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Old 07-06-2009, 12:11 PM   #1
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1974 Argosy transmission questions

I have a 1974 Argosy with a semi-recently re-built 454 (valve broke off inside one of the cylinders, it wreaked an amazing amount of havoc, destroyed the piston and cracked the block in a matter of moments. I saved the piston as a paperweight/conversations starter) But that's a different story... my question is regarding the transmission.

Last summer we used the MH a bit and there were perhaps two or three times (total) that I would put it in gear and it would hesitate just a moment before actually snapping into gear. This was a bit of a red flag; fluid levels seemed okay and I got busy with life and parked it and forgot about it. It has sat all winter, only being started periodically but not driven at all. Of course now that I want to take it out on Wednesday I went to bring it home last night (it lives on my parents ranch about 30 min. away) and it started right up (hooray!) but won't go into gear at all (booo!!). I let it idle until it was nice and warm and gave it another try - nothing. Checked the linkage - all looks well. Shut it off, shared some transmission stories with my dad in the dark, started it up again - nothing.

It was night time so I was working by flashlight but from what I could tell the fluid looked a little bit "browner" than I had expected, I smelled it and there was no obvious burnt smell to it however the color is a little disheartening.

My dad tells me a story about completely dismantleing and (with the help of a mechanic friend) putting back together an auto transmission in a car he had growing up.

Is transmission work like piano tuning? (they want you to think it's magical and can only be done by trained wizards at a high price, but in reality it's a very do-able thing for a semi-bright person with the will to learn)

Is there an intermediate step I should take? The MH is WAY out of town and I don't have the $$ to get it towed (or fixed for that matter) so I'm trying to brain storm options I might have.

Drain/re-fill fluid?
Replace screen/filter?

Obviously I can start with those little things but I was curious if anyone here has any experience with this type of thing and would be willing to point me in the right direction.

I'm dreading the point where I have to tell my wife that we're "tenting it" this year!!

Thank you in advance!
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Old 07-06-2009, 02:30 PM   #2
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I can't speak much about what might be wrong with the transmission but there is a good chance the transmission is a GM Turbo 400. These are fairly plentiful and not overly expensive to rebuild. It is also possible it is a Turbo 475 which means it has straight cut gears instead of helical ones which provide better strength for high torque situations. Supposedly Airstream put Turbo 475 transmissions in the motorhomes but I don't know when they started that practice. I do know the one in my 74 20' Argosy motorhome is actually from a donor Chevy 1-ton pickup and it is a Turbo 400.

You might be surprised by how easy it is to actually remove the transmission from your motorhome. Its wide open underneath and with the doghouse cover off you have better access to the upper back half of the engine, more so than most other vehicles.

I'll bet if you pull it and drop it off at a "reputable" transmission shop you can have it done for less than $500.

Good luck and keep us posted as to what the problem is.

Brad
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Old 07-06-2009, 03:45 PM   #3
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Thank you Brad for the info!! I seriously spent way more time than I should have searching the internet to find out exactly that (what transmission it was) - I should have just asked you to begin with!

A quasi-update:
I called a few transmission shops in town and relayed my story. Oddly enough the place that came highly recommended by my parents as an honest, trustworthy, knowledgeable and friendly outfit was rather curt with me. When I told him I checked the fluid levels the first time it was sluggish to go into gear he said "no you didn't" !! I didn't know how to respond to that! Anyway I was informed that "overfilling" the transmission will not "blow seals" instead it will just overflow out the breather valve and make a big mess. That was news to me, I had always been told to NOT OVERFILL! So my next step is supposed to be add a quart and give it a try, if nothing then add a second quart and try again. The places I talked with unanimously suggested that as the solution. Also (surprisingly) I was told that if it went into gear after adding fluid that I'd be fine - no need to take it in and have them do anything.

My plan is to start with the cheapest options and work my way up.

If I had the time and space and could convince my wife it was a good idea I'd love to tear it apart and clean it up and put it back myself - too many projects with more importance I suppose.

I'll let you know how it goes. (I'm still VERY open for ideas/suggestions!!)

-Logan
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Old 07-06-2009, 08:47 PM   #4
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Logan,

I don't have a problem with the suggestion of filling it a quart at a time to see if it starts working. However, if that does solve the problem I would look to find out just where the original transmission fluid went. To be that low I would think you would have a large oil spot on the ground or else a large spread/stain of oil on the underside of the chassis all the way to the rear of the coach.

