It is hard to imagine a time when modern 5- and 6-speed transmissions weren’t the norm. Drivers had no idea what it was like to have smooth and precise gear shifting combined with low rear-axle gear ratios and one or two overdrives to keep highway driving realistic. But when Bob Hanlon started his namesake transmission business, modern 5-speeds were still relatively new, 6-speeds were exotic items and the legendary T-56 hadn’t yet changed the world.
Hanlon Motorsports is one of the oldest TREMEC distributors. It opened in 1992, just as the automotive performance world was at the dawn of a new era. Bob could see the potential high demand for rebuilding and modifying TREMEC T-5 transmissions. He was already becoming well known for his skills in that area, so he continued racing while shifting his off-the-track focus to Hanlon Motorsports.
We sat down with Bob’s son, Andrew, to find out more about the business and the man who started it.
- When did you first open?
Bob opened the doors January 1992 just as the market was really starting to take off.
2. How did he get started in the business?
In 1983, Bob purchased his now-famous 1983 Ford Mustang GT, which later became known as the “Amish Buggy” – a nod to the gunmetal gray and black color scheme. He would drive the car to the track, break a gear and limp it home, then repair it himself. Friends found out and started sending him their transmissions for repair. In January 1992, Hanlon Motorsports was born to meet the demand for T-5 repairs, and then later, upgrades.
3. What started his passion for cars and working on them?
At 15, Bob began his automotive passion by building a 1964½ Mustang from the ground up in his parents’ driveway. In 1979, he started his automotive career when he landed his first job at Stauffers Automotive Machine Shop in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. In 1980, Bob graduated from vocational Technical College High School in Phoenixville, where he specialized in automotive education.
4. What’s Bob’s most memorable car?
His Mustang GT. It has a 351-based 360 Ford Windsor naturally aspirated. He also held the record at one point for the fastest naturally aspirated TREMEC-equipped H-pattern transmission: 9.15 at 152.40 mph!
5. What was the first TREMEC transmission Hanlon Motorsports sold?
A TREMEC T-5 5-speed, the one that started it all!
6. What do you think the real allure of a manual transmission is?
A manual transmission forces the driver to be engaged and have more vehicle control. Upshifting and downshifting, making sure the rpms are in the engine’s power range to drive, whatever is necessary at any given moment. Also, learning how to balance throttle and manipulation of the clutch, coordinating all of that foot movement. There’s no getting bored behind the wheel of a stick-equipped vehicle.
7. What kinds of services and products does Hanlon Motorsports offer today?
Hanlon Motorsports specializes in TREMEC 5- and 6-speed manual transmissions, and our services include new units, parts, repairs and rebuilds. We offer personalized customizations and modifications for just about any application.
8. What kind of advice do you give to customers considering an upgrade to a TREMEC transmission?
We ask each customer a series of specific questions to determine their end goal with the vehicle. We tailor each package to the customer’s specific needs and budget.
9. 5- or 6-speed, which one is your favorite?
I enjoy working on both. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages, so it all comes down to what the application is, intended style of driving and how much room there is in the vehicle’s transmission tunnel.
10. What’s been the most interesting TREMEC install you’ve ever done or sold a TREMEC transmission for?
This is a hard question. Throughout the years, we have done numerous custom builds and conversions. However, the coolest one lately has to be the Lamborghini Miura SV with a Ford Coyote engine and a side-mounted TREMEC TKO 600 transmission conversion. This was a work of art, with countless hours and custom machining that was done to get this to fit and work properly.