Of course, all this sounds good, but if you cannot get it to work in your race car, what use is it? To find out, we followed Jim Cook, owner of Jim Cook Racing, as he installed a TCI 10-inch racing converter and transmission oil cooler into a customer's race car. The car is an '84 Buick powered by a Chevrolet 350-cid engine and using a Turbo 350 transmission, which is easily the most popular engine/transmission combination when it comes to classes where an automatic is required. This race car normally competes in Strictly Stock-level events.

The biggest trouble when it comes to installing a new torque converter doesn't have anything to do with the converter itself--it is getting all the "stuff" out of the way so you can get to the transmission. Before they could turn the first bolt on the transmission, Cook and car owner Chris Hargett had to remove the exhaust pipes, driveshaft, and crossmember, as well as all the transmission linkages. You are going to spend a fair amount of time underneath your race car for this project, so get it up on a set of jackstands so you can operate underneath the chassis comfortably and safely. The next step is to drain the fluid from the transmission and separate the transmission (including the bellhousing) from the engine at the flexplate. In our application, there were three 38-inch bolts holding the torque converter to the flexplate. Lower the transmission on a shop jack so that you can access the torque converter. The converter install is actually so easy that Cook and Hargett didn't bother pulling the transmission from under the car.

Once you have access to the front of the transmission, simply pull out the old torque converter. You may have to wiggle it a little bit to get it loose, but excessive force isn't necessary unless it is damaged. To install the new torque converter, simply slide it onto the transmission's input shaft. The converter needs to connect at three levels--the input shaft, the stator support, and the front pump gear--so you may need to spin the converter a bit to get all three engaged. You should not, however, have to bang or otherwise force the converter into position. Once it's in place, raise the transmission back into place so that the hub of the torque converter slides into the end of the crank, and bolt the converter to the flexplate.

If your race car already has an integral transmission fluid cooler in the radiator, plumbing TCI's external oil cooler is equally as easy. A cooler is highly recommended because it helps improve component life. Racing at WOT produces a lot of heat and stress, and anything you can do to keep the temperature down in the stock-based transmission will help.

TCI's kit provides all the fittings and hoses necessary for the install. There are two options when installing the kit. You can piggyback the external oil cooler with the existing oil cooler in the radiator. Cook prefers this method because it can actually help bring the transmission fluid to operating temperatures before the race. With the car running--even if you are sitting in the pits--the transmission may not be engaged, but the water temperature will come up to operating temperature. By running the transmission fluid through both coolers, the higher water temperature will help bring up the temperature of the fluid to give you good performance as soon as the green flag falls, but the external cooler will keep it from getting too hot under racing conditions.

You can also re-route the transmission fluid away from the radiator completely and use the external cooler to keep the temperature under control. This is Miller's preference because it both simplifies and separates the systems. "In a race application, I prefer just bypassing the radiator completely," he says. "Just run the lines straight from the tranny to the cooler and be done with it. If something ever happens and the radiator starts leaking, you will get water in your fluid and your transmission will be toast. I think it's just safer and simpler."

Overall, installation of the torque converter required less than two hours of work. The external oil cooler required another 45 minutes. At the time this went to press, Hargett had not yet raced the car with the new setup, but we'll give an update on its performance in a later issue.

TCI Automotive
151 Industrial Dr.
MS  38603
Jim Cook Racing