(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.
I’ve never seen a Torque-Drive car in person, a friend of mine did get a chance to drive a little old lady 68 Nova with the TD and the 6, he said it was annoying, everytime he came to a stop for the the first few miles, he kept forgeting to bring it down to LO.
I owned a 1970 nova with a 230 ci 6 and the torque drive, great little car.
I had a 68 230 ci and touque drive trans moved along pretty darn good considering !
Ultimately that seems about as useful as a screen door on a submarine.
More like a shiftless automatic, none of the fun of stick shift, will all the power robbing of an automatic and only 1/2 the convenience!!
Just sign right here on the dotted line mam.
Guess you just don’t know much about 2 speed manual/automatic transmissions for drag racing ?
Yeah, but those cars have much more powerful engines, to go with their “slam/bang” transmissions.
That’s my favorite line!!
Seriously though…these things couldn’t have lasted long when not driven correctly…all that slippage around town would have burned ’em up, no?
Had mine till late 90s over 200,000 on original trans !
What was slipping, was the torque converter – which I presume had its fluid cooled by the usual transmission cooler, just like in a fully-automatic.
VW used a warning-light system, to warn of overheated torque converter fluid; don’t know if Chevy used that or not.
All that torque converting would make some heat but nothing burning up. That’s really the nice thing about torque converter automatics – nothing wearing out when you are doing something like slowly backing into a tight uphill parking space. (I did that once in San Francisco in my stick shift Mazda. Opened the door and there was that distinctive smell of 10K miles of clutch wear accomplished in under a minute. )
Did they have transmission oil coolers? Some didn’t back then, just relying on the airflow. Falcon two speed Fordomatics had no trans oil cooler on the base 144 cu in engine, but did have one on the super powerful optional 170 cu in one. (I think).
I never understood why GM did this, in reality it couldn’t have cost that much less to produce, and considering how few they sold the per unit cost was likely higher after tooling up for the manual valve body and other unique pieces.
By this time though the PowerGlide was almost free, so playing around with it probably didn’t cost them much in scheme of things.
Actually since the PG was likely fully amortized screwing around with it could only cost them more money. Sure they saved a few dollars eliminating the vacuum modulator and kick down cable but then they had to modify the case and other internal parts to go along with that. Sure the valve body was less complex but it likely used a similar amount of raw material so the only savings would have been less machining. Then they had to either stop the PG line to make batches of these or create a new line, flexible production just didn’t exist at that point. Of course by that point PG production was no where near where it had been at it’s peak, since they were finally starting to offer the 3sp autos in Chevys.
I never said it cost them nothing, but the PG was well paid for and there probably was extra capacity now that the TH 350/400 were available in regular Chevrolets, either way, it was 60’s GM with ultra deep pockets, this was chump change.
The operative word here is “chump.”
They spent more to give their customers less. I’m not a fan.
Back then, you could order a car virtually ala carte.
A 2-door was $50.00 cheaper than a 4-door on a new 1968 Nova. An AM radio was $75.00! On and on.
If you wanted a new car bad enough, regardless of how stripped it was – no matter that you could buy a much nicer used car – that’s what you had to do to count every penny.
Mom and dad tried buying the new 1968 Nova, gave up and a couple of months later bought a beautiful 1966 red Impala Sports Sedan. We all loved that and for much less money than the Nova!
Real cheapskates could get the AM radio with no station buttons too. (At least in 1958, when Chevy DelRay/Yeomans came with one sun visor, no arm rests, and no foam padding in the seats.)
If you save $2 per unit over a production run of a million units, that’s real money.
I love it: “Chevrolet’s New Torque Drive” Was this really just a dusting off of the 1950-52 Powerglide that did not shift itself? Not much new about that. Or did Chevrolet really set out to newly engineer the only automatic less modern than a PG in 1968? Either way, it’s a head-scratcher.
While the concept and function was the same as the original 1950 PG, the 1960’s Aluminum case (vs cast iron) version shared no parts. So, it was a newly engineered less modern PG.
What is forgotten on the scrap heap of GM automatics is the 1957 Turboglide. Imagine a lighter, aluminum-cased, Buick Dynaflow. One product of the “old” GM divisional system were innovations like automatic transmissions. Olds was first in the industry with the Hydramatic, eventually shared with Cadillac, Pontiac and GMC. Buick and Chevy went with their own designs. By 1965, that party was ending, with the TH400 behind all the big V-8’s.
nikita – Can you do a piece on the Turboglide? This transmission has always fascinated me but there’s next to no information on it.
If you’re interested, the second of my articles on early GM transmissions discusses it in considerable detail.
The “Don’t Clutch” ad claims fuel economy comparable to standard shift.
Possible – maybe, but I can’t imagine how a (likely) poorly-shifted Torque Drive would do better than it’s Powerglide big brother.
A dumber Powerglide…in 1968!?!
