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Installing a Goerend performance valvebody in Hot Rod RV

When we last left our ‘97 Dodge project truck, we had upgraded the fueling with Power Driven Diesel’s AFC Live, and improved its reliability by performing the “Killer Dowel Pin” fix. One thing we hadn’t touched yet was the transmission, and it showed. The previous owner had indicated that it had been replaced and upgraded, but its mods were unknown and it started acting up.

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All at once, there were multiple issues; it was throwing trouble codes, and losing lock-up and overdrive or getting thrown into limp mode. When a transmission is in limp mode it will start in Third gear, but we found that if we went from neutral straight down to manual low (L) then the transmission would still start in First. This meant to us that it was an electrical problem, and not really anything wrong with the transmission internally.

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Not only was our transmission not shifting right, it wasn’t much to look at with a stock steel pan. Time to get to work on the improvements!

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We enlisted the help of our buddy Matt Cagle at Sierra Transmissions in Chico, CA to perform the valvebody swap. They do everything from electronics swaps to complete rebuilds on newer Dodges, so he was the perfect guy for the job.

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The first step involved loosening the transmission pan bolts and removing the shift linkage, which just took a couple of minutes.

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After the fluid was drained, Cagle inspected the bottom of the pain for any metal shavings or clutch material that would indicate some sort of wear or damage. There was a little bit of material in the bottom of the pan, but not enough to worry about.

A common problem on computer-controlled ‘97-up Dodge 47RE transmissions is that the governor pressure solenoid and transducer can fail, resulting in a “no lockup, no overdrive” combination that we had. Unfortunately, before the transmission started throwing codes it also had a hang at full throttle on the 2-3 shift, where we’d have to let off for nearly half a second to get the truck to shift into the next gear. This threw our “hopefully it’s just the electronics” theory out the window, and let us know we also had an issue with the valvebody.

Since our transmission was acting up in a variety of ways, we decided to fix everything in one fell swoop with a valvebody from Goerend Transmissions. The performance valvebody has numerous upgrades over the factory version, including raised line pressure with regulated pressure to the torque converter (to prevent ballooning or distorting), a pop-off valve to prevent over-pressurization, and the capability of locked 4-3 and 3-2 downshifts for those who use exhaust brakes. The unit would also have new electronics including a more reliable GM-style pressure sensor, reamed-out passages to prevent cross-leaks (a common problem when installing new shift kits in old valvebodies), and have better holding capacity. For us, it was a triple win, and with the addition of a Goerend Transmissions deep pan, it would be the perfect addition to our Ram.

The valvebody swap is a fairly simple job (only requiring about an hour and a half of labor), but since some parts are sort of tricky and messy, we let our buddies at Sierra Automatic Transmissions in Chico, CA perform the swap. Here’s how it went.

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Next, the parking pawl and the valvebody itself was removed. The parking pawl is probably the hardest part of the whole process, as it is somewhat hidden, and held in by a tiny, easy-to-drop E-clip.

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With the valvebody out, everything was inspected and cleaned prior to the installation of the new and improved Goerend valvebody.

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It took just a couple minutes for Cagle to install the new Goerend valvebody and connect the sensors. This, we hoped, would fix our transmission woes once and for all.

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Our Goerend valvebody came completely assembled and tested, so it would just be a simple swap-over. It had all new electronics, and was designed to ramp from 90 to 180 psi of pressure, which would be a big improvement over the factory 60 to 100 psi ramp.

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With the new valvebody in place, the parking pawl was once again reinstalled and the shift linkage reconnected.

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We don’t normally get excited about shiny parts, but the Goerend valvebody looked pretty good sitting at the bottom of the transmission. The final step was to install the filter spacer and filter for the deep pan.

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Goerend includes a strut, lever, anchor, and front servo spring to work in conjunction with the valvebody for maximum performance. Since we were looking at mild performance, and since the aftermarket lever requires removal of the transmission, the servo spring is the only thing we installed. Note that this works in conjunction with the valvebody to time shifts, so the spring is a must-have.

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After the spring and filter were installed, Cagle installed the Goerend deep transmission pan, which holds an additional 2.5 quarts of fluid, has a magnetic drain plugs, and a slanted floor so every last drop of fluid can be removed during future fluid changes.

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After our install, we took advantage of our transmission’s new higher pressures by adding Power Driven Diesel’s automatic transmission fluid. Basically a race fluid designed for the street, it’s the stuff they use in their own 2,000-horsepower builds. As per Goerend’s instructions, we filled the transmission to the top of the fill line on the dipstick, with the transmission in Drive.

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After putting the truck in gear, we immediately got a check engine light. The higher pressures of the Goerend valvebody make the computer think something is wrong, so we had to wire this Valvebody Assist (VBA for short) into the wiring harness, and bypass the transmission relay. The VBA would limit maximum voltage to the computer, which would allow the transmission to shift without throwing a check pressure code. Earlier ‘94 and ‘95 trucks came with the 47RH transmission instead of a 47RE, and shouldn’t need this modification.

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Our wiring guru buddy James Inhat split the wiring harness, and spliced the VBA into place as per Goerend’s instructions. James used a soldering gun and shrink wrap on all the wiring, indicating it’s better to do it right the fi rst time, than to have butt connectors or wire-taps that come loose in the future.

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After these modifications were performed, we got crisp part-throttle shifts and 2,700-rpm wide-open shifts, just like we should. As much as we’ve enjoyed Hot Rod RV, we had to send this Ram down the road to make room in the garage for a new project with a little more power.

What Does It Cost?

We’ve owned a few of these 12-valve trucks, and we got lucky in the sense that our ride held power on the stock head gasket. Out of the four we’ve had, only one needed a new head gasket, which added about $1,300 to the price tag. We also never got around to adding a pyrometer (which we’d highly recommend) which would have added a few hundred in parts and labor. So for our particular modifications, we got away with a total of $2,196 in parts, and $855 in labor, which isn’t a bad deal to bring a 1997 truck up to 2018 standards.

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1997 Dodge 2500 2wd, 161,000 miles

Truck: ……………………………………………. $6,000

Parts: 

KDP Parts: …………………………………………. $40
Power Driven Diesel AFC Live and 500hp Fueling Package: …….. $747
AFE Stage II Intake: ……………………… $379
Goerend Valvebody: ………………….. $795
Goerend Deep Transmission Pan: $235
Total: ……………………………………………… $2196

Labor ($90/hr):

KDP and fuel mods installation: 8 hrs
Valvebody installation: ……… 1.5 hrs
Total: ……………………………………………….. $855
Parts and Labor Total: ………….. $3,051
Project Total: ………………………. $9,051

Stock Performance:

0-60 mph: Slow as molasses
Quarter Mile: 19.1 at 70 mph
Miles per Gallon: 22 mpg

Modified Performance:

0-60 mph: 7.6 seconds
Quarter Mile: 15.87 at 89 mph
Miles per Gallon: 24 mpg

Sources:
Goerend Transmission Inc.

563.778.2719
Goerend.com

Power Driven Diesel
435.962.9555
PowerDrivenDiesel.com

Sierra Automatic Transmissions
530.342.0921