Drag Racing started in the US and they have lead the way from the beginning, I mean they invented the sport so it would make sense that the they would be the best at it. Like wise the most of the hard core components come from the US (notice I didn't say they are manufactured in the US just come from there!), but that doesn't mean that they make all the best parts.
Torque Converters have a kind of mystical flavour about themselves, partially because they are usually a sealed unit and you can't really see what you are paying for. This makes it hard to compare one to the other, if you did cut one open to see what you just got, you would then need to weld it back together. Both cutting it and joining it back together are jobs that you need special equipment to do so most people assume that they got what they paid for.
Because of the fact that you can't see inside a torque converter it makes it easy to scam someone, this is the dangerous part about buying a Hi Stall, you can't see inside it so it is easy to get ripped off. A lot of people (I mean a hell of a lot and usually by local companies) have been ripped off over the years, usually because the person that they have purchased the Hi Stall from doesn't know what he is doing and as such he can't make the unit that the customer needs. People that have been ripped off in the past don't want to go through it again so they smarten up and look elsewhere when they purchase their new Hi Stall. This (especially when the dollar is as high as it is now) has led to a lot of people buying converters from the US of A.
There are some excellent converter builders in the US but there are also some really bad ones, the bad ones are usually the ones that spend the most amount of money on advertising and they are usually the ones that take credit for other peoples achievements. But good and bad aside there are some other factors that people don't consider when they are buying converters from the US of A.
We get a lot of Gen 3 converters that we didn't build come through our shop and a fair share of those are from the US, the combination of parts that they use always seem to be way outside of the parameters that we build (and for that matter, any other Australian converter manufacturers build) I use to wonder why there combinations were so wrong. Now I'm sure some people reading this are saying, "How do you know that they are wrong, they might be better." No they are wrong, because we have tested every possible combination on the track, on the dyno and on the street. Most of the US combinations have a very high STR and a very high stall speed but slip like a bald tyre on a wet oily road. It gives you a converter that won't hold a lot on the brake, heats the oil like a chip cooker, and never drives positive, they just make a lot of noise and never get anywhere. A lot like the owners of the workshops that sell them!
So on my first trip to the US I decided to investigate the great Gen III mystery, our cars are heavy compared to theirs and they run lower gears compared to us. That was it, it was as simple as that, so the you-beaut US converter is designed for a car that weighs 1000lb less and runs 4.56 instead of 3.9's. I still wasn't convinced, I mean it just sounds like an excuse, I went away and did my calculations. It didn't add up, the lower diff ratio and the lighter weight won't work with a high STR, so I got back on the phone and with the help of my US buddy's proceeded to get into a few arguments with a few converter builders about the combinations they were building, then finally I got an answer that made sense.
Most of us use the 245mm converter for most of what we do, they are a great design from factory and the fact that GM made so many different variations allows us to chop and change parts to achieve the best combination for your vehicle, we still use other designs like 8", 258mm and 265mm but a bulk of what we do is 245mm. We might have to wreck out 3 different converters to make one, as such we might end up with 1000's of parts that we have paid for but can't use because the combination won't work properly. We have a clean out every so often and send them to the scrap man who sends them to China. But some companies don't; they use the whole converter even if the combination of parts won't work as good as another combination. Why? To save a buck, that's why!
Our cores come from the US and they cost us a lot of money to buy plus the freight and customs and then we throw half of them away. These guys, even though it's in their back yard and it's cheap, they will use the whole converter to maximise their profit and if it's going to Australia, well even better, I mean would you really bother sending it back if it wasn't right? Even if you did, is the guy in the US really going to fix it? Does he really care when your on the other side of the world? Now don't get the idea that they are all crooks, because there are some good guys out there but if we have so many crooks here and our population is ten times less than them, it stands to reason that they would have ten times as many crooks? Right?
