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by David Zatz
I’ve seen a lot of car books in my time, but few have really impressed me. Two that come to mind are both recent publications from enthusiasts — Hey Charger! and the new Chrysler TorqueFlite A-904 and A-727 Transmissions: How to Rebuild.
Before delving into why the new transmission book is at the top of the field, let’s talk about its relevance. First, the subjects: TorqueFlites were Chrysler’s first true automatic three-speed transmissions, and they were used in a wide variety of cars, including all of the most famed 1960s-70s muscle cars (except those having manual shifts). The first one, the A-488, launched in the 1956 Imperial; some of the 1960 cars used the A-904, and the A-727 followed two years later. Those two were the vast majority of all TorqueFlites to be produced into the 1980s; later transmissions would be variants of the 904 and 727. Overall, it had a 43-year run.
The TorqueFlite transmissions were not just used by Chrysler, but also by Facel Vega, Aston Martin, Maserati, Bristol, Monteverdi, and Jensen, as well as by domestic rival AMC. Even commercial vehicles had them: Chrysler sold to International Harvester, Land Rover, Iveco, Karrier, Matbro, Stonefield, Sirmac, Boss Motor, and Mitsubishi. With all those uses, and all those transmissions out there powering classic cars — from daily driver to million-dollar Hemis — there’s a lot of demand for accurate, clear information on the TorqueFlite.
What’s more, the book doesn’t slavishly stick to its theme of “how to rebuild.” There are sections on increasing performance, simple maintenance and tuning, and troubleshooting. The latter could easily save an owner enough to buy a few hundred copies of the book. There is also a well-illustrated sections on shift mechanisms, since the TorqueFlite was hooked up to column shifters, console shifters, and pushbuttons.
Performance modifications include some for durability under various conditions, and some for speed; both are based on decades of experience, both with Tom’s cars and with those of other people. The troubleshooting tips include diagnosing problems introduced by other rebuilders, useful given the age of some of these units (and the highly variable level of expertise out there).
Ironically, the core content of this book has been around for ages. Tom Hand wrote a three-part guide for the Walter P. Chrysler Club; Allpar republished this, with permission and some extensions, years ago. A publisher wrote to me and asked if I would be willing to turn this into a book; the answer was no, but I knew who could... the man who wrote the article, Tom Hand. But to say the book is just a rewrite of the article is to say the Maserati Quattroporte is just a Chrysler 300 with fancier sheet metal.
First, let’s talk photography. The book has lots of photos — all stunning in their quality, and all in color. There are no apparent reprints from the Mopar service manuals; these are perfectly framed, incredibly well lighted, and stunningly clear, usually with a white background. They are well out of the ordinary.
Usually, I have a hard time reading print books; my eyesight can’t deal with small type any more. When I’m working under the hood, it’s hard to switch from standard to reading glasses over and over. Fortunately, the type in this book is eminently readable and reasonably sized.
The book is also replete with step-by-step photo guides, clearly laid out, with a bold header and easier-to-read print. Again, the photography is just about perfect, so it’s possible to see exactly what’s illustrated. There don’t seem to be any mysteriously missing steps, either; and tips on extra steps you might need to take on recalcitrant parts are included.
The diagrams have all been created for this book, as far as I can tell. I’ve seen a lot of books and web sites that just copy Chrysler Corporation’s material, which is almost invariably copyrighted and often not as helpful as it could be. Not this one! In some cases, they started with factory training drawings, but in each case re-drew them to make them more accurate or to better show how things work together.
The writing style is clear and concise; Tom defines terms for the novice, and then gets on with it. He has photos of special tools and equipment, so you’re not guessing. Everything seems grounded in a wealth of experience, and yet not so far removed from the beginners’ tasks that it’s impossible to see how to get here from there.
The world would be a much better place for us vintage Mopar owners if Tom had written the factory service manuals! As it is, at least there’s one part of your car that doesn’t have to pose any mysteries now.
How to buy it? The book is available from on-line stores, CarTech Books, and, for a limited time, from Tom Hand himself.
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