By on December 9, 2019

1993 Plymouth Voyager in Colorado wrecking yard , hood ornament - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

As the automotive industry fluxes towards utility vehicles and electrics, the death of familiar nameplates has become an all-too-common occurrence. Goodbye, Focus, Fiesta, Taurus, LaCrosse, and Regal. And goodbye, too, to the Ultradrive four-speed automatic transmission, which meets its end in the coming year.

The Pentastar-stamped unit — seemingly older than Kirk Douglas’ dad — meets its maker after a lengthy career managing power in a dizzying array of models.

Who can forget the Dodge (in Canada, Chrysler) Dynasty? Plymouth Acclaim, anyone?

Deep within the yet-to-be ratified labor agreement reached between Fiat Chrysler and the United Auto Workers lies a list of manufacturing investments, one of which foretells the fate of the Ultradrive 41TE automatic. Per Automotive News, Indiana’s Kokomo Transmission Plant will wrap up assembly of the four-speed unit in 2020, spelling the end, at least for now, of the tranny’s sole application: the Dodge Journey.

1989 Chrysler New Yorker Mark Cross in Colorado wrecking yard, LH rear view - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

FCA hasn’t confirmed rumors that the compactish CUV, which bowed for the 2009 model year, will give way to an athletic Italian import, but the current generation’s impending demise has been clear for some time. For 2020, the Journey soldiers on in just two trims, both equipped with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder and the beyond-venerable four-speed.

Luckily for Kokomo, the Ultradrive is not the only tranny living under its roof.

Joining the Chrysler stable at the tail end of the FWD Decade, the Ultradrive found its way into dozens of models over the ensuing three decades, supplementing (and in some cases, replacing) the solid three-speed Torqueflite. The best-known application was the automaker’s wildly popular minivan lines.

2016 Dodge Journey Crossroad, Image: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

Elsewhere, Ultradrives ushered New Yorker and Imperial drivers to their tony dinner destinations, sometimes in limp-home mode. Early problems with the transmission earned it a black eye, though improper fluid selection (an issue Chrysler caused by listing Dexron as an acceptable substitute) was the cause of some of these second-gear-only trips.

Later on, the tranny served as a semi-sporty partner to Chrysler’s cab-forward midsize sedans, outfitted with Autostick manual shift mode. A version designed for rear-drive applications turned up in the 2000s, later joined by a six-speed 41TE variant found in the current Dodge Grand Caravan and Ram Promaster.

The document doesn’t say exactly when the last four-speed will leave Kokomo (will there be a run of 2021 Journeys?); rather, it merely lists 2020 as the unit’s final year of production.

[Images: Murilee Martin/TTAC, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]

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36 Comments on “RIP Four-speed Ultradrive, Soon to Be Dead at 32...”


  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I had no idea the transmission in this car was that old. Wow.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    Hardly a trans axle that I will fondly remember and one that cost our then used dealership a lot of ticked off customers and oodles of money to replace these POS units. And it was certainly not tied to using the wrong fluid. That came years later when shops were trying to diagnose many of the issues these had and just added to the mess.
    I can’t even recall all the owners back then that bought a Chrysler product with one of these units brand new only to be told 1 year later with but 30-36K that they needed a new transmission. At our second dealer location we had this guy named Harry that was an expert at swapping these Ultradrive transmissions. He worked at a former Chrysler dealer in a neighboring town that went under before coming onboard with us. He swapped out thousands of these units and thus became nick named the “Ultradrive guy”! The problem was the owner of our used dealer became so sick of disgruntled customers he quit buying anything with this unit. Note that during the 90’s Chrysler was expanding the A404 derived 3 speed into more vehicles due to issues of the Ultradrive. There were many a Caravan, Acclaim and Sundance that could be found with that superior tranny. With no Ultradrives he had to instead work more on getting cars front line ready so his life became a bit easier. Memories

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      The FWD transmissions were an adaptation of the A904 units used in RWD cars. These 3 speed transmissions richly earned the right to the legendary Torqueflite name. I put over a quarter million miles on mine and it still worked well at that mileage. The Ultradrive debacle has an interesting story with Clarence Ditlow vs Chrysler. Chrysler told him that “accolades, not criticism” is deserved for the design. The fluid issue was a problem because the dipsticks were stamped with the incorrect designation though that was just one of many issues with this design. I had no idea this transmission was still in production but I guess they eventually got it all sorted out. A four speed in 2020. Wow.

