By on April 19, 2022

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]

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37 Comments on “Abandoned History: The Chrysler UltraDrive Transmission (Part II)...”


  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Unfortunately, a transmission’s reputation is often tied to the engine in front of it. The 2.7 was one of the worst engines ever built, for example, and the Mitsubishi 3.0 was a smoker at 50k miles.

    However, the 41TE/3.3 in my 96 Grand Voyager was superb. But I also kept after it by changing transmission fluid every 25k miles. The 98 GC I bought later needed a torque converter, but it already had 100k on it when I got it.

    I didn’t know my 95 Stratus had the 41TE (with the sweet 2.5 Mitsubishi V6), but I doubted its longevity. I bought the car used, and suspect the transmission had a bad childhood. I traded it before anything happened.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    My experiences with Chrysler transmissions in Caravans convinced me to purchase a vehicle with a manual transmission when I traded in my last Caravan.

    I sold the MT with approximately 230,000kms with its original clutch still performing ‘like new’. In my first Caravan, we replaced 2 transmission in the first 65,000kms. In my 3rd Caravan replaced the original transmission at 45,000kms. In the 4th Caravan at about 62,000kms.

    The 3 speed transmission in our 2nd Caravan never needed replacement. Between my wife and her sister, it travelled over 300k before an untimely and unfortunate demise. Not related to its mechanics.

    Also replaced the transmission in our Grand Cherokee at about 50,000kms.

    • 0 avatar
      redapple

      Authur
      Those are some horror stories there my man. Why keep going back to FCA products then?

      FCA has 4 BIG PLANTs in Kokomo. The Die Cast plant I was in last month is the biggest one in the world. I ve done a lot of work with FCA over the last 25 years. I ve been impressed with the plants/people/capabilities. But alas they make some crap evidently.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Last time I was in Kokomo was the mid-’80s. It was the only city that size I can remember that didn’t have ANY foreign-nameplate dealerships.

        (My guess is that’s changed.)

        • 0 avatar

          They probably have a Target and everything now!

          • 0 avatar
            theflyersfan

            Having family in Northern Indiana, we’ve had to drive through Kokomo for decades now. Way back when 31 cut through the town, and then the first bypass, and now the interstate standard 31 bypass. Watch out though, ISP **LOVES** that stretch of freeway.

            And not only a Target, but a Sonic. You know you’ve reached road trip paradise when on a long, tedious drive, when you see one of those and one of their really good shakes or freezes keeps you going.

        • 0 avatar
          Max_Power

          I lived in north central Indiana for a few years in the ’90s. By that point, Kokomo had a dealership offering Honda and Toyota along with Ford products. I test-drove a Civic coupe there in ’99 but ended up buying a Dodge Stratus, which served me for nearly 100K miles with minimal problems (41TE in that one was flawless during my time with it).

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        Two of the Caravans were 2nd generation. One was a 3rd generation and the remaining one was a 4th generation. The Grand Cherokee was a 1st generation. All were acquired new. Due to their age I believe that they were relevant to this series and the transmissions being discussed.

    • 0 avatar
      RHD

      Manual transmissions are superior in practically every way over automatics, particularly in longevity and cost of operation, unless you have a bad left knee, of course.

      • 0 avatar
        theflyersfan

        @RHD – there are two screws in my left knee due to a bad hiking accident, and the second the cast came off and PT began, back to manual transmissions again! It depends on the clutch – a C4 or C5 Corvette, or Viper clutch will make everyone but the strongest power squatter wince after a while, but I think I can live with a little discomfort in rush hour to have fun when the traffic eases up.

        Then again, driving with a stick shift sitting in Los Angeles area traffic did have me contemplating the benefits of two pedals…

  • avatar
    Kyree

    It is interesting that Chrysler modified the 42LE (a longitude transaxle with engine-forward placement for the LH cars) to create the 42RLE (a conventional longitude-RWD transmission), because there’s some credible lore that Chrysler was working on adapting the LH platform for RWD and AWD applications. In which case it would have just needed an internal transfer case between the rear output and the transfer chain that routed power to the front.

