Since 1996, STREET RODDER magazine has built a new car every year and then turned Jerry Dixey loose on an unsuspecting nation to travel the highways and byways of the country to promote the hobby we all love. With all the miles covered we’ve learned a number of lessons concerning the construction of a safe, reliable car, and with the record of performance that’s been established we’d classify the endeavor as an unqualified success. This year’s car, a reproduction ’40 Ford coupe being built by Hollywood Hot Rods, will be equipped with an automatic transmission from Gearstar.

When automatic transmissions first began appearing in street rods there wasn’t much to choose from. Massive four-speed Hydramatics with their goofy gear spreads and two-speed Powerlides were among the most common, but today we have a host of excellent automatic overdrives to pick from. However that doesn’t mean they’re perfect. The fact is car companies are in the business to make money. That means if they can save as little as a few cents on parts that will last for a reasonable period of time (read until the warranty is up) that’s what they do. Could any OEM build a transmission, or any other component for that matter, that was virtually indestructible and would last a lifetime? Sure they could, the factory engineers have the know-how and the resources to do it, but their efforts come under the scrutiny of the bean counters who have to answer to executives who have to have an affordable product to make money for stockholders.

In terms of operation, all automatic transmissions function in the same manner in that multiple planetary gear sets are used to provide the various gear ratios plus Reverse. Friction devices, bands, and clutches are applied by hydraulic pressure created by the pump and directed by the valvebody and as various portions of the gear sets are held and released the gear ratios are changed. Simply put, when an automatic shifts one friction is applied and another is released. When one of the clutch packs won’t hold the transmission slips it leads to increased wear of the other components and ultimately failure of the transmission.

While it’s often easy to be critical of OEM parts, the truth is street rodders often subject factory components to far more stress than they were designed to endure. And even though the factories are constantly updating their products, ironically, it’s often the aftermarket that comes up with improvements the manufacturers won’t spend money on.

Gearstar has devoted years to finding the weaknesses in the popular automatic and spent a considerable amount of money developing the parts to correct them. These improved components increase the transmission’s capacity to handle more horsepower and improve longevity. In addition, when a transmission is ordered from Gearstar, the customer is asked for information about the car, including engine displacement, horsepower, torque, weight, rear gear ratio, tire size, type of speedometer drive, and the intended use of the vehicle. All these specs are then used to calibrate the transmission’s shift feel for that application.

To get an idea of what goes into a Gearstar transmission, Jerry Dixey grabbed his camera and headed to Akron, Ohio, to see for himself what they do. In this case the transmission parts shown are for a GM 700-R4, but same attention is given to every transmission that goes out the door (the improved parts will be on the left in all the photos). As Gearstar’s owner puts it: “We build every transmission like it was going in one of our cars.” You can’t ask for more than that.

SOURCE
Gearstar Performance Transmissions
132 N. Howard St.
Akron  44308
330-434-5216
www.gearstar.net
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