The TA Corona’d!

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I took the Great Pumpkin out the other day, to try and pump some much needed carbon dioxide into the very cold air. Some greenhouse gasses are badly needed – to warm up what has been the coldest “summer” in memory. It is two weeks away from June and it has dipped below freezing here in SW Virginia twice in the past few days. We have had several days of “highs” no more than 50-something, which is appropriate to March.

At any rate, I figured I’d do my part of help and rolled the ancient icon of a better, vanished time out of the garage and headed north, to the coffee shop where I am still allowed to sit in the parking lot and drink my coffee – without Fear Masking to get it.

The trip down was great. Not quite a full stop at the sign and onto the main road. Line her up and – rolling start, so the tires have a chance – dump the throttle and here we go! The shaker’s door opens wide, air gulps down the chasm of the Quadrajet’s secondaries, to be exhaled in copious warmth and wonderful smells from the twin splitter tips out back.

Full afterburner – all the way there.

It was headed home that something went awry. I noticed it as soon as the road opened up and the transmission – a modern (or more modern than my TA’s original) transmission would not shift into overdrive. Then it would not shift out of second.

I feared that soon it would not shift at all – and so kept going. In a situation like this, stopping can be smart – or dumb – depending on what’s wrong. If the problem was due to low (because leaking) fluid and I kept on driving, doing so would be exceptionally stupid – because running an otherwise healthy automatic low on fluid can quickly Corona it. But I was on the 85 percent side of sure that it wasn’t a leak that was my issue. I saw no puddles and smelled no smoke and besides all that I know my car in the way that owning a car for 30 years creates an intimacy that most marriages never achieve.

So I banked on something else – and in that case, stopping could mean permanently stopping. So I kept going, in second, all the way home.


And made it.

The Great Pumpkin is a “lucky ship” – like the battleship Scharnhorst (well, maybe the Scharnhorst wasn’t so lucky as she now rests at the bottom of the deep).

In any event, back in the safety of drydock – and access to tools.


With trepidation, I dropped the pan, wondering whether anything would drop out with the pan; whether anything other than fluid would be in the pan. Chunks of things are never a good sign. But – as luck (so far) would have it – no chunks or anything unusual. Just the fluid and a little very fine silt, normal to find in the pan.

So, what next? Suspicion fell on the governor, a gear-driven thing with weights and springs that reacts to spinning (centrifugal force) to govern the shifts. The Pumpkin’s tranny – not Bruce – is a GM TH2004R and these things apparently have a weakness in the governor. The spring sometimes goes and when it does, so do your shifts. So I pulled the governor out of the valve body – the hydraulic circuit box that is the heart of every automatic – and looked to see.

But the spring was fine and the governor seemed ok.

Which is good but doesn’t explain the lack of shifts. There is an electric solenoid that could be the source of the ‘infection.” Another possibility is a stuck accumulator or a little piece of something in one of the many tiny hydraulic passages, which is a possible consequence of long periods of sleep.

The TA only comes out once a month or so – and less, lately Because Corona. The fluid only had about 2,000 miles on it but then so do the tires – and they were new back around 2002.

One other contender is the TV – throttle valve – cable, which needs to be adjusted just right for the shifts to happen right. It’s possible the cable is out of adjustment. Or – and this can be determined easily with the transmission’s undersides exposed – the lever it’s attached to that’s supposed to depress a plunger that tells the tranny (not Bruce) when to shift could be awry.

So, we’ll see.

Everything goes back together  – after rechecking everything that can be checked without actually taking the tranny out (not for a date; sorry, Bruce) later this week, once the parts I need arrive.

In the meanwhile, put your hands on the TeeVee and pray with me, Ernest-style, to the Motor Gods:

Thou foul green spirits, come out! Heaaaayuuuhlll! 

. . .

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  1. Eric, I’d look at changing the ATF to a g-o-o-d synthetic, especially since what is in the tranny is 18 years old. Oils and additives do age and oxidize. Gunk in the valve body is a real possibility, and soaking as another poster described might be a great idea.

