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1951 Commander w/auto No Reverse

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  • Transmission / Overdrive: 1951 Commander w/auto No Reverse

    My still-new-to-me '51 Commander Starlight appears to have no reverse and no park. Wondering if I can get some advice.

    Purchased late last summer, I've been upgrading the car to later brakes w/dual master over the winter. I put a low bid on ebay and did not expect to buy it -- but here it is. What can I say, it looked nice in the pictures. There is no rust, and the wiring all appears replaced, if not connected to anything. The info on the car was sketchy -- the engine had been given hardened valve seats, and the transmission 'reworked'. I've figured out that it has a 1954 232 engine, but not sure what-year transmission . But it is a Borg-Warner DG unit.

    I started the engine over the weekend and. I've got a nice even idle at about 800 RPM, tho' I might need to replace the vacuum advance.

    What I noticed was that even in Park, the rear wheels were getting forward power. In Neutral, the same.... in fact all the ranges from Park to Reverse, the right passenger wheel was moving in the forward direction. If I applied some mild pressure with a wooden pole, I was able to stop the wheel, and block it. And then also block the other wheel. The engine bogged down a bit, but I think that's just an idle adjustment.

    But I'm worried about no park and no reverse. The wheels were really locked on delivery -- they had to winch it off the trailer last summer. I freed up the wheels enough to drive the car down-hill to my driveway, but the dragging brakes prevented me from getting up the hill to my garage. I was able to maneuver the car back and forth in an attempt to build up speed to get up the hill and in the middle of all this, a terrible downpour occurred. But in trying to drive the car up the driveway, I did hear a screech, which I thought was a tire on the slick pavement, but I decided to stop and just use another vehicle to tow it the 1000 feet up the hill to my garage. Other than that, I've never driven it.

    Aside from the locked brakes, every bolt on this car has been pretty loose. Even the lock-nuts on the rear axle, the distributor, the carburetor actuating rod, whatever I've touched, it's been loose. So wondering if this is an adjustment issue with the selector, or at the transmission ora fluid level issue (didn't have a chance to pull that side up. Or is it something more serious. I thought I had an Automatic-Drive supplement in my collection, but it turned out to be a '53 Power Steering supplement. Not so useful. Just thinking -- is there any wiring to the transmission that should be connected? The anti-creep switch at the firewall carb-inkage is not, and I was not planning on re-installing the anti-creep valve, given the dual circuits and the additional, un-needed complexity.

    Sorry for the long tale. Thanks for any advice! I've never had an early automatic-drive car before, just a flash-o-matic in a Lark years ago -- any recommendations for a good shop for this transmission in the DC-Baltimore-York area? Bands and clutches are not my area of expertise!

    Click image for larger version  Name:	51 Commander on trailer.jpg Views:	0 Size:	119.7 KB ID:	1890784
    Last edited by newedmu; 04-20-2021, 07:58 AM.

  • #2
    Nice looking car. I like the way she tied it down during shipping, too.
    RadioRoy, specializing in AM/FM conversions with auxiliary inputs for iPod/satellite/CD player. In the old car radio business since 1985.

    17A-S2 - 50 Commander convertible
    10G-C1 - 51 Champion starlight coupe
    10G-Q4 - 51 Champion business coupe
    4H-K5 - 53 Commander starliner hardtop
    5H-D5 - 54 Commander Conestoga wagon
    56B-D4 - 56 Commander station wagon
    60V-L6 - 60 Lark convertible


    • #3
      Jerry Kurtz is in York.
      He is the most knowledgeable DG transmission
      guy. I heard that he is no longer able to work on these but he had a shop in the area that works on these.Does anyone have info on this shop?


      • #4
        I think I would be looking at the linkage just for a start. That's as far as I can go.

        What shape are the brakes in? Did they cause the screeching? E Brake stuck on?


        • #5
          Fluid level on the DG is critical. Low fluid level always shows up first when it will not go into reverse. Until you sort out any fluid issue other concerns can wait. The DG fluid level must be checked with the engine running at idle and in gear. With or without park the brakes have to be applied and/or the wheels chocked. The lack of park may be a simple linkage adjustment, but be advised that it is very easy with this trans to break the parking prowl.

          From past experience I learned another lessen. Wait for the engine to go back to idle and the car stops rolling forward, before shifting into reverse. Many years ago I was driving my 55 in a strange area of town. I happened to turn the wrong way on a one way street. I immediately shifted into reverse. There was an audible clunk, resulting in no reverse. I honestly don't remember what I was told the problem was, but I do recall the fix wasn't an easy one. In those days I always had a spare DG, or two, sitting , so I just changed it out. It's much easier saying changing it out, then to actually do it, but at twenty something years old, even sliding around, on a dirt driveway, with that behemoth on top of you was somehow doable. Today just the thought of it makes me go numb all over.


          • #6
            You check the ATF on a Studebaker Automatic Drive Trans. (Detroit Gear) with the Engine idling SLOWLY, fast Idle and Choke OFF, in LOW Gear, Car Level, Wheels Blocked.

            If you do not, a LOT of Fluid splashes on the stick giving a wrong (Too Full) reading.
            It is recommended to be warmed up, but I have never noticed a huge difference, just slowly run it through all Gears first.
            Second Generation Stude Driver,
            Proud '54 Starliner Owner


            • #7
              Thanks for your responses. I just got an Automatic Drive Shop Manual, and immediately realized that, for starters, the linkage from the cross-shaft on the firewall to the carburetor is installed backwards... preventing proper return of the throttle and leaving the shaft to the transmission in an off-idle position. So I need to go thru the whole installation and see what else is mis-installed.

              I need to chock the wheels as well and check the fluid levels as noted ... there is an internal hydraulic circuit to lift the parking pawl during vehicle movement as well as prevent engaging reverse if the car is moving forward. So all that, along with the poor linkage adjustment, might be my problem, if I'm lucky. Or 80% of it, at least.