Abandoned History: The Chrysler UltraDrive Transmission (Part II)
We finish up our Abandoned History coverage of the long-lived UltraDrive transmission today. The pursuit of simplification, modernization, less weight, and better fuel economy lead to the creation of the electronically controlled four-speed A604 marketed as UltraDrive. The idea floated around at Chrysler in the Seventies and then was greenlit and put into production (before it was ready) by an eager Lee Iacocca. A case of unfortunate timing, the new transmission arrived in 1989 at a time when there was almost no exciting news in Chrysler’s product portfolio. Thus the UltraDrive name was coined by marketing, and the new and advanced transmission was featured heavily in the company’s PR materials in 1989 and 1990.
The UltraDrive’s debut version was prone to numerous types of failures because of fluids and sensors, build quality, parts, really everything. But engineers at Chrysler quickly massaged the A604 into the improved 41TE that was ready for use midway through the 1990 build year. UltraDrive was up and running within acceptable reliability standards per Chrysler. Clearly, it was time to create more UltraDrive variations!
The aforementioned 41TE began a new UltraDrive naming convention at Chrysler. From there on out, three sets of letters were used to indicate the transmission’s basic layout: TE for Transverse Electronic, LE for Longitudinal Electronic, and AE for All-wheel Drive Electronic. The new naming scheme also assisted the 41TE in differentiating itself from the failure-prone A604, its parent.
Both transmissions were fitted to most every front-drive Chrysler product with the 3.0-liter 6G72 V6 engine. 41TE’s initial use was from creation in 1990 through 1995, when it made the migration to the vehicles that replaced K and company: the Cloud Cars. From 1995 through 2000 the 41TE was found in the Clouds, motivating Sebring, Cirrus, and Stratus. Between 1995 and 1999, 41TE also applied to naturally aspirated versions of the Mitsubishi Eclipse.
The Stratus and Sebring in European Union nations used 41TE through 2006 after US counterparts had moved on. Proving its longevity, the four-speed was in Chrysler’s vans through 2003 in the US, and 2007 internationally. It was also the motivator of the Neon from 2002-2003, and the PT Cruiser for its tenure from 2001 to 2010. The Chrysler Pacifica used 41TE too, through 2008. Honorable mention and latest usage of the 41TE was in Russia, where GAZ sold a reworked Sebring sedan as the Volga Siber from 2008 to 2010.
A new version of the 41TE debuted in 2004, the 40TE. Compared to its parent, the 40TE was cheaper to produce, smaller in size, and lighter. The 40 wasn’t as heavy-duty as the 41 and was only used in cars with inline-four power and naturally aspirated engines. It was found in base versions of the Dodge Caravan through 2007 and was used in the Neon (through 2005), Stratus, and Sebring. 41TE bowed for the last time on four-cylinder, front-drive versions of the Pacifica from 2004-2008.
Shortly after the 41TE was developed, Chrysler created its first all-wheel-drive application of the UltraDrive, the 41AE. This version of the transmission was limited to van and van-adjacent vehicles like the Town and Country and Dodge Caravan. Chrysler offered its last all-wheel-drive vans in 2004 as the option proved unpopular. At that point, the 41AE moved into the van-adjacent all-wheel-drive Chrysler Pacifica, where it was used from 2004 to 2008. 41AE was one of the earliest UltraDrive variations to exit production.
The 41TE also formed the basis for the 42LE, and in following the nomenclature described above was adjusted for longitudinal engine applications. 41TE was first implemented in the cab-forward LH cars in 1993. LH cars were the ones that were everywhere for a while and then disappeared rather quickly. Many were killed by the oil sludge issues on the 2.7-liter V6 that Chrysler developed for LH application.
42LE motivated the Eagle Vision, Chrysler Concorde, and the LHS through 2001 or 2004 depending. It also did a short stint on the Chrysler Prowler (Plymouth was dead) from 2001 to 2002. The 42LE was last used in 2004 on the final LH cars, the Concorde and Intrepid.
There was more 41TE editing in the mid-2000s when it was made into the 41TES and the 40TES. The “S” indicated it was a small, compact transmission. Usage of both versions depended upon the engine: The 40TES was used with a 2.4-liter inline-four, while the 41TES was used with the 2.7-liter V6 of sludge fame. The modification into an S was achieved via a shallower version of the bellhousing, and a smaller torque converter.
These particular transmissions were a bit more complex than the others. They had some additional sensors which made them into VLP, variable line pressure, boxes. A sensor and solenoid were added in the transmission as well as an additional solenoid outside the case.
The TES transmissions were introduced on the Sebring in 2007, in 2008 on Avenger, and in 2011 on the new name for Sebring, the Chrysler 200. After those models died the TES continued usage in the Dodge Journey. It was the final four-speed UltraDrive transmission produced and continued through the death of the Journey in 2020.
Chrysler had enough invested in the UltraDrive to extend its usage to rear-drive cars as well. Using a 42LE as its base, the 42RLE had its differential and transfer chain removed, and its case modified so the power exited at the rear of the transmission. In addition to the electronic transmission control standard with UltraDrive, this transmission added an EMCC, or electronically modulated converter clutch. It was designed to absorb some of the impact created via harsh shifting.
The 42RLE made its debut on that hot newish Jeep product in 2003, the Liberty. For its other applications, it appeared in the middle of a model’s run, and replaced older transmissions made by Chrysler or other firms. It was available in the Wrangler in 2003, as well as the Ram pickup. New generation Durangos and Dakotas made the switch in 2004. Later in its life, the 42RLE made its way outside truck and SUV use, with the Chrysler 300 (2005), Dodge Charger (2006), and the Magnum (2005). For a single year (2009) it was used in V6-powered Challengers. Its last application was in 2011, in the Dakota, Wrangler, and the very odd Dodge Nitro.
Eventually, the UltraDrive needed an update with regard to the number of its gears. That arrived in 2007 when the 41TE was massaged into the 62TE. With six forward gears, the change was an important one. Like the TES transmissions, the new 62TE was first found on a Sebring. In 2007, it debuted there paired only to examples with the 3.5-liter EGJ V6. Sticking with its large engine application use, it was added to the Pacifica 4.0-liter from 2007 to 2008, as well as the Town and Country, Voyager, and Caravan when equipped with 3.8 or 4.0 engines.
62TE was also used from 2009 through 2019 on V6 versions of the Journey. It took a side step between 2009 and 2012 into the Volkswagen Routan van, an unusual rework of the Caravan for VW duties. The six-speed’s last passenger car usage was in the old Grand Caravan sold through 2020, but it made it through 2021 in the RAM ProMaster vans.
The final 62TE UltraDrive of 2021 was superseded by a nine-speed automatic designed by ZF. The switch to German motivation meant an end to the UltraDrive’s long run, and its consignment to Abandoned History. From inception in 1989 through its quick reworking and various familial modifications, all UltraDrives were built by the folks at Kokomo Transmission in Kokomo, Indiana. That plant has made transmissions since 1956, and currently builds Chrysler’s eight-speed ZF transmissions. So long, UltraDrive.
[Images: Chrysler, VW]
Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Writing things for TTAC since late 2016 from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio. You can find me on Twitter @CoreyLewis86, and I also contribute at Forbes Wheels.
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