Lenco transmissions were first made popular in the early '70s when NHRA Pro Stockers needed a gearbox that was up to the task of 9-second elapsed times. The Lenco provided unbreakable performance and lightening-quick gear changes, which made these clutchless wonders the tranny of choice among the ultimate door slammer crowd. Over the years, there have been many in-car-cameras showing Pro Stock drivers grabbing and shifting the trademark five levers as they power their vehicles toward the finish line. Although there have been many attempts to create similar shifters for stock-type transmissions, Chevy enthusiasts have long aspired to duplicate the multi-lever design of the Lenco for their hot street machines. But extreme cost-among other things--has always been a huge inhibitor for all but the stoutest of street-driven machinery.
Despite its reputation among racers and its many uses today, which include everything from boats to alcohol dragsters, many enthusiasts have not caught on to the fact that there IS a street version available. Gary Sumek of Lenco mentioned that they have been producing a five-speed street version for a few years. The ST-1200 is not one of their most popular transmissions (they still sell more racing models), but it is the answer to many problems facing high-horsepower street cars and trucks that need a compromise between a stout race and street transmission.
Lenco transmissions essentially combine the best of a manual and automatic transmission into one unit. It uses a clutch and flywheel assembly only to engage the transmission into first and reverse gears. Once engaged, the gears are shifted without a clutch. How is this done? Simply put, once the transmission is in gear, the power runs through a set of planetary gears. Each planetary gear set is in its own housing and carries a higher ratio. Each gear is engaged by pulling down on the shift lever, to activate the clutch mechanism for each gear set. Think of it as manually shifting an automatic transmission. The only difference is that in an automatic, the transmission fluid moves internal valves to close the clutch pack. In the Lenco, the shift lever actually moves the clutch pack together to engage the gear in each housing.
Adding progressively different ratio independent gear housings behind each other allows Lenco to create two-speed, four-speed, five-speed, and even six-speed transmissions. The total amount of gear reduction depends on the amount of housings and the overall application of the transmission. On the street five-speed model the ratios start at 3.25 in first gear, 2.26 in second, 1.64 in third, 1.25 in fourth, and fifth gear is 1:1. What does this mean, you wonder? As an example, this tranny with a set of 4.30:1 rear axle gears, coupled to 32-inch-tall Mickey Thompson tires should allow any Pro Street Chevy to cruise on the highway, averaging 60 mph at slightly above 2,800 rpms.
On the track, however, the low 48 percent first gear should be enough to launch any powerful car hard, and the transmission's history of performance won't let anyone down. The biggest benefit to Pro Streeters is that you don't have to worry about overheating, flashing the torque converter or other maintenance costs-as there are none. The only exception is replacing the pressure plate and resurfacing the flywheel after a long period of use, and frequently changing the transmission fluid about every 400-500 miles.
Although the initial cost is more than a well-built TH400, the longer durability and low-maintenance cost of the Lenco will pay for itself in the long run. Furthermore the Lenco allows you to achieve 3,000-rpm launches at the track and 1,000-rpm take-offs from the stoplight, depending on how long you leave your foot on the clutch.
To demonstrate the inner workings of the Lenco ST-1200 transmission, we followed along as one was being assembled for use in Truckin' Magazine's World's Fastest Street Legal Pickup. Our sister publication is attempting to build an 8-second quarter-mile, '68 Chevy pickup which will also embark on a 450-plus mile trek from Los Angeles to Phoenix without any other changes. The truck runs a big-block Chevy that makes 1,100 horsepower on pump gas and lots of nitrous oxide. They opted to use the Lenco ST-1200 as it would be a great opportunity to show the tranny's durability and strength by running the truck on both the track and street.