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1963 Mercedes-Benz 230 SL ‘Pagoda’ Debut

A 1963 SL in front of a bavarian hotel.

Production of the Mercedes-Benz SL “Pagoda” (W 113) ran from 1963 to 1967. (Photos courtesy of Mercedes-Benz Classic archive).


The Mercedes-Benz 230 SL, also known as the W113, debuted at the Geneva auto show on March 14, 1963.

With its aerodynamic design and a removable hardtop roof, the two-seat Mercedes -Benz 230 SL two-seater replaced the 190 SL and the 300 SL models. Of the 48,912 W113 SLs produced between 1963 and 1967, 19,440 were sold in the U.S, according to the W113 page in Wikipedia.

All 230 SL models were rear-wheel drive and equipped with an inline-six cylinder engine and a standard four-speed manual transmission or automatic four-speed, mainly for the U.S. market. The hood, trunk lid, door skins, and tonneau cover were made of aluminum to reduce weight.

A black and white pr photo Mercedes Benz display at the Geneva Motor Show, March 14-24, 1963. Standing beside the car are safety developer Béla Barényi (right) and designer Paul Bracq.

The 230 SL at its premiere at the Geneva Motor Show, March 14-24, 1963. Standing beside the car are safety developer Béla Barényi (right) and designer Paul Bracq.

The front styling of the SL showcases the upright Bosch “fishbowl” headlights. The large three-pointed star centered the simple chrome grille, which paid homage to the 300 SL roadster.

W113 SLs were typically configured as a coupe-roadster with a soft top and an optional removable hardtop. A 2+2 was introduced with the 250 SL “California Coupe,” which had a fold-down rear bench seat instead of a soft top.

A studio image of the 230 SL interior.

A studio image of the 230 SL interior.

SL Heritage From 1955

The redesigned 230 SL traces its heritage to the first 190 SL model in 1955.

“By 1955, Mercedes-Benz Technical Director Prof. Fritz Nallinger and his team held no illusions regarding the 190 SL’s lack of performance,” according to the Wikipedia report.

The high price of the legendary 300 SL supercar kept it elusive for all but the most affluent buyers. To reach more buyers, Mercedes-Benz started evolving the 190 SL on a new platform, model code W127. It would have a fuel-injected 2.2 liter M127 inline-six engine, internally denoted as 220 SL. Encouraged by positive test results, Nallinger proposed that the 220 SL go into production in July 1957.

The 148-hp 2.3-liter straight six in the 1963 230 SL.

The 148-hp 2.3-liter straight six in the Mercedes-Benz 230 SL.

230 SL Production Delayed

Technical difficulties kept postponing the production start of the W127. The emerging new S-Class W 112 platform introduced novel body manufacturing technology. So in 1960, Nallinger proposed to develop an entirely new 220 SL design based on the “fintail” W 111 sedan platform, its wheelbase shortened by nearly a foot (11.8 inches).

The revised W 113 platform debuted an improved and fuel-injected 2.3 liter M127 inline-six engine, rated 148 horsepower with 149 foot-pounds of torque. The newly designated 230 SL also debuted the distinctive “pagoda” hardtop roof.

“It was our aim to create a very safe and fast sports car with high performance, which despite its sports characteristics, provides a very high degree of traveling comfort,” Nallinger said at the Geneva debut.

A black and white auto show display of 230 SLs.

The1963 Frankfurt International Motor Show display for the Mercedes-Benz 230 SL.

230 SL Performance

Mercedes-Benz Chief Engineer Rudolf Uhlenhaut demonstrated the capabilities of the 230 SL on the tight three-quarter mile Annemasse Vétraz-Monthoux race track in 1963. (The track was active from active 1962-1972).

Uhlenhaut clocked a best lap time of 47.5 seconds versus 47.3 seconds by Grand Prix driver Mike Parkes in his 3-liter V12 Ferrari 250 GT.

SL, or Sehr Leicht, translates as “very light.”

The original list price for a 1963 230 SL was $7,506. Today, a 1963-1967 Mercedes-Benz SL 230 in “Good” condition has a selling price of around $50,000, according to

Production of the 230 SL commenced in June 1963 and ended on Jan. 5, 1967.

The rally team in 1964.

The “Pagoda” SL was a successful rally car. This photo of the rally team is from the 34th Spa-Sofia-Liège Rally Aug. 25-29, 1964. From left to right: Martin Braungart, Dieter Glemser, Alfred Kling, Ewy Rosqvist, Manfred Schiek, Eugen Böhringer, Rolf Kreder and Klaus Kaiser.

