclined enough to try this yourself (don't worry, you're the majority), a reputable shop would charge around $1000-$2000 for the labor on a project this big.

The procedure for both variants is the nearly identical. Here's the detailed tutorial, as sourced from TomSVX on SVXWorldForums:

Parts list for 5/6mt swap

__ 5/6mt assembly

__ 5/6mt shift linkage(be sure to get all the pieces)

__ 5/6mt starter(both are the same at least for wrx5mt and sti6mt)

__ Helicoil kit for starter stud(late model transmissions)

__ 5/6mt slave cylinder(hydro only)

__ 5/6mt Master cylinder(hydro only)

__ Hydro clutch line (both hard line and soft line)

__ Neutral Safety Switch(for pedal box)

__ Brake/Clutch Pedal assembly

__ Clutch Kit(disk, pressure plate, throw out bearing, pilot bearing)

__ Flywheel (transmission specific)

__ Flywheel bolts(longer than flex plate bolts)

__ Pressure plate bolts

__ Transmission mount

__ Rear shift linkage mount(stock or homemade)

__ Matching rear differential(n/a for wrx transmissions)

*If using the 3.90 R180 be sure to obtain a set of rear axles as well

__ 2" extended driveshaft(for all 5mt transmissions)(95-99 Legacy 5mt shafts are

known to work with minor modification)

*N/A if using 6mt

__ 5/6 quarts of gear oil

__ 4 quarts of brake fluid(bleeding brakes and clutch)

5/6mt swap

1. Disconnect Negative (-) Battery terminal.

2. Drain transmission oil and front differential oil

3. Remove Intake Snorkel

4. Remove throttle body (You can disconnect cables or simply move it out of the way)

Illustration for article titled How To Make The Subaru SVX The Car It Deserves To Be

5. Pop off TC bolt cover (small black plastic cover on pass side rear of engine)

6. Remove TC bolts

- Using a large ratchet with (24mm or 7/8" socket) turn the crank pulley until TC

bolts are visible.

- Remove all 4 bolts by holding larger ratchet/breaker bar on crank pulley while

loosening TC bolts.

7. Remove starter

8. Remove exhaust system

9. Remove front axles from transmission

- Remove roll pin from axles at the joint to transmission

- Remove lower ball joint bolt from bottom of hub

- Pull lower control arm down away from hub

- Pull hub assembly away from car while pulling axle from the transmission

10. Disconnect 2 transmission cooler lines (on driver's side)

11. Disconnect 2 large electrical connectors on the top of transmission

12. Disconnect shift cable from lever (pass. side of transmission)

13. Remove drive shaft

- Remove 4 bolts on the rear differential flange

- Remove 2 carrier bearing bolts

- Slide shaft out of rear of transmission

14. Place transmission jack under trans and lightly support it's weight.

15. Remove transmission X-member from body and then from transmission

16. Remove bell housing bolts

17. Support the front of the engine with a jack to be sure it doesn't fall forward

18. Slide transmission away from engine (this is not as easy as it sounds. This may

take a good deal of shaking and prying to break it loose be careful not to harm

yourself doing this)

19. Remove flex plate

Hey Look!!! The trans is out!

20. Remove center console

21. Remove auto shifter assembly

Illustration for article titled How To Make The Subaru SVX The Car It Deserves To Be

22. Remove TCU

23. Remove SVX brake pedal assembly

24. Remove SVX gas pedal assembly (best off disconnecting cable from throttle

body and pulling it through the firewall)

25. Remove brake master cylinder

26. Remove Brake booster (pain in the butt but it will come out)

27. Install modified/WRX brake booster

28. Pull transmission wiring harness through firewall

- Split the harness apart and feed needed connectors back into the car thought the

large hole.

29. Test fit pedal box and mark where the clutch master mounting bolt hole need to


30. Install brake/clutch pedal assembly (top mounting bolts on brake booster will

not thread all the way down but be sure they are tight)

31. Reinstall brake master cylinder

32. Cut a piece of sheet plastic to make a plate to cover excess hole from tcu wiring

harness behind clutch master cylinder

33. Install clutch master cylinder(may need to trim at the firwall for it to fit)

Illustration for article titled How To Make The Subaru SVX The Car It Deserves To Be

34. Install modified gas pedal

You should now have 3 pedals to brag about.

Illustration for article titled How To Make The Subaru SVX The Car It Deserves To Be

35. Use helicoil kit to tap a proper sized hole for the starter stud to be removed

from the auto and installed into the manual

36. If transmission did not come with electronic speed sensor, swap out the one

from the auto.

