(first posted 5/22/2013) Was it in response to VW’s Automatic Stickshift? In the spring of 1968, Chevrolet introduced its own semi-automatic transmission, called Torque Drive. It turned out to be even less popular than VW’s autostick, and was created a different way. Whereas VW put a torque converter in front of a manual transmission, Chevy dumbed down its venerable two-speed Powerglide automatic (full history here) so that one had to shift it manually. A somewhat dumb move, it turns out.
Essentially, it was a Powerglide without the valve body and solenoids, thus losing its ability to shift automatically between its two gears. That made it cheaper, of course; just $68.65, in 1968 ($442 adjusted). Or about $50 less than the (semi) smart Powerglide.
One just started out in 1st, and when the engine got too noisy, popped the lever into High. Or if you were really lazy, and really not in a hurry, one just left it in High. Try that with a four cylinder Nova for the ultimate non-event.
Torque drive was available on four and six cylinder Novas and Camaros, from mid-year 1968 through 1971, and the 1971 Vega. According to one source, only some 14,000 Torque Drives were built and installed, and then it quietly slipped away into the obscure footnote of automotive history it has now become.
Of course, the original 1950 – 1952 Powerglide didn’t shift automatically either; it started in Drive unless one selected Low, so really the Torque drive was essentially a trip back to 1950.