Technology and Terminology

Explanations of various automotive terms and the technology under the hood.

The MacPherson Strut

Although frequently misunderstood and often misspelled, MacPherson struts are one of the most common suspension systems used on modern cars, found on everything from the Proton Savvy to the most formidable Porsche 911 Turbo. In this newly revised and updated installment of Ate Up With Motor, we’ll take a look at the origins and workings of the MacPherson strut, including modern variations like the Toyota Super Strut, GM HiPer Strut, and Ford RevoKnuckle.

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Dynaflow, Turboglide, Roto Hydra-Matic, and Other Early GM Automatics

The Hydra-Matic, GM’s first fully automatic transmission, was a great success, inspiring a host of rivals — including some within General Motors itself. This week, we look at the origins of Dynaflow and Powerglide, the ambitious but ill-fated Turboglide and Triple Turbine, the later controlled coupling Hydra-Matic and Roto Hydra-Matic, and more.

Dynaflow badge on a 1951 Buick Super Riviera © 2007 Aaron Severson
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Hydra-Matic History: GM’s First Automatic Transmission

GM’s original Hydra-Matic transmission was one of the most important innovations in the history of the automobile. It wasn’t the first automatic transmission, but it was the first one that really worked and its resounding commercial success paved the for every subsequent auto-shifter. This week, we take a look at the origins of the Hydra-Matic and its originator, Earl Thompson, who also developed the first synchromesh gearbox back in the 1920s.

Hydra-Matic hood badge on a 1942 Oldsmobile B-44 club coupe © 2009 Aaron Severson
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A Weighty Issue: Shipping Weight and Curb Weight

A car’s weight has a dramatic effect on its performance, ride, handling, and fuel economy. Figuring out how much a car weighs should be simple, but the weights listed in brochures, road tests, and other sources can be contradictory and confusing. A vehicle’s specifications may list shipping weight, manufacturer’s curb weight, and gross vehicle weight ratings, all of which are quite different. To sort out this confusion, let’s look at what each of these terms means.

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The 19th Century Man: The Rise and Fall of Henry Martyn Leland

Unlike its Mercury division, Ford Motor Company’s Lincoln brand was originally a separate company, founded in 1917 by Henry Martyn Leland, the founder of Cadillac. Henry Leland was one of the best and most respected engineers of the early auto industry, an expert in mass production and precision manufacturing. His life, however, is a tragic tale of broken promises and dashed hopes, the story of a great man brought down by the pettiness and venality of a new era that no longer had any place for great men. This week, we look at the career of Henry Leland, founder of Cadillac and Lincoln.

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Doing the Twist: Horsepower, Torque, and Automotive Performance

One of the most confusing (and frequently contentious) questions in the automotive realm is the difference between horsepower and torque. You may have heard any number of pithy expressions, like “horsepower sells cars, but torque wins races,” or fans of big-engine muscle cars complaining that 200-horsepower four-cylinder engines are “gutless.” Surprisingly few of the worthies who throw around comments like that, though, are actually able to define the difference. What IS the difference between horsepower and torque, and what effect do they have on how a car performs?

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Except as otherwise noted, all text and images are copyright © Aaron Severson dba Ate Up With Motor. All rights reserved. Trademarks referenced herein are the property of their respective owners and are used here for informational/nominative purposes; this is not an official or authorized website of any manufacturer or supplier.