Installing TCI’s EZ-TCU Late-Model GM Transmission Controller

Whether you like it or not, technology is catching up to all of us and if you don’t want to get on board you might find yourself in an increasingly smaller group of old school hold outs. There’s nothing wrong with old school, that’s where many of us cut our teeth. But if you like to drive your car more than a quarter mile at a time, at some point you have to think about drivability. With fuel prices skyrocketing, newer technology is appealing to the smaller group of hot rodders who used to shy away from it.

We borrowed a car from Ryan Daniels, of Riverside, Ca., because he wanted to make some improvements to his own 1970 Camaro. Ryan got his car as a project from his brother about ten years ago when he was only 15. When it came time for his brother to sell the car, Ryan told his parents he wanted it, and staying true to his word he got the car running and has been driving since. Ryan installed a 4L80E in the Camaro to take advantage of modern transmissions, and installed a manual valve body. Still, Ryan was open to make improvements and that’s where we all came together for this project.

TCI #CPG5-103 EZ-TCU

  • 4L60E, 4L65E, 4L70E, 4L80E and 4L85E
    and 4L80E-based 6X Six Speed Trans
  • Automatic or Manual shift mode
  • Control shift points & aggressiveness
  • Force TC lockup
  • Performance/Economy modes
  • Hand-held Controller
  • No Laptop Needed!

One way to upgrade your old car is to add EFI, and that means no more turning screws on your carburetor. But if you upgrade to EFI and you’re still running all that new technology through an old school transmission you’re still at a slight disadvantage. Upgrading your old transmission to the newer model transmissions helps complete that package.

Even those of you who are still happy making adjustments to a carburetor for the time being, you’ll find that an electronically controlled transmission with overdrive makes for better overall performance for your driver, and overdrive helps you hold on to some of your hard-earned cash a little while longer.

If you’ve thought about installing a newer GM transmission in your muscle car, classic car, hot rod or street rod to take advantage of all this modern technology, TCI Automotive’s EZ-TCU can do you one better. Designed to work with the 4L60E, 4L65E, 4L70E, 4L80E and 4L85E transmissions, their EZ-TCU will help you to control your transmission for better performance and economy.

They also have a kit for their 4L80E-based 6X Six-Speed transmission, which is capable of handling up to 850 horsepower. Gone are the days of tweaking your old transmission with different stall speeds and low gear sets to get the performance or economy you want from it. For those who have something other than what the General built, TCI sells adapters for many Ford and Mopar small and big block engines, including the modular Fords.

The Camaro currently has a manual valve body, losing the luxury of automatic shifts. We replaced it with a standard valve body to regain full use of the automatic transmission and to control the way it shifts, including manual shifting - with the EZ-TCU you have a choice.

Electronic Transmission in a Classic Camaro

Our installation began with removing the manual valve body that was installed on this 1970 Camaro. Being that we want full control of the electronics for this 4L80E, the manual valve body isn’t going to work, but don’t rule out manual shifting just yet.  Reminder: It’s always a safe practice to disconnect the battery any time you’re installing new electronics.

Once the valve body was replaced, the rest can be as detailed as you want it to be, routing wires away from obvious sources of heat and keeping the harness almost hidden if you desire. You always want to be sure that you tie up the harness to keep it from resting against hot or moving parts, while at the same time allowing for the flexing of your vehicle so as not to pull on the harness during hard runs.

The TCI EZ-TCU is ready to run out of the box. There isn’t any programming needed when you hook it up, nor do you have to hook up a laptop computer to it. It’s recommended to install the TCU away from any current-producing electrical components, such as your distributor or Ignition box, to keep EMI away from the control unit.

All the plugs are in place, making the installation a breeze. When installing, make sure all wires are kept away from excessive heat.

Even though the TCU and harness make a water tight connection, it’s better to mount the TCU with the connector facing down to avoid introducing water or moisture into the unit. If mounting the TCU in the engine compartment, it’s best to mount it towards the rear so that you can connect the hand-held controller to it when you’re monitoring the TCU while driving. The LED indicator on the face of the unit should always face outward.

You will also need to connect the TCU directly to your battery, it’s not a good idea to tap into other wires because you will need direct power without interference from other components. Most all of your connections will plug directly into your transmission and control unit, and regardless of what type of distributor or ignition box you have, there are detailed instructions that will get you connected properly.

The Control Unit should be mounted away from EMI and places where water can get to it, with the face of it easily accessible. You will also need to keep in mind that you'll have to connect the handheld for monitoring the TCU while driving.

Solution for Cable-Driven Speedometers

If you are still running a cable-driven speedometer, TCI has you covered. The optional TCI SCU has an electric motor that will drive your speedometer cable, and it mates directly to the wiring harness. Regardless of whether you have EFI or a carburetor like this Camaro, the EZ-TCU will work with either one. For carbureted applications, a remote mount TPS kit is available from TCI to provide a signal.

Once all of your wires are connected per the instructions, it’s time to set up the control unit. Plug the hand-held into the data communications cable and the power connector into a cigarette lighter to begin using the hand-held.

