GM Transmissions for a Vortec or LS Motor
Common GM Transmissions that work with a Vortec or LS Motor
Although a Generation III Vortec or LS motor was not offered in vehicles until 1997, to better understand the transmissions available with them, we start back in 1982 with the introduction of the 700R4 transmission. At that time, consumers wanted more fuel-efficient vehicles. In response, GM introduced both the 700R4 and 2004R with an additional overdrive gear. The result was a transmission that was up to 30% more fuel-efficient than their predecessors.
As technology continued to advance, so did these transmissions. In 1990, the 700R4 switched to GMs modern transmission designation style. Now called the 4L60, the name indicates a 4-speed transmission rated for 6000-pound cars. The 4L60 is essentially the same as the 700R4 transmission until electronics were added in 1992. With this addition, the 4L60 became known as the 4L60E.
1997 - 2007 Generation III Vortec and LS Motor Transmission Options
Automatic Options - 4L60 and 4L60E
The 4L60E was the first generation of transmission to work with a Gen III Vortec or LS motor. Now controlled by computers, the E series transmission allowed for a wide range of tuning options. As a result, it became a popular choice despite sharing most of its internal components with its predecessor, the 700R4.
Offered between 1992 and 2010, the 4L60E proved reliable for those making close to factory power. It was capable of handling around 360 ft lbs. of torque. Subsequent updates in 2001 led to the 4L65E, which featured strengthen planetary gears, clutches, input shaft, and a deeper pan giving it a maximum torque rating of 380 ft lbs.
After that, updates to the 4L65E led to the 4L70. Unfortunately for the enthusiast, neither of these transmission is worth the premium price tag. Because the cost of a performance 4l60E transmission is significantly lower, it makes sense for enthusiasts to stick with this time-tested transmission. Also, as an aftermarket part, the 4L60E transmission is a popular automatic transmission for Generation III LS motors like the LS1. Generally speaking, a 700R4/4L60E will fit most vehicles initially offered with a TH350 or TH400 transmission.
Today, new transmissions capable of handling over 600 ft lbs. of torque can be had for around $1500. With a large aftermarket community behind it, swapping this transmission into most platforms is a bolt-on affair at reasonable price points. Additionally, considered the “Small block GM transmission” by car enthusiasts, the 4L60E is easy to install.
Alternatively, those looking for a more robust bolt-on automatic transmission for GMs generation III V8 motors are not without options. An example is the 4L80E. It's a great alternative to bulky solutions such as an Allision transmission. At the same time, it's intended for use in heavy-duty applications that require something more substantial than the 700R4 or 4L60. That's why the 4L80E is the perfect middle ground for enthusiasts. And, like the 4L60E, the 4L80E is a continuation of a legacy transmission—the TH400.
Sharing the same gear set as the TH400 ensures top performance. And, with the addition of an overdrive gear plus electronics the 4L80E is both more fuel-efficient and easier to tune. The result is a four-speed transmission capable of holding 440 ft lbs of torque from the factory.
Furthermore, updates in 2002 included a revised plantar gear set, which led to a stronger 4L85E transmission capable of holding 460 ft lbs. of torque from the factory. Minimal amounts of modification make the 4L80E a popular transmission swap in A-body and F-Body cars.
Both the 4L60E and 4L80E transmission are reasonably priced in the aftermarket. With the right electronics, they are a bolt-on transmission solution for all Generation III Vortec or LS motors. However, although these transmissions have their benefits, the addition of electronics adds an extra step during a transmission swap.
An example solution for a 4L60E or 4L80E transmission swap is to use the factory ECU and harness, motor, and transmission to simplify installation. However, mixing and matching Transmission Control Modules and Engine Control Modules, can quickly make things confusing. Rest assured, there are harnesses and controllers on the market that will allow swapping the 4L60 or 4L80 into a generation four (2005 and newer) Vortec or LS motor.
On the other hand, for some enthusiasts, automatic transmissions are a compromise not worth accepting. For the most part, a Generation III LS motor works best with GM’s T56 manual transmission. Its strength, simplicity, availability, and aftermarket support make it the perfect solution for those looking for a six-speed manual transmission.
Moreover, in 1992, GM engineered the T56 for use in the Dodge Viper and other Generation II motors. However, it soon found its way into cars such as the Aston Martin DB7, V12 Vanquish, Ford Cobra, and Cobra R. Ultimately, the ability to swap tail housings and bellhousings allows it to adapt to almost any motor.
Futhermore, its versatility is so renown that Chevrolet Performance recently added bolt-on transmission adapters kits to their list of products for the T56. Those looking for an OEM manual transmission that will work with their Vortec or LS swap should look no further.
2005 - Present Generation IV Vortec and LS Transmission Options
Summing it up
Deciding which transmission to use in your next build isn’t easy. Generally speaking, if you have a GM V8 motor manufactured between 1997-2007, direct swap solutions include the 4L60 and 4L80. And, the best manual option is the T56. If you have a GM motor produced after 2007, consider a 6L80 or 6L90 automatic transmission or the TR6060 manual transmission.
Finally, if you are looking for components for your next transmission swap, G Force has a wide variety of performance-tested products to complete your next project. View our products, and find more information regarding GM transmissions or related components, check out our FAQ page.