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Get Geared up To Decipher Your Chevy 4 Speed Manual Transmission Identification

If you’re trying to find some parts for your restoration, you’ll likely find the task of Chevy 4 speed manual transmission identification a challenge. After all, GM car manufacturers used 13 different types of four-speeds over the years. Some had specific uses, so you can narrow it down to a shortlist based on the vehicle make and model. It’s helpful to begin with the basics to make it easier to understand.

What Does the Transmission Do?

There are three types of transmissions or gearboxes that you’ll see in order from first to latest technologies:

  • Manual
  • Automatic
  • Continuously variable transmission (CVT)

Its primary purpose is to create a balance between speed and torque, or the power needed to move a vehicle forward. The differences between the types speak to the ways that it occurs.

The engine and the wheels operate at different speeds, with the former turning at faster rotations per minute (RPM) than the wheels. When you turn on your vehicle, it’ll need to draw on a lot of power to get it moving. A higher torque, therefore, is necessary. On the other end of the spectrum, you don’t need as much power output when you’re driving on the expressway, hence, the need for balance.

A manual transmission is an enclosed box consisting of different sized gears, rods, meshes, shafts, cogs, and other parts, all encased in oil to keep things running smoothly. The gear ratio describes the relationship between the different components. Each gear represents a varying combination of them that, in turn, produce a specific power-speed output. It’s not unlike what you’d see on a bicycle.

The first stick-shift vehicles had three-speed transmissions and lasted up until the 1960s. As the technology caught up, the industry moved toward four-speed ones. There’s no denying how fun a car with a stick shift is to cruise on the highway whether it’s a Chevy Corvette or a Ford Mustang. It puts you closer to the road and the driving experience.

That brings the discussion to the Chevy 4 speed manual transmission identification. Both the outside and the inside provide vital clues to determining what kind you have, beginning with the brand.

Types of Manual Transmissions

GM has since moved on to different technologies. The four-speed is a relic of the past with innovation pushing the bounds to nine- and even ten-speed gearboxes. Each of the 13 four-speed manual transmissions had a specific application. That of itself is the first step toward a positive ID. The main ones that GM used are:

  • Borg-Warner
  • Muncie
  • Saginaw
  • Vega/Opel
  • Brazil
  • Isuzu
  • New Process

Chevrolet used the first three for the most part. Right away, you’ve narrowed the field. The run-of-the-mill vehicle probably has either the Borg-Warner or Saginaw. Muncie, on the other hand, is a different animal. It’s one that you’re more likely to find in high-duty or performance rides.

The automaker used some models only on certain types of vehicles. So, if you have a car, the chances are you won’t find one meant for a truck under the hood. They also used different ones for certain years, the term referring to the date of the model and not a calendar date.

Steps to Identifying a Four-Speed Manual Transmission

The first step toward a positive ID is to figure out what is the brand of the part. Fortunately, that task is easier than it sounds. Each of the top makes has a distinct shape. The entire transmission has a main case, side cover, and extension housing. The general form is the main box with a telescoping tube attached at the other end.

Shape and Parts

Borg-Warner is the most clear-cut. It has box portion has a straight end. The other part has a gradual narrowing with an abrupt smaller finish. The Saginaw is not as wide. The end of the case appears rounded with at least two visible protrusions. Finally, the Muncie falls somewhere in between. It is boxy like the Borg-Warner but with a slight curve. It also has two bumps along the edge.

The telltale difference between the Borg-Warner and the other two is the number of bolts on the side cover. It has nine, whereas the Saginaw and Muncie have seven. You can tell the two apart by looking for the reverse lever. On the former, it’s on the side cover. On the latter, you’ll find it on the extension housing. Other parts to examine include the selector arms, noting how it’s attached to the main unit.

Model Specifics

Each model within the make’s line typically has slight variations that can pinpoint a range or maybe even a specific year. The Borg-Warner T10, for example, has a long run in cars between 1957-1988 and a brief one between 1968-1970 in vans. The T4 and T4C also had short spans. The T4 was only between 1983-1984 in cars and  1985-1987 in trucks. The TC4 lasted for 1982-1984.

Sometimes, you can home in on the details by knowing the make and model of the vehicle in which it was found. The Saginaw manual transmission existed in cars from 1966-1984. However, it only stuck around between 1985-1986 in the Astro and Safari. On a side note, neither vehicle made a go of it either, with both going out of production too.

