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Adapting To The Times

Gear Star Takes Us on an Inside Tour of its Performance Automatic Transmissions.

Enthusiasts can be a funny bunch sometimes. We’re proud of our cars, usually rightly so, but every so often for the wrong reasons. We like to brag about how much power we have, how wide our tires are, how fast we run the quarter-mile and so on. One of the things you rarely hear rodders bragging about is an automatic transmission. Sure, we might brag about how many gears we have or the stall speed it carries, but that’s about it. The fact is, far too many people invest heavily in a motor that will provide them with bragging rights, but then they invest too lightly in a transmission that just isn’t capable of backing up such a powerful motor, at least not over the long run.

Also, some aspects of transmission design are counterintuitive to common sense. For example, you might think that because a factory trans generally shifts with all the firmness and authority of a soft banana, a soft shift would be the hot ticket for long transmission life. However, this is not the case, as the factory supplies soft shifts for comfort so that Grandpa’s Buick doesn’t give him whiplash at the 1-2 shift. When a shift is soft, it’s because the transmission internals are slipping, and internal slippage does nothing but wear out those parts. A faster, firmer shift will not only improve your car’s performance, but it will also improve transmission life. Components will cease slipping and positively engage to give you those tire-chirping, neck-snapping shifts that we all crave.

Gear Star builds its transmissions in several different packages to suit your power needs. If you only have a mild small-block engine, you don’t need an all-out manual valve body level 4 transmission, but if you’ve got a big breathing big block, you certainly want as stout a transmission as you can buy. Whether you’re making 300 or 900 hp, Gear Star will match an automatic for the application. They are eager to point out that they do not mass produce their transmissions, only one builder works on a particular transmission, and when that trans goes out the door, it leaves with the builder’s name on it. That way, each builder makes sure that his transmissions are the best they can be, and Gear Star only uses master builders with a minimum of 20 years experience working with automatic transmissions. The company ha a return rate of less than one quarter of a percent, and no builder wants to see his transmission come back with a problem.

When you call Gear Star or any other automatic transmission builder, be sure to have relevant info handy. Because Gear Star custom builds each transmission, in order to get the best possible design for your application, they need to know information like the weight of your car, how you plan on using it, how much power your engine makes, how much vacuum your engine makes, cam selection, gear and tire size and so on. The better they know your vehicle, the better your transmission will be in that vehicle. What’s more, you can get everything else you will possibly need to complete your transmission install from Gear Star. Coolers, dipsticks, mounts, kickdown cables, computers (for electronic transmissions like the 4L60E) and even fluid are all available.

Automatic transmissions, especially the modern electronically controlled variety, are among the most complex systems on any car. For the most part, they are items that the average builder will only buy and install, not build. For this reason, we wanted Gear Star to give us the lowdown on exactly what makes a transmission stout and what you should look for when buying a performance transmission. We recently visited their state-of-art facility to see it for ourselves and to get the lowdown. What we saw was an impressive amount of time, skill, and equipment invested into every transmission because every transmission is different. They were kind enough to oblige and show us many internal workings that might as well be magic parts because so few people understand them. Gear Star was able to teach us quite a bit about the shortcoming of a 700R4 (among other transmissions), and how they go about fixing these shortcomings. Follow along and you, too, can see why such expertise makes for a better 700R4.