Dr Jamie Meyer
August 3, 2011

Horse Sense: The AODE transmission has come stock in Ford Mustangs since 1994, and it is now called the 4R70 or 4R70W. The "W" stands for wide, as in wide gear pattern. These transmissions have the desirable low-gear set, which works best with the 4.6 modular engine, and they can be easily identified by the "W" stamped on the tailhousing.

When we last left off with our white '89 LX notchback ("Weekend Thrash," May '02, p. 208), we had begun the process of turning back the clock on an 80,000-plus-mile 5.0 Mustang. Our goal was to restore those aspects of the car most damaged by time and use. We did this by performing a tune-up and fuel-system rebuild, installing a full Bassani Xhaust stainless steel exhaust system, decreasing the parasitic drag on the engine to free up horsepower to the wheels, and upgrading the intake tract for easy breathing. Not covered in that story was the addition of an Unlimited Performance rear suspension (upper and lower rear control arms) and 3.73 gears, which really got things going.

What became obvious during our early ownership of the little coupe was that the AOD transmission, which was never intended for spirited driving in the first place, was in need of serious attention. After some blasts on the street and one day of dragstrip use, the transmission started slipping badly-to the point the car was no longer a pleasure to drive. We needed help. So we called our friends at Performance Automatic and Precision Industries-two aftermarket houses that know all about automatic-equipped performance cars-to get the inside scoop on what we'd need to fix our AOD blues.

Our first thought was to do a casual rebuild of the AOD, throw in a shift-improvement kit, maybe a wide gear pattern, and use a higher-stall converter to get the notch back in action. But Harvey Baker of Performance Automatic soon convinced us this was the old way of thinking. What he outlined for us was a jump to the next level in street automatic-transmission technology-the newly released Performance Automatic AODE transmission. The strengths of this transmission start from Ford Motor Company. The AODE is truly a state-of-the-art automatic transmission, with its pressure controlled internally, not coming from a TV cable as in the AOD. It's also much stronger from the start, able to hold 200 more horses in factory trim. And it has better internal components, including all gear material and hardware. Bottom line-it's an upgraded AOD ready for the next level.

In regard to the AODE, Harvey has become fond of saying, "We'd like to thank Ford for a job well done, but we'll take it from here!" Tom Cyr, owner and innovator at Performance Automatic, has developed a fully manual valvebody and transmission brake for the AODE. This brings the AODE into the performance market by mating a brute-strength transmission with the performance-car features of an Overdrive gear with electronic features (more on that later).

The unit we got for our car also included PA's large aluminum pan (12 quarts); Red Eagle race clutches; a Kevlar overdrive band; heavy-duty gaskets throughout; and a hardened, 31/44 shaft assembly. In testing, this bad boy has been taking more than 750 hp with nine-second elapsed-time potential. The best part is that even though this is an all-out race transmission inside, it also has the convenience of an electronically activated overdrive for full-on street use. As tested, our PA AODE transmission retails for $3,695.

Also working with the good folks at Precision Industries, we obtained one of the company's trick Stallion Series torque converters. These little gems can range in stall speeds from 2,400 to 6,000 rpm, and they have been tested in 1,600hp applications. Typically, a street car such as ours will see a two-tenths gain in the 60-foot times and more than a half-second reduction in elapsed time through the quarter-mile. These torque converters come with a two-year warranty, which includes a free stall adjustment in the first two years of ownership. That alone makes the converter a bargain, since you will likely change combinations on your car, making a converter change necessary. Ours is a 9.5-inch lockup converter with a 2,500-rpm stall. The lockup feature, which is activated electronically, mates the engine with the flywheel for 100-percent lockup, just as with a stick car. We found this feature alone was worth 10 horses at the wheels since the converter wasn't slipping and losing horsepower in high gear. As tested, our Precision Industries Stallion converter with lockup retails for $834.

There are points during the installation that you will have to fabricate a few items and be conformable with wiring. Mike Wilson, head technician at Paul's Automotive Engineering in Cincinnati, Ohio, easily handled our installation in one day. Of note, you will have to fabricate a transmission mount adapter. Mike did this out of a small piece of flat steel. This is done to offset the size difference of the AODE. We also had to remove one of the shifter linkage-mounting bosses so the stock AOD mechanism would mount up. For an additional tip, put a speed sensor in the correct location to avoid any transmission-fluid leaks. One sizeable problem is that if your car is like ours and is equipped with an X-pipe (ours was a beautiful Bassani), you will have to use an H-pipe to clear the PA transmission pan-it's that wide under the car. Begrudgingly, we bought a generic 211/42 inch H-pipe that easily cleared the new transmission.

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