By on May 7, 2014

Dodge Challenger chromed T-shifter automatic transmission knob

I never would’ve known about the WA850/NAG1 transmission if it weren’t for that dead-beat roommate I had in Miami. It was desperate times for Chrysler and myself —we both just needed a friend.

16 years ago today, the Chrysler Group found an abusively negligent partner in Daimler AG. The “merger of equals” proved to be anything but, as the German camp rapidly oscillated between ignoring the American’s input and engaging in full-blown Teutonic pedantry. Rumor has it they even insulted the American’s taste in typeface by forcing them to get new business cards.

My friendship wasn’t nearly as toxic. I had been living in Miami for a few months, but had failed to adapt to the social scene. He was also a transplant from the North Atlantic so he understood my pain. He had friends that I admired, so I stuck by him. Despite his professed love for the BMX bike and only the BMX bike, he was in possession of a hand-me-down 2003 Mercedes-Benz E500. This example was a former Enron fleet-car his mother had purchased at auction in late 2006, just months before Daimler offloaded their American bedfellow. He didn’t keep up with the maintenance; it was in poor shape but I loved it. It was everything my Miata wasn’t: heavy, powerful and smooth.

It was equipped with the WA850 transmission, or as it is more commonly known, the 5G-Tronic. A five-speed automatic of Mercedes design, one of Daimler’s first acts after the merger was to force this part on Chrysler. It was clearly a superior gearbox than Chrysler’s ubiquitous 545RFE, but it was the principle of the matter. Chrysler was saddled with what they perceived to be needless logistical complications. The official Chrysler designation for the part was “New Automatic Gearbox Version 1” or NAG1. Very funny Chrysler.

In theory it was an excellent transmission, but there were serious qualms about its reliability on American roads. It wasn’t about road quality; rather it was its needy maintenance schedule and complex service that was out of line with American ownership habits. Anything less than perfectly precise handling by a tech and the thing would shudder and shake for the rest of its days.

Like Chrysler, My friend had forced something on me as well: the pointless pursuit of fun at a time in my life when I should have been saving money, exercising, and improving my craft. An apt comparison because like the WA580, a life of partying works on paper, but without the discipline to perform proper maintenance you are end up shuddering and leaking fluid in public.

The Daimler-Chrysler merger was a clear failure, and so was my friendship. Both partnerships could’ve been successful, but they required more compromise and hard work than either party was prepared for. That’s not to say the respective mergers were complete failures. Chrysler walked away with an excellent transmission that’s still in use today, and I learned how to have fun and not take myself so seriously. What we both learned was that in business like life, you can only rely on yourself for meaningful improvement.

 

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69 Comments on “Shudder To Think: New Transmissions, Bad Friends and the DaimlerChrysler Merger...”


  • avatar
    raresleeper

    I work across the road from a large field where the once churning Fenton, Missouri DaimlerChrysler plant once stood.

    Fenton, Missouri is a town of about 4k+ people. This town to this day has many a former employee of Chrysler, then DaimlerChrysler.

    From what I’ve been told, by people who knew big people there at the plant (more specifically, an older, long time former employee who was forced to retire from Chrysler and therefore decided to go back to college and was a fellow classmate of mine), Daimler “took the money and ran”.

    There was a large amount of money tucked away which belonged to Chrysler.

    After Daimler left, the large stash of cash magically left with it.

    I am actually slightly embarrassed to admit that a Mercedes-Benz adorns my garage. But it was just business as usual, and its cut throat, I suppose.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Don’t forget, Daimler also sold off Chrysler’s electronics division–arguably the best of the automotive electronics shops.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        Now that is some seriously funny stuff. A lot of Chrysler electronics was outsourced.

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          Before, or after Daimler sold it off? You didn’t notice how their electronics changed so drastically after that unit was sold? You haven’t heard about how their electrical systems’ reliability fell? Daimler did a lot of things to screw up Chrysler’s products, even when they did other things that really did some good.