When making your power and ground connections, you should always create a new connection and never tap into other sources for the TCU. Common mistakes that people make are twisting wire connections together or using household wire nuts. Soldering your connections is best, but if you are unable to do so always use the proper crimp-type connectors.

Simple to Install, Simple to Use

We know that one of the biggest setbacks with all this new technology is the complicated process of setting up your laptop and programming your car’s electronics. But with the TCI EZ-TCU, when they say EZ they really mean it. You don’t have to be a computer geek to make this control unit work, if you can look at a screen and make choices and answer questions then you’re already ahead of the game. No more complicated programming with algorithms and spreadsheets to read from.

No laptop needed for programming. With transmission controllers, that has been the biggest roadblock with some of the older street rodders.

The Control Unit is the best of both worlds when it comes to driving your car. You can use one program when you’re simply driving to the track, then with the push of a button you can switch to another, more aggressive program for racing. It’s that easy, just like the flip of a switch.

When asked what the best selling feature of the EZ-TCU is, TCI Product Manager Scott Miller says, “No laptop needed for programming. With transmission controllers, that has been the biggest roadblock with some of the older street rodders. They want an overdrive transmission but they don’t want the electronics because you generally need a laptop to tune it. This unit solves that issue of not being able to use an electronic transmission.”

Miller continued,”The laptop type trans controllers can be very complicated and you can burn a transmission up really quick if you don’t know in detail what you’re doing.” These other controllers require a very strong attention to detail, but the EZ-TCU from TCI helps to take a lot of that guesswork out of the process. You input your information based on things you know about your car, and you can choose your shift points based on engine rpm.

Included in the kit is the Control Unit, the hand-held controller and the harness with all the necessary plugs already installed on the wires. You don’t have dozens of little bags filled with unrecognizable parts, paired with convoluted instructions that force you to start over 15 times before you can turn the page. The instructions are very simple and straight forward, and the whole installation can be done in your driveway in less than a weekend, an experience tech can do it in an afternoon.

Setup and configuring

The hand-held is an interface for the EZ-TCU system. The menu is very direct and allows you to make selections and enter information very easily. The Setup Wizard walks you through the first steps and gets you on your way. After your basic setup, if you want to make changes to the way the transmission operates you can reset the unit or make adjustments as often as you wish to fit your needs.

The Setup Wizard will begin as if you want to start a new tune, and will ask you some basic questions about your car: transmission type and model, number of cylinders, type of speedometer, axle ratio, shift RPM and TPS calibration.  More advanced settings include tire size, low speed shifting, aggressiveness and firmness of your shifting with street or performance modes available.

Answering basic questions and making choices on how you want the trans to operate is made very simply with the EZ-TCU hand-held

For those of you who like the idea of manually shifting your 4L80E, the multiple shift mode includes a full manual mode for using bump or paddle-type shifters, like the one’s available on TCI’s web site. You can also mount buttons to control upshifting and downshifting. And you don’t have to worry about launching in fourth gear at a stop light because you forgot to downshift. One major improvement over the older control unit is that the computer senses zero vehicle speed and puts it into first gear for you. As always, you should be careful not to over rev the engine by improper shifting; a rev limiter is a good safety precaution.

If you want to force torque converter lockup during cruising conditions for better fuel economy, the TCU will make sure certain conditions are met prior to that happening. This EZ-TCU has smart technology built into it by their sister company, who makes the FAST EZ-EFI so easy to install.

Overall impressions

As you can tell, electronically controlled transmissions can now be controlled by you, the driver. Whatever your style of driving is, whether it be local cruises or a trip to the strip, you are in control of your transmission with the TCI EZ-TCU.

Everything you need to control your transmission is right here, no laptop needed.

Our Shop Dawgs who installed the EZ-TCU said that the installation was very straightforward and simple enough for a novice using basic hand tools in your driveway, or your garage if you have the room for it. You want to make sure you have plenty of room for getting around and under the car, and that you use discretion when running wires under the car and around other components. Whenever crawling under the car, be sure that it is properly supported, and not just held in place with your floor jack. ALWAYS use jack stands if a lift isn’t available!

Shop Dawg Sean Goude says it’s never a good idea to try to make adjustments while you’re driving, you can monitor the unit, but never try to make changes while you’re driving. Make the changes you want, then drive the car and try them out. The good news is that if you get too involved and can’t remember what you changed, you can reset the unit and start all over again.

So if you’ve been holding back because laptops and programming have you riding the fence, TCI Automotive has a solution to get you off the fence and back into the driver’s seat. Even if you’re a knuckle bustin’ gear head who would rather hold an ice-cold 12 ouncer than the latest electronic gadget, this is one product that will make you look like you know how to program a computer. That is, until everyone else finds out just how easy the EZ-TCU is from TCI Automotive.

Article Sources

About the author

Michael Harding

Michael is a Power Automedia contributor and automotive enthusiast who doesn’t discriminate. Although Mopar is in his blood, he loves any car that looks great and drives even faster.
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