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A New Transmission for the ‘ol Sedan Delivery

The ‘ol ’55 puts at least 10,000 miles on it every year and that old 350 auto trans. has been hauling magazines for the past 10 years, and well, you do the math, then add a bunch more from the previous owner- it was gettin ‘ tired! Needless to say, it was time to get a new transmission we knew probably wanted a 700R-4 since the majority of our driving was long hauling. The “hauling” part is not loads of magazines, but our 10×10 booth, chairs, even weight discs to keep the booth tied down in a wind storm and other promotional items all of which put a lot of wear on a transmission. We also knew that the summer of ’08 would have us on the road even more and we didn’t need a break down while going to an event – it was time to refurbish!

We called Zack at Gear Star in Akron to talk about our needs and learned that he’s been in the transmission business for over 25 years beginning at Tristar International where they manufactured upwards of 100 transmissions & 300 converts each day. Then in 1999 he started Gear Star selecting the best 11 builders that worked at Telstar and then 11 down to a top five team that is truly “the best of the best.” Gear Star has now become one of the first companies to manufacture high performance automatic transmissions to the specifications of the engines, horsepower and torque output. rear gear ratio and the application which it is to serve. To maintain consistency and quality during the building process, each transmission is handled by a single builder.

Zack said,”Ya know It’s funny how car people tend to want something from California, because they think if it’s from that state it’s gotta be good, but all the California folks are now calling us here in Ohio!” In fact, the West Coast has been calling him on a regular basis, since he built the trans. for the 2006 Street Rodder Tour coupe and a number of other of high profile cars and trucks and now their shipping units across the U.S., Canada and overseas to Japan, Germany, England, and South Africa. Top name builders like Boyd Coddington, Barry Lobeck, Southside Rods, Corvette Conspiracy Berea and Mongoose Racing Medina to name a few, have put their trust in Gear Star. Their success has caught the eye of lots of national magazines who have written articles about Gear Star that include: Super Chevy, Street Rodder and Classic Trucks.

The shop. which you can visit anytime, is a first class facility. Actually visiting is a good idea so you can get a first hand look at what it actually takes to build a transmission. Each and every Gear Star remanufactured transmissions are warranted against failure due to workmanship and/or parts in the remanufacturing process for a period of 24 months or 24,000 miles, whichever occurs first, from the date the trans. is in your car. In the rare event that you should experience a problem with one of their transmissions, Zack says he guarantees he’s going to make it right.

“I never talk prices at first”. says Zack, First thing is first, I want to know about your car, what engine, rear end ratio and what you want to use the car for?” My answer was “It’s a tired old Chevy 350 with a mild cam, 3 something gears and it carries a ton of equipment and travels 10 thou. worth of miles each summer.” He said, “ Only in the summer?” ”Do you really want to know about each time I drove to Canto AutoRama in 10 degrees with no windows?”

The following recommendation was made based on my needs. I’d need a “tow & go” gear package to be fitted into a 4L60 which many people don’t know or haven’t heard of, actually it’s the sophisticated version of the 700R4, in that it has a 4th gear but a more sophisticated valve body. Believe it or not, the 4L60 and its beefier counter part the 4L80 have been around since 1987. He also gave me the number for an underdash heater.

Great, but will it handle all the weight and give me a little more ummph? I’ll tell you about the ummph later, but first the custom gearing and what goes into each trans. at Gear Star.

As he said, my particular 4L60 was to have a “tow & go “ which means it has a different shift kit and a lower stall furnace brazed converter that gives me 100% engagement right off the line. Huh? Another words, my first gear will be a 3.06 rather than the 2.52. if you don’t know about gearing numbers, let’s put it this way, my orange crate couldn’t get out of it’s own way when it’s packed to the ceiling.

As we mentioned Zack designs each and every transmission package for your needs here’s how that works. He’s developed 3 levels:

Level 1= Basically one-step above stock. These transmissions are completely remanufactured using a mild shift kit and capable of handling 300 + horsepower and are perfect for the casual cruiser or for every day use or the budget minded.

Level 2= this one is Gear Stars’ number one seller! This trans. is usually put behind a small block (up to 400 hp) and is also rebuilt using all new internal parts. The torque capacity of the clutch packs is increased by more than 70% and a more sophisticated shift kit is used for a firm, positive shift.

Level 3= Gear Star recommends this for the 383 stroker and hot 350 engines and any hot rod or street machine that might see some drag strip use and/or are equipped with a high-torque 600+ horsepower engine. Additional modifications include 3 different shift kits, expanded capacity clutch drums and Kolene steels.

