Author Topic: '69 coupe with a 6-cylinder and a torque Drive air-cooled trans  (Read 3545 times)

68SixBangerRS

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I haven't been on here for about 4 years...sold my '68 RS Coupe with a 230 6-cylinder and a 3-on-the-tree (rare but an absolute rust bucket), and '69 red base coupe with a 250 6-cylinder and a 3-on-the-tree (an Ohio barn find that was full of snake skins and rust).  As you can probably tell, I like the "weird s***".  My daily driver is a '78 Nova 4-door with a 250 6-cylinder and a 3-on-the-tree, and my current beater Camaro is a Citrus Green '70 base coupe with a 250 6-cylinder and a 3-on-the-floor.  I also own a '74 Nova police car demonstrator that no one really cares about.  My cars are interesting and "off-the-beaten-path"...they attract attention because most 6-cylinder Camaros long ago had their original drivetrains swapped out for V8s, so there are almost none left and guys come over to check out what their Camaros used to have.

But this forum isn't about 2nd Gens or Novas, and I'm back here because I have another weird Camaro you might find interesting.  It's a red '69 base coupe with its original numbers-matching 250 6-cylinder and air-cooled Torque Drive transmission.  I have only been able to locate one other Camaro with this transmission, a '68 coupe that a guy in the KC metro area owns (I tried to share info with him and sent him a couple of photos but oddly never heard a word back).  Anyway, I digress...I found it at a classic car dealership in Grand Rapids, MI, and they had no idea how rare it was.  They thought it had a regular Powerglide, and when I drove up from Columbus to see it, the salesman who conducted the test drive spent the test in 2nd gear, so it had horrible, non-existent acceleration (the dealer was so anxious to get rid of it that they toyed with the idea of swapping in a small block with a TH-350).  The dealer had posted quite a few photos of the car online, and one of them showed its automatic trans shift indicator which said "TORQUE DRIVE" and showed its gears as "P-R-N-High-1st", which is how I figured out what it was.  I found info on this site that showed that approx. 3,000 '68 Camaros and 2,200 '69s had Torque Drives. I traded a beautiful survivor '77 Firebird Esprit with 53k miles and a big block '79 Suburban survivor for it plus a few grand in cash for the Camaro.

For those of you who aren't familiar with a Torque Drive tranny, it was option code "MB1" and was available for $68...the cheapest automatic available in a 6-cylinder equipped '68 or '69 Camaro (it was also available in 6-cylinder '68-'70 Novas).  Except the Torque Drive wasn't really an automatic...the driver had to do all of the shifting him or herself.  TDs were primarily marketed for women and high school or college kids.  The correct way to drive one was to start out in 1st gear and then shift into 2nd (high) between 20-30 mph, then repeat the process every time the car left a traffic light.  Since most people are lazy, many Torque Drives were left in 2nd and the drivers put up with the abysmally slow acceleration.  Unfortunately, driving an air-cooled transmission in hot weather in 2nd gear caused the transmissions to overheat and frequently fail.  GM replaced nearly all of them with standard liquid-cooled Powerglides under warranty, so almost none survived.

Once I got it home, I started to dig into research on what a Torque Drive was and how it was different from a regular PG equipped car.  The '69 assembly manual wasn't much help as it basically said it was supposed to have a liquid-cooled PG with all of the shifting parts removed (no vacuum modulator, governor, or kickdown mechanism, and a valve body with far less machining)...obviously the assembly manual is incorrect.  It also had a case with 4 large triangular-shaped holes and a very odd looking stamped lower cover with what appears to be an air scoop on one side to draw in cooling air.  It has a Harrison manual transmission radiator for a 6-cylinder that was made in May of '68, and the trans pan is coded for a Torque Drive (the engine is also matching numbers...I have the Protect-o-plate and all numbers match...there is no VIN stamped into the trans case).  The case appears to have been made in June of '68 (the car was built in the 5th week of Aug "08E"...very early production). The engine runs well, and the car has a claimed 56k original miles, but the trans slipped badly once it was warmed up.  I took it to a local shop that specializes in classic car trannys...they did a band adjustment and said the pan was full of metal shavings which indicated its torque converter was probably shot.

I took it back to that same shop a few days ago for a rebuild and they disassembled and cleaned all the parts.  I stopped in to take some close-ups of its parts.  Compared to a liquid-cooled PG, the main pump has less machining, the shifter mechanism has no provision for a kickdown, the hole where a vacuum modulator would go is sealed shut, the holes where a normal PG's cooling tubes go to and from the radiator are blocked off with bolts, and the torque converter has unusual cooling fins welded to the back.  I took a few photos to post on here so you will have some documentation since there doesn't appear to be any other place on the Internet which shows any of this.
« Last Edit: April 01, 2020, 09:58:55 PM by 68SixBangerRS »

68SixBangerRS

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Re: '69 coupe with a 6-cylinder and a torque Drive air-cooled trans
« Reply #1 on: April 01, 2020, 09:24:03 PM »
1st bunch of photos.