A similar tale exists with the Muncie. It is the youngest of the three. The M21 and M22 led things off for cars in 1963 going until 1974. The SM420 followed by the SM465 in 1968 held up the reins for the truck side until it ended in 1991.

Materials

The materials also vary with the make. Look at the construction. If the cover and case are cast-iron, it’s a Saginaw. If it has an aluminum cover, you’re looking at a Borg-Warner. However, some earlier versions had a cast-iron cover instead before making the switch to more weather-resistant materials. An all-aluminum transmission is a Muncie.

If the four-speed manual transmission is a barn-find, the latter is probably still in decent shape. The others, not so much. It might be a good time to start checking out new truck prices.

Casting Number

All of the main parts of the transmission have a casting number that identifies the part and provides clues about when it was made. It is a physical trait, being within the mold.  However, any vehicle manufacturer may tweak their designs. If an original one is modified, the casting number changes too. It is not interchangeable with the part number.

It’s not unusual to find different casting numbers covered by the same part number. It’s the nature of the industry to change materials or refine a design. One thing that you can count on is that the casting numbers will get higher with each consecutive year. In other words, it’s newer.

You may also notice the words, “PAT. PEND.” or “US PATENT NO” on a part which means, patent-pending or the official number, respectively. You can do a search on the US Patent and Trademark Office to home in on its date. It can identify the make too since the details of your search will include this info.

The models of the Borg-Warner are T10, T4, and T4C. The last one was for trucks only. The casting numbers for the first one are either 13-04 or T10-XX. The second are 13-51 or 13-52. Finally, the last one is 13-53. Saginaw has one type of four-speed manual transmission, making the identification quicker after figuring out the make.

The Muncie includes M20, M21, and M22. The distinction is the ratio with wide, close, and heavy-duty close, respectively. IDing the transmission requires a look inside of the case. You will need to count things like the splines or teeth of the gears. Noting its location in situ can also identify the variation. The M22 or so-called Rock Crusher usually partnered up with big-block engines.

Serial Number

The serial number is where the money shot lies. It offers a lot of information to complete the story of the four-speed manual transmission. This figure is usually stamped and not a part of the mold. It’s also easily faked if you have concerns about whether it’s genuine or not. They often include a code for the date for helping you authenticate it.

However, it’s not always as easy to decipher as it sounds. Auto manufacturers often use unique codes even for something as mundane as a month name. Muncie is a perfect example.

Muncie Serial Number

The serial number begins with a P followed by the month and day. The letter denotes the plant in which the manual transmission was assembled.

So, P0201 means February 1. They didn’t add the year until after 1966. But wait. It gets better. Instead of a simple number to designate the month, the manufacturer went to letters with A for January and so on. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. What you’ll see for the ones after May is as follows:

  • H for June
  • K for July
  • M for August
  • P for September
  • R for October
  • S for November
  • T for December

There is also another number to denote the particular ratio. A stands for M20, B for M21, and C for M22. To decode it, you’ll need these bits of information. For example, a Muncie with P4H15A translates to a Muncie M20 assembled on June 15, 1974. Presumably, abbreviating it with this serial number gives a compact stamp that saves time and space.

Identifying the Rest of the Transmission

Bear in mind that some transmissions may contain a hodge-podge of parts. You may think you have one brand. But, when you look inside, your so-called matching-numbers parts isn’t what it seems. That’s what makes knowing a vehicle’s history essential if it’s from an existing car or truck.

You’re more likely to find a Saginaw or Borg-Warner intact and not necessarily rebuilt since the automaker used them on everyday models. The Muncie is the one that you need to check. Since it’s a performance part, it’s in high demand among collectors. Earlier versions may have components of later ones simply because the transmission and its housing were better made later in its production.

Chevy 4 speed manual transmission identification isn’t difficult if you know what to look for in the part. Luckily, the makes are different enough to give you at least a starting point. Though the serial number convention is sometimes confusing, there is a method in the madness that makes knowing which one you have an easier task.

Looking at the shape, materials, and structure of the main case, extension housing, and cover are excellent places to start in your search for a positive ID. The other information will help you get to its production date to begin the quest for its story.