Imperial Transmission Rebuilding Tips

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Question from Tony:

My '61's transmission has finally given up the ghost, and I no longer have any forward gears. Reverse works fine (for now), but I'm reluctant to drive around backwards, slashing at everything with my fins.

What's the best thing to do about the situation? Do places like Aamco or other tranny shops have any difficulty working on Cast Iron Torqueflites? Are rebuilding kits common? Am I going to get a lot of flak from shops when actually it's a simple job? Is this going to cost me the moon?


From Leslie:

Most tranny shops I know of (at least back in Seattle) could do the work on them, but the parts took a while to show up.

From John:

We have used Wholesale Transmission in Berkeley, CA with ok success. Rebuilt two for us--a '58 and a'60 and my '58 Edsel and yes the '55 C-300. It is not back in the car yet so we don't know if it will be okay. With each one there have been leaks and going back for adjustments, but they make good. With the Edsel, it was almost a year after I got it back from the painter that the torque converter went, just as I arrived home the night before the car show. Wholesale still made it good.

From Jeff:

I would like to recommend you avoid national chains. AAmco seems to be the worst. My brother had his 58 Imperials tranny redone to the tune of $1900 and he had to return it a couple of time for adjustments/repairs etc, plus he was without the car for a Month while they dinked around and found all the bits and pieces. I have had good luck with local neighborhood Transmission shops if you can find one that is reputable. Best of luck in your quest!

From Daniel:

If you do go to one of these shops, don't be afraid to "haggle". I had a '70 GTO one time that needed a rebuild. The first time I asked I was told $1000, but I managed to get that down to $400 including a new torque converter. I guess it might have helped that the owner had 2 68 GTO's. Don't be afraid to argue with them over the price, most of the time you aren't dealing w/ the owner so it really isn't money out of his pocket.

I'd also be careful of people who automatically say "no problem" offhand, they might get in over their head and do serious damage to your car.

From Nancy: 

Based on prices in the Washington DC area your transmission rebuild should cost about $800.00 (1999 price quote) total including parts and labor. This is assuming your transmission case is good and no unusual parts failed. I had heard that in rural areas of the US where the cost of living is lower such things can be done much more cheaply, but I think you also live in a high cost city area as we do.

From James:

Andy Bernbaum in Massachusetts has a "Torqueflite Overhaul Master Transmission Kit." It includes all clutches, steels, gaskets, seals and O-rings. It is listed as Part #: (T-122). The price in my 2-year old catalog is $167.50. They also have a "Seal-Up Kit" (T-222) for $79.50 with gaskets, seals and O-rings. They have both for 1956-62 Imperials (specify year).

Over the past 3-years, I've purchased many, many mechanical parts for my 1960 Imperial Crown Coupe from Andy Bernbaum and have always received prompt service and quality products. I encourage anyone here who hasn't used them to call for their extensive, well organized 100pg catalogue.

From Brett:

I'd beware of some of the Nationwide franchises like Aamco, they can charge a very high premium for their lifetime guarantee. (I know a guy that took his '59 to the local Aamco and they took him for $2000)

The first challenge is to find a shop that isn't afraid of your Torqueflite. You should probably look for a place that has some older folks working that remember these units when they were new. I had a shop recommended to me from a guy that was into drag racing. (Mopar rules on the drag-strip) They have an older guy who really knows his Torqueflites. If you've got a service manual, offer to leave it with the car.

The next challenge is to be prepared with parts. (You and especially the shop don't want your car stuck on a lift for a few days waiting for parts) So, get a rebuild kit in advance. Buy the full kit including the clutch plates. Make sure it is fresh stock to insure the seals and gaskets haven't been baking inside a warehouse for thirty years. I just bought a new kit from Andy Bernbaum's for about $180. You might also wish to consider having a transmission mount on hand since they're not very expensive and always take a few days to get.

What should it cost? Well according to the 1958 Chrysler Service Operation Time Schedule book, it takes 8.1 hours (8.6 for convertibles) to remove, rebuild and replace an automatic transmission. Additional time is required if the torque converter needs replacing. Obviously it will take a little longer for a modern-day garage to do the job since they don't work on cast iron Torqueflites everyday, but this knowledge will help you from being taken advantage of. So, if the shop rate is $45 per hour and the job takes 10 hours your total cost would be $630 including parts. If the torque converter needs to be rebuilt, expect another $200 to $300.

