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The Legendary Chrysler-Plymouth-Dodge Torqueflite automatic transmission

“The Chrysler Torqueflite transmission is one of the smoothest and trouble-free units in the world, even when compared to Mercedes-Benz and Rolls-Royce.” — Wheels, 1966

Torqueflite automatic transmission Overview

Thanks, Mike Sealey, Bill Watson, and Argent. Many changes have been made based on input from Dan Stern.

Bert Cartwright was responsible for the design of the Torqueflite transmission. He was the best transmission designer in the world. While he was going to Wayne State University in Detroit, he had a part time job designing bicycle transmissions, so he probably had nearly 50 years of experience designing transmissions. Bert and I were in the same Chrysler Institute of Engineering Class of 1951. — Product planner Burton Bouwkamp

The TorqueFlite transmission was Chrysler's mainstay from its introduction in 1956 through the early 1990s, remaining in duty in modified form (for front wheel drive) through 2001 in the Neon, and further in trucks (with electronic controls). It was sold to luxury automakers as well, including Monteverdi, Facel Vega, and Jensen.

Though the first TorqueFlite was the revolutionary A-488, which was lauded at the time as being the best automatic transmission in the world, the most legendary Torqueflite model is the A-727, which replaced it in 1962. Assigned to the most muscular engines, heavy duty applications, and trucks, the A-727 used an aluminum case (rather than the A-488's cast iron case), saving about 60 pounds; in some models, it used a pawl (lock) for parking, actuated by a lever (1962-64 models) or by putting the transmission into Park (see sidebar).

torqueflite

The first generation of iron TorqueFlites had a rear pump as well as a front pump, allowing the automatic-equipped cars to be push started. It probably wasn't officially endorsed, but it worked in emergencies, and many people knew about it (C. Paul Kozoriz.) For 1966, the rear pump was eliminated because the push-starting capability was rarely used (Dan Stern).

Base models tended to get the A-904 and, in later years, the A998/999. The A-904 was a scaled-down, aluminum-cased version; smaller and lighter, it was quite capable of dealing with the power of the slant six and 273 V8 (later, the 318). The difference between the 904, 998/999, and 727 was largely in the materials and the amount of 'beef', and in the torque converters. The earliest model was the A-488, which has some internal similarities to the 727 and probably shares a few parts, but is not the same transmission. Much of this confusion probably stems from Chrysler's early general-public references to the 904 as "Torqueflite 6" and whichever Torqueflite was behind V8s at the time as "Torqueflite 8." A V8 version of the 904 did not appear until 1964, when it came out behind the 273. (And there was a slant-six version of the 727 for truck use - Mike Sealey's 1970 A100 van had one.)

AMC used Torqueflite automatics, both the 727 and 904, in altered cases to match their individual vehicles (where they were called Torque-Command). Case size, length, driveshaft yoke, and other external parts differ based on their applications.

1960 automatic transmission tuning TorqueFlite (V8) TorqueFlite (I-6) PowerFlite
Light throttle 1-2 shifts starting from... 10 mph 9 mph 11 mph
Light throttle 2-3 shifts starting from... 15 mph 14 mph No 3rd gear
Heavy throttle 1-2 shifts 40 mph 23 mph 55 mph
Heavy throttle 2-3 shifts 75 mph 60 mph No 3rd gear
Kickdown, 2-1, if speed is less than: 25 mph 22 mph 50 mph
Kickdown, 3-2, if speed is less than: 65 mph 60 mph  
Low gear button operates at (maximum): 25 mph 22 mph 50 mph
1977 transmission tuning A-904 A-904LA (318) A-904LA (360)
Reverse gear 2.22 2.22 2.22
1, 2, 3 gears 2,45, 1.45, 1.00 2,45, 1.45, 1.00 2,45, 1.45, 1.00
Max ratio at stall 2.01:1 1.90:1 1.90:1
Max upshift speed 78 mph 84 mph 96 mph
Max kickdown speed 75 mph 81 mph 93 mph
1981 transmission tuning   
Reverse gear2.22  
1,2,3 gears2.74, 1.54, 1.00  