The ‘ol PG was already pretty dumb by that point, as has been discussed at length here. I guess it predates the wide availability of the THM350 in ’69…perhaps Chevrolet was just trying to coax one more trick out of the old dog. That trick being ‘play dead’ of course.
So this is where “Put it in H!” from that Simpsons episode came from.
It gets 300 Hectares to the Decelitre!!!
I knew I had a picture
I’m so disappointed for a childhood myth to have been exploded: my friend’s dad’s ’66 Buick Special really had a Dynaflow, not a Powerglide. They enjoyed laughing at its antics, & now I can’t rejoin the fun unless Buicks are under discussion.
I was also told that Buick was GM’s “Experimental Division.” Was that an Urban Legend, too?
Actually, it wasn’t a Dynaflow. It had the Super Turbine 300, a two-speed automatic used in certain Buick, Olds and Pontiacs between 1964 and 1969. Here’s more info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_Turbine_300
Oldsmobile was GM’s “Experimental Division”.
Buick was also at one point a division that did some experimenting of it’s own. The aluminum V8 and V6 were certainly cutting edge at the time and considering the fact that both were eventually sold off I’d say GM considered them experiments. Meanwhile over at Olds, in that era, the best they could muster engine wise was to modify the Buick V8 to make it “their own”.
In ancient history, I believe that Buick was the division that pioneered the semi-automatic transmission at GM in 1938 (two years before the HydraMatic)
And turbocharge it….that was pretty slick, didn’t work that well, but still.
“Oldsmobile was GM’s “Experimental Division”.”
Gee. Reading your GM DS stories, you would have us believing that “GM” was GM’s experimental division. LOL
I had a HS buddy that drove a 71 Vega with the TD. Not a bad car if you didn’t drive it like a hotrod. And I worked with a girl that drove a VW Beetle with the semi-auto. She did not understand that you could shift it at speed. Always left it in one gear. Drove me nuts when she offered to drive me home when the weather was bad.
Now I can understand why GM offered this trans in the bottom feeder segment. I grew up in the midwest. My grandparents were farmers. And modest ones at that. Later when I got a job at one of the local Chevy dealers I could not understand why somebody would buy an Impala or Malibu with a clutch(if available) and no AC, base AM radio or any other power option. We had, what most of us would call a loss leader, 78-79 Malibu sedans with the 229 V6,no AC and three by the knee cars on the lot. Usually in a shade of brown or green that was popular towards the end of the Carter era. When I asked “who in the heck would buy that?” the owner told me “quite a few people”. “I break even on everyone one of those” he replied. He went on to explain that these Malibus were cheaper than a Chevette with an auto and AC and we sold them mostly to the rural folk. That’s all that was needed to be said. You see, growing up on the farm I automatically equated “rural folks” to my cheap, well maybe that is too harsh, lets say frugal grandparents. Grandpa had two vehicles licensed for the street. A 66 Chevy half ton with straight six and a granny low four gear and a 74 Impala sedan. Complete with radio delete, crank windows and no AC. It did have the base 350/2V though. I’m guessing there were a lot of people that ordered cars the same way. Hey we laugh at that $68.65 but that was probablly the same as a car payment back then. Load up a car with the TD and 4 or 6 cylinder with no frills and you were more or less driving the car for free for a couple of months. I’m surprised that 14K were built.
The Cheapskate 50’s Dad phenomena has been discussed (I think) here. Not just farmers! Trust me on this.
What he said above, Buicks didn’t have a PG.
Would this be a semi automatic box like the Leyland Atlantean bus I drove?Never seen the Chevy torque drive but I saw a Nova in a magazine that was a torque drive 4 made into a 350 fake.
Wonder how many second or third owners took them in to the dealer complaining that their trans wouldn’t shift right?
Wonder how many disreputable transmission shops sold an unsuspecting customer a rebuilt PG unit? Bolts right up and the tranny shifts.
I had a 71 Vega with Torque Drive. Worked fine. In comparison to the Chrysler 3 spd TorqueFlite, however, it was a slug. Passing on a two lane highway took a lot of time and planning.
I can only imagine what passing on a 2-lane with a Torque Drive Vega must have been like, but passing on a 2-lane in a Powerglide Impala 283 was quite the adventure. The proper technique was to come screaming up behind someone, check the left lane, and if it was clear then swoop around them. If not clear, then stand on the brakes and hope the drums got you down to their speed in time.
If you tried to accelerate from directly behind the passee, the Powerglide would immediately downshift to 1st, taking you out of the good part of the torque curve, and you’d be hanging out in the left lane with the engine screaming but not really accelerating the car, hoping like hell to get by before anything showed up aiming right at you.
I really can’t imagine a manual-shift version of this transmission.
Same thing with any two speed automatic, like the two speed Fordomatic in Falcons. My family had a ’63 wagon with the larger 170 engine. We agreed that the basic technique for entering a highway was to floor it and wait for it to achieve the speed limit. In that case