68SixBangerRS

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Re: '69 coupe with a 6-cylinder and a torque Drive air-cooled trans
« Reply #2 on: April 01, 2020, 09:26:38 PM »
1st batch of trans photos.

68SixBangerRS

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Re: '69 coupe with a 6-cylinder and a torque Drive air-cooled trans
« Reply #3 on: April 01, 2020, 09:28:23 PM »
More trans photos.

bcmiller

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Re: '69 coupe with a 6-cylinder and a torque Drive air-cooled trans
« Reply #4 on: April 01, 2020, 10:40:30 PM »
That’s for posting. I like all Camaros, including the unusual ones!

Kurt will probably contact you and we will want to add it to our database if possible.
Bryon / 1968 Camaro SS 396 coupe - now old school 468 big block
1967 RS/SS 396 coupe L35/M40 - 4 generation family project
Looking for 68 Camaro with body # NOR 181016

ko-lek-tor

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Re: '69 coupe with a 6-cylinder and a torque Drive air-cooled trans
« Reply #5 on: April 01, 2020, 10:41:44 PM »
Sweet looking car. I think ya’ done good! And, thanks for being astute and recognizing the significance of what you found.
James to strangers, Bentley to friends
1969 SS/RS 396 coupe Hugger Orange X22 712 owned since 79
1969 SS 350 coupe LeMans Blue 713 bought in 79(sold)
1969 D.H.COPO replica 4spd. 4.10 posi coupe Daytona Yellow 711 owned since 85

bertfam

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Re: '69 coupe with a 6-cylinder and a torque Drive air-cooled trans
« Reply #6 on: April 01, 2020, 11:40:28 PM »
MORE PICTURES!! Especially the engine compartment and the interior. How many miles on this baby?

Ed
Ed "Bert" Bertrand
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68SixBangerRS

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Re: '69 coupe with a 6-cylinder and a torque Drive air-cooled trans
« Reply #7 on: April 02, 2020, 01:07:07 AM »
I am looking for the photo card with engine photos, but it is MIA right now.  The tranny will be finished next week and I'll take some good photos of the engine compartment and post them on here then.  The main differences that I can see are the lack of a kickdown rod from the carb to the trans shifter rod (don't know exactly what it is called...goes into the left side of the trans), and no cooling lines from the radiator to the trans.  The factory assembly manual says the '69 Torque Drive was to use the same trans case as a liquid-cooled Powerglide, was supposed to have the VIN stamped into the driver's side of the case, and that the hole where a vacuum modulator would go on a regular PG was not supposed to be machined.  But on this car, it obviously has an air-cooled PG case, has no VIN stamped into the case, and the modulator hole is machined with a metal plug screwed in to block it off since there was no need for a modulator.  My impression is that since this is such an early '69 (it was the 1,439th one built at Norwood) that GM might have been trying to get rid of leftover '68 air-cooled Torque Drives.  GM already knew that TDs were susceptible to overheating, and I believe it was their intent to install liquid-cooled PGs that were modified to become TDs, but I don't know since there don't appear to be any other '69 Camaros with this tranny.  I found a '68 Chevy II 4-door for sale on Craigslist in South Dakota that had its original 230 6-cyl and TD trans and asked the seller to send me some good close-up photos of its engine, but received nothing back.  It was an air-cooled TD from a May '68-built car, so I think that probably all '68s with Torque Drives were air-cooled and (maybe) later '69s had liquid-cooled TDs. 

I was able to locate this car's original owner through an excellent website called "Familytreenow.com" and found out some interesting stuff about this car.  Heidi S. was 20 years-old in Sept. of '68 and 5 months pregnant, unemployed, and unmarried.  Her father Bill worked as a mechanic at Ft. Wayne, IN's largest Chevy dealer, Hefner, and wanted to get his daughter a new Camaro or Nova to help her through a tough time in her life.  He had seen this car (yes, it was the 1st '69 Camaro sold at Hefner) in a storage building that the dealer owned, and decided to try and get it for Heidi.  The official new car introduction date for '69 Chevys was Sept. 26, 1968, and Bill and Heidi were at the dealer's showroom that evening to try and buy the car.  Heidi said there were probably 100 people there that evening, and this Camaro was the prettiest car in the showroom.  They wanted to test drive it, but that was out of the question.  Bill did not receive much of a discount since this was the only '69 Camaro that the dealership had, and there were many other people interested in buying it.  Bill was told that it could not leave the showroom until the 2nd Camaro arrived (it showed up a week later...a yellow convertible with a black top).  Bill signed the papers that night and he and Heidi waited impatiently to pick it up.  It wasn't until they took delivery of it that Heidi realized it had a funky automatic transmission that wasn't really automatic, and no power steering or brakes (it also had no radio...Bill had a factory Delco AM radio installed shortly after they picked it up).  I believe that Hefner ordered it with a Torque Drive tranny because GM wanted to market the car to women and draw them in with its lower cost.  Heidi loved the way the car looked, but hated the way it drove, and she traded it in on a 'red '71 Nova coupe that she ordered from Hefner.  It originally came with the white hockey stripe, and it is coded "52 E" on the cowl tag (Garnet Red with a parchment top) with a "712" red standard interior.  It did not have many options...larger 250 engine, TD trans, tinted glass, hockey stripe, vinyl roof, full wheel covers, WSW tires, and floor mats.