The A-500 and A-518 truck transmissions were 727s and 904s with an overdrive added. A Canadian transmission builder (Doug Miller of Fireball Performance Automatics in Williamsburg, Ontario) has successfully converted these to shift via cable linkage as was the practice through 1965, thereby allowing owners of older MoPars to use this newer transmission and keep their pushbuttons.

plymouth controls

Several other automakers bought and used TorqueFlites, including AMC and Monteverdi. AMC used GM's Hydramatic in the 1950s (except for Packard Twin Ultramatics in Packard V8-powered cars), Borg-Warners from 1957 on (some 1954 Hudsons also had them), and finally moved to the Torqueflite in 1972 for cars, and around 1979-80 for Jeeps, which had used Hydramatics due to an old contract. Mike Sealey, our AMC source, noted that AMC’s larger 1958-62 models may have been the only Borg-Warner transmissions with pushbutton shifting; while Bob Sheaves wrote that Borg-Warner was also pushed out of International Harvester in favor of the Torqueflite; they used the 727 transmissions (with their own model nubmers) across their entire light truck line, from the four cylinder Scout through to the one-ton pickup.

The various Torqueflites had the same internal ratios, despite their other differences. Until 1980, they were relatively narrow (see Tom low slip torque converterHand's detailed article); in and after 1980, a wide-ratio gearset was introduced and used in most of the 998 and 999 transmissions. This ratio was 2.54 in first, 1.54 in second, and (as with the earlier Torqueflites) 1.00 in third. This gearset, which uses a welded-steel planet cage, is noisier and less durable than the original-ratio gearset with its machined-aluminum planet cage, but the lower first and second gears helped cope with the tall rear axle ratios needed for gas mileage.

You can identify a lockup 727 transmission because it has about 5/8" of the end of the smaller input shaft machined smooth. If the splines go out to the end of the shaft (except for about a 1/8" bevel), it's a non lock up transmission. (Thanks, Joe Reiss for sending this, and Rick Allison of A & A Transmission for noting it.)

For 1975, as a running change, Chrysler added a nylon frame regulator valve screen. For 1976, an improved low-reverse servo seal was used (using the same part number); it formed a better seal and had better high-temperature performance.

  • On the A-727, the spline pressure angle changed from 45° to 37.5° for greater strength, with new part numbers; and a thicker front pump housing gasket (from 0.15” to 0.21” thick) helped prevent gasket blow-out (these were interchangeable with past models).
  • On the A-904, a metal #3 thrust washer replaced the plastic one — but this required a new output shaft assembly witha sintered iron plug, to position the washer. The output shaft, plug, and thrust washer were, according to Chrysler, retrofittable back to the 1974 model year, as a group.
  • The A-904-LA was created, a heavier-duty A-904 for all 360 V8 applications.

In 1977, a low-slip torque converter was adopted; by improving the oil path from the impeller to the turbine and back (by way of the stator), increasing the area of the oil flow path by 20%, oil flow friction losses were lessened, increasing gas mileage and torque capacity. (This was not the lockup torque converter, which was launched just one year later, in 1978.)

In 1981, all rear drive Chrysler, Plymouth, and Dodge vehicles were given a wide-ratio version of the TorqueFlite, essentially dropping down the first gear from 2.45:1 to 2.74:1. Second was moved from 1.45 to 1.54; third remained at 1.:1, reverse at 2.22:1.

wide-ratio torquefliteIn 1986, the front wheel drive TorqueFlite was modified by:

  • using four bolts instead of three to connect the drive plate to the torque converter
  • using a new computer-designed impeller blade for a better fit to the impeller shell
  • a new shouldered impeller to front joint cover prevented weld spatter from being blown into the converter during construction
  • a wide-ratio gear set was used on some models to lower first and second gears, increasing performance without affecting economy.