It doesn't stop at Gen III converters, guys that run Blowers and Super Stock racers also head state side regularly, now I have seen some really good Super Stock converters (usually 7" converters) from the US, but guess what, we all use the same parts, my 7" stators come from the same factory that everyone that builds 7" converters buys them from. There are some little Vo-Doo tricks that you can do inside those 7" converters and we do them just like they do. So if you ask if can I build a 7" as good as the US guys, I know I can because we have tested them back to back and a sensible person would know that if you use the same parts, the same combination and the same clearance then it will work the same way.
On to my favorite breed of racer, the Supercharged racer. We have a lot of Blown customers and recently a couple that are right up their with the quickest in Australia, including our own car that is way over weight and has already run low 6.40's, but that doesn't mean that people are going to buy our product. Blown racers are probably the most US biased guys out there, they are also the guys that get ripped off the most by US companies. We have worked on brand new converters that have had to be modified just to fit the trans they were built for, we have them come in with broken legs, smashed sprags and the insides turned inside out, and we have heard all the stories.
My favorite was a local Outlaw racer who has since stepped up to Comp, he broke a sprag every pass and I told him from day one that he didn't need to run a sprag. We have tested (back to back) spragless v's sprag type in Blown Drag cars as well as aspirated ones, for his application there was no gain in having a sprag. Every time it would break the converter would go back to the US. In the end he had 2 converters and they were on rotation! One in the car the other getting repaired, finally the US company suggested that he might want to try a spragless converter.................
But the guy who gets ripped of the most is the guy on the budget, our converters are probably the cheapest around when you compare the parts and workmanship that goes into them, combine that the the after sales service and the knowledge base that we have and your getting a pretty good deal. Now a while back a heap of B&M converters hit the market for as cheap as $200, our cores cost us more than that before we even start making a Hi Stall, I was in a state of shock, how would I ever compete with a $200 Hi Stall?
I purchased one of each and began to cut them open and have a look inside, the first thing I noticed was that they were painted black instead of blue, very strange. The next thing was that they came in white box instead of the usual B&M livery, also strange, and these converters came with a single piece of paper for the instructions rather than the manual that I had seen so many times before from B&M, I had to ask the question, is this even a B&M converter? B&M converters are generally a well built converter, so it was a surprise to see something that bad being sold as a B&M.
After I had cut them open, the distinct aroma of a RAT was present in my workshop, there is no way that these could be B&M converters, they were not furnace brazed, there was no anti ballooning plates, the spline was not hardened, the bearing were SECOND HAND!!!!!! There was no base bearing, just a thrust washer, I had seen some bad converters but never anything quite this bad (not even locally let alone US built), this was the worst Hi Stall I had ever laid my eyes on. To get the combinations right they had taken 45 degree negative lids and bent them to 45 degree positive, the root angle of the vein was going the wrong way, it was a really really really bad converter, and I don't mean bad in a good way!
Well all you can do is tell people to stay clear of these time bombs, but the budget guys brought them and they failed one by one, some taking out the gearbox at the same time, it was a sad, sad story. I rang B&M and spoke to a guy there who told me they were an "EXPORT" converter ordered by a wholesaler in Australia! Send it Australia those idiots will buy them! I can tell you those converters would have cost about $100 each and I know of people that paid up to $1000.00 for them. Can you imagine how much money the wholesaler and the retailer made from that scam!
So the budget guy still has to buy another converter and fix his gearbox at the same time, a couple of guys went back to the shop the got them through and got the, "No warranty on performance.....", which by the way is total crap, in Australia if you sell a product for performance use or not it has to be, and I quote, " Fit for the purpose", if you get told the no warranty lie, don't believe it. My advice is small claims, don't waste your time with the Motor Vehicle Board because the haven't done a single thing since they were established, small claims is the go. Every person (that I know of) that has taken a shop on with a genuine claim has won. The budget guys budget gets blown out of the water and he ends up spending 3 to 4 times what he planned, remember this: "THE SWEET SMELL OF A CHEAP PRICE IS LONG GONE AFTER THE BITTER TASTE OF A POOR JOB SETS IN!!"