I am a good acquaintance with Phil Borris, the author of the excellent book, "Echoes of Norwood" (he has seen my '70 Camaro and '74 Nova cop car prototype), and I sent him pictures of the '69.  He invited me to bring it to the big indoor "Cavalcade of Customs" show in downtown Cincinnati back in January, and it won a 3rd place award in competition with many beautiful and in my opinion more worthy cars.  It sat next to Mark Hasset's beautiful Hugger Orange '69 Yenko Camaro that was once owned by Otis Chandler (the owner of the LA Times newspaper), and received probably as many looks as his car.

My intention is to get the car (which Heidi named "Cherry"...the name I now call it) up to the Camaro Superfest in Ypsilanti, MI once this Chinese Virus garbage is gone, and maybe get it into the Vintage Chevy Club of America's G&D magazine.  In a couple of years I'll yank the drivetrain and make it into a Z28 clone (just kidding!).  I know the steering wheel shroud is supposed to be completely red, and those gawd-awful repop door panels are going to be replaced by the best red ones I can find (input on this would be most helpful...brand and source).

It is nice to be back on here, and thanks to all of you for your kind words...

 

bertfam

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Re: '69 coupe with a 6-cylinder and a torque Drive air-cooled trans
« Reply #8 on: April 02, 2020, 01:11:16 AM »
That's a great story! I wish I had history on ANY of my cars!!

Ed
Ed "Bert" Bertrand
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68SixBangerRS

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Re: '69 coupe with a 6-cylinder and a torque Drive air-cooled trans
« Reply #9 on: April 02, 2020, 01:32:30 AM »
Hey Bert...it's nice to hear from you.  I realized while writing my last post that I had saved a couple of photos of a '69 Nova that was for sale on the Internet several months ago.  It had a rare 4-cylinder engine and its original Torque Drive.  You will note that it has no radiator cooling lines, which probably means it's an early '69 (again, I don't know if later '69s had liquid-cooled Torque Drives, and I haven't found any '70 Novas with this trans).  You will also note that its shift indicator says "TORQUE DRIVE". 
« Last Edit: April 02, 2020, 02:10:50 AM by 68SixBangerRS »

KurtS

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Re: '69 coupe with a 6-cylinder and a torque Drive air-cooled trans
« Reply #10 on: April 02, 2020, 06:31:55 AM »
Great car! Thanks for the pictures!
The car was built 08E, the trans was built 8/13. That's a 69 trans. The trans design was the same 68 and 69.
No VIN on the bellhousing?
The whole point of the torque drive was to reduce costs. They removed the automatic parts and had a manual shift trans without a clutch. Without the governor and other parts to generate heat, they deleted the trans cooler. 
The AIM says it assembles same as M35. It does not mean that it is the same. The bellhousing is a different part number. The only error I see is someone left the trans cooling lines reference in the AIM.
I've been going through internal GM service information and I've never seen anything about Torque Drive failures. They were serviced as any other trans and would not have been replaced with a powerglide unless the customer paid for it.
Very few of them around. I know of 2 T-D 68's that survived, not sure if they still do... 
Kurt S
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group/7

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Re: '69 coupe with a 6-cylinder and a torque Drive air-cooled trans
« Reply #11 on: April 02, 2020, 02:12:22 PM »
Great story on a rare car ! and the Nova as well ! thanks for posting.

Here's part of the page on Camaro power teams from the '69 vehicle ordering manual, dated April 1st '69,  (this is from G.M.

Canada) showing the Torque Drive transmission,  could differ on U.S.  market cars, prices in Canadian dollars.

Mike

ps: sorry for the size, couldn't seem to make it any smaller .

group/7

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Re: '69 coupe with a 6-cylinder and a torque Drive air-cooled trans
« Reply #12 on: April 02, 2020, 02:22:59 PM »
Her's the page from the '69 vehicle ordering manual (Canadian Market cars) for the Nova, shows the Torque Drive, but only with

the 6, this is dated April 1st '69, maybe the 4cyl. wasn't offered in Canada, or being later in the production year, was deleted ?

