Tech / Tech Articles

Ask Away! with Jeff Smith: 4L60E vs. 200-R4 Transmissions

(Image/Jeff Smith)

I think I just tore up my second 200-R4 transmission running back and forth to the NSRA street rod show in York, Pennsylvania.  I had a Turbo 400 in my ‘33 Ford and wanted to swap it for a 4 speed automatic.  This is purely a street car and I don’t beat on it (much) or race it.  I opted for a 200-4R as it was similar in size to the TH400.  

It was a pretty simple swap. Problem is I’m running a Fast EFI system on my 350 Chevy motor and no one makes the throttle geometry adapter so the detent cable pulls correctly. So I bought a different kit and made my own. I thought I got it right and it seemed to work fine but on the way home the trans started makes noises and began slipping on steeper climbs so I guess I took out the clutches, again. I’m not about to pull the FI and go back to a carburetor so I need another trans.

No more TV cables which leaves me with a 4L60E. Will that bolt right up to my 350 motor? I see TCI makes a controller/cable that’s compatible with the FAST ECU module.  Will I need a special flex plate and or converter?  Can you tell me exactly what parts I need or can you point me to someone or a company where I can purchase the right components.  -M.S.

Jeff Smith: The TV cable problem is likely the issue with your 200-4R. I like your decision to go to the 4L60E and I think you will find that while this will cost some additional coin, this is the best way to go. Besides the cost of the transmission the only other major investment will be in a trans controller. TCI has the EZ-TCU controller but a controller that I have some experience with and that I really like is the CompuShift Sport controller available through HGM Electronics..

I’ve installed one on a friend’s car and helped him tune it and it’s been controlling the 4L60E trans in his car for over a year and he loves it. The CompuShift Sport is also affordable and instead of a hand-held box, it uses a wireless Bluetooth connection to your smart phone for all the input. If you don’t have a smart phone then this may not be the way to go, but we’ve used it and it works great. We’ve also included a list of the other transmission controllers if you’d like to shop around.

As for the transmission, GM started using the 4L60E in 1993 in trucks and other vehicles and those were one-piece rear main seal small-block Chevys so look for that application. There are tons of LS-application 4L60E transmissions out there as well. One way to tell them apart is to look for a trans with a small-block Chevy bellhousing bolt pattern and that might have an integrated bellhousing, but the trans I used for my story had a separate bellhousing even with small-block bolt pattern.

I did a two-part story in Chevy High Performance magazine that outlines improvements for the 4L60E using mostly Sonnax and TCI parts and that trans is now behind my  buddy’s 460ci Rat El Camino and it works great.

Other pieces you will need include a different slip yoke to hook to your driveshaft and likely you will have to change driveshaft lengths because the 4L60E is about 2 inches longer than the 200-4R. You will not be able to use the 200-4R’s torque converter as they do no interchange – but you wouldn’t want to do that even if they did unless you cut it apart to clean it. All that junk that went into the converter makes it not worth the risk. You should also consider cleaning your trans cooler as well or at least flush it before running the new trans.

The bolt pattern for the torque converter should be the same – assuming you have a multiple pattern converter flex plate. The best thing to do is choose a converter and then match the converter to the flexplate before you bolt everything up to ensure the converter will fit properly. Your shifter will work with the 4L60E no problem.

You didn’t mention if you had a lockup converter with the 200-4R but with the 4L60E I would recommend one as you can choose exactly when you want the converter to lockup and in which gear. On the 4L60E we did for the El Camino, we decided to lock up the converter after 50 mph in fourth gear only. You could choose to do that in third gear if you like. We found that with a loose converter, the rpm drop going into fourth gear was less than the drop when we locked up the converter. Each car reacts differently and the beauty is you can easily make changes.

I think this is a great plan and you will be very happy with how well your car shifts with the 4L60E mainly because you can make changes to shift quality and harshness just by with a couple of touches on your smart phone! There are some advantages to all this technology we have now!

6 Comments

  1. MOTORHEADTY/ Ty Gross says:

    To all the motorheads who like Automatic Transmissions, Try this out, I’ve been doing this for 30+ years with great results:::First I use the biggest Transmission Oil Cooler that I Can fit in the space{leave about a 1″gap from radiator core/no contact}Then on the “Return Side” Cooler line I incorporate a “Remote” Spin~On Oil Filter Bracket By Transdapt Which I purchased thru SUMMIT RACING. Once a year I Change the remote filter Just like a regular Oil Filter
    It picks up a lot more contaminates Then the stock “Pan” filter. Especially if you have an old, high mileage Transmission When I do this,,, I’ll Prefill the new Filter with Lucas Transmission Additive. Might sound Crazy? But for about a $50.00 investment You’ll get your monies worth and better longer life out of your Automatic Transmission. I’ve never had a complaint or a “Come-Back”

  2. Steve duBois says:

    Ive been looking at the 200R4 for my 74 Vette SBC as it does not need cross member mods but i have seed articles saying the 200R4 is weak and needs up-grads to take 350HP output.

    Does the 4L60E require mods to the body or cross member to fit?

    Is there an instillation kit available?

    Regards

    S

  3. Travis Jones says:

    The 200-4R is a better platform to build according to Art Carr. It’s based on the 200 metric design, which was bemoaned upon it’s inception for shifting poorly, or many times not at all when they failed. The 200 Metric design was in essence, a lightened TH350, after lawsuits, and some heavy duty R&D, GM came out with the 200-4R, a 200 metric with an integrated OD unit. It was then upgraded again in 85 with different valve bodies and internals for then Hi-Po Buick Grand National and Monte Carlo SS.

    Keep in mind that the 200-4R was also used behind the highest torque passenger car engine that GM produced in the 80’s the Buick LC2 from the Grand National and GNX. I’ve seen built 200-4R’s run reliably in to the 9’s behind 3.8l Turbocharged Buick V6’s. I’ve yet to see a single built 700-R4/4L60/4L60E that can reliably handle the power to go into the 9’s. The 200-4R is also a much closer ratio gear box than the 700-R4 meaning less RPM drop between shifts.

    If you’ve already got the 200-4R get it into the hands of a good rebuilder, make sure the TV cable is set right and leave the 700-R4 behind.

  4. Guadalupe Ayala says:

    Muy interesante la informacion sobre la trasmisión 4l60e. Gracias por compartir su experiencia.

  5. Guadalupe Ayala says:

    Saludos y felicitaciones al sr jeff smith. Por su colaboración con los entusiastas de los inversiones en los autos.

  6. Paul Ruliffson says:

    I would agree with Travis provided the 200R4 is built right.
    I bought a universal case 2004R from Phoenix Transmissions to run behind an Olds 455 in my 78 Dodge 1/2 ton PU.(I can hear the snickers now).It wasn’t cheap, but it held up. Yes- the secret is getting the TV cable adjusted correctly. The 200 has a lower 1st gear than the 400, but not mas low as a 700. Next I am going to install this trans in my 74 Vette with a built 383 for street use and bracket racing.

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