Now like I said not all US companies are crooks and not all US converters are bad, some are really good, but don't believe what you see or read in advertising, one company in particular takes credit for customers performances that haven't run that companies converters for years. I was at the track in Fontana California watching a guy peel this companies stickers off his car, it all looked a little fishy to me at the time. I spent a couple of hours chatting to the owner to find out why he was peeling the stickers off the car. He told me that the converter had been back to the manufacturer and modified so many times he was over it, he showed me a box of stators and told me that they had done their dash, to make matters worse he went to another (local) converter shop and had a guy build him one the night before (over night) that had cost less than a third of the fishy one and the car went from non qualifier to top qualifier!
Now if you get on the web site of the original converter manufacturer (the one who's stickers were being peeled off) you will see photos of this car with the stickers on it and a rave about his race wins etc. These race wins were after he changed his brand of converter, but that won't stop the fishy converter people from telling you differently. It is false advertising but who is going to do anything about it? Besides that the way he words the advertising, he doesn't always say it was with his converter he sometimes leaves it to your imagination.
The bottom line:
1. Some US gearbox guys will make you buy a converter from them, it's a good idea too (buy one from them) if you want that brand of transmission. Some gearbox guys (not just US) will deliberately cause the Trans to fail and make it look like it was the converters fault. Hard to believe? I saw a brand new trans that had a converter feed hole blocked with a grub screw to create too much converter pressure because the guy didn't buy a converter with the trans. We log all sorts of pressures when we are doing a R&D converter, I saw a problem in the gearbox even before we put it in gear. He knows (the builder) I know because the owner called him and explained that he had no problem flying to the US and sorting it out face to face, the trans builder said and I quote, "Yeh we do that sometimes, get the converter guy to call me and I'll tell him which grub screw to remove," I already knew which one to remove thanks!
I have even seen a local trans builder put the pump gears in the wrong way so that the converter would bottom out and appear to have ballooned. He didn't know (as I snigger thinking about it) that I was fitting the trans and made the point of telling the owner that the converter would probably balloon!!!! I still laugh about that one to this day, I saw there was no end float, pulled the box out, stripped the pump and put the gear the right way around and put it all back together without telling anyone except for the owner (who needless to say never went back to that shop) That car won the championship that year, I wonder what the builder thought!!!!! I would love for him to read this now!!!
2. Don't buy on price, buy on spec. Just because it is cheaper doesn't mean it's the same, just because its more expensive doesn't mean its better, is it furnace brazed? Is it heli arched? Is it triple bearing? Does it have 4340 splines and pump drive? What sprag does it have? Did he ask you all the right questions he needs too to build you the right converter?
3. Don't buy a converter from a wholesaler buy it direct from the manufacturer. As much as I like Jegs and Summit, the chances of getting the right converter from them are slim. The chances that the converter was built to a spec and not to a price are also slim. You are far better off chatting to the manufacturer, if you can't deal direct then steer clear of that brand.
4. Don't buy a converter just because the website says they are the best or because some guy apparently uses one, with Facebook etc you can usually get in touch with these guys and ask them what they are really running. Does the converter shop run a car like yours? Are the performance figures for that car good for the mods they have done? Can they back up their claims?
5. Don't assume that the US product is going to be any better than the Aussie product. One of my buddies has 16 US built converters and is not happy with any, If our car was on weight (every 100lb is one tenth of a second) we would have run as quick as him on our 3rd full pass, we only have one converter! That converter was built here in Malaga. Its our own design and seems to work just fine.
6. Last but not least. Don't buy a US converter from a parts shop in Australia, if it's a Torque Converter shop or Transmission shop that deals directly with the US company then your fairly safe, but what is the parts shop going to do if it (the converter) fails? They can't do anything other than send it back to the US, at least an Australian shop that is the authorised repairer can fix it for you there and then.