  • avatar
    NoID

    Way past the “best by” date.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Was terrible when new, is still terrible. Good riddance.

    Will anyone still be selling a four-speed automatic in 2021?

  • avatar
    gtem

    “later joined by a six-speed 41TE variant found in the current Dodge Grand Caravan and Ram Promaster.”

    Is the 62TE really just a “variant” of the 41TE? Sorry to be pedantic.

    My brother just helped a 300k ’14 Promaster 2500 limp to Philly after it lost all pressure in the 62TE. He dropped the pan curbside, confirmed that it was a clogged never-serviced transmission filter, fabbed up a short length of hose that reached the bottom of the pan (Sunday in the middle of nowhere), poured in some Mopar ATF4+ he brought from the shop, and the Promaster made it to its destination on time. Apparently it got a new filter a few days later, and he got a very thankgful call from the owner of the company. Hopefully they start maintaining their fleet a bit better! Most would have simply condemned the trans at that point after hearing it howl and not move the truck.

    • 0 avatar
      PentastarPride

      You are correct, the 62TE is a variant and is considered a part of the Ultradrive family. The 62TE is more accurately a part of the Ultradrive 4-speed family than the new (8-speed) TorqueFlites are to the original (three/four-speed) Torqueflites – the new TorqueFlites, the designs of which are based off of ZF’s 8HP, are not related at all — in any way — to the original Chrysler-engineered TorqueFlites.

  • avatar
    EGSE

    Friends of mine with Dodge minivans had the Ultradrive units crap out around 70k-ish miles. A real black eye after A727 and A904 3 speeds outlasted every other nut and bolt on ChryCo vehicles.

    A field service rep took me to lunch one day; the company he worked for had Dodge Caravans for their use. I asked if any, er, *how many* vans in their fleet had limped home in 2nd gear. He laughed and said “none”, then explained they had an aggressive fleet maintenance regimen that changed the trans fluid regularly. They piled on 50K or more miles per year and flipped them to employees at a discount after a few years. His van had almost 100k on it and he said that was typical.

    • 0 avatar
      1971rk

      I bought 5 Grand/caravans with at least 100k miles on them, I drove them until they had 250K-300k miles on them, and never had the first problem out of the trans. I eventually sold or traded them when I found a newer one with around 100k miles.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Had multiple (5?) transmissions crap out on 1992 to 2005 Caravans. All while still under warranty.

    Yet the 3 speed attached to the Mitsu engine in a 1993 Caravan soldiered on for many years and many miles with nary a problem and only basic maintenance until the vehicle was totaled while owned by my SIL.

    • 0 avatar
      quaquaqua

      Really? My parents had both ’88 and ’98 Caravans with the Mitsu 3.0L and the 3-speed auto. In the ’88 Caravan, by 80k miles, the car would stall at every intersection if you confused the transmission. The ’98 Caravan (bought with a 100k bumper to bumper) needed two complete transmission overhalls within 70k miles. Not to mention the A/C replacement and head gasket problems.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        Never a problem with the driveline of the Mitsu engine and 3 speed transmission. I just followed the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule and never towed with it. My sister-in-law performed only minimal maintenance on it.

        The 4 speed transmission Caravans were treated the same way by me, were all traded with lower mileage than the Mitsu engined one, and had to have their 4 speed transmissions replaced on what seemed to be a regular basis.

        The Caravan with a 3 speed/Mitsu engine was a short box and unique dealer spec model. Built in baby seats, power side view windows, A/C and upgraded stereo. Otherwise a short box, base model.

        The other Caravans included 2 of their top line models (ES), both of which were long box, a short box ‘Sport’ model and a short box, mid tier model.

    • 0 avatar
      1971rk

      Really, I know 7 people including myself that had the mitso engine, never had a problem with the trans because the engine wouldn’t run but 50k miles, before needing to be replaced.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Any word on when the N-model hits, Tim? That one might be interesting.

  • avatar
    thejohnnycanuck

    I might have one of these in our Sebring Convertible. Was it paired with the 2.7L? If so then after 14 years and 190K kms it still works as advertised.

    Well now that I’ve totally jinxed it…

    • 0 avatar
      StudeDude

      It’s the same unit. It takes the same filter and gasket set that my ’92 Lebaron does. Get the fluid (ATF+4) and filter done. No guarantee but it can’t hurt.