In thinking about it a little more we had a Jeep Cherokee one time that would exhibit the same symptoms you're describing. It only had to be a little low on fluid to be slow shifting into gear and if it was a lot low it wouldn't move .

In our case it was leaking from the rear seal and it was pretty obvious.

Good luck!

Brad
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Old 07-06-2009, 09:24 PM   #5
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There is a seal around the shift selector shaft that can leak, the pan gasket can leak, the front seal around the torque converter can leak, the front pump seal can leak, and the vacuum modulator can rupture internally and suck transmission fluid into the engine, where it is burned along with the fuel. The other seal leaks should be pretty obvious as far as seeing, and the modulator is easy to see as well. Just remove the vacuum line on the valve, and if transmission fluid comes out, the valve is bad. Replacement of that part is about $30, and is a DIY repair. Just make sure you watch for a thin metal shaft to pop out of the valve when you remove it. It won't change gears without it.
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Old 07-06-2009, 09:45 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by overlander63 View Post
There is a seal around the shift selector shaft that can leak, the pan gasket can leak, the front seal around the torque converter can leak, the front pump seal can leak, and the vacuum modulator can rupture internally and suck transmission fluid into the engine, where it is burned along with the fuel. The other seal leaks should be pretty obvious as far as seeing, and the modulator is easy to see as well. Just remove the vacuum line on the valve, and if transmission fluid comes out, the valve is bad. Replacement of that part is about $30, and is a DIY repair. Just make sure you watch for a thin metal shaft to pop out of the valve when you remove it. It won't change gears without it.
Dang Terry, now that you've told us about all those other places to look for leaks I'm going to start worrying about them on our motorhomes .

Good info!

Thanks,

Brad
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Old 07-06-2009, 10:24 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bkahler View Post
Dang Terry, now that you've told us about all those other places to look for leaks I'm going to start worrying about them on our motorhomes .

Good info!

Thanks,

Brad
You're welcome. I didn't even tell you about the governor seal, or the tailshaft gasket, or the speedometer drive gear housing seal, or even the speedometer drive gear housing itself...
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Old 07-07-2009, 09:37 AM   #8
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pssst..... dipstick tube seal.
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Old 07-07-2009, 11:22 AM   #9
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Quote:
pssst..... dipstick tube seal.
Yeah, now I feel like a dipstick. I am only telling you this because I know it will give you all a good laugh - and someone laughing at you when you are not there is slightly better than them laughing at you when you are there. It turns out that in the dark I was not checking the transmission fluid at all, somehow tiredness mixed with lack of light mixed with a good dose of stupidity resulted in me checking the freakin' oil!! I've not felt so stupid in years.

The moment I opened the doghouse yesterday (with the sun up an shining bright) I slumped to my haunches in disbelief at my lack of competence. It took about 1 second for all of the previous nights details to suddenly make perfect logical sense.

The transmission fluid WAS low - very very low. I added two quarts (all I had) and it still needs a little more.

Quote:
To be that low I would think you would have a large oil spot on the ground or else a large spread/stain of oil on the underside of the chassis all the way to the rear of the coach.
I also looked underneath (I looked with my puny flashlight the first night but since it was parked on dark dirt and the flashlight didn't really deserve to have the word "light" in it's name I somehow missed this) there was a large (2 foot dia.) oil spot directly under the transmission. Good call bkahler!

The good news is that I was able to drive it home with no problems...
The bad news is that I have a leak...
The good part about that bad news is that I am pretty confident that I can take care of it myself. (And thanks to overlander I have about 35 places to check!!)

Thank you all for your help, input and advice. As a token of my gratitude you can all laugh at me and tell your friends about "this one dipstick who checked the wrong dipstick..."

-Logan
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Old 07-07-2009, 11:41 AM   #10
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the ones that laugh are the ones that have "been there, done that". at least with a leak that big it should be easy to locate.

mistakes are part of learning.
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Old 07-07-2009, 01:51 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pillageTHENburn View Post
It turns out that in the dark I was not checking the transmission fluid at all, somehow tiredness mixed with lack of light mixed with a good dose of stupidity resulted in me checking the freakin' oil!! I've not felt so stupid in years.

The moment I opened the doghouse yesterday (with the sun up an shining bright) I slumped to my haunches in disbelief at my lack of competence. It took about 1 second for all of the previous nights details to suddenly make perfect logical sense.

The transmission fluid WAS low - very very low. I added two quarts (all I had) and it still needs a little more.
This brings up a major question for me. Is your engine oil dipstick under the doghouse cover or is it accessable only from the front of the motorhome when you open the "hood"? If so I wonder why yours is different than others that I've seen.