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1946-1948 Chrysler Town & Country

Chrysler rolled out its new, wooden-bodied Town & Country models in 1946 with promises of a full line of “woodies,” including a convertible, a sedan, and a roadster. But only the convertible and sedan saw production

A black and white photo of the new for 1946 Chrysler Town & Country convertible

The retail price on average for the 1946 Chrysler Town & Country in the U.S. was $2,609 ($40,027 in 2023.) Production totals were documented at 2,169. (Photos courtesy of Stellantis media archives)


There’s a certain charm to the white-socks stance as shown in these PR images of the 1946 Chrysler Town & Country Convertible Coupe. It was a new beginning for U.S. carmakers. World War II ended in 1945 and automakers again ramped up car production after transitioning from building war machines.
When GIs returned home from war, they were ready to let the good times roll and Chrysler was ready with its restart of the 1946 Town & Country nameplate.

The Chrysler Town & Country had been in production from 1940 to 1942, primarily as a luxury station wagon, according to the car’s page on Wikipedia. During this time, the Town & Country was also available in wooden-bodied — “woodie” — body styles of a four-door sedan, two-door hardtop, and convertible.

“Following the war, the Town & Country nameplate returned, though the eight-passenger station wagon did not. Only the 1946 Town & Country four-door sedan and the 1946 Town & Country two-door convertible were offered.

Curiously, the 1946 Town & Country sales brochure also described and illustrated a roadster, a two-door sedan called the Brougham, and a two-door hardtop called the Custom Club Coupe. None of those three additional body styles progressed beyond the prototype stage. Only one Brougham and seven Custom Club Coupes were built,” per Wikipedia.

Luxurious and Elite

I found these notes from an auction report by RM Sotheby’s: “While the sedan was a warm, clubby sanctuary for the trip to one’s hunting lodge, the convertible was elite, a favorite of such celebrities as actress Marie “The Body” MacDonald and popular Western actor Leo Carrillo. Some 8,368 convertibles were sold in three years.”
The Town & Country’s wooden body framing was made from white ash and the panels were mahogany veneer but were now bonded to steel body panels. The convertible’s retail price on average in the U.S. was $2,609 ($36,254 in 2021 dollars; production totals were documented at 2,169, per Wikipedia.

An original 1946-48 Chrysler Town & Country sedan, with accessory roof-rack rails.

The 1946 Chrysler Town & Country sedan has been described as a warm, clubby sanctuary for the trip to one’s hunting lodge.

Town & Country for 1947

During the 1947 model year, the Chrysler Town & Country sedan and the convertible each carried over with just a few improvements over the previous model year (1946).


By 1948, the Town & Country sedan was in its last model year of production, after only a three-model-year production run (since the 1946 model year). The 1948 Town & Country convertible carried over with just a few improvements over the previous model year (1947). This was also the year the genuine Honduran mahogany wood panels were replaced by DI-NOC vinyl panels.


The 1949 Town & Country convertible was now in its last model year of production, which was the only Chrysler Town & Country offering during the 1949 model year.

After a four-model-year production run, Chrysler would produce its last true woodie offering, the Town & Country Newport two-door hardtop.

The cars for 1949 were Chrysler’s first new postwar designs, with a longer wheelbase (131.5 inches), and based upon the New Yorker model.

During its one-model-year production run, the 1950 T&C panels were now simulated wood. The year also marked a new optional feature, windshield washers.


Chrysler’s Town & Country wagon was reintroduced with all-steel construction in 1951. Windsor and New Yorker variants would continue through the end of Windsor model production for the 1960 model year; Newport and New Yorker models continued through 1965.

A black and white pr phot of the 1946 Chrysler Town & Country sedan

The 1946-1948 Chrysler Town & Country sedan.


In 1966, The T&C wagon became a stand-alone model, with trim and features which bridged the gap between the two sedan lines. It was distinguished by luxury features including a carpeted rear cargo area with split-folding second-row bench seats trimmed with chromed strips of steel.

From 1968 forward simulated woodgrain paneling was used on the body sides and tailgate. The treatment was also applied to other competing station wagons, such as the AMC Ambassador, Buick Estate, Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser, Ford Country Squire, and the Mercury Colony Park. In 1976, AMC introduced the Jeep Grand Wagoneer with a simulated woodgrain appearance built on a dedicated chassis.