  • avatar
    EGSE

    Fourteen years in a Sebring? Damn dude, what did you do? A guy in my old neighborhood got less time for murder (true)!

    • 0 avatar
      thejohnnycanuck

      Sorry, you’re absolutely right. I’ll have to buy something more pretentious. What do you suggest would be appropriate for a retired couple in a small tourist town? Some German money pit perhaps? Oh and by the way I’ve only owned the car for 4 years and I paid $1,000 for it at an auction. I’d say I’ve already gotten my money’s worth.

      Take your time getting back to me. I won’t be putting the car back on the road until the spring.

      • 0 avatar
        EGSE

        Right back at you. I’ll concede that $1K is good value for 4 years service (especially with the 2.7 still working). Your post sounded as if you were the original buyer. Mea Culpa.

        • 0 avatar
          thejohnnycanuck

          No worries. I’ll be the first to admit I’m shocked at how well it runs and fingers crossed I’ll get a few more summers out of it.

          Not sure what I’m going to get to replace it when the time comes. Too bad the last generation Sebring was so damn ugly.

      • 0 avatar
        Mnemic

        Keep it. A few more years and its value can only go up since it has the ultra rare “cabriolet” option. (You know how every old 40’s or 50’s car is instantly cooler because the top goes down, regardless what it is)

  • avatar
    cbrworm

    I was that one lucky guy that got nearly 200K out of an ultradrive in an ’89 grand voyager – I used it to tow a small boat all over the US. When it failed, it was when someone did a neutral drop and physically broke a planetary. After repair, it soldiered on until the head gasket in the 3.0 V6 blew (we’d had the heads replaced at around 150K due to to the leaking valve guides, rendering the van useless. That was the first transmission that I ever had that didn’t slip, but you also didn’t feel the shifts.

    It may have had a better life due to frequent fluid changes and a lot of highway miles (with a boat)

  • avatar
    PentastarPride

    I’ve owned five cars with Ultradrive derivatives (one with a true, original Ultradrive, the LeBaron convertible) neither I or the previous owner have never once had a problem.

    1997 Concorde – 42LE – purchased with 60k, driven 30k, totaled while parked
    2004 Intrepid – 42LE – purchased with 40k, driven 150k, sold
    2013 200 – 62TE – purchased with 30k, driven 100k, still have
    1991 LeBaron vertible – 41TE – purchased with 80k, driven 5k, still have
    1993 Concorde – 42LE – purchased with 60k, driven 2k, still have

    All of the above vehicles were purchased used, sold by the original owner, with extensive service records. Per those records, none of those vehicles have ever had a transmission overhaul or replacement. All of those vehicles have been serviced with fluid and filter changes every 60k.

    Growing up, my parents purchased a brand-new 1998 Grand Voyager Expresso with the 41TE. From around 50 miles on the odometer when it was driven off the lot in 1998 until about 2008 when it was sold with about 180,000+ miles, that transmission never once had an inkling of a problem. One of the biggest applications of the 41TE was the minivans. By the third generation (1996-2000) most of the problems were well-sorted, that’s why there are so many third-generation (and fourth-generation) Chrysler minivans still out there, their biggest Achilles heel seeming to be rust-related.

    The Ultradrive isn’t a bad transaxle. I will miss it.

    • 0 avatar
      1971rk

      A little more information please, you have a 91 LeBaron, that you have only driven 5k miles, in how many years? And the 93 Concorde only driven 2k miles in how many years? Just curious how a car that old only has that many miles, I believe you, it’s just not normal.

      I know I would love to buy that LeBaron. The only brand new car I bought was a 1989 LeBaron coupe, Black Cherry, with maroon interior. It was my dream car, and still is, but at 50k miles, it was stolen, and totaled. I almost cried.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Is this the last production 4-speed automatic in the United States available in a new vehicle?

    Is the 5-speed automatic the new “err mer Gerd, how ancient,” technology now?

  • avatar
    -Nate

    One of my geezer friends bought a PT Cruiser new and the Ultramatic in it died, he loved that car so much he saved up the co$t of getting it fixed at the dealer and still drives and loves it .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    With the PSA merger FCA now has access to Nissan’s CVT transmissions which start to make the Ultradrive look good. How much better can it get Italian and French quality in every product.

  • avatar
    warrant242

    I used to like reading reviews here, back when they were honest.

    Some of us stick around just because we’ve been here a while. But why would new people come here for the same thinly disguised puff pieces they can get everywhere else?

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