In 1988, Chrysler wrote about the front-drive TorqueFlite:

The quality and durability of Chrysler Corporation's TorqueFlite automatic transmission has been proved through more than 40 billion miles of service. It has been designed into a TorqueFlite automatic transaxle for the fuel-efficient front drive cars offered by Plymouth. The TorqueFlite automatic transaxle - like the TorqueFlite transmission - has three forward-speed gears, a torque converter for smooth agile acceleration and a precision automatic shifting assembly for high-quality shifts. Reliability features of the Chrysler-built TorqueFlite automatic transaxle include impeller blading that is computer designed for improved fit to the impeller shell. This assures better brazing which, in turn, improves converter performance. Also, a transmission cooler in the radiator improves durability and the converter blades are brazed for strength. Leak tests are performed on every TorqueFlite transmission during production.

The automatic transaxle has wide spaced ratios in first and second gears for brisk performance in conjunction with a low final drive ratio for good fuel economy. This transaxle also has a part-throttle kickdown for extra mid-throttle acceleration, which eliminates the necessity of flooring the accelerator to obtain a quick burst of power for passing.

TorqueFlite has proved to be so dependable that there are no recommendations for band adjustments, clutch friction material replacement, or transmission fluid or fluid filter changes under normal conditions.

All 1988 front-drive Torqueflites except Voyager 2.5 and the turbo had an electronic lockup torque converter. The 1988 TorqueFlite transmission (rear-drive) had a non-electronic lockup.

Mopar Action’s Rick Ehrenberg wrote that the basic TorqueFlite design continued long past the time when the transmissions were so labelled. In 1989 and 1991, integral overdrives were added, resulting in the A-500 (based on the A-904) and the A-518 (based on the A-727). According to Rick, the engine computer controlled the electric overdrive unit built into the extension housing.

In 1994, according to Rick Ehrenberg, the transmissions were renamed, the 904 becoming the 32RH (three speeds, “2” torque rating, rear wheel drive, hydraulic control); and the A-518 (727 with overdrive) becoming the 46RH. Some years later, when electronic control was integrated into the system (the engine computer ordering the transmission to shift), the RE series was created, with the A-904 plus overdrive becoming the 42RE.

Tannon Weber’s guide to identifying and changing Torqueflites

The Torqueflite in perspective

This section contributed by Curtis Redgap. Read more of his articles.

KICKDOWN (Frank R. Eggers)
My 1967 Plymouth Valiant six had a part throttle kickdown from 3rd to 2nd up to almost 40 mph. According to the service manual, only the six got the part throttle kickdown. It would have been easy to modify the V8 transmission to give it a part throttle kickdown.

As far I know, the first automatic transmission to have a part throttle kickdown was the 1955 Packard. The next one was the 1956 Jetaway Hydramatic; part-throttle kickdown from 4th to 3rd was done by dumping the fluid from the second fluid coupling. That 4-speed automatic was so smooth that it was impossible to feel the shifts.

Slow to get a fully automatic transmission on the market, Chrysler wasted no time in getting past its two speed Powerflite. Introduced in 1956, the Torqueflite was quite simply the best automatic transmission ever produced. It was simple, reliable, dependable, quiet, efficient, economical, and gave Chrysler cars a performance advantage.

The Torqueflite centered on the rather simple Simpson gear set (designed by Howard Simpson, and licensed to Ford in 1953 and Chrysler in 1955). It used two identical planetary gears with a common “sun” gear, cutting tooling costs compared with transmission that used unique gears. As later racing versions of the Torqueflite proved, you could increase the amount of torque capability by putting more "beef" into the gear set.