          After all, the JK Jeep Wrangler is the most popular Wrangler ever (despite all the ‘purists’ arguing it’s not a ‘real Jeep’). I’ve found the JK capable of taking obstacles factory stock that the older TJ needed a minimum 2″ lift to achieve. The Grand Cherokee became quite popular during the Daimler days, but then, Daimler added the Compass and Patriot to the line-up which ended up triggering the need for a “Trail Rated” badge.

          No, I’ll agree that Daimler wasn’t ALL bad for Chrysler, but they did more harm than good in the long run–which is why they gave up on Chrysler. For every one thing that made Chrysler products more popular, they did a dozen which cost them in one way or another.

    • 0 avatar
      wmba

      Yes, indeed Daimler milked Chrysler to the tune of LOSING $38 billion in 9 years.

      But, of course, why bother with the facts? The Mopar crowd here repeat the same rubbish over and over again about a gigantic cash grab. Helps them to hold their heads high and pretend their favorite make was somehow ripped off by Germans.

      The true ripoff was Mercedes shooting itself in the foot by demonstrating they didn’t have a clue how to run aregular car company. When faced with going down themselves due to bleeding cash they sold out to the Devil Dog guarding the River Styx, Cerberus, and paid that outfit to take Chrysler off their hands.

      The same sort of revisionism surrounds Fiat “stealing” Chrysler from America. The Feds couldn’t give Chrysler away, offering 25% of it for nothing (which was worth nothing at bankruptcy). Only Fiat stepped forward, everyone else turned away. But popular lore is that Marchionne should be reviled for daring to have a go. Yup, and I wish I’d bought that lottery ticket last month. I MIGHT have won.

    • 0 avatar
      challenger2012

      Will someone tell me what is required for maintenance on this transmission? What are the dangers. I own this transmission in my 2012 Challenger. Thus, I want to make sure it is maintained correctly. If I have to change oil every 15K miles, I will gladly do it vs. a transmission rebuilt. Does anyone have any experience maintaining / working on this transmission?

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        Under hard conditions, fluid and fliter changes on the NAG1 are recommended every 64,000 miles. 120,000 for regular service. If you want the best preventative care, follow the severe service guideline of 64,000. This trans doesn’t have any real adjustments or really any trouble spots to look out for, so just servicing it according to those guidelines should allow for a long life.

  • avatar
    korvetkeith

    More details please. My XJR has one of these.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Hey, ummmmmmm how do I get that shift lever and which Chrysler transmissions will it fit?

    That’s almost as attractive to my eyes as the good old chrome and black t-handle that Ford put on all their auto trans floor shifts for most of the 60s.

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      It’s a Mopar accessory ($160, if I’ve interpreted their site correctly) – at a minimum, it fits the Challenger, so I’d assume it’s compatible with all LX cars.

      Then again, it should just screw on, so I wouldn’t be shocked if you could get it to work on just about everything. Throw one on an Avenger, and it’d be the best thing about the car.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Being “forced” to use superior components in the manufacturing of cars hardly evokes sympathy. The Daimler-Chrysler merger was a match made in hell. Often the union of entities from two different worlds is, however it seems both left the union with something to gain. Daimler got the money and maybe Chrysler got a couple of lessons on building better cars

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    “Despite his professed love for the BMX bike and only the BMX bike, he was in possession of a hand-me-down 2003 Mercedes-Benz E500. This example was a former Enron fleet-car his mother had purchased at auction in late 2006, just months before Daimler offloaded their American bedfellow.”

    Outside of folks in the Middle East, who gets a “hand-me-down” three year old Mercedes, the top trim V8 at that?

    • 0 avatar
      iNeon

      Someone who’s friendship inspired a rushed/blacked-out and somewhat vindictive essay. Does this story jump around because parts were edited-out, or was the writer really flustered by the experience?

      I’m pretending he had a torrid love affair with a man because he drove a fancy car– then drove the fancy car and realized it was jank.

      But he still loves fancy jank.

      And he can’t cope with it.

      So he pretends he can.

      Because broken car company mergers are exactly like broken lives.