Level 4= this is the Big Block Package and these transmissions are able to withstand the horsepower of a blown engine. In fact the 4L80E is recommended for 528 Hemi’s, 560 Fords or 572 ci engines, blown or unblown up to 1200 horsepower. These are all mic’d and blueprinted for the absolute perfection minded person who demands the very best.

By the way, least you think they only handle Chevy’s Blue Oval fans can get high performance Ford C4, C6, AOD and E4OD transmissions and Chrysler fans can get a 727 that’ll handle everything from 350hp to their level 3 (727) 700 hp model and level 4 1,000 hp model.

The calendar showed this particular summer was packed with events we would be taking the ’55 sedan delivery on a course that would travel all over Ohio and Western Pa. but there was (a few days) we weren’t cruisin’ there was some time after Thompson’s Gasser meet. If we could get the car down to Gear Star for the new trans. and back on the road in time for the Hot Rod Reunion Caravan Cruise to Columbus that would be the only window until next winter! I dropped the car off and a few days later, as promised, I got the call, “ John, this is Zack at Gear Star, come on down!”

Remember when I told you about the “ummph factor? If you don’t know about gearing numbers, tow & go packages or the fact that my lazy ’55, I’ll tell you this, Zack’s band of transmission genius’ built a nice little 1st gear for it and I smoked the tires coming out of his shop and was at the top their hill before I knew it. But the true test would be the all the “back to back to back events” through the rest of the summer and fall that would require hauling our booth and magazines all over hells half acre, not to mention my patented 4 & 5 show “run & shot” scenarios where we flail the ‘ol Chevy for everything it’s got…. in other words-no rest for a weary tranny.

After two trips to Columbus, one for the Hot Rod Reunion and back again for the GoodGuys meet, Loudonville, Wooster, Canfield, Thompson, he Blue Suede Cruise Norwalk and numerous local crusie-ins, car shows and a couple of ice cream runs, logging literally thousands of miles since the June tranny swap, the new 4L60 has had no problems handling any kinds of “hauling” stress!

The 2 biggest things you’ll notice immediately when moving from a 350 to any of Gear Stars’ 4 gear transmission is, as my wife says, “We can now talk to each other with out that constant noise of the engine revving and the gas mileage is incredible! As Zack puts it, “Your revs, once in 4th gear will drop around 1200 – 1300 rpm and probably another 300 once it “locks up”, so you’re going to save gas!” The lock up, simply put, works like this. Since stall speed is the rpm the engine will reach with the transmission in gear with the brakes applied and gas pedal wide open. The higher the rpm allows the engine to build horsepower, which will launch the car harder from a stand still. However, that higher stall speed converter will slip more in “normal” driving use. That can create excessive heat, which is what engages once you settle into a constant highway speed and there by gives you the best of both worlds.

Criusin’ along the interstate at 65-80 mph with a full load of gear was effortless with the 4L60 trans. If your engine has a mild cam, you might have to adjust your carb, due to lower rpm (almost idle) which sometimes happens with the 700R4 and 4L60, but once the carb is adjusted (in our case with a different Edelbrock metering rod), we were good to go and out on the highway. You’ll also find yourself being lulled into thinking you’re driving your daily driver and wonder why everyone is giving you the thumbs up.

As they say, gas mileage will depend on how heavy your foot is, but when we compared last year’s credit card gas receipts (going to Columbus), with this years, we saved lots of gallons & money.

Zack sums up attitude of Gear Star this way: “A transmission is what your wife has in her minivan. What we’re building are horsepower transferring systems. Whether it is a Turbo 350 going behind a mild small block or a 4L80E built for a 528 Hemi, we approach each transmission as if it was going into our own personal car.

Also one of the interesting thing you’ll find at Gear Star, they sell complete packages and if you choose to install the trans. in your own car, Zack says, “Bring it back to the shop anytime and we’ll run it up on the lift and make sure everything is connected correctly, or we’ll do the install for you!”

And to show you how sure he is you’ll like his product, Gear Star has a special for all our readers that includes: 700R4-4L60 trans, no electronic so there’s no need for a computer, converter, 13qts ATF, cable, mount, tube/dip stick, dust cover, 12 volt wire harness, dyno tested, 24 mo. warranty. Normally priced at $1795. It’s Cruisin” Times priced at $1495. PLUS another $100. Off for non-overdrive models or $150. For overdrive models if you mention the Cruisin’ Times article or see their as on pages 108 & 109.

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