    The 42RLE was also interesting because Chrysler had access to–and availed themselves of–the Daimler-Benz 5G-Tronic family in some of those same products. Notably, because of that, the earlier LX cars were able to use the same MagnaSteyr AWD transfer case and system that had been developed for the Mercedes-Benz cars.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Is that the White Chrysler LeBaron that Kitty traded her MG for after she changed her name to Karen?

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    How mighty Daimler Chrysler fell during that period.
    The Sebring drop top in the photo looks so much better than the JS platform based one that replaced it.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    The minivan 6 speed seems to have a problem with a needle thrust bearing in the torque converter which fails in the 100,000 mile range. Several friends have experienced this with the rest of the internals still looking pretty good. Don’t know it this is a design or bearing quality issue. My daughter has one approaching 100,000 miles and I’m trying to decide if it’s worth it to do a precautionary changeout. Reman converters are only about 150 bucks.

  • avatar
    BobinPgh

    Now that the transmission are “acceptable” maybe Stellantis will call them TorqueFlyte again.

    • 0 avatar

      Keep in mind the TorqueFlite was separate to the UltraDrive line. Also, they do use the TorqueFlite name presently.

      https://www.autobytel.com/car-ownership/technology/what-is-the-chrysler-torqueflite-eight-speed-automatic-transmission-125582/

      • 0 avatar
        Matt Foley

        Yes, thanks for this series, Corey. I always wondered how the company that built the mighty TorqueFlite (that could stand up to the torque of a 440 six-pack or a 426 Hemi) could build a weak transmission that fell to pieces like Patsy Cline behind a 3.0 Mitsubishi V6.

  • avatar

    I think you forgot to mention 300M, as I understand the Vision’s reincarnation.

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    Had a ’97 Intrepid with the 3.5 and there was never a problem with the transmission. It was a very reliable car, delivering 7 years and 120k and only needing a battery cable.
    A big, fast car with surprising good handling.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Corey, there’s some serious detail here. My hat’s off.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    Chrysler’s sorry reputation is well known. Spending a few thousand dollars more up front for a quality vehicle makes way more sense than spending it later rebuilding the transmission. Pay me now or pay me later.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Now do GM’s THD transmissions/transaxles.

  • avatar
    wjtinfwb

    Great recap and overview of a very troublesome transmission. Even more improtant, thank you for the refresher on just how many duds Chrysler foisted on the American public in the last 30 years. Sebring, Nitro, Liberty, Cirrus/Stratus…, hard to believe Chrysler/FCA/Stellantis has survived.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    The Cloud cars were mentioned here, but no mention of the late, unlamented Plymouth Breeze? And the weird Nitro was just a badge engineered Liberty.

    • 0 avatar
      spookiness

      IIRC, the Breeze usually had the 2.0 and old 3-speed AT, as it was positioned as the “value” model. I owned a 2.0/5MT Stratus, and drove a few Stratus with the 2.4/4AT, as well as the Neon with the 2.0/5MT and 2.0/3AT. The 2.4 with the 4-speed auto was definitely the smoother and more refined drivetrain.

  • avatar
    eng_alvarado90

    My 2000 Stratus was a solid car. It was a hand me down from my parents (they bought it new) when I was on my Senior year in HS. It survived another 2 years of college and sold with around 95K miles.
    It never had a drivetrain related issue although it went through brakepads and tires (avg 30K miles on each set) at an alarming rate. I also rebuilt the power steering pump and that was it.

    I agree Chrysler had improved the reliability of the 41TE by the turn of the century, and I can attest one of my aunts had an 09 Journey with the 40TES for 12 years and put around 140K miles on the original transmission. Did I mention it was the 3 row model and it did get loaded up on a regular basis?

    PS: I tought you were going to mention the 2nd digit being the “torque rating”. 40TE was lighter duty than 41TE, and the 2 on the 62TE meant the highest torque for an Ultradrive FWD application.
    Chrysler has abandoned this scheme since they switched to ZF designed transmissions, eg. 845RE is an 8 spd, 450Nm torque rating, RWD, Electronically controlled transmission.

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