Late 1956 Chrysler 300 Bs were equipped with the three speed Torqueflite, along with Imperials, and the senior models of the Chrysler line. It was thought that there may have been some DeSoto models that got the Torqueflite, however, none have ever been confirmed. I do know of one 1956 Adventurer that had one: my Grandpa had his 1956 converted over from Powerflite to Torqueflite. For once, Chrysler was prepared for that type of situation, and had engineered a conversion kit for Mopar fans that wanted the flexibility and capability of the new Torqueflite.

Ford was so impressed with the Torqueflite that it attempted to quietly buy the rights to manufacture a sort of "copycat." The story, however, was quickly picked up by the automotive magazines. Ford reportedly had paid Chrysler $7.5 million, which was a big chunk of change in 1957! [The accuracy of this story is unknown, since Ford already had rights to the gearset.]

Adjusting Kickdown; Fixing “Second Gear Starts”

Bob Lincoln wrote, “Most auto parts stores carry an inch-pound torque wrench; Stanley has a good, consistent feel and click to the setting. I paid about $60, some cost far more. Adjusting the kickdown band also requires an 8-sided 5/16” socket, which looks like a square with the corners radiused (NAPA part number NB810).

If the band adjustment is too tight, it shifts hard and late. Too loose, and it slips. A little gray clutch mud in the pan is normal. Adjust the kickdown rod/linkage as well as the band; if the rod is too long, it downshifts early and upshifts late; if the rod is too short, it downshifts late and upshifts early. It's a sensitive adjustment with which a turn or two of the threaded rod can make a big difference.”

dana44 wrote that if the transmission tends to start in second gear, there’s a bit of “grit in the valve body that makes one of the shuttle valves stick. ... I did a couple of downshifts at the stop light and manually shifted from first to second to third, not having to take the rpm up high at all, and it flushed the junk out. Three or four times doing this fixed my problem.” ImperialCrown added, “Not downshifting into first at a stop may be a sticking governor shuttle valve.” See this discussion for more.

The direct result was the 1958 Ford built "Cruise-O-Matic" that was available on all standard Ford engines. It was not, however, a Torqueflite, but a Ford automatic built around the Simpson gear set. It was heavier, with more parts, keeping the Ford derived clutch band controls. Early models, especially those put behind "performance" engines liked to split the case, right down the middle! It was a problem that plagued Ford for a couple of years until the redesign incorporated into the 1961 models. In all fairness, however, in fleet applications, for the most part, the Cruise-O-Matic was reliable, and gave little trouble with regular maintenance. It certainly outshone Chevrolet's 1957 "Turboglide." [Some sources have Ford’s Simpson-based transmission starting in 1964. We are not a Ford site and do not know how accurate the Ford references are.]

Chrysler wrote (in 1978): “The basic design of TorqueFlite includes three forward gears, torque converter and precision automatic shifting assembly. With TorqueFlite, no band adjustments are recommended-and there are no recommendations for changing the transmission fluid and fluid filter: Chrysler, through the years, has been so convinced of TorqueFlite's engineering superiority that it uses the same basic design from its lowest priced compact car to the highest priced New Yorker Brougham. Only the size of the transmission varies in relation to the size of the engine with which it is used.

“Perhaps even more dramatic proof of Chrysler's automatic transmission leadership lies in the actions of other manufacturers. For instance, one American automaker uses a transmission that is similar in design to TorqueFlite. Two others have been buying TorqueFlite directly from Chrysler Corporation for use in their own cars, trucks and multi-purpose vehicles...Torque converter blades are brazed for strength and efficiency. Hydraulic cushioning devices are used to soften the engagement into reverse and low when the transmission is put into gear. Leak tests are performed on every TorqueFlite transmission during production. The liquid-cooled torque converter provides cool, quiet operation and added durability.”

Also in 1978, the line pressure for reverse was modulated from 150 to 260 pounds per square inch for 1978 (from a constant 260 psi. By using lower pressure for normal backing, internal transmission seals were subjected to less pressure. At wide-open throttle, a regulator valve provides up to 260 pounds per square inch pressure for backing up steep grades or parking a heavy trailer.