  • avatar

    #1 A MERGER of EQUALLY INFERIOR PRODUCTS…

    The W220 was an ugly, plain piece of junk.
    Prone to water damage and an electrical NIGHTMARE. (windows stopped working, engine sensors, etc)

    My W221 was like an apology from Dieter Zetsche himself. A spectacular, BIG, comfortable wonderful car in every single way. NEVER had a problem out of it (with the exception of wearing down rear tires)

    #2 The WA580 transmission: I SWEAR BY IT. It handled a Vortec V3 in my first SRT8 and currently handles my 6.4-L in my new SRT. Never had a problem (even after 60,000 miles).

    #3 Chrysler’s 2.7-L engine and 3.5-L sucked, but the 3.6 Pentastar is an effective replacement for both…maybe even the 5.7-L HEMI. Linked to the AWD system or the current ZF-8speed what more could you ask for?

    #4 Very disappointed their won’t be a 300 HELLCAT, but I can add my own bolt on, if I don’t keep it stock and get “collector’s insurance”.

    I’m disappointed I’ll never get to drive a 300 SRT with 8-speed in it, but the 8-speed really doesn’t add any real MPG to my Jeep. 1 MPG isn’t really worth the gain. The truck’s weight is too damn high!

    • 0 avatar
      davefromcalgary

      Whats wrong with the 3.5? I wasn’t aware it was a problem child in the same vein as the 2.7.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        @dave, BTSR is mad the 3.5 didn’t make 400+ hp and have a 0-60 time of 2.5 sec. (I exaggerate but only slightly.)

        • 0 avatar

          The 3.5 should have been standard. There never should have been a 2.7-L in any of the LX Chargers or 300.

          I’m glad Chrysler streamlined the engine/ tranny choices.

          I would buy a 3.6-L with an 8 speed and AWD if I wanted to do something absolutely practical.

          • 0 avatar
            Hemi

            I agree with BTSR, the 2.7 should never have been made. I’m sure it was made and sold to subprime buyers. The car cannot get out of its own fucking way! I have driven 2 LX cars with the 2.7, neither however had major issues. One of them did have some problems and turned out to be a bad cat. Otherwise I got 150k out of it before it was sold.

            The new Pentastar is wayyyyyyy better and refined. Makes decent power, decent MPG and decently reliable. Have a friend who had a 2011 JGC with it and now has almost 100k miles with no issues.

            I have the NAG1 on my Charger and was waiting for the ZF. Dodge took too long and I ended up buying a 13 RT AWD with the 5 speed. That BTSR is a good commuter, 25-32 MPG on the highway in RWD mode.

        • 0 avatar
          davefromcalgary

          No, that doesn’t quite follow since he likes the pentastar, which is competitive with modern 3.5L +/- V6 engines.

          The 3.5 was the only Big 3 V6 that competed with the Honda 3.0 and 3.5 and Toyota 3.5 in the late 90′s and early 00′s in terms of specific output. The GM and Ford V6s of the time were more of the torquey cam in block design. Not until the Ford 3.5 and GM 3.6 did they catch up in terms of roughly 3.5L and roughly 270 hp.

          So, BTSR must have some other vendetta against it. A mystery!!!

          EDIT:

          BTSR you responded before I could. I agree with you the 3.5L should have been more prevalent but you outright said it sucked, which was the source of my confusion.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            The 3.5L used a timing belt which is LAME. I also have a slight feeling that Chrysler overstated its output.

            Personally, I wish the base engine in the first-gen LX cars was the 3.8L pushrod.

          • 0 avatar
            davefromcalgary

            alja, that IS lame!! Timing belts are the devil’s work.

            I’ll agree with you on output, my mom’s 3.2L Audi with 250 hp definitely felt stronger than 3.5L H.O. cars I experienced.

          • 0 avatar

            Drivers who owned a 3.5-L had varying minor issues with it. My thing is it needed refinement. The Pentastar is refined.

          • 0 avatar
            Wheeljack

            The 3.5L was plenty powerful. When attached to a variant of the Ultradrive transmission family, much of that power was absorbed and wasted.

