If you want old-school looks with new-school performance, the pro-touring scene is the way to go. Learning this from the ever-growing popularity of the pro-touring movement, the massive amount of street-machines and performance-minded daily drivers we see on the roads and at events these days is certainly proof. We wanted to create our own well-rounded classic muscle car and purchased our second-hand 1964 Chevelle two door sports coupe as the perfect platform. However, no matter if it’s pro-touring, cruising or just killer looks you’re after, there is one thing that’s a must to get however much power you have to those rear tires and that’s a hardy transmission. Knowing we were going to beat the living snot out of ours on the street and the track, we contacted Gearstar Performance Transmission who set us up with a complete Performance Level 4 4L65E automatic transmission package. The choice for Project BluePrint couldn’t have been better.
Where We’ve Been
By now you’ve become acquainted with our BluePrint Chevelle through our continued updates on the car. Wanting a pro-touring beast, we’ve already showed you how we equipped the GM A-body with a complete RideTech suspension system for corner carving capabilities and SSBC brakes for plenty of stopping power.
We’ve also fitted the car with Billet Specialties’ Challenger wheels from their Street Smart Line and wrapped them in Continental rubber for an aggressive stance and even stickier gripping power.
Of course, upgrading our Chevelle’s setup is for one purpose and one purpose only- to drive the car to our heart’s content. To do this and make it a fierce competitor in autocross and open track competitions, we decided to fit our aptly named BluePrint Chevelle with a potent LS3 from BluePrint engines. This 427ci monster will push just over 600hp through the guts of the Chevelle, leaving one key ingredient to be discussed- the Gearstar transmission.
Behind the Scenes – Gearstar Performance
Gearstar offers top notch quality with all their transmissions, whether you’re using it in a muscle car, pro-touring beast, restoration project, daily-driver or modern performance machine.
That’s because Gearstar’s owner Zack Farah wanted to do things a bit differently when he started the company in 2001- not focus on quantity like many other companies do, but rather focus on quality.
“When you order a transmission from Gearstar, you’re ordering a custom manufactured package built specifically for your car or truck,” Farah told us. “We have no units on the shelf. It [a transmission] has to be made for you.”
To create the perfect transmission for your vehicle, Gearstar builds everything specifically tailored to your application, including horsepower, rearend gear ratio and intended use. Matter of fact, once a custom Gearstar Performance transmission is ordered, the same qualified technician will follow the build from start to finish. Gearstar also customizes their transmission packages with converters stalled specifically for each customer vehicle and shift quality tuned specifically to customer taste. On top of that, Gearstar uses only the highest quality materials made in the USA. With each transmission built from start to finish by one of five master techs, you know you’re getting only the best drivetrain for your car.
“When you call, you’re talking to a builder,” Farah told us. “There is no sales department.”
Gearstar transmissions can be found in all kinds of applications, from factory-correct restoration projects to blown 1,000hp LS off road vehicles. Since 2001, the company has built 5,869 transmissions, according to Farah, 3,861 of which have been built since 2005. That’s pretty good considering most of Gearstar’s business comes from repeat customers and word of mouth. There’s reason for that, too, considering Gearstar not only stands behind their products but also works toward a zero percent return rate policy. That means superior quality to begin with and a determination to correct and learn from anything that may not work as planned on an off occasion.
With top notch materials, a high quality standard and the know-how of five of the country’s best transmission experts behind their products, we knew we couldn’t go wrong with a Gearstar transmission.
To get the most out of our soon to be discussed BluePrint LSX crate engine, we were set up with Gearstar’s Level 4, 4L65E transmission package, complete with stall converter, flexplate, fan kit, HGM transmission controller and fluid. Yes, every Gearstar transmission is shipped filled 3/4 of the way full with transmission fluid and three extra quarts to top it off once installed.
“The best engine in the world is basically a paper weight unless you can put that power to the ground,” Farah told us. And the Gearstar 4L65E package will certainly do the trick for our BluePrint Chevelle.
The Level 4 4L65E transmission package is built to back engines making around 600hp and up to 600 ft-lbs of torque. For Project BluePrint, this package meant an 11-inch billet converter custom stalled for 2,600rpm, although a 10-inch and variety of stalls can be ordered from the company.
