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Thread: Tranny question for a 59 Thunderbird

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    Senior Member juanatejeda's Avatar
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    Tranny question for a 59 Thunderbird

    I may be in the market for a new tranny for my 59 Squarebird. I will be having it checked out in the very near future. My question is this; If I am going to get it fixed, might I want to change over to a new tranny and if so what would be a good conversion?
    The tranny I have was rebuilt in 1999 and it has very low mileage since it was rebuilt. My whole car was restored at that time and it is mostly a show car because I have always had problems with the tranny.
    Whenever I park it after a drive it seems to leak tranny fluid. I have been told that it is because the fluid that foils the converter flows back into the tranny and it ends up over filled and probably spills out the seals.
    It started slipping and I am not sure if it's because I need more fluid or it's just gone bad. I don't like filling it because the fluid ends up on my garage floor.
    Anyone have any good ideas?
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    Juan

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    Re: Tranny question for a 59 Thunderbird

    On many automatics, there is an "anti-drainback valve" to keep the torque converter filled during non-use periods. But, it's somewhat normal for the fluid to drain back over night. Some brands are worse about it than others. Still, though, just during a normal daily parking situation, that should not happen to the degree you mention.

    When the fluid level rises, one of the main places it can escape is the "shift shaft seal" on the side of the trans case. Where the shift linkage attaches to the shaft which goes through the side of the case to run the valve body control lever. What might have happened is that the softer metal of the shaft has a groove worn in it from prior use and contact with the lip seal that seals that shaft. If there's a groove there, no new seal will really seal it well, so it might be necessary to find a thin metal sleeve to put in that area of the shaft . . . similar to the "super sleeve" used on harmonic balancers to stop oil leaks from the same situation. Or possibly brazing the shaft and machining it to size again.

    Similar things can also happen to the torque converter "nose" and the related seal there, plus the transmission tailshaft housing seal where it contacts the driveshaft slip yoke. IF the rear bushing in the trans extension housing was not replaced when the rear seal was replaced, the additional movement of the slip yoke can knock out the new seal pretty quickly.

    As the vehicle sees limited use, it might also be that the valve body halves are not completely flat any more, even with a gasket/plate between them. This can allow fluid circuit leaks and operational issues . . . like trying to be in "R" and "D" at the same time (think drag racing "trans brake"). There is a place in the mid-west which rebuilds trans valve bodies, but I don't have the name of it handy. Probably somebody out in your region that also does it?

    Be advised . . . all trans "rebuilds" are NOT the same! Large variations in the quality of gaskets, clutch plates, seals, etc., by observation. "No Name" kits might end up having "the good stuff" in them, but considering the vehicle and such, it might be best to seek out a kit that's AT LEAST OEM-spec in quality and then find a shop that uses "the verifiable good stuff". ALSO make sure that if the trans has a "anti-drainback valve", it gets a new one, as the ball-check in the current one might have become degraded with time.

    As for more modern transmissions, the C6 could be an option. As your car probably has a 3.00 rear axle ratio, that puts it out of the running for an OD automatic! Unless you want to change the rear axle ratio to about 3.73 or 3.89 . . . which I would not advise.

    But I believe it's best to keep your vehicle as original-spec as you can, all things considered. That puts you back to finding a trans shop that knows your transmission and how to do it correctly and "to spec", using OEM-quality repair parts and also looking for other wear areas with regards to fluid sealing and performance. Possibly networking with some of the T-bird or 60s Ford club members in your region, too.

    Regards,
    NTX5467

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    Re: Tranny question for a 59 Thunderbird

    I second the idea of staying with the original transmission and having it rebuilt. If I'm not mistaken, you have a Cruise-O-Matic which is a good transmission out of the box. It has the advantage of starting in low and then shifting into intermediate and then into high. The 3 speed Ford-O-Matic normally starts in intermediate and then shifts into high. It only starts in low when the accelerator pedal is depressed all the way from a dead stop.

    I would find a good transmission shop in your area and have them do the job. Of course you also want to take it to someone who has rebuilt one of these in the past. The local T-Bird club should be able to give you some ideas.

    Good luck!
    Lew Bachman
    1957 Thunderbird

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    Senior Member juanatejeda's Avatar
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    Re: Tranny question for a 59 Thunderbird

    Thanks to both of you for your input.
    Just for edification, my Squarebird is not quite original. The engine was so worn on the original 352 that we replaced it with a 390ci. It is slightly bored, .030 if I recall (i've got all the paperwork). The block is a heavy duty Ford truck block and the upper and lower is Edlebrock with twin Holly fours. But to tell the truth I don't recall if the rear end was worked or is all original. I am guessing it tp be original.
    Just thought I would bring you up to date.
    Thanks
    Juan

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    Re: Tranny question for a 59 Thunderbird

