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Small 3 speed behind a 261
#76306 Sat Apr 14 2007 01:20 AM
Joined: Jan 2004
Posts: 6
wcouch Offline OP
Junior Member
I have overhauled a 261 to install in my 1950 3100. I want to keep the “3 on the tree” shifter for nostalgic reasons. Will the current small 3 speed transmission carry the extra torque of the 261 under normal driving (no hot rodding) conditions? If not how do identify and locate a HD 3 speed that will carry the load and fit? Will I have to modify the shift linkage and/or driveline to install a HD 3 speed?

Thanks for your response in advance.

Bill in Colorado
Re: Small 3 speed behind a 261
#76307 Sat Apr 14 2007 01:26 AM
Joined: May 2006
Posts: 8,490
Master Gabster
One thing to remeber is that you have a torque tube driveline. I don't think that there ever was a tt type heavy 3 speed. I may be wrong about that, though. Personally, I don't think that there'll be any problem with the tranny you've already got. These old trannies are really tough.

Bill Burmeister
Re: Small 3 speed behind a 261
#76308 Sat Apr 14 2007 01:57 AM
Joined: Aug 2001
Posts: 1,157
Shop Shark
Actually, the shorter 3 speed was the heavy duty 3 speed. The longer one is the standard version. I don't think you will be able to tear up the HD 3 speed with a 261 unless you are running drag slicks on a heavy truck and winding it up before dumping the clutch. Lord knows it would be tough to power shift a column shifter. I had a fairly healthy 235 in front of HD 3 speed and it never gave any problem.

Re: Small 3 speed behind a 261
#76309 Sat Apr 14 2007 02:07 AM
Joined: Nov 2001
Posts: 1,718
Shop Shark
If youre still running the closed driveline,,the weakest point is the front u-joint. That'll break before anything else does. But,if youre not going to be hot rodding it,keep your three on the tree and enjoy.............

Re: Small 3 speed behind a 261
#76310 Sat Apr 14 2007 03:12 AM
Joined: Sep 2001
Posts: 30,431
ace skiver

There was a heavy-duty 3-speed 1/2 ton (torque-tube) transmission in 1954 but not in 1950. The '54 H-D 3-speed was available with different tailshafts for use on all 3000 series 1954 trucks (1/2, 3/4, and 1-ton).

On the 1/2 ton it was the same length as the regular 1/2 ton 3-speed. The column-to-transmission shift-linkages were slightly different. The two transmissions are easy to tell apart - the regular transmission's tailshaft is long and narrow and tapered; the H-D tailshaft does not have the long narrow taper.

My guess is that H-D 3-speed was not common on the 1/2 ton and might have more popular (but still uncommon) on the larger trucks that came standard with a 4-speed (". . . the convenience of a steering column gearshift on 1 ton models for those drivers who do not require the reduction offered by the standard 4-speed transmission").

A heavy-duty 3-speed transmission was available in 1950 on the Sedan Delivery (1508).

I doubt very much that the extra torque (+15%) of the 261 engine is enough to worry about with the standard 3-speed, unless you plan to drag race. I drove for years with no problems using a 261 and the standard 3-speed in a '54 Suburban.


Tim []
1954 3106 Carryall Suburban [] - part of the family for 49 years
1954 3104 5-window pickup w/Hydra-Matic [] - part of the family for 15 years
- If you have to stomp on your foot-pedal starter, either you, or your starter, or your engine, has a problem.
- The 216 and early 235 engines are not "splash oilers" - this is a splash oiler. []
Re: Small 3 speed behind a 261
#76311 Sat Apr 14 2007 08:30 AM
Joined: Aug 2004
Posts: 399
Shop Shark
That 3speed can handle a lot a abuse. I use mine on the strip since years without problems.

Let me quote Bill Fisher here to answer your question:

The stock transmissions are capable of handling many more HP than the stock engine can produce. The authors 1941 coupe has experienced only one blow up, and that was while shifting at full thottle from 45mph in low to secont just to listening for the fine sound of scond gear rubber
I think now u get the picture grin


Re: Small 3 speed behind a 261
#76312 Sat Apr 14 2007 12:02 PM
Joined: Jan 2000
Posts: 1,609
Extreme Gabster
That same basic tranny was used up into the early 1960's on Chevy trucks and cars,and was the standard non option tranny behind some powerful V-8's including the 409.
Not to say it's bulletproof,far from that,as young guys we found regular abuse on those tranny behind a 265 or 283 V-8 would mean a monthly trip to the wrecking yard for a replacement.
But old trucks have poor traction so the wheels will spin before the tranny blows,hopefully......

Re: Small 3 speed behind a 261
#76313 Sun Apr 15 2007 06:39 PM
Joined: Jan 2004
Posts: 6
wcouch Offline OP
Junior Member
Thanks gentlemen for the info.

Bill in Colorado
Re: Small 3 speed behind a 261
#76314 Mon Apr 16 2007 07:16 PM
Joined: Mar 2005
Posts: 638
Shop Shark
The early Chevy transmissions had bushings in the cluster gear and with hard use the bushing slipped from the front of the cluster toward the back, this let the gear slightly disengage and automatically removed the teeth from both the main drive gear and the cluster. Later (I think around '52 or '52 the improved transmissions had needle bearings at both ends of the cluster gear, making them less prone to failure. The way I broke dozens of transmissions was to "speed shift" from 1st gear to 2nd. I could keep the throttle floored and a quick "dip" of the clutch would allow enough time to cram the shift lever from 1st to 2nd, and very often break the trans. When I had a GMC 270 built up in my '39 Chevrolet I broke so many transmissions I carried a spare in the trunk and several times changed the trans at the curb. The bottom line is this, the stock (with needle bearings) 3 speed trans. will easily handle the 261 engine, but DON'T speed shift it!!
I am gathering parts to change the Hydramatic in my '54 GMC to a 3 speed, and the built up 248 engine will work fine with that setup.

Moderated by  Woogeroo 

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