Fluid clutches — fluid couplings and torque converters — have many advantages for automotive transmissions, but with those benefits comes a cost: fuel-wasting hydraulic slippage even at cruising speed. Since the 1940s, automakers have come up with a variety of strategies for reducing or eliminating that slip, including series parallel “split torque” transmissions and different types of converter lockup clutches. In this installment of Ate Up With Motor, we take a look at how GM, Ford, Chrysler, Packard, and Studebaker have approached this slippery problem from 1949 through the late eighties.
Continue Reading Giving Slip the Slip: Lockup Torque Converters and Split Torque Automatic Transmissions
In mid-1949, GM’s senior divisions introduced a trio of glamorous new models — the Cadillac Coupe de Ville, the Oldsmobile Futuramic 98 Deluxe Holiday coupe, and the Buick Roadmaster Riviera — that are popularly, if incorrectly, considered the first pillarless hardtops. This week, we consider the origins of this quintessentially (though not uniquely) American body style, examine the development of the the 1949 Buick Roadmaster Riviera, and consider the origins of the hardtop coupe.
Continue Reading Pillarless Pioneer: The 1949 Buick Roadmaster Riviera
The 1967 Cadillac Eldorado is a milestone Cadillac by any standard. Rakish, sophisticated, and surprisingly sporty, it was the division’s first front-wheel-drive car and its first serious entry in the burgeoning personal luxury genre. This week, we explore the story of the first FWD Eldorado.
Author’s note: An earlier version of this article first appeared in August 2009. We’ve completely rewritten and expanded it, clearing up some errors and misconceptions and adding new information and new images.
Continue Reading This Time, It’s Personal: The 1967-1970 Cadillac Eldorado
Most histories of the Oldsmobile Toronado start and end with the original 1966 models, but that wasn’t the end of the story. The Toronado survived another 25 years and its most commercially successful period was still to come. This week, we look at the history of the 1971-1992 Toronado and examine another vehicle that shared its novel powertrain: the 1973-1978 GMC Motorhome.
Continue Reading Out in Front: The Front-Wheel-Drive Oldsmobile Toronado, Part 2
Both technologically and stylistically, the 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado was a landmark — a striking, sophisticated big GT that was also the first front-wheel-drive American production car in nearly 30 years. This week, we look at the origins of the 1966-1970 Toronado and the evolution and development of its unusual FWD Unitized Power Package.
Note: This article replaces our original 2008 piece on the Toronado. It has been completely rewritten and expanded, adding a great deal of new information and new images.
Continue Reading Out in Front: The Front-Wheel-Drive Oldsmobile Toronado, Part 1
The Hydra-Matic, GM’s first fully automatic transmission, was a great success, inspiring a host of rivals — including some within General Motors itself. In this installment of Ate Up With Motor, we look at the origins of Dynaflow and Powerglide, the ambitious but ill-fated Turboglide and Flight Pitch Dynaflow (a.k.a. Triple Turbine), the later Controlled Coupling Hydra-Matic and Roto Hydra-Matic, and more.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This article, originally written in 2010, has been extensively revised and expanded for 2016.
Continue Reading Dynaflow, Turboglide, Roto Hydra-Matic, and Other Early GM Automatics
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 Synchro-Mesh gearbox back in the 1920s.
Continue Reading Hydra-Matic History: GM’s First Automatic Transmission
In our history of the Oldsmobile 442, we mentioned that it was not exactly the leader of the pack when it came to Supercar performance. To rectify that problem, Oldsmobile joined forces with Hurst Performance Products to create the ultimate high-performance Oldsmobile: the fearsome 1968 Hurst Olds. This week, we look at that car and the subsequent H/Os, a series that ran through 1984.
Continue Reading George Hurst and the Hurst Olds
The Oldsmobile 442 was Oldsmobile’s entry in the “Supercar” wars of the mid-sixties and early seventies. Although it was never as lauded or as popular as the Pontiac GTO or Dodge Charger, it outlived many of its rivals and helped pave way for Oldsmobile’s ascendancy in the 1970s.
This week, we look at the history of the Oldsmobile Cutlass and 442.
Continue Reading Middle-of-the-Road Muscle: The Oldsmobile Cutlass and 442
The 1976 Cadillac Seville was Detroit’s first serious response to the growing popularity of luxury imports like Mercedes. Although it was an immediate hit, earning a handsome profit and inspiring numerous imitators, the Seville marked the beginning of the end of Cadillac’s credibility as a leading luxury car brand. This week, we look at the history of the 1976-1985 Cadillac Seville and the reasons for Cadillac’s subsequent decline.
Continue Reading The Perilous Success of the 1976 Cadillac Seville
We said in the conclusion of our article on the multicylinder Cadillacs that the era of custom bodywork was fading away by 1940, but that wasn’t exactly true. The era of bespoke bodies for elite luxury cars was ending, but a new age of customized cars was only beginning. By the mid-1950s, the trend had spread back to Detroit, leading to a curious array of “factory customs” like this one: the 1953-1954 Buick Skylark.
Continue Reading The Kalifornia Kustom Comes to Detroit: The 1953-1954 Buick Skylark
In the mid-1950s, American automakers were engaged in a ferocious horsepower race. By the time the battle reached a temporary ceasefire at decade’s end, the average power of the typical passenger car had (at least on paper) more than doubled. The starting gun of that race was sounded by Oldsmobile, with its advanced new overhead-valve V8 and the new mid-size model that shared its name: the 1949-1950 Oldsmobile Rocket 88.
Continue Reading Rocket Bomb: The Oldsmobile Rocket 88 and the Dawn of the American Horsepower Race