About the pushbutton automatics (Lanny Knutson)

pushbutton transmission controls

Dan Stern added: On 1956-64 pushbutton shifters and 1964-65 lever shifters, a second cable was used for the park sprag (which keeps the car from moving while in Park). The park lever location varied. It was below horizontal button layouts, and next to vertical button layouts, except 1960-62 Valiant and Lancer, which put the park lever on the lower dash.

In 1956, the pushbutton automatic was introduced, but the entire corporate lineup from Valiant to Imperial switched to a column shift in 1965, much to the disappointment of countless Mopar loyalists.

Burton Bouwkamp wrote: After 1957, the Imperial pushbutton was changed from the standard layout of five buttons in a cluster to a vertical row. Then, in 1960, the Imperial pushbutton pattern was changed again, from D-N-R-2-1 (top to bottom) to R-N-D-2-1.

During the announcement day, a new 1960 Imperial was parked in Chrylser VP Claire Briggs’ spot in the Jefferson Plant Executive Garage. The car was facing the open garage door. Claire got into the car, pushed the top button, stepped on the gas, and ran into the wall behind the car, damaging the wall and the car. There were no witnesses but we all knew what had happened — and saw the damage to the wall — but Claire never mentioned it. (I was working at the Jefferson Plant at the time.)

Why were the pushbuttons discontinued? There are several popular theories, but one heard at the time was that the selector cost $1 less to manufacture than the pushbuttons. Based on the rationale of "build a million cars, save a million dollars," it made economic sense.

Another theory says that Chrysler was out to increase its "conquest sales" to owners of competing makes and, although liked by Chrysler devotees, the pushbuttons were annoying to people switching over from Ford or GM cars. Enough, possibly, to keep them from buying a Chrysler product.

A third theory has it that the switch was necessitated by a decree from the Society of American Engineers. The selector quadrant order of "PRND21" was standardized by the S.A.E. that year to minimalize the potential of a driver familiar with a different car getting the transmission in the wrong gear.

Dan Stern wrote:

Driver education programs were not buying Chrysler products because of the “nonstandard” pushbuttons, and this was seen as a critical gap because students were perceived to buy whatever they'd learned to drive on. In addition, momentum was building for what would become the National Highway and Traffic Safety Act of 1966, which would establish and promulgate the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. ... the Federal government stipulated that time that it would buy only cars conforming to a set of proto-standards, one of which called for standardized controls and displays. Some municipalities did likewise, though not Los Angeles -- they would only buy Chrysler products, for only Chrysler products would meet the City and County of Los Angeles' internal standards for exhaust emissions on government-owned vehicles!

Another theory was that Avis required a column shifter as to have compatibility between all fleet cars.

Bill Watson wrote that pushbutton automatics had been briefly used by Packard, Edsel, Mercury, and Monarch, while Rambler had them from 1958 to 1962. “Not very reassuring to a prospective car buyer if everyone who had the buttons dropped them, except Chrysler.”

torqueflite pushbutton automaticThe Torqueflite transmission itself was unchanged by the move from pushbuttons to the column selector, at least in the first year; for 1965 only, the column selector activated the transmission through the same kind of cables that had previously been put in motion by pushbuttons. For 1966, the transmission was changed to be activated by a single-rod linkage, and the reverse blocker valve, which shifted earlier transmissions into Neutral if Reverse was selected while the car was moving forward, was dropped because the new gear selectors had physical blockouts to make it difficult to shift into Reverse unintentionally.

Mike Sealey wrote that Plymouth and Dodge Dart/Polara had a park sprag in 1962; the Dodge 880, Chrysler, and Imperial did not (since they had a driveshaft brake rather than an emergency brake on the rear drums). In 1963, all the cars had Bendix brakes and the dual cable A-727.