In addition to our custom stall converter, our Level 4 Gearstar transmission came put together with a master overhaul kit with Alto Hardened Kolene Steels, Raybestos Gen II Racing Frictions, heavy duty hardened sun shell, and high capacity upgraded pump assembly with new hardened pump rings. It also came complete with a 28 element input sprag, Transgo reprogramming shift kit with Shift Command, heavy duty five pinion front and rear planetary gear set with sun gear, super hold 4th servo and Corvette servo, wide carbon fiber 2-4 band, and hardened output shaft. The trany was topped off with new bushings, solenoids, Torrington bearings, valves and high rev spring kit.
Tying It Together – The Install
Installing our Gearstar transmission in Project BluePrint was pretty straight forward from the start. With our master technicians on hand and the BluePrint engine not yet installed, we easily moved from pulling out our new transmission to mounting the new one up.
Although Gearstar Performace ships their transmissions with fluid in them and some extra quarts to top it off, we decided to use Royal Purple’s Max ATF automatic transmission fluid instead. So before any tying together started, we drained the transmission to make it a lot more manageable during install.
Before our mock engine and transmission fitment could begin, we took some time to assure everything on the transmission was put together. This included the Energy Suspension transmission bushing. The Energy Suspension bushing bolts under the tail shaft of the transmission and then right to the transmission crossmember perch once the transmission is in the car.
With the bushing on the transmission and our engine mounts secured to the block for fit and positioning purposes, we did a rough install of our powertrain components. This led us to find a few things we needed to address.
For good measure, we had test fit our engine and transmission combo to outline any potential fitment issues. For Project BluePrint, we encountered a fitment issue when it came to the transmission tunnel. Since the Gearstar transmission is much larger than anything that was offered in the Chevelle from the factory, the tunnel was just too small.
Plus, with our BluePrint engine sitting higher than what our project car came with originally, we faced even more clearance issues. So we decided to cut out the original transmission tunnel and build our own from scratch.
Once we relieved our GM A-body of its confining transmission tunnel, our engine and transmission slid easily in place. Of course when you’re talking about a combination this big, easy might be an understatement, but it sure beats the alternative.
Once our transmission tunnel was complete, our next step was to install the motor mounts. Because these weren’t going to fit in the factory location with our BluePrint engine, we decided to weld them into place.
Another option would have been to drill new holes and bolt the engine mounts in, but due to their location and how much hassle it would’ve been to get to the bolts, we opted for the more practical option. This meant not only planning for the future but even more fun with the shop welding equipment.
Once the motor mounts were in place, we were able to slide our engine and transmission in for the final time and bolt everything together. It was also time for us to fill our Gearstar 4L65E with Royal Purple fluid.
Royal Purple’s Max ATF fluid is a full synthetic, high-performance fluid with a low co-efficient of friction and a high film strength that reduces heat and wear in your automatic transmission.
With the engine and transmission in their rightful location, the remainder of the install went quickly. Bolting up the engine mounts to our engine and the Energy Suspension bushing to our crossmember, positioned between the frame rails, was simple enough. The last thing we had to conquer was installing and programing the transmission controller.
Since our BluePrint powered Chevelle is far from an OEM application for our Gearstar transmission it requires a standalone controller, which we sourced got from Gearstar Performance. With our plug and play wiring in place, we bolted the controller unit to the passenger side firewall, connecting it to the handheld controller with a cable in the interior of the car.
Once plugged in, we followed the online comprehensive instruction manual to complete our initial controller setup. By doing so, we were able to program our controller step by step with things like shift points and throttle position. Although we didn’t need it, the online manual also had instructions for troubleshooting, making it very easy for to follow and tackle any issues you may run into if you’re doing a similar install.
With our transmission controller programed and all the plumbing for our setup complete, we were ready to roll with our Chevelle. Of course, we’ll get more into the engine setup and dyno results when we take you through the BluePrint engine install in the near future. Keep an eye out for that update and more soon!
The Road Test
While we don’t have a ton of miles on our brand new drivetrain, our first experience with the new Gearstar Performacne 4L65-E transmission has only been driven short distances. Thus far, we’ve easily racked up the miles. What’s more, with ambient air temperatures floating in the triple digits, the transmission cooler and fan have done their job with flying colors. With the new install, we can cruise effortlessly at 75 mph with a low running rpm. Around town cruising and freeway jaunts are done with easy and since the rpm is lower, we can actually carry on a conversation. The transmission is super-smooth during cruising, however, once throttle is applied, the increased load with stiffen up shifts; just like it should. What’s more, we get instant downshifting whenever we got throttle happy.
As of right now, we can’t wait to get some additional miles under our belt. We really want to get this ‘Velle out on the autocross and open track events in our area to really flog this new combination. If you’re still slushing around in a three-speed with no overdrive, get on track and upgrade. You won’t regret it!