The Doug Nash Transmission Story
Written 2013 and revised 02/04/2016 unedited
In 1984 I was fortunate enough to be able to buy a brand new Corvette.
Several years earlier, I had owned a 1978, Centennial model, with a four speed transmission, so in 1984, when I had the opportunity to buy another one, I was anxious to find a model with a four speed manual transmission.
I called around to the various Chevrolet dealers, in the Miami area but found that most all of the dealers that had cars in stock only had automatic transmissions.
Now, my wife Katherine wasn’t too happy about my wanting to get a standard shift model as her job required her to wear high heeled shoes, and having to use a standard shift clutch with high heels, was not going to make it easy for her to drive the car.
I eventually found a dealer in Fort Lauderdale that actually had a silver colored car with a four speed transmission on their show room floor, and they said that the car was ready to go.
So we drove to Fort Lauderdale dealership and there it was, sitting in the showroom. It was a real beauty, a silver exterior and interior, and it had a four speed transmission and a removable roof.
The salesman told us that 1984 model was a transition year for Corvette and this was the year that Chevrolet was trying out several new types of technology. One of the innovations was that the car had all printed circuits in the dashboard, and it had a completely electronic ignition and fuel injection system, and the four speed manual transmission was a Doug Nash model with overdrive.
I knew that buying a car in a year that Chevrolet was changing all their technology was a pretty risky thing to do, as you never knew if they had really worked all the bugs. But the car was so beautiful and it was under warranty so I don’t think I worried about it too much.
So, the very first week that we had the car, we went out for supper to a South Miami garlic crab restaurant, and I was fortunate enough to get a parking space right by the restaurants front door.
About half way through the meal we heard an annoying car alarm going off outside of the restaurant. After a while it became obvious that no one was shutting it off.
I could see all the restaurant patrons getting pretty irritated about the noise, including us. It wasn’t until a waitress finally opened up the restaurants front door that we knew the noise was coming from our new Chevrolet Corvette parked there.
I got up as gracefully as I could I went out and got in the driver’s seat of the car, and
I started pushing every button and switch trying to shut the alarm off, but nothing worked. It was embarrassing, so finally I thought my only solution was to start the car up and drive it somewhere where the alarm wouldn’t bother anyone.
Turns out, that was the trick, as soon as I put the key in the ignition and turned it, the alarm shut off. That was our first “New 1984 technology surprise.”
A few weeks later we were in the Florida Keys, at the Holiday Isle restaurant, hotel and bar complex at Islamorada. We had already drank a few Rumrunners at the outdoor bar and decided to try their barbecue restaurant located there called “Ripps Ribs”. It was a big mistake as their food turned out to be the greasiest food we had ever eaten.
Fortunately our new Corvette was parked right outside, so, after eating, we got in, intending on driving to our condo which was only a few miles away, at Executive Bay Club also located in Islamorada.
Unfortunately as soon as I sat down, I leaned out of the open driver’s side door and threw up all of my Ripps Ribs.
As soon as my body had recovered from that experience, I went to start the car. Well that brand new Corvette just wouldn’t start.
As lousy as I felt, I thought, that’s no problem, I’m a pretty good mechanic and I should, be able to quickly diagnose the problem.
So I opened my driver’s side door to get out of the car, but I couldn’t get out as that was where I had thrown up.
Luckily I had a Miami Herald newspaper in the car, I always knew it would be good for something, so I spread it on the ground, I got out of the car and opened the hood. I was looking for something like a carburetor or a distributor or any kind of linkage that I could jiggle around and adjust.
Well, this was the first time I had really looked closely at the new Corvette 350 cubic inch cross fire fuel injected engine. There was absolutely nothing for me to jiggle. For that matter there was nothing to see as the engine had a plastic shroud over it, and I couldn’t even remove it.
I think that hot summer evening in 1984, was my wakeup call, because at that moment I knew I was never going to be able to repair a car like a Corvette again, I didn’t even recognize anything I could fix on the engine.
We were fortunate to hitch a ride to our condo, and in the morning I called the Fort Lauderdale Chevrolet Dealer.
They were real nice about it, they said that Corvette had an extraordinary amount of electronic ignition problem with all their 1984 Corvette models, but not to worry, it was all covered by the full warranty, and the next day they came and towed the vehicle away.
When we went to pick up the car, we were assured that the problem had been rectified.
But it happened to us again. The next time we were in the Florida Keys, and driving north on US 1, fortunately, when the car quit we were able to coast to the side of the road and park on the grass. But this time Katherine and I had to hitchhike home to Miami.
The car was again repaired at the end of the warranty, and it seemed to run well.
But now that the car was out of warranty, I started to get very nervous. I had heard lots of horror stories about problems with the 1984 Corvette models, I had heard that if a dashboard gauge went bad, it couldn’t be fixed, because they were printed circuits. So the whole dashboard needed to be replaced at some astronomical cost.
Well, my worst fears came to pass about a year after the warranty ran out, suddenly the four speed, Doug Nash overdrive transmission, started to make a whining noise and the faster I went, the louder it got. I called the customer service representative at our local Chevrolet agency and he said the only way they would fix the car was by changing the entire transmission for only $2400.00 plus the labor to do it was an additional $2400.00.
Well, hey, I was a mechanic myself, so certainly, I wasn’t going to pay anyone $5000.00 to replace the transmission.