            All you have to do is drive a RWD 3.5L A580 LX (’06 & ’07 only, AWD kept the A580 for the full run of the 3.5L) against a RWD 3.5L 42RLE LX to see the difference. Real world fuel economy drops by about 2 mpg highway with the 42RLE.

          • 0 avatar
            raresleeper

            Tell me how refined the PentaStar is at 200k miles.

            In fact, tell me how you’re sure that the engine is “refined” right now, because that sounds entirely subjective, in my humble opinion, Sir.

            Then we’ll see how great it really is.

            Something tells me the next few years are going to be very interesting with the longevity of that motor.

            Refinement is a Honda J-Series engine. Or a Mercedes M272 motor.

            Not that damned Chrysler engine.

            But no worries, Jackie Baruth himself will tell you how the Pentastar is one of the world’s best engines.

            I’m not taking that bait, but you can go on ahead. We’ll see, BT. We’ll see.

          • 0 avatar

            Raresleeper.

            I never kept a car past 65,000. I wouldn’t know. Nor do I care.

            I’d like to think my W221 was refined, so under your criteria, I’ll never, ever find out.

    • 0 avatar
      pragmatist

      Actually the MB M276 engine is derived from Pentastar. The tech exchange went two ways, though from what I’d read, the money went ONE way. Factory improvements, were put off, cheapening of interiors etc to meet MB demands helped kill sales.

    • 0 avatar
      LectroByte

      If not for the MB technology and platforms, cars like the current Challenger and Charger would not exist, how soon people forget that other than Jeep, before the MB merger Chrysler products were famous for their self-destructing transmissions and that 2.7.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      I wish I could say my Jeep tranny was as good as what you’re experiencing. That four-cone piece of junk doesn’t always hit reverse unless I let it roll a bit first, occasionally kick out of second for no apparent reason and now has a habit of kicking out of third under acceleration. Not every time, but often enough to be annoying. Worse, the final gear ratio–6th gear, still runs my rpm over 2K at 65mph when it should be able to at least hold steady on the flat at 2800 or less. It’s no wonder Wranglers get bad gas mileage–the Daimler tranny doesn’t WANT it to get good gas mileage.

      • 0 avatar

        Should’ve bought an auto.

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          I go through automatics too fast–especially up here in the northeast. Or rather, I go through torque converters too fast. ’96 Camaro ate three of them in 160,000 miles while I get a minimum of 100,000 miles out of the average manual’s clutch plates.

      • 0 avatar
        Wheeljack

        I take it you have the NSG-370?

        I have an ’02 Wrangler with an NV3550 and an ’06 Rubicon Unlimited with the NSG-370. I so wish the ’06 had an NV3550 as well – much better transmission. One less gear and its still better matched to the way the 4.0L makes power, plus the OD ratio is better to boot!

    • 0 avatar
      koshchei

      I agree with you about the 2.7, but the SOHC 3.5L was a very good engine. It had 6 bolt mains and was virtually indestructible.

  • avatar
    TybeeJim

    You guys can rant all you want about the period of Daimler control, but in my view, they saved Chrysler from sure extinction. How easy it is to forget that the Chrysler 300 and the Charger both ride on a 1998 E Class chassis design. Chrysler didn’t conjure up an IRS rear wheel drive car out of thin air. Even the Jeep Grand Cherokee rides on essentially a Mercedes ML chassis. Taken alone, these three vehicles are Chrysler’s “bacon savers” and to date, Fiat’s only real contribution has been the woefully underpowered Dart.

    • 0 avatar
      Wheeljack

      The “ML” chassis was more of a joint development when the companies were linked than a Mercedes platform pushed on Chrysler. Dart is not underpowered compared to it’s peers such as a Corolla or a Civic. I daily drive a Dart and it’s fine if you know how to drive a turbocharged car – it’s real simple: keep the engine RPM near where boost comes on and you’ll have no problem.

