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“Changing Gears” is Speed Gems' Specialty

Words: John Gunnell

We were walking along the rows of indoor vendors at the Jefferson Car Show and Swap Meet (www.madisonclassics.com) in Jefferson, Wis. on April 26 when we spotted an unusual rat rod and some very odd looking engines. There were no Chevy small-block or big-block V-8s or no LS engines. There was a flathead Ford, a flathead Lincoln V-8 from the late-1930s, a very rare 702-cubic-inch GMC Twin Six, a 308-cubic-inch Hudson “Big Six” with Twin H carburetion and other “mills” that you don’t see every day.

Carly Lundgren walked up and asked if we needed help. Since we love vintage engines, we asked her to explain what this “collection” of old engines was all about. She said that it was about a company from Waunakee, Wis., named Bendtson’s Speed Gems, which didn’t mean anything to us. Then she told us to look at the rat rod - which was a low-slung Model A Ford Tudor sedan with, of all things, a V-12 firetruck engine.

“So, you collect and sell old engines?” we asked.

“No, we make adapters to make old engines work with new transmissions,” said Carly. It seems that the company used to be an everyday transmission shop, but happened to be owned by a hot rodder. He noticed that modified car builders were getting away from the idea of using the “same-old-same-old” 350-cubic-inch Chevy V-8 in every car they built. In addition, collectors were finding it very difficult to fix older transmissions. The parts were either super expensive or made of “unobtanium.” On top of that, the knowledge base about older transmissions was gone.

Speed Gems has been around for a while; they even did an adapter for a ’55 Chevy Bel Air hardtop featured on Jay Leno’s Garage. But the company hasn’t become a household name. . . yet. They just keep on designing and cranking out adapters for more and more vintage power train conversions. Hot rod builders, Resto-Mod makers, racers and collectors have thrown lots of different engines at Speed Gems and each time they’ve whipped up a solution to transmitting the power where it needs to go.

If we counted correctly, the company currently makes 64 different kits for 15 different brands of cars: Buick, Cadillac, Dodge Hemi, Edsel, Ford, GMC, Hudson, Kaiser, Lincoln, Mercedes, Olds, Olds Allegro, Packard, Pontiac and Studebaker. If you get into different types of engines, the list is even longer. For example, there are kits for Buick straight eights, Buick “Nailhead” V-8s and other Buick V-8s.

The various kits hook the vintage engines to Chevy automatic transmission, Chevy manual transmissions, GM Corporate 700R4 automatics and Ford AOD automatics (used in Fords, Mercs and Lincolns.) Believe it or not, the company’s website, www.transmissionadapters.com, gives instructions on how to install every kit that Speed Gems makes. That means that each one of the 64 power train combinations is listed.

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