All the pictures I've seen of Argosys show the oil dipstick accessed from the front and the transmission dipstick accessed from under the doghouse. Since the engine in our 20' Argosy had been pulled to put in a race car years ago the engine oil dipstick hardware has disappeard so I'm faced with using a standard dipstick that I will have to access from the doghouse.

Quote:
I also looked underneath (I looked with my puny flashlight the first night but since it was parked on dark dirt and the flashlight didn't really deserve to have the word "light" in it's name I somehow missed this) there was a large (2 foot dia.) oil spot directly under the transmission. Good call bkahler!
Wow! You made my day

Quote:
The good news is that I was able to drive it home with no problems...
The bad news is that I have a leak...
The good part about that bad news is that I am pretty confident that I can take care of it myself. (And thanks to overlander I have about 35 places to check!!)
You could also do what I'm going to do and that is ignore Terry's comments about other places that can leak . I decided I have enough to worry about without adding to the list .

Glad you found your problem and were able to drive it home. Oh and trust me, you're not the only one to make this sort of mistake. The difference is for me it usually costs me a lot of money when I make the mistake!

Brad
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Old 07-14-2009, 09:18 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bkahler View Post
This brings up a major question for me. Is your engine oil dipstick under the doghouse cover or is it accessable only from the front of the motorhome when you open the "hood"? If so I wonder why yours is different than others that I've seen.

All the pictures I've seen of Argosys show the oil dipstick accessed from the front and the transmission dipstick accessed from under the doghouse. Since the engine in our 20' Argosy had been pulled to put in a race car years ago the engine oil dipstick hardware has disappeard so I'm faced with using a standard dipstick that I will have to access from the doghouse.
I will take some pictures to show you but I do access both the oil and the transmission dipstick from the doghouse. I do not have any experience with any other Argosy ever so I have nothing to compare it to but it all seems pretty "normal" to me. As you look at the the engine (from inside with the doghouse open) the oil dipstick is on the right hand side about halfway between the front and rear of the doghouse opening. The transmission dipstick is almost under the rear lip of the doghouse opening (at your right knee if you were kneeling in front of it).

I do not know why this would be different from other argosy's but this one has an interesting story that might be a clue... It's a '74, and in 1974 when it was built and bought it was 24' long. From what I understand at the time that was the longest argosy they made(??). In about 1984 (when Airstream now had 30+ foot models) the original owner took this 24 footer back to Airstream and had them extend the chassis, add a tag axle and re-skin the back end (the exterior skin is in two pieces - one from the front to about 22' back and another from there to the end). So he now had a 32 foot 1974 Argosy. As far as I know this is the original engine however that might not be the case. I had the engine rebuilt in 2005 (fantastic story, you can read it here), but the dipstick never moved.

Also, as a "conclusion" to my transmission issue I got it home and it took almost two more quarts to bring it up to a normal level. Once this was done (while it was still running) I peeked underneath to see if I saw any leaks... I did. There was a puddle about 8" in diameter and a pretty steady drip. I followed the drip up to find it coming from the radiator side of an inline filter (?) that was on the return hose headed back to the transmission. I turned off the engine and tightened up the brass nuts (both sides). The drip stopped. Drove it 75 miles, camped for a week, drove it 75 miles back and still no problems. I theorize that it is probably still leaking from somewhere but I haven't driven it quite enough to know (yet).

I've now started a list of things I want to "fix". Most of them are not critical but would make it a much nicer motorhome. The list is big.

Thanks again for all the help and advice!
-Logan
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Old 07-15-2009, 09:49 AM   #13
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Logan,

Thanks for the info. I would most definitely like to see pictures of your engine compartment, actually the whole motorhome for that matter!

On our Argosy the 454 was pulled many years ago for someone to use in a circle track race car. In the intrim a lot of the accessory parts disappeared. When we got the motorhome the current owner had installed a freshly rebuild 350 and a freshly rebuilt Turbo 400 transmission but never finished the installation to where it was ready to drive.

We opted to pull the 350 and install a freshly rebuilt 454 built specifically for towing since we plan on pulling a 31' Excella 500 with it. The Excella is being modified to carry two Triumph sports cars hense the need for a good towing engine with good low end torque.

So pictures would be great!

Brad
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Old 01-30-2011, 09:03 PM   #14
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Were you ever able to tow your race car trailer with your argosy? I had similar ideas to pull my 30ft airstream trailer with my argosy
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