Although the Hydra-Matic transmission was first used by Oldsmobile and Cadillac, the final user was not a GM division, but Rolls-Royce, which used its own license-built versions of this highly successful GM transmission from 1953 to 1978. This included an unusual, short-lived variation for the early Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow and Bentley T-Series — the last iteration of the original Hydra-Matic transmission. In this installment of Ate Up With Motor, we take a look at the upper-crust British career of this venerable American automatic transmission. Continue Reading Don’t Call It Hydra-Matic: The Rolls-Royce and Bentley Automatic Gearbox
If you’re familiar with transmissions like the Chrysler TorqueFlite and GM Turbo Hydra-Matic (among others), you may have heard of the “Simpson gearset.” In this installment of Ate Up With Motor, we look at the origins and function of the Simpson gearset and briefly introduce you to its inventor, the late Howard W. Simpson. Continue Reading Secrets of the Simpson Gearset
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
I have spent a lot of time over the past few weeks undertaking an extensive update of the 2010 article on the original GM Hydra-Matic transmission. The goal was to clear up various errors and points of confusion as well as trying to do a better job of explaining the operating principles of both Hydra-Matic and its precursor, the Automatic Safety Transmission.
This endeavor, which has reminded me why I’m neither a mechanic nor an engineer, was actually a good deal more work than the original draft. However, since people continue to read and refer to this article, I felt it was appropriate to try to sort out its inaccuracies and confusing points.
We’re going to take a different approach for this week’s article. Instead of presenting another history, we’ve decided to give you a look at the way we approach the research for these articles, and tackle a challenging comment posed by one of our readers: did inventor Oscar Banker design the 1937-1939 Oldsmobile/Buick Automatic Safety Transmission, the predecessor of Hydra-Matic? Important author’s note: Much of this article, originally written in 2010, was speculative and thus many things turned out to be off-base or wrong. I’ve opted to leave the article up for the time being (having removed some of the more glaring errors) until such time as I can more thoroughly revise it, but please keep in mind that this is NOT an authoritative piece on Oscar Banker. Caveat lector!
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.
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 way 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.
We thought we’d take a slightly different approach with this week’s subject. We’ve touched on Chrysler’s financial problems during this period. So, rather than a lengthy recap of the origins of the Imperial marque itself, we’ve decided to present you with three short stories about this 1961 Imperial LeBaron: its name, its engine, and its transmission.
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