I installed a shift kit in my Vicky’s 4R70W trans two days ago and had one of those sinking-feeling moments when I started the car, put it in gear, and nothing happened. I’ve been around long enough to know not to panic or start throwing stuff- it was probably something stupid that I did wrong, but the back of my mind entertained thoughts of how much is a new transmission will cost, and where am I going to sleep tonight (I was alone at our shop with no ride home and it was almost midnight).
It turned out that I just hadn’t added enough transmission fluid. The service manual called for refilling with 5 quarts of ATF after a fluid and filter change and after removing the valve body. In reality, I needed to add 7 quarts. It worked perfectly then. Cool, but it makes for a boring story.
What would have been cooler is if the trans had blown up on me in such a fashion that it required a pre-dawn emergency rebuild: relining the friction discs with the soles of my shoes and replacing the overdrive band with my belt. All done on the side of the road, of course. That would have been legendary.
A transmission disaster was one of my first forays into what one might consider heavy line work on a car. The culprit then was also a shift kit, a B&M Shift Improver Kit I installed into the TH700-R4 trans in my first Caprice. I did the job alone, again, on my back with the car on jackstands in my parents’ garage while they were out of town. The job began badly as I poured nearly all the ATF a 700 can hold (11.5 quarts) on my face when my hands slipped while removing the pan. I hate the smell of transmission fluid to this day. After a lengthy clean-up, I fumbled my way through the installation of the kit.
With the car back on the ground, I was giddy as I idled down the driveway- I would rule the streets with tire-roasting shifts(if only my 305 engine could have pulled that off). All my lofty hopes were crushed, though, the second I turned out of the driveway. The transmission slipped horribly on the first-to-second shift: the engine would flare up nearly 2,000 rpm for a second or two before second gear gradually engaged. Unless I manually shifted it through the gears, the car was undriveable, and no, it wasn’t a manual valve-body kit (everyone asked me that). No amount of fiddling with the TV cable helped, either, and the transmission came out of the car a few days later. After having a local mechanic rebuild it for me, I still had to shift it manually because it still slipped the same manner, just not as badly. My gold 4-door Caprice was never a big hit with the ladies, and having to explain why I was constantly futzing with the gear selector didn’t make it any better. Several months later, I fixed the thing myself while taking a transmission class at my local community college, and it ran great until I sold the car a few years later.
No such drama, this time around. The kit this came from Blue Oval Chips and consisted of factory parts- basically a Mercury Marauder separator plate and a couple of changes to the accumulator springs. But when I put the car in gear and the wheels didn’t turn, I was transported to that moment nearly ten years ago when I was swimming in an ocean of Dexron II transmission fluid and I knew I was in over my head.
Do you have an epic story of automotive failure you want to share? It’s better when the world laughs with you. Reply or email me at email@example.com, and I’ll post some of the best.