by Michael Dickens
New Process Gear — to be renamed New Venture Gear after a century or so — was created in 1888 to make rawhide gears for trolley cars. As the company wrote in a Dodge ad, the “new process” was a method for making the rawhide harder and more durable. The company was created in Syracuse, New York, and stayed there after it was acquired by Willys Corporation, then by GM founder William C. Durant in 1921.
New Process ended up as part of Chrysler Corporation 1934; and would make Chrysler’s four-wheel drive systems, transmissions, transaxles, and compounders. The company had already made bevel gears and rear axle gears for Locomobile and Citroën (and of course Durant’s Star cars).
New Process Gear, or NPG, built the first American-designed helical transmission for Chrysler in the 1930s, and would eventually be responsible for making all manual transmissions in Chrysler Corporation cars, as well as truck transmissions for everything from light pickups to medium-duty tractors to industrial and military equipment. By the1970s, NPG was the world’s largest maker of two-speed transfer cases in the 6,000-to-10,000 pound class, doing custom engineering as well as manufacturing, sending field reps around the world.
In 1990, 102 years after its birth — a largely unheralded anniversary — New Process Gear was reorganized into New Venture Gear, the first joint venture between major U.S. automakers, a jointly owned subsidiary of Chrysler’s Acustar division and General Motors. This both added GM’s under-used transmission plant in Indiana — essential since New Process was struggling to fill all its orders — and reduced Chrysler’s capital needs at a rough time. General Motors had a minority share, with two directors to Chrysler’s four.
In June 1990, New Venture Gear signed a four-year deal to supply transmissions for Rover’s new diesel-powered car.
In February 2002, General Motors sold its 36% stake in the company to DaimlerChrysler. The operation remained a separate company and continued to independently manage its business with General Motors and its other customers.
Then, on September 29, 2004, DaimlerChrysler sold 80% of the company to Magna International for $435 million.
At the time, the Syracuse plant made transfer cases, transaxles and other automotive components, including the manual transaxle for the Dodge Neon and PT Cruiser (T-350) as well as the manual transaxles for Chrysler minivans (T-650 and T-750), which were exported to Europe after the first redesign.
The Muncie plant reverted to GM control, closing down in 2006, and later being demolished.
New Venture’s European operation in Germany was acquired by Magna, which bought the rest of New Process Gear, Inc. in September 2007. The huge Canadian parts-maker decided to close the New York plant, then employing 1,400 people, in early 2009, due to Daimler’s mis-steps and the 2008 market crash, which slashed demand.
New Venture Gear produced two major transmissions for trucks and SUVs produced by Dodge, Jeep, Toyota, Ford and General Motors. They were the New Venture Gear 3500 (NV3500) and the New Venture Gear 4500 (NV4500).
New Venture made a name for itself with its 4-wheel drive and all-wheel drive (AWD) transfer-case applications. It greatly enhanced its reputation with the introduction of its hydro-mechanical progressive transfer case. Its first application of this technology, which was developed through a license form Asha Corp., was in supplying its NV 247 AWD transfer case in the 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee, which Jeep called Quadra-Trac II.
The Quadra-Trac II transfer case did away with the Jeep's former viscous-coupled transfer unit. Until then, the viscous couplings, those fluid-filled transfer units that enable the driveline to progressively transfer and apportion driver torque between the front and rear axles, were the focal point to nearly all AWD systems in use.
Starting in 1994, four wheel drive Dodge Rams used a part-time, synchronized transfer case (NV231, NV241, or NV241HD) which had four wheel drive low and neutral modes along with rear wheel drive and high-gear four wheel drive. The low-range ratio was 2.72 and there was no center differential.
The NV 231 HD transfer case used on Ram 1500 was a strengthened version of the one used on the Dakota; it had a larger main shaft and a wider chain and sprockets for greater durability. It was lighter and shifted more smoothly than the transfer case used in the Ram 150.
The NV 241 was standard on Ram 2500 and was a modified version of the transfer case used for both D150 and D250 models; the changes were a new housing and shifter mechanism.
The new NV 241 HD transfer case was standard on all Ram 3500s and on 2500s with 8800-pound GVWR, optional on the 2500 with 7500 pound GVWR. Shifting was easier due to a larger synchronizer, and it was 58 pounds lighter than its predecessor. For durability, it had a wider chain and sprockets than the NV 241 transfer case.
NVG's progressive transfer case cost less than viscous units, but there were other benefits. In a 1999 article written for Ward's AutoWorld, Ronald Frawley, NVG chief engineer for transfer cases, said: "It's all in response time. The new unit essentially works in two-wheel drive until wheel-slippage is detected; then reaction time (to send drive to the other axle) is about 40 milliseconds. A viscous coupling can take two or three seconds to do the same thing."
Mr. Frawley told Ward's AutoWorld that it also “integrates seamlessly with antilock braking; viscous-coupled diffs have to allow 'freewheeling' under braking to avoid potential conflict between trying to drive all four wheels and trying to brake wheels that may be working with difference coefficients of friction. ... the interplay between the geroter pump and the progression of clutch lockup allows the unit to more easily tailor performance characteristics to a wide range of applications.”
New Venture also developed and built the “Rock-Trac” transfer case still used in Jeep Wranglers, which provides a 4:1 low gear.
The New Process 435 was made from 1962 to 1997, and used by Dodge trucks from 1962 to 1993; by Ford from 1966 to 1992; and by GM from 1968-72. Relatively low volume users included International Harvester. The 435 was around 11 inches long, and the Ford and GM versions had ten-spline input shafts while Dodge had a 23-spline input shaft (there were numerous other differences). There are two versions of the Dodge transmission, with a split in the late 1960s.
Dodge used them on various trucks from half-ton to full-ton capacity.
The gear ratios also varied by manufacturer; all had a direct fourth gear, but the NP435A (Dodge and GM) had a 4.56 first gear, the NP435L and NP435E (Dodge and Ford) had a 6.68 first year, and the NP435D (GM) had a 4.90 first gear. (Second and third varied as well.) The unit was compact at around 11 x 19, but weighed 135 lb, with a cast iron case and aluminum cover.
The Dodge and Ford versions are a popular adaptation for Jeeps.
The Neon manual transmission (NV-T350), introduced for the 1995 model year, was a major upgrade over prior manual transmissions at Chrysler, and replaced Getrag-built units used in past performance cars.
It used high capacity dual-cone brass synchronizers in first and second gear, with single-cone synchronizers of a paper friction material on the other gears, more durable and clash-resistant than brass. The paper-friction synchronizers were on the input shaft, lowering shift effort by cutting rotating inertia.
A later, heavier duty version was used in the PT Cruiser, and a modified version (T-355) eventually found its way into the Compass, Patriot, and Caliber.
A reverse brake mechanism minimized reverse engagement clash, and getting into reverse was far easier than on prior models. Two-piece welded speed gears were shorter than single piece gears, to shorten shift travel and transaxle length; needle roller bearing on all speed gears reduced friction and extended gear life. The case was cast in two pieces to avoid leaks, with structural ribs to cut noise and add strength without adding weight; and the natural frequency was above the engine’s frequency at redline. Overall, the Neon’s manual transmission was considered to be tough — as it had to be to win as many races as it did — yet easy and even pleasurable to use.
NV-T350 (Neon and others) • T355 (Compass, Patriot, Caliber) • NV3500 (trucks and Jeeps) • NV4500 (Jeeps)
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