    Do you have any idea how much horsepower your car is putting out? My view is that unless you go to the drag races every Saturday night and you drive the car sensibly then changing transmissions shouldn't be necessary. I think all you need is to find someone competent to trouble shoot it and do a rebuild if necessary.
    Lew Bachman
    1957 Thunderbird

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    Senior Member juanatejeda's Avatar
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    Re: Tranny question for a 59 Thunderbird

    No, I'm not sure how much HP I put out, never checked it out. The mods were for Show only. The Edlebrock upgrades and the overbore was for the twin Holly 750's.
    All SHow, never raced and don't plan on racing with it.
    Juan

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    Senior Member juanatejeda's Avatar
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    Re: Tranny question for a 59 Thunderbird

    Here is a picture of my T-Birds's engine.
    390ci, .030 overbore, 64 Ford truck, heavy duty block, Edlebrock upper and lower with dual Holly 750's and Shelby style dress-up covers and oil pan.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Click image for larger version. 

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    Juan

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    Re: Tranny question for a 59 Thunderbird

    The "dress" looks good! Two 750s are more than it needs, but if the vacuum secondaries are still working as designed, the secondaries won't open all of the way, anyway.

    I wouldn't worry about a 390 rather than a 352, unless there's some significant visual difference in the blocks (that ONLY somebody who knew what they were looking at would know what they were looking at). .030" overbore is a common overbore, usually what it takes to just get the bores cleaned up and such . . . no big deal. All of the AER engines I've seen, which were reman, were all .030" overbores.

    The additional power compared to the stock trans probably won't cause any issues. Usually it's torque loads and shock loads when shifting tha tear things up. Torque loads as in WOT starts with high-traction conditions and shock loads during shifts at WOT with some kind of shift kit that results in really firm shifts. Normal driving, even some "passing gear action" every so often, probably wouldn't break anything.

    Just some thoughts,
    NTX5467

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    Senior Member juanatejeda's Avatar
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    Re: Tranny question for a 59 Thunderbird

    Only thing I've noticed is that I have had to replace Motor Mounts twice over the last 5 years or so. I don't drive it that much so breaking the mounts has made me wonder what's going on. Unless I just picked up some faulty mounts.
    Runs great, a gas hog, but that can be expected. Like I said it was built to be a Show car and that's mostly what I do with it. Short drives around town, when it's running. Right now with the tranny giving me problems it's in the garage. Probably won't get it worked on till the turn of the year. Show season is pretty much over and I have been showing the 27 Dodge truck more than anything else.
    Thanks for the suggestions on the tranny.
    Last edited by juanatejeda; December 16th, 2011 at 22:15.
    Juan

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    Re: Tranny question for a 59 Thunderbird

    OK, I went out and started up the Squarebird. Let it warm up and added some Tranny fluid. First thing I noticed was that I getting forward (slightly) in all positions.
    I let it run a while longer and got a little reverse, but forward gears never came in.
    Guess I'm going to have to make that trip to the Transmission Shop. Now, where do I find a trailer??????
    Juan

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    Re: Tranny question for a 59 Thunderbird

    The motor mount issue could be due to the age of the rubber in the "new" mounts, more than anything else. BUT . . . it was not that uncommon before mounts became "fail-safe" in about the 1968+ timeframe. GM came out with a cable kit for their Chevy models, which seemed to be the worst ones in this respect. A stainless steel cable with eyelets on each end, which wrapped around the frame and were attached to a part of the engine. Later model mounts had the "fail-safe" feature, so the cables weren't needed. Perhaps there are some later-model mounts which have the fail-safe feature that will fit your 'Bird?

    Just some thoughts,
    NTX5467

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    Re: Tranny question for a 59 Thunderbird

    @NTX5467
    Thanks for that info. I'll make sure that we look into the "Failsafe" if and when I have to replace them again. So far so good.
    Juan

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    Re: Tranny question for a 59 Thunderbird

    Merry Christmas!

    I'm a new member looking a radiator for my 1960 Thunderbird 352-4bbl 300hp.
    any assistance is most appreciated!

    thanks-sidewinder64

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    Re: Tranny question for a 59 Thunderbird

    Quote Originally Posted by juanatejeda View Post
    OK, I went out and started up the Squarebird. Let it warm up and added some Tranny fluid. First thing I noticed was that I getting forward (slightly) in all positions.
    I let it run a while longer and got a little reverse, but forward gears never came in.
    Guess I'm going to have to make that trip to the Transmission Shop. Now, where do I find a trailer??????
    Full kits for a rebuild for that tranny are easy to come-by. What isn't easy is a case. Those transmissions were very bad about cracking the center web in the casting that supports the drum. Be sure to magnaflux the case before rebuilding. At one time there was a Kit that had the parts necessary to keep the web from cracking but I haven't seen one in years.