      • 0 avatar
        TybeeJim

        I’d put my ’07 Mini Cooper S with only 172 hp up against your Dart any day On top of that my Q5 with a little over 200 hp (4 cal turbo) ft 4wd, will also leave the Dart in the blocks. Heck, I had a Renault Turbo Fuego 1.6 before you were probably born and it was as fast as the Dart. I know full well how to drive a turbo.

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          You should have left that little Renault turbo Fuego out of the argument–it killed your credibility. Back when those things were NEW, I had a Mitsubishi compact pickup truck that outran a turbo Fuego by more than a car-length within 400 feet. A blooming 1.6l Colt turbo was faster! Considering how many newer Darts I’m seeing on the road today, I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as you’re making it.

          You want a car that can’t get out of its own way, try a 1963 Chevy Nova with 96hp under the hood!

    • 0 avatar
      iNeon

      You need to slow your roll, son.

      The LX chassis is derived from the LH chassis, which was designed by those nice French people, and which began life underneath the 1987(?)Eagle Premier and Dodge Monaco. It was designed to accommodate front, rear– and all-wheel drive configurations from the beginning.

      The 1998 Mercedes Benz w210 was the same as a 1996 Mercedes Benz w210. What was special about the 1998 model?

      The nice people at Chrysler re-worked those borrowed Mercedes rear suspension bits– and they eventually found themselves back under Mercedes cars. The Mercedes people were also kind enough to sell steering columns( and the transmission we’re supposed to be talking about) to Chrysler, as well.

      Also, they made them change software quite toward the end of the last mid-size car’s design. You know, so everyone would be on the same page.

      Get it right.

      ZJ Grand Cherokees are proving to last longer than w163 chassis cars. Daimler wanted Chrysler precisely because the Jeep line was so strong compared to their Americanized SUV. And the cash.

      Chrysler had a lot of cash. They were superstars whenever the merger happened.

      • 0 avatar
        LectroByte

        Chrysler had cash? Superstars? Other than Jeep, Chrysler was struggling hard in the 90′s. Otherwise MB would have never been able to pick them up on a 3 to 2 stock swap deal.

        • 0 avatar
          danio3834

          Chrysler was did very well in the 90′s. Profitable and good balance sheet. They were doing so well that investors like Kirk Kerkorian did everything they could to try and leverage a takeover. A decade of Daimler management later and no one wanted to take the company.

          • 0 avatar
            LectroByte

            Keep believing it. But seriously, if they were doing so great, then why sell the company to MB?

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            Lots of companies wanted a piece of Chrysler, the Jeep and Dodge truck lines specifically. Fiat wanted to buy Jeep for years but Daimler wanted to sell just Chrysler/Dodge car lines. After years of getting no takers they shopped around Chrysler and all of Dodge and it wasn’t until they were finally ready to add Jeep into the mix that they could find anyone that wanted to talk. Of course by that time the economy was collapsing and they were only able to fool Cerebus, who didn’t have a clue about the auto business, into taking the mess off of their hands. Even then due to the economy they were forced to take back what turned out to be worthless paper to complete the deal.

        • 0 avatar
          LeadHead

          Chrysler had over $9 Billion in cash at the time of the merger. They were doing super well during the late 90s.

          • 0 avatar
            LectroByte

            Really? Seriously, if they were doing so great, then why sell the company to MB?

          • 0 avatar

            “Really? Seriously, if they were doing so great, then why sell the company to MB?”

            Ask Bob Eaton, he engineered the deal, some say to his personal benefit in terms of stock options, and Chrysler’s detriment, though Bob Lutz says that Eaton’s actions in the merger benefited Chrysler stockholders.

            Though Eaton successfully positioned Chrysler to be an attractive merger/acquisition target, it’s painfully obvious that the net result of the merger, and Jurgen Schrempp’s subsequent management, left Chrysler in perilous condition.

            It seems to me that milking the cash cow, as Chrysler was when the merger took place, was secondary, in the damage it did, to the hollowing out of Chrysler. A while back I wrote about an experimental “Gemini” V4 that Chrysler was developing with Roush. The program was successful in terms of meeting objectives but the word from on high was “Ve haff development engineers in Stuttgart!” so the program was killed.