Transmission fluid (by Bill Watson)

Automatic transmission fluid (ATF) is added via the dipstick tube on the passenger side of the vehicle. You will need a good funnel, naturally, to add fluid into that small tube; many car parts stores sell a funnel with an attached hose, which fits perfectly into the tube (with a plastic device at the end of the tube).

The transmission should be at normal operating temperature before checking, and the car should be on truly level ground. Apply the parking brake firmly with the engine at idle, then depress each transmission button (or shift into each gear) momentarily ending the the "N" button (with column shifts, use N and not P).

The fluid level should be at the "FULL" mark on the transmission dipstick or slightly below. It should not be above the "FULL" mark. If it is below the "ADD 1 PINT" mark, add fluid via the tube. Check the level again as per above to ensure the level is between "ADD" and "FULL".

Use Dexron III fluid at the least; if you have the money and would like smoother shifting, use Chrysler ATF+3 or ATF+4 (there are numerous “universal” fluids, and one which conforms to Dexron III or ATF+3/+4 should work). The Type A, Suffix A fluid once suggested by Chrylser has been superceded by Dexron III.

Lockup torque converter

lockup torque converterNew for 1978 was a new lockup torque converter system for the TorqueFlite automatics, which, like its Packard and Studebaker predecessors, replaced the normal fluid interface in the transmission with a mechanical one. That saved gasoline and increased usable power while running the engine at a lower speed to reduce noise and wear, and has been a feature of transmissions ever since. The lockup feature took effect at speeds greater than 30 mph.

Chrysler published this description: “When accelerating from a stop, TorqueFlite continues to use the torque converter for power and smoothness until road speed reaches about 27 miles an hour for V-8 engines and 31 miles an hour for sixes-then, as the transmission upshifts from 2nd to 3rd gear, the new clutch locks up the torque converter so there is a direct mechanical drive through the transmission. Normal slippage in the converter is eliminated, engine speed is reduced and fuel economy is improved.”

When upshift occurs at lower road speeds (below 27 mph for V-8s and 31 mph for sixes) the lock-up clutch engages when the drive shaft reaches about 850 rpm for V-8's and 1100 rpm for sixes.

When upshift occurs at higher road speeds the lock-up clutch engages simultaneously with the upshift.

The lock-up clutch disengages automatically under part-throttle downshift, full-throttle downshift, and the drive shaft reaches 850 rpm with V-8 engines and 1100 rpm with sixes while slowing down.

In 1978, most TorqueFlites had the lock-up torque converter except with the 440 V-8 engine, and those ordered for areas above 4,000 feet altitude, California slant sixes and 440s. It was also not available with the Super Six, or with models equipped with the Heavy-Duty Package.

Successors to the TorqueFlite (by Bob Sheaves)

The A500 and A518 were a development from the A727, A904, and later A999 (a cross between the 904 and 727). Outfitted with lockup torque converters and an overdrive planetary gearset, added to a basically unmodified A999, gear ratios were not optimized for all applications. This means that the gear ratios were not selected and redesigned to match the torque curve and "torque rise" of the mated engine. In lay terms, an vehicle is geared to allow the cruising speed (65-70mph) to be about 200 RPM above the torque peak of the engine (at that time around 2000-2500rpm). This allows the engine to reach rated torque, if needed, on the highway grades of 6% in the US and Canada, without losing speed.

Since the corporation was heavily in debt and starting to flounder, money was not available to made the needed modifications and it was judged, as I was told, that the 80th percentile average driver would not notice the difference. At worst, it would be seen as a simple extra part throttle downshift, earlier than the driver might expect. For the most part — the late 1980s and early 90s — this was proven to be true. Warranty costs (inferred here from the number of rebuilds reported in trade journals) were similar to the 904 and 999, and slightly more than the 727.

Tom Hand’s detailed guide to the TorqueFlite automatic transmission

We now have an incredibly detailed section on how the TorqueFlite works, how to modify and repair it, and more, courtesy of Tom Hand and the Walter P. Chrysler Club.

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