From Michael:

My experience with the '64 & recently done '66 is that parts are available, the job is reasonable, and they are relatively easy to work on. My personal caution, however: My mother took her '70 Volvo 164 to AAMCO and paid BIG BUCKS for their lifetime guaranteed rebuild job. Every six to eight months later, when it acted up, they would have the car for up to a month (you have to pay for a rental car, so sorry), and they groused that they could not get parts. Nothing that unusual, just a Borg Warner automatic. So, personally, if I needed to find a shop, I'd look for a place that had been there a while (probably an independent neighborhood place) and probably has worked on transmissions like yours before. The fellow that I work with is great, but I doubt it would be worth it to bring it up here for that

From Jim:

One thing I would like to add about transmission jobs is to BE SURE whoever does the job flushes the oil cooler in the radiator. It is amazing how much crud can collect in there! these being dirty, clogged, etc. can be the cause of many trans. failures, or failures after rebuilds for no known reason.

There is equipment to do this without removing the radiator.

It consists of a pump that connects to the cooler lines, pumping a cleaning fluid through it. The better flushers have a back and forth pulse action, effectively forward and back-flushing simultaneously.

From one who found out the hard way!!!!!!!

Follow-up from Tony:

I'm very, very grateful to everybody for their gracious help - I have been intimidated for a while now, as my tranny lost first gear, then second, and finally third gear. I was under the impression that it would cost me around $2,000 (that's what I was quoted when I asked one mechanic), and I honestly can't afford that all at one shot. I'm a self-employed computer-consultant, and need to be wealthier somehow.

Now that I know that I can afford those kits mentioned above, things can move forward. There are plenty of transmission-shops with grizzled old-timers on staff around San Diego, and I'm going to start shopping!

When my '61 was being put-together, the mechanic had just rebuilt the suspension and the engine was freshly rebuilt with hardened valve-seats. My car had no transmission when I got it, and I had been given a '61 Cast-Iron Torqueflite by a guy in the Mojave Desert. He said it worked fine when he pulled it from his parts-car, but it had been sitting out in the desert sun for a few years, on top of a wooden pallet.

When it came time for the tranny to be installed, I mentioned that I felt it was important to rebuild the transmission. The mechanic said "Naw - You can't kill one of those Torqueflites - It'll be FINE."

Yeah, right. When I took it on its maiden voyage, first gear went within about 100 miles. Second went shortly afterward, and I struggled along with third gear (yes, it was slow from a dead-stop, but no lugging at all) for a couple of years of light operation until I turned into my driveway recently. The car is too big to get into my driveway without backing and filling, so I went into reverse, and then punched Drive. Nothing. I had to run door-to-door asking able-bodied men to help me push the Imperial up the driveway and around a tight turn into the garage. As I'm sure everybody here knows, an Imperial is a lot of dead weight when it's not at its best. At least I had power steering! I owe those neighbors some major favors after that much work.

Reply from Nancy:

Do have the torque converter rebuilt. Your transmission job is not done right if it is not rebuilt. I have even heard of a rebuilt trans failing because that was not done. My advice is to ask around with other local MOPAR hobbyists to see where they have taken their cast-iron Torqueflites and gotten satisfactory results. If you lived around here we could tell you exactly where to take it. If you really can't find a local place there are two different people in the Chrysler 300 club who do them mail order but that would only be a last resort I would think. Both of these guys are good but very far away from you. Transmission mounts for a convert may be hard to come by unless someone out there knows something I don't.

Question from Mike (1967):

Does anybody know if the transmission can be removed from a '67 Imperial without removing the engine?


From Dave:

Yes it can. There may be an extra crossmember for the rear of the torsion bars that may make things a bit difficult. I know the 65s did. But, - a few years later, - all the Chrysler cars had much the same setup, we just learned to work around it.

From Dick:

According to the FSM, that is the ONLY way to remove it, in fact you are instructed to remove the transmission first if you are going to remove the engine.

(In actual fact, however, the two units can be removed together, but it takes a lot of ceiling clearance, and a very good “cherry picker” with an adjustable pivot point. I’ve done it. If all you want to get out is the transmission, though, this is beside the point for you.)

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