          • 0 avatar

            Thank you!

          • 0 avatar
            danio3834

            Chrysler wasn’t “sold” to Daimler, it was a merger. The basic reasoning behind it was that while Chrylser was doing well at the time, they were vulnerable to corporate raiders like Kerkorian who wanted to take the company private via hostile takeover. The merger was intended to parter up with larger interests of a similar vision to prevent that and keep the company on course while leveraging economies of scale. As history has shown, however, Chrysler was essentially taken over as German management eventually displaced US management.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      “Taken alone, these three vehicles are Chrysler’s ‘bacon savers’”

      I think you are grossly overestimating the sales of the LX cars. ChryslerCo lives and dies by their truck.

    • 0 avatar
      LeadHead

      No they don’t. As mentioned, the Chrysler LX platform and architecture is derived from the old LH cars, which were designed with a potential RWD/AWD option in mind (hence the longitudinal engine).

      The LX vehicles used Mercedes sourced rear suspension components, transmissions, and steering columns. Very little of the car is “E-Class” based.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Chrysler had a RWD IRS 300/Charger just about ready to go when the merger happened and the Chrysler engineers were told to figure out how to use the Mercedes components which resulted in pushing back the start of production. A lot of what was going to be the LX was designed with the LH as they originally intended the LH platform to be available in AWD and RWD versions as well and once they decided that a RWD was a good idea they pulled those plans off the shelf and dusted them off. The reality is that propping up Chrysler but Daimler in the poor house and that is why they were so desperate to dump them and eventually pretty much gave it to Cerebus.

    • 0 avatar
      koshchei

      That’s not true, actually – they run on a revamp of the LH platform, which was in turn an old AMC platform. The LX had suspension alterations reminiscent of old E and S class parts, and that’s where it ended.

      I’ll give you benefit of the doubt though, as the sales maggots were actively telling customers at the time that the car was a stripped down last generation E-Class.

  • avatar
    Numbers_Matching

    The WA580 (NAG-1) is an excellent transmission that still lives on in the corporate line-up, as well as in my 2007 Jeep Grand Cherokee CRD – which is at 159,982 miles as I write this without a hick-up. Ok – one hick-up. I also do alot of trailer towing through mountainous roads in 100 F plus heat. None of Mopar’s home grown transmissions from that era could deal with that – juat ask any WJ owner who tows…there’s a fairly good write up on the NAG-1 at Allpar.com.

    • 0 avatar
      Cirruslydakota

      My 258,000 WJ with a 42re would like to have a word with you about that last statement. RE transmissions of that era need periodic band adjustments when doing their fluid changes. People are just too lazy to do it and blame the transmission when the bands burn up.

      My only complaint about it has been the 4.Slow being just that, slow and underpowered. but it gets the job done even with 31″ AT tires and a 2″ lift. Also, I have the HD class 4 tow group on mine (Radiator cooler, aux radiator cooler, power steering cooler, electric and mechanical cooling fans, and 3.73 gears with vari-lok axles, class III hitch. 4.0 is rated for 5,000lbs)

  • avatar

    Lets not forget that Chrysler was ahead of the world in their use of CAD/CAE/CAM at the time, and really gave Daimler a great leap forward with the technology transfer, and all the cash too.

  • avatar
    intechdude300

    I don’t understand the extra precaution needed when servicing this tranny that the author is on about. This is a super reliable & easy unit to maintain. Aside from NAG1 & 5G-Tronic, MB identifies it as the 722.6! Slap on a new tranny filter & pour in any fresh fluid of the correct spec ( Even the very inexpensive Vavoline Max Life Dex/Merc ATF) & you’re good to go for another solid 65,000 miles.

    The only issue they do have is with an electrical connector near the tranny pan ( a $20 part ). Fluid can start leaking quickly or slowly & at the same time possibly making the tranny shift funny. Changed it myself in 2000 C230 Kompressor & this is an issue with Chryslers with this gearbox.


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