37. Install flywheel and clutch (you remembered to have the flywheel cut right??

And I am sure you also remembered to buy flywheel bolts)

38. Install 5/6mt (Mostly the same as auto removal)

- If using WRX trans disregard the following

- If using a 5mt outside of a WRX trans be sure to follow instructions for swapping

the SVX carrier into any 5 bolt side plate r160(found at end of my instructions)

- If using a 6mt with a R160 follow instruction mentioned above

- If using a 6mt with the Sti R180 follow instructions below

- Mark the pinion flange nut with a paint pen

- Count the amount of threads visible on top of the nut

- Remove Pinion nut

- Using a steering wheel puller or harmonic balancer puller, pull the pinion flange off

of pinion shaft

- Install R160 flange onto R180 pinion

- Tighten pinion nut back to original mark and thread count

- Remove long mounting studs from R160 and install them onto the R180

- Test fit the R180, and mark where it needs to be notched to clear the exhaust


- Cut the notch and be sure it clears the hanger

- Cut lower strap so that it secures the rear without interference (pic below)

- Install Rear axles into hubs

- Install R180

39. Install 2" lengthened SVX drive shaft or modified 95-99 Legacy 5mt shaft

- For 6mt's install stock SVX drive shaft

40. If using a WRX5mt or Sti 6mt- Run the two light green wires into the cabin

though the hole from the clutch master cylinder. These are to be used for the

reverse lights later on. If using Legacy/imprezza transmission, use an ohmmeter to

find which wires control reverse lighting by putting the car into reverse and into any

forward gear. Find the pair of wires that have continuity while in reverse ONLY.

41. Install front axles and reassemble lower ball joints

42. Install lengthened shift linkage

- You must make your own rear mount for the linkage. Pictured below is a good example of possible methods

Illustration for article titled How To Make The Subaru SVX The Car It Deserves To Be

43. Attach rubber boot to body in order to keep road noise to a minimum.

Illustration for article titled How To Make The Subaru SVX The Car It Deserves To Be

4. Install Custom X-member (may require some grinding to open up bolt holes for

proper alignment)

Illustration for article titled How To Make The Subaru SVX The Car It Deserves To Be

45. Connect clutch lines

46. Bleed brakes

47. Bleed clutch

48. Install starter

49. Lengthen speed sensor wiring using heat shrink butt connectors and 3 lengths

of wire.

- for 5mt transmissions only

50. Reinstall exhaust system.

51. Reinstall throttle body and accelerator cable

52. Splice 2 reverse light wires from trans to…. 2 wires in line with the neutral wires

53. Place 2 female connectors on the ends of 2 lengths of wire. Plug them into the

upper neutral safety switch on the brake/clutch pedal assembly. Route the wires

over to the auto wiring harness where they will be spliced into the Blue/White and

Black/Yellow wires (right next to each other) This will allow for you to start the car

when the clutch pedal is depressed.

54. tuck the auto wiring harness out of the way and be sure it will not fall down

55. Reconnect the negative battery terminal

56. Fill trans and rear with preferred gear oil

57. Start her up and be sure the clutch has full engagement and make adjustments where necessary. Be sure the shifter shifts smoothly into all gears.

Well that's about it. Good luck and always remember that is an excellent resource so if you run into and problems, the people on this forum will be more than helpful in assisting you.

Tom Johnson

What are the results, you ask? Here's what it's like to drive a Subaru SVX 5-speed every day:

Taking a boring relic from decades past and giving it a fresh lease on life is what I live for, and this swap is a prime example of how a car forgotten by many can be a source of hardcore enthusiasm and righteous hoonability for years to come.


Go find your own and make it awesome.

Tavarish is the founder of APiDA Online and writes about buying and selling cool cars on the internet. He owns the world's cheapest Mercedes S-Class, a graffiti-bombed Lexus, and he's the only Jalopnik author that has never driven a Miata. He also has a real name that he didn't feel was journalist-y enough so he used a pen name and this was the best he could do.



Daniel MacCabe

I always loved the SVX - looked great, sounded good, and had all wheel drive. However, the automatic always was a deal breaker for me. I love the idea of getting a 5 or 6 speed installed to get it into the league it was always supposed to be.

If I may offer a constructive critique: This is an awesome car, and I love the idea of the "fatal flaw" series, however, I think there may be a slightly better way to do it. This is a REALLY deep in the weeds technical article about how to do every last detail of the conversion. I think a better article would be about why Subaru only offered these in automatic, what the suitable donors are, how to find one, how much you should expect to pay for a transaxle, and then a brief overview in general terms of how the change is made. Perhaps mention approximately how many hours it took you, if it can be trusted to a shop, and most of all, how it drives before and after.

Thanks a lot for the article! I agree heartily that it was a great car that was killed by it's transmission. It looks like a great project. 10/10 - would hoon. :)