Mike

ps: once again sorry for the size  ::) scroll back and forth to see the whole page.

68SixBangerRS

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Re: '69 coupe with a 6-cylinder and a torque Drive air-cooled trans
« Reply #13 on: April 02, 2020, 04:31:55 PM »
Kurt, thanks for the detailed reply. I based my info on the Torque Drive failures from talking with an elderly gentleman at a car show who said he had worked for GM back then and knew all about TDs and what a problem they were, and that many were swapped out for liquid-cooled PGs.  I stand corrected, Sir!  The case was hot tanked and I can't find a VIN stamped into it where I think it should be (about halfway up the edge of the bellhousing on the driver's side), but logically I assume it's the car's original trans. 

I'll post more photos on here including close-ups of its odd torque converter (which at the time I took the photos had been sent out by the tranny shop to be rebuilt).  The converter has fins welded onto the back to circulate cool air into the bellhousing.  The guys at the shop are all seasoned citizens and had never seen a TD, and said that several of the parts are made of unobtanium...impossible to find now.  The bulk of the parts are identical to a PG.  I'll get several of the trans from the underside of the car once it's installed and sitting on the shop's lift.  Let me know what you want pictures of and I'll get them off to you.  This may be the only opportunity to get internal pictures of this trans and document what it is possibly the only remaining '69 Camaro with a TD.

Driving the car is a real treat.  I have been a big fan of Chevy 6s since the early '80s, when I had a little-old-lady '72 Nova 4-door with a 6 and a 3-on-the-tree.  It was very peppy, never broke down, and got great gas mileage, and as anyone who has ever driven such a car will attest, you get used to the constant shifting and never really think about it.  It is the same with driving a TD-equipped car...the shifting becomes second nature.  Acceleration is not brisk, but it is acceptable.  I drive it very sparingly...maybe once every 3 or 4 weeks, and I don't need to use its acceleration abilities much since other drivers slow down so they can appreciate what a thing of beauty it is.  If you start out in 2nd gear ("HI" on the shift quadrant), you can forget about keeping up with traffic (it is SLOW!), but driving it the way it was intended allows you to keep up with the herd.  The best economy occurs when the trans is shifted at around 20 mph...shifting above that gets the engine pretty buzzy.  But if you need to merge onto the hiway, keeping it in 1st up to 40 or 45 provides sprightly acceleration.  Gas mileage in town is approximately 19-21, and I drive it like I'm a borderline old man (which I proudly am).  I may drive it up US 23 next summer from Columbus to Ypsilanti for the Camaro Superfest and I can then report back on its hiway fuel economy.  The engine is a typical semi-wheezy sounding Stovebolt 6 (one of the best engines ever produced, in my opinion), and it is almost noiseless while cruising around.  As the car is equipped, it is basically a very pretty Nova.  Although I appreciate its drivetrain now, I can't see any guy from the '60s buying such a car...it was definitely aimed towards women.  For all of the work necessary to drive it normally (lots of shifting), I can't see scrimping for the $87 savings over a Powerglide.

I grew up in the '60s and '70s when gas was super cheap, and every young punk back then would rip the 6s out of their Camaros (which were incredibly plentiful and cheap!) and stuff in a small or big block (the boneyards were full of them), so I can see why not many survived into the present day.  But I still can't understand why really nice remaining 6s are swapped out for V8s, other than "the heart wants what the heart wants", and originality be damned.

Let me know what you need.  Best regards, Alex

PS...Mike, thank you for your scanned GM documents...much appreciated!
« Last Edit: April 02, 2020, 06:10:27 PM by 68SixBangerRS »

68SixBangerRS

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Re: '69 coupe with a 6-cylinder and a torque Drive air-cooled trans
« Reply #14 on: April 02, 2020, 05:25:25 PM »
Kurt, here are the pages of the factory assembly manual that confused me.  The first page shows the VIN stamping location, and the drawing of the bellhousing doesn't show the Torque Drive's cooling holes (which was probably an oversight by the draftsman who created the manual).  I will look further around the bellhousing to see if maybe the VIN was stamped somewhere else and I simply overlooked it.  The second page (Item "7B6") shows that it was supposed to have the same cooling lines as a PG, which you have determined was an error in the manual. Additionally, Item "7B3A" says it was supposed to use the same "Underpan" as a PG, which I assume means the torque converter cover, and the TD's cover is obviously very different than a PG's.  The second page also says it was supposed to use a UPC 13A radiator, but I wasn't able to find that UPC in the manual.

Also attached are a couple more photos of the torque converter cover.  As you can see, it draws air in on the right side of the trans next to the starter.

 

anything