The Town and Country, however, was in a luxury class by itself until the last of the full-sized versions of 1977. From 1978, it was downsized and absorbed into the LeBaron series. A lower-content version lacking the more luxurious features and woodgrain bodyside decals was available for a few years in the early 1980s.

Last of the T&C Wagons

The 1988 model year was the last for the station wagon until 1990. It was that year when Chrysler reintroduced the Town & Country nameplate as the rebadged variant Chrysler Town & Country minivan.

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4-seat Ford Thunderbird debuts Feb. 13, 1958

A soft green 1958 Ford Thunderbird posed with a Ford Model T on a low hillside above

The second generation Ford Thunderbird (also called Squarebird]) was produced by Ford for the 1958 to 1960 model years as a successor to the popular 1955–1957 two-seater. (Photos courtesy of Ford Motor archives)

Two major changes were made to attract buyers: two rear seats were added and the level of luxury and features of a full-sized car were incorporated into a mid-size platform


The Ford Thunderbird first hit the market in October 1954 as a two-seater to compete with the two-year-old Chevrolet Corvette, according to

“Unlike the Corvette, Ford marketed the “Baby Bird,” as the first generation of T-Birds has come to be known, as a personal luxury vehicle, not a sports car.

“Focusing on its comfort and convenience proved to be the right route for Ford, as the car found wild success, outselling Corvette nearly 23 to 1 in its first year of production. Between 1955 and 1957, some 50,000 Thunderbirds ended up in driveways around the country.

“The big wigs upstairs at Ford, particularly whiz kid Robert McNamara, thought it could do better. This led to a complete redesign for 1958, resulting in the four-seat Ford Thunderbird, which debuted on this day in 1958.”

Thunderbird Convertible Models

The second-to-fourth-generation Thunderbird convertibles were similar in design to the Lincoln convertible of the time, according to Wikipedia 

The so-called “Squarebirds” used a design from earlier Ford Skyliner hardtop and convertible models.

“While these Thunderbird models had a true convertible soft top, the top was lowered to stow in the trunk area, according to the Wikipedia page. This design reduced available trunk space when the top was down.

Thunderbird Names

Two 1958 Ford Thunderbirds with one car facing forward and another facing rearward

Along with the 1958 Lincolns, the 1958 Thunderbird was the first Ford Motor Company vehicle designed with unibody construction.

The Thunderbird name was not among the thousands proposed, according to Wikipedia. Other nameplates that were rejected include “Apache” (the original name of the P-51 Mustang), “Falcon” (owned by Chrysler at the time), and “Eagle,” “Tropicale,” “Hawaiian,” and “Thunderbolt.”

A Ford stylist who had lived in the Southwest submitted the Thunderbird name. The word “thunderbird” refers to a legendary creature for North American indigenous people. It is considered a supernatural bird of power and strength.

Thunderbird Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., also lays claim to being the inspiration for the car’s name. According to it, Ernest Breech, a Thunderbird Country Club member and then chairman of Ford Motor, was supposedly deeply involved in creating the Thunderbird. Breech, it is claimed, asked the club’s permission to use the name, which was granted.

Thunderbird Legacy

Succeeding generations of Thunderbird became larger until the line was downsized in 1977, in 1980, and in 1983. Sales were good until the 1990s when large two-door coupes became unpopular. Thunderbird production ceased at the end of 1997.

Production of a revived two-seat Thunderbird was launched for the 2002 model year and continued through the 2005 model year.

From its introduction in 1955 to its final phaseout in 2005, Ford produced more than 4.4 million Thunderbirds.

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1922 U.S. Army Curtiss Racer

Curtiss Aeroplane produced several outstanding racing aircraft during the 1920s, flown by Navy and Army pilots, the latter including First Lt. “Jimmy” Doolittle


A black and white photo of a 1922 Curtiss biplane racer

The Army Curtiss Racer in final motor testing, Sept. 16, 1922, at Mitchell Field, in Garden City, N.Y. Lt. Alford J. Williams, U.S.M. (at the tail) and W.L. Gilmore, chief engineer for the Curtiss Co. at the Curtiss Aeroplane development and testing facility. (Photo from the Paul S. Maynard archive)



Just as automobile racing was gaining traction in the years before World War I (1914-18), so was airplane racing. The most famous of these aerial speed contests in the United States and Europe was the international competition known as the Schneider Cup Races.

According to an online report by the U.S. Naval Institute, Jacques Schneider, a wealthy French aero enthusiast, originated the races as a stimulus for seaplane design and the development of overwater flying. The competitions were administered by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale and offered a trophy valued at some $5,000.