    Try Amsoil or Red Line as a replacement ATF. I’ve had great experiences with both companies. Their products should help minimize future sludging.

    • Hi Ek,

      Yup; am going to try that as soon as I have time to button her up! I still want to confirm the torque converter lock-up solenoid is working… just to be sure. Stay tuned!

  2. I prescribe a Tremec 6-speed conversion kit. Driving a car with an automatic is like wearing a rain coat while taking a shower. My first new car was a 1980 Trans Am. With an automatic, which was a concession because I really wanted a Trans Am, and waited nearly a year for them to offer a manual again. Then after a little more than a year, and past the warranty, the transmission started to fail. I traded it in immediately. Of course for 1981 they offered it with the Chevy engine and the manual, which I would have liked a lot more, and would probably have kept a lot longer. Oh well, I’ve managed to make up for it since then.

  3. Don’t know specifically about your trans, but some GM’s had vacuum controls (my ’80 Z28 did) – check for any vacuum leaks, if applicable.

    • Hi Libertyx,

      The 2004R has a TV cable; checked that. There are two other items left before I button her up, cross fingers and see whether she rolls: The sensor for the lock-up converter (hot wire to brake pedal from side of case) and – I’m not sure what it’s called – but it’s an electrical/coil looking thing at the front of the case. No evidence of clutch damage. It may just be gunk in the valve body, which the drain of fluid and cleaning should fix.

      If it’s croaked, I will give serious consideration to the Super T-10 instead!

  4. Can you shift through the gears manually? I’m not sure about that transmission but I know some let you do that. That could narrow it down a bit. I had a buddy with a car where automatic shifts stopped working properly but gears could still be selected manually. (It’s been a few years but I think in that case it was seals on the governor.) Hopefully you’re not looking at anything nasty like a broken band. At least finding no pieces of broken parts in the pan is a hopeful sign.

  5. Eric. As per the TÜV inspectors and Tuners, I never drive on tires more than 8 years old. Since you’re limited to walking speeds where you’re living, you can probably go longer but 18 years is seems a little too long. Also, what is involved with converting to a standard transmission? These are trouble-free.

    • Agree Doug. I personally don’t let motorcycle tires go more than 5-6.
      I think garaged tires (no sun) can go longer, but for the chance of hitting the deck at speed is not worth it to me.
      But to be fair, I have a tire fetish (from my roadracing days), and point out to anyone, unsolicited advice, to ‘change those tires’, haha….

  6. The Great Pumpkin is an automatic? I had assumed it was a 4-speed!

    A/T’s aren’t my forte, and I know that the fluid is fresh, but…..even so, valve bodies can get gunked up just from sitting. If she’s in dry dock, might just pay to remove the valve body and soak it in a 50-50 mix of ATF and acetone, and then gently blow it out with air….. Also, didja check the shift cable, shifter, and linkage arm at the tranny?

  7. that’s a cool car but it needs to be safe so i suggest you attach a face mask to the front of it, you don’t want the carbs getting coronavirus.

  8. Hope it doesn’t end up requiring a transplant Eric. My experience is I’ve rebuilt and repaired many hundreds of cars and engines, gasoline, diesel, 2 stroke, 4 stroke, brakes mechanical, juice, and air, etc with 100% success. However, automatic transmissions are finicky and arcane beasts, and on those I’m only 2 out of 4… every little passage, check ball, spring is critical.

    I have to note I also broke down and took one to a tranny shop, and that took 3 trips with major failure each time, so I fell a little better about my record with them.

    Now if you could bring yourself to go to a manual 5 speed, you might have something. I’m not sure any would stand up to a big block though…

    • Maybe look for an original 4 speed setup, then add in an aftermarket overdrive? There is something uniquely special about an American big block with a 4 speed behind it. The only one I’ve ever had was a 70 stage 1 455 Buick GS convertible. Sold her for college money, one of my bigger mistakes.

  9. When you get the Orange car back on the road, I’m sure that many of us would like to see a video of you outrunning Clovers or going to the Corona coffee shop or something. That would be cool. Orange car probably needs to be driven more often.


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