Trucks and SUVs dominate the American roads. But when was the last time you saw a genuine real steel wagon dropping the kids off at school or headed for the local drive-in movie theater? (When was the last time you saw a drive-in movie theater, for that matter?) We decided to buck the SUV trend and upgrade this worn out 1968 Bel Air wagon, starting with one of the most crucial aspects-the powerplant and drivetrain.
After throttling around on the highways for a couple of months with the stock 327 small-block and Turbo 400 transmission, the limitations of this original setup were apparent. While tooling around town and running errands, the old drivetrain performed just fine. Keeping up with the flow of traffic on the California freeways (when it actually does flow!), was a bit different. While the Turbo 400, which was introduced by GM in 1964, is as strong as an ox and still a popular transmission, it does have its limitations. Those limitations are manifest while traveling on the highway and all three speeds have wound themselves out and the driver finds himself wanting that extra gear, both for improved economy and lower decibel levels.
When it came time to replace the engine in this large Chevy, we opted to also replace the stock Turbo 400 with a Gear Star-built 4L60 overdrive transmission. We called Gear Star and explained to them that the engine we plan on using will run between 300-400 horsepower and about the same numbers on the torque scale. We were informed that its best-built transmission was on its way and that every transmission from Gear Star hits the dyno before it is put in the box and sent off.
Gear Star gave some facts and figures about what goes into each of its transmissions: A furnace brazed B29 2200 stall lock-up torque converter with a flanged hub and Kevlar lock-up clutch, Alto high energy frictions, steels and wide band. There are all-new bushings, gaskets and seals, Borg-Warner sprags, a TransGo shift kit, Corvette servo, 10 vain pump, remanufactured pump and drum sets, new electrical, hardened race, recalibrated governor and valvebody. Gear Star also sets up the transmission for your speedo, whether electronic or mechanical and matches the shift kit in the unit to your application and vehicles specs. How could we argue with that?
In a previous issue of Super Chevy (October 2006), we built a budget-minded 350 that put out 356 lbs-ft of torque at 3700 rpm and 303 hp at 5100. This 350 will replace the old 250-horse 327 that is currently under the hood. Once the new 4L60 transmission arrived, we hauled it and our freshly built engine to Harrison's Restorations in Upland, California, which specializes in all GM built vehicles. It's time to get dirty.