I was in the automotive electrical parts rebuilding business and I knew the Doug Nash transmission could probably easily be rebuilt by someone in the transmission rebuilding business, so I made several calls around town.
A week later, after hearing all the crazy prices that various people around Miami wanted to repair the Corvette transmission, I decided that I would attempt to repair it myself in my own shop.
I had a friend at my local corner gas station remove the transmission for me. The owner Adrian said to me, “You know that your transmission has an overdrive unit on it.” Yes, I said, I knew it had overdrive, but as long as I had owned the car I had never used the overdrive even once, so to me it was an unnecessary addition.
Adrian brought the whole transmission over to my shop and I looked the situation over. Well, the first thing I saw was cast into the transmission housing was the name “Doug Nash”, and I wondered what the hell did someone like Doug Nash, have to do with my four speed overdrive Corvette transmission.
Well, after looking it over, I have to admit the transmission was a strange looking thing, and with the overdrive unit attached to the back of it, it didn’t like any manual transmission that I had ever seen before.
So that strange transmission sat in my shop for two days, with my entire shop staff of twenty five mechanics all wanting to look at it, and give me advice on repairing it. They gave me plenty of advice in both in English and Spanish.
I knew that the smart thing to do would be to get a shop manual on the transmission and read it before I did anything, but I was a big boy and I didn’t do it. It just didn’t look all that complicated. So I just started disassembling it, like you would disassemble any other transmission.
It turned out very easy, as soon as we separated the overdrive unit from the main transmission, I found the culprit. It was a very thin roller bearing. The bearing was burnt blue, so I was sure it was the source of the noise.
I got on the phone and called several Miami bearing suppliers. Finally at an aircraft bearing supplier I found one for $185.00 ea. I told them that the bearing was for a car transmission not an airplane, I wasn’t going to pay $185.00.
I went to my office to think about my next move. Since I already had the transmission mostly all disassembled, so I thought, I might just as well take apart the overdrive unit to see if there were any other bearings that were bad. I felt it would be terrible if I put the whole overdrive transmission back together, only to find out there was another bad bearing in the overdrive section, I felt it would be better to be safe than sorry.
This is the part when I really should have read a Doug Nash transmission manual first, I don’t remember exactly what happened, but the next thing I knew I had big springs and shims popping out and flying all over the place. There were pieces going everywhere.
Some shims and springs rolled under other machinery we had in the shop. Several of my own mechanics were watching me, and I could tell by looking at their faces, they all thought that this was the end, as far as my ever putting this Doug Nash transmission back together again.
I have to admit I was a little depressed, but all was not lost, I knew that I could call this Doug Nash guy up, whoever the hell he was, and I could order a repair manual from him.
So I found the telephone number for Doug Nash Engineering, it was not an easy task as this was a long time before we had Google and the Internet.
I called, and very nice fellow answered the phone. Yes, he said, this was the Doug Nash Engineering Company, and yes this was the very factory where they had produced the four plus three overdrive transmission for the 1984 Chevrolet Corvette.
I don’t remember exactly where the fellow said he was located I think it was Detroit.
Anyway, he was very patient with me and listened to my entire tale of woe, as I explained my entire situation to him, and then I asked him if I could buy a transmission shop manual.
The fellow calmly said to me, “Sir, I am standing behind my desk in two inches of water and there is no roof on our building.” No roof on the building? I said. “That’s right he said, our company was hit by a tornado and it took the roof off the building.”
I was stunned, does that mean you are out of the transmission business, and I am out of luck, I asked?
“Yes and No, he said, we sold our whole transmission business to Richmond Gear Co. Perhaps you can call them, because they already came here and got all our stuff. He then told me the phone number of Richmond gear and told me who the guy was to ask for.
I called the Richmond Gear Company, and by luck got the right guy first call
Yes he said, we bought out Doug Nash transmission, company, but, we also bought out six other companies at the same time. He said, “His company, Richmond gear was on an acquisition binge and they were buying out other companies right and left.
He said Richmond gear had bought out so many companies that he never even had the time to inventory anything, and everything from all the companies was just lying in big piles on the warehouse floor everywhere.
He said it would take a miracle to find anything so I was ready to cry, and I told him I needed that miracle.
The fellow obviously saw I was pretty distraught, and he said he would go to the Doug Nash parts pile in the morning and look to see if any shop manuals or bearings were laying around anywhere.
The next afternoon he called me back. Nope, there were no shop manuals, but he said he saw a complete transmission and overdrive unit laying there at the foot of the pile, and it was the exact part number that I needed. I asked him how much he wanted for it, and I was waiting for him to give me some astronomical price like $5000.00.
How about $375.00, he said. I almost fell off my chair. Please ship it COD I today I said. Well, he did ship it and he also put an extra ball bearing in the package at no charge. The next week, my friend at the corner gas station installed the transmission and the car ran fine.
After driving the car around a while, to make sure the transmission worked, I decided to store it for the evening in the fenced in yard of one of our warehouses. The yard had a six foot concrete wall with concertina wire all along the top.
The next day, when I went to get the car, and found that someone had attempted to break into it. They broke the windshield, and then tried to remove the Bose radio with a tire iron. The car was a mess with all the broken glass and damage they had done to the dashboard trying to get the radio out.
(See the Dishonest Chevrolet Dealer Story), to find out what happened.