    You could drop in a round top C6 if you can find one. If I recall correctly the first couple of years of C6 production were round tops. The flat top C6 didn't show up until the 385 engine series was first put in Lincolns in 1968.
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    Senior Member juanatejeda's Avatar
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    Re: Tranny question for a 59 Thunderbird

    Thanks Jim. I'll pass this on to the guy that's going to work on the Tranny. He is a good mechanic and so far he has been familiar with all the stuff I have brought to him. I don't know anything about Magna flux or how it works, but I will talk to him and see what he says.
    Thanks again.
    Juan

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    Re: Tranny question for a 59 Thunderbird

    Quote Originally Posted by juanatejeda View Post
    Thanks Jim. I'll pass this on to the guy that's going to work on the Tranny. He is a good mechanic and so far he has been familiar with all the stuff I have brought to him. I don't know anything about Magna flux or how it works, but I will talk to him and see what he says.
    Thanks again.
    Juan, I failed to mention that not all trannys used in '59 had cast iron cases. In which case your mechanic would think I'm crazy for suggesting the cracked web. Transmissions with the iron cases will have either a yellow or green tag riveted to the case with the I.D. the type would be identified with the prefix of PBA or PB?.

    Those trannys were originally filled with TYPE A fluid, however today it would be best to have it filled with the latest version of Dexron, which is backward compatible with TYPE A.
    OCA, LCOC, AACA
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    Re: Tranny question for a 59 Thunderbird

    @Jim
    Thanks for that info, I had no idea that the fluid would be different. I wonder if that could cause my problem?
    Do you by chance know what kind of symptoms using the wrong fluid might cause?
    Juan

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    Re: Tranny question for a 59 Thunderbird

    Quote Originally Posted by juanatejeda View Post
    @Jim
    Thanks for that info, I had no idea that the fluid would be different. I wonder if that could cause my problem?
    Do you by chance know what kind of symptoms using the wrong fluid might cause?
    I guess I would have to ask what fluid has been introduced into the transmission if other than Type A? All sorts of interesting things can take place with incompatible fluids. While the basic fluid is the same additives to affect shift characteristics will cause problems. Typically one will see a whitish color or foam on the dipstick if fluids have been inappropriately mixed. Type F for example does not mix well at all with variations of Dexron fluids GM used to provide smoother shifting characteristics in HydraMatics. The additives in Type F provides for a more positive feeling shifting characteristic.

    In any old automatic what typically happens is the segments of the clutch pack will begin to separate from age creating a lot of slippage and finally nothing. Worn out bands or bands needing adjustment will also result in slippage. Of course just needing a fluid change and a fresh filter can also cause shifting issues. Chances are pretty good if that tranny has never been opened up or its been years and years since it had a fluid and filter change it needs a total rebuild to be considered reliable.
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    Re: Tranny question for a 59 Thunderbird

    Actually the trans was rebuild as part of the restoration. The restoration was in 1999. The car only has about 6000 miles on it since the restoration and the tranny has been serviced at least three times during this time period. I have had problems with it for some time, heating up during slow, cruising speeds and parades and leaking problems. The tranny shop I used has not been able to figure out where the leak is actually coming from. It seems to leak when it sits in the garage. I also noticed that when I drive it slow, cruising, the fluid seems to leak (expand) and leak and I end up over heating and getting lots of smoke when the fluid hits the hot parts of the engine.
    Just don't know???? Recently, when I was going to go to a local gathering (our Donut Derelicts group) it would not engage, seemed to slip in all gears. I finally got a little reverse, after letting it warm up and adding some fluid, but so far I have not been able to drive it. I am planning on taking it to the shop in January.
    Last edited by juanatejeda; December 29th, 2011 at 18:43.
    Juan

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    Re: Tranny question for a 59 Thunderbird

    OK, I have dropped the Bird off at the Tranny Shop.

    I am probably going to go with a re-build VS replacing it with a C6, unless someone can convince me that it's a really good idea.

    Just don't know how much more work it will cause to do a conversion. I am going to try and help on the repair and install as much as I can. The mechanic is a personal friend and I am sure he will let me get in the way.

    Any info on a conversion will be appreciated.
    Juan

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    Re: Tranny question for a 59 Thunderbird

    All done, got it back today! Drove to home and seems to be just fine! Ended up rebuilding it and cost was just under $1700.
    Think I am going to put it up for sale, again. Will be asking $18,000, but will entertain reasonable offers. It is an approximate 12 year old, ground up restoration, mild custom with an upgraded 63 HD 390 ci, with dual Holly Carbs. All Shelby Dress-up on Valve covers, Air Cleaner and Oil Pan. Fresh Transmission, newer battery. Radio is an original that has been converted to Digital AM/FM, a 45RPM ARC Record Player (unrestored) under dash, Spoked Wheels. Mint Green. Photos on CarDomain, http://www.cardomain.com/ride/833127...rd-thunderbird or email at juantejeda@yahoo.com for any questions.
    Juan

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