The races were for seaplanes and had to be flown entirely over water for a minimum distance of 150 nautical miles. Competitors raced against the clock — not each other — with the fastest average time winning. And the races had to be international.

The first Schneider race was held in 1913, with the United States represented by a privateer. The races were suspended during World War I, then resumed in 1919.

Subsequently, the U.S. military entered the Schneider races three times. The U.S. Navy-Curtiss racers twice won first and second places.

The Pulitzer Trophy Race 

In 1921, the Navy decided to compete in the Pulitzer Trophy Race, which the Army had won the previous year. Curtiss was the only major U.S. aircraft firm with prior experience in racer design, and on June 16, 1921, the Navy awarded the firm a contract for two aircraft, though some sources say three planes were built. The Navy had no effective designation scheme, so the aircraft were designated Curtiss Racer (CR) No. 1 and CR No. 2 (which was retained in naval service).

Designed by Mike Thurston and Henry Routh and built at Garden City, Long Island, New York, these were streamlined biplanes with a single, open cockpit. A variety of drag-reducing features were incorporated. Both CRs had wheeled undercarriages, but there were slight differences between the two aircraft.

Their 425-horsepower V-12 Curtiss engines ran on a 50/50 mixture of benzol and gasoline. The water-cooled D-12 had a displacement of 18.8 liters.

 Daring Lt. “Jimmy” Doolittle

According to a news story at, the first of the three Curtiss racers (including R3C) was put through its preliminary trials during the week of Sept. 19, 1922.

Alford J. Williams, U.S.M., was to pilot the Navy entry in the Pulitzer Race and Lieut. James H. Doolittle, Army Air Service, flew the plane for short trials to determine airworthiness.

On Sept. 18, Lt. Doolittle, for the first time, opened the throttle wide and flew the actual course of the Pulitzer Race from Mitchel Field, where these tests were carried out. W.L. Gilmore, chief engineer for the Curtiss Company, timed the trials and reported an average speed of 254 mph. for two circuits of the course.

The testing exceeded by approximately 11 mph the last Pulitzer speed figure set up when the Navy Curtiss racer won this race at St. Louis in 1923, clocking 243.6 mph.

The testing at Curtiss’ Garden City plant was considered in every way to be a great achievement in racing airplane design.

The Army went on to win the 1922 Pulitzer race with the new Curtiss R-6 racer, which led the Navy to order two similar aircraft in 1923. Designated R2C-1, these “logical” evolutions of the CRs and R-6s included improved engines that were boosted to 507 horsepower.

On Oct. 6 that year, Navy pilots captured first and second place in the Pulitzer race with speeds of 243.68 mph and 241.77 mph, respectively. Both speeds were later exceeded by those aircraft. In 1923, after the race, one of the R2C-1s was “sold” to the Army for $1 (becoming the Army’s R-8).

Curtiss Aeroplane Legacy

Curtiss produced several outstanding racing aircraft during the 1920s, flown by Navy and Army pilots, the latter including First Lt. “Jimmy” Doolittle.

According to Marine Lieutenant Colonel Robert Rankin of the naval institute:

“Although this country participated officially in the Schneider event for only three years, it did gain considerable technical data from the contests. In addition to the goodwill engendered by the Navy pilots, the races were of positive value in drawing the attention of the general public to our naval air program in the period following World War I when it was all too fashionable to criticize the services. More important, of course, were the research aspects of the contests, the results of which led to many important aircraft improvements and developments.”


This is another image from my dad, Paul Smith Maynard, who worked four decades in aviation as an engineer.

Dad began his career in about 1943 after graduating from West Virginia University. He started with Curtiss-Wright Corp., an early pioneer in making flying machines. He went on to work at North American Aviation and Rockwell International.

See more of his vintage plane pics here.

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Curtiss Condor Bomber and Civilian Condor

A 1929 black and white photo of a Curtis Condor bomber

This original photo of the Curtiss Condor B-2 bomber was taken at the Curtiss Aerospace development plant in Garden City, N.Y. The image is dated Aug. 14, 1929. (Photo from the Paul S. Maynard archive)

The Curtiss Condor B-2 bomber became known as a ‘Flying Battleship’


Long before the current-generation B2 Spirit “Stealth Bomber” by Northrop Grumman there was the Curtiss Condor B-2 bomber built for the U.S. Army.

It was an enormous fabric-covered biplane aircraft with a wingspan of 90 feet and a length of 47 feet 4 inches. With its armaments, it became known as a “Flying Battleship,” but its use was short-lived.

According to its page in Wikipedia, the B-2 Condor’s two engines sat in nacelles between the wings, flanking the fuselage. It had a twin set of rudders on a twin tail, a configuration that was becoming obsolete by that time. At the rear of each nacelle was a gunner position. And there was another gunner in the nose.

As a twin-engine heavy bomber, the B-2 Condor was powered by two 650-horsepower Curtiss GV-1570-7 Conqueror V-12 water-cooled piston engines.

In a report by Joe Baugher (Encyclopedia of American Aircraft), the engines were housed inside nacelles mounted on top of the lower wing. “The engines were cooled by rather angular radiators that jutted up vertically from each nacelle.

“One of the more unusual innovations introduced by the [second prototype] XB-2 was the addition of a defensive gunner position in the rear of each nacelle. It was hoped that this arrangement would offer a clearer field of fire for the gunners than the more conventional fuselage-situated positions. An additional gunner position was provided in the nose. Each position was provided with a pair of Lewis .30-06 machine guns.”

According to the Baugher report, the Condor’s bombload was typically 2,508 pounds but could be increased to 4,000 pounds on short flights.

Curtiss Condor Competitors

The Curtiss Condor B-2 competed against the Keystone XB-1B, the Keystone XLB-6, the Sikorsky S-37B, and the Atlantic-Fokker XLB-2, according to the Baugher report.

“When an Army board of review met in February of 1928 to decide which design was to be awarded a contract, they immediately ruled out the XB-1B, the XLB-2, and the S-37. However, the board was unable to decide between the XB-2 and the XLB-6. The XB-2 had the better performance, but the XLB-6 was only $24,750 per unit.

“The per-unit cost of the B-2 was $76,373, more than three times the cost of a Keystone bomber. In a split decision, the Board opted for the Keystone design, but on June 23, 1928, Curtiss was given a contract for two B-2s (Serial nos. 28-398/399). A further 10 were ordered in 1929 (29-28/37).

“The twelve production B-2s were delivered from May 1929 to January 1930. Notable differences from the XB-2 included the use of three-bladed propellers and somewhat shorter and wider radiators mounted on top of the engine nacelles.

At sea level, the Curtiss Condor had a maximum speed of 132 mph — though many reports say it struggled to reach that max V — and 128 mph at 5,000 feet. The plane had a cruising speed of 105.5 mph and a cruising range of 805 miles.

End of the Condor Line

During the early 1930s, the advances in bomber design were so rapid that canvas-covered biplanes such as the B-2 rapidly became obsolete, Baugher wrote.

“Consequently, the B-2 served only briefly with the Army, being taken out of service in 1934. The last B-2 was surveyed in July of 1936. So far as I am aware, none survives today.”

After production of the B-2, Curtiss Aircraft left the bomber business, concentrating on the Hawk series of pursuit aircraft in the 1930s.

A 1929 black and white photo of a civilian version of the Curtis Condor bomber

The civilian version of the Curtiss Condor, circa 1944,  was the first airliner in the world to provide sleeping berths. (Photo from the Paul S. Maynard archive)

The Civilian Curtiss Condor

The Model 53 was an airliner version of the Model 52 Condor B-2 bomber. The Condor was the first airliner in the world to provide sleeping berths.

The Army permitted this development in 1928, and the first of the new aircraft made its maiden flight in June 1929. The civilian B-2 was an 18-seat passenger aircraft called the Condor 18 (also known as the Condor T32), according to

At the time, there was a need for sleeper-transports, and the simplicity of design allowed for quick production and delivery to serve this market, according to HistoryOfWar. The Curtiss Condor could carry 12 passengers as a sleeper-transport or 15 passengers for day transport.

Luxury Cabin Accommodations

The Condor was the first multi-engine airliner with an electrically operated retractable landing gear. To help absorb vibration, the Condor was the first to have its engines mounted on rubber bushings.

The passenger cabin was appointed in fabric and leather, and each seat had individual hot and cold air vents.

The lavatory featured a basin with hot and cold running water, a mirror, and a vanity. However, the Condor remained in airline service for only three years, making it the last biplane purchased for civil transport.

Only a short time afterward, the all-metal airliners, the Boeing 247 and Douglas DC-1, made their debut in 1933. The only competing factor that the Condor had with the modern airplanes was that it had retractable landing gear.

Two 710 hp Wright SCR-1820-F3 Cyclone, 9-cylinder radial engines powered the passenger Condor.

Condor Flight History

The first civilian Condor converted from a military Model 52, flew for the first time on July 21, 1929. Including the prototype, six were built. Of these, the first three were converted from bomber model 52s. They operated with TAT and Eastern Air Line, though only for about a year. The Conqueror’s development was never quite completed, and in 1932 the US Army, after spending large sums on it, withdrew support and turned to air-cooled engines.


Twin-engine heavy bomber biplane. Initial production version; 12 built.

Crew: 5; two wing gunners, the nose gunner, pilot, and co-pilot.

Length: 47 feet 4 inches

Wingspan: 90 feet

Empty weight: 9,300 pounds

Gross weight: 16,951 pounds

Powerplant: 2 × Curtiss GV-1570-7 Conqueror V-12 water-cooled piston engine, 600 hp each


Maximum speed: 132 mph

Cruising speed: 105.5 mph

Range: 805 miles

Service ceiling: 17,100 feet

Rate of climb: 850 feet/minute


Guns: 6 .30-06 caliber Lewis machine-guns

Bombload: 2,508 pounds

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Cadillac Debuts Hydra-Matic Drive for 1940

Advertising in 1940 proclaimed GM’s Hydra-Matic Drive Transmission as “the greatest advancement since the self-starter”

A black-and-white PR photo of a Cadillac Sixty-One coupe.

The1941 Cadillac Sixty-One five-passenger coupe was touted as ‘the mightiest, thriftiest, lowest-priced Cadillac V-8 ever built.’ (GM Media Archive)


In 1939, General Motors’ Cadillac and Oldsmobile divisions introduced breakthrough technology in the fully automatic Hydra-Matic Drive transmission. The transmission debuted for the 1940 model year.

“The Hydramatic was the first mass-produced fully-automatic transmission developed for passenger automobile use,” according to its page in Wikipedia.

Shiftless transmissions had been a focus during the 1930s. Then, as now, shifting a manual gearbox required more effort than most drivers cared to exert.

According to the Wiki story, automakers were in the fast lane to develop a transmission that reduces or eliminates the need to shift gears.

“At the time, synchronized gear shifting was still a novelty (typically only for higher gears). The exception was Cadillac’s breakthrough synchromesh fully synchronized manual transmission.”

The synchromesh transmission was designed by Cadillac engineer Earl A. Thompson and introduced in the fall of 1928.

Developing a Shiftless Transmission

By the early 1930s, Thompson had begun work on a “shiftless” transmission. His pioneering work led to creating a new department within Cadillac Engineering. Headed by Thompson, the transmission group included engineers Ernest Seaholm, Ed Cole, Owen Nacker, and Oliver Kelley.

“During 1934, the Cadillac transmission group had developed a step-ratio gearbox that would shift automatically under full torque,” according to Wikipedia. “This group of engineers was then moved into the General Motors Research Laboratory, building pilot transmission units during 1935-36. The transmission then went to Oldsmobile for testing.

a 1940 color print ad for General Motors' new Hydra Matic fully automatic transmission

All Cadillac models for 1941 could be optioned with the Hydra-Matic. (GM Media Archive)

The group effort led to the so-called Automatic Safety Transmission. The AST was a semi-automatic transmission using planetary gears and a conventional friction clutch. Drivers were still required to use the clutch to shift into or out of gear, but not between the two forward gears.

Oldsmobile offered the AST from 1937-1939, while Buick offered it only in 1938.

The next step was the Hydra-Matic. It combined the hydraulic operation of a planetary gearbox (for the automation of shifting) with a fluid coupling instead of a friction clutch, eliminating the need for de-clutching. The transmission would have four forward speeds plus reverse.

The transmission was named “Hydra-Matic Drive” and went into production in May 1939 for the 1940 model year.

Start of Hydra-Matic Production

The first Oldsmobiles so equipped were shipped in October 1939 in the Oldsmobile Series 60 and the Oldsmobile Series 70.

Oldsmobile was chosen to introduce the Hydra-Matic for two reasons:

  • Economies of scale — Oldsmobile produced more cars than Cadillac and Buick at the time, thus providing a better test base;
  • And to protect the reputation of Cadillac and Buick in case of a market failure of the new transmission. Advertising proclaimed it “the greatest advancement since the self-starter.”

In 1940, the Hydra-Matic was a $57 option (around $1,102 today). The price almost doubled for 1941, to $100 (or about $1,842 today). For the 1941 Cadillacs, the Hydra-Matic cost $125.

The transmission was a popular upgrade. Almost 200,000 cars had been optioned with the transmission by the time passenger car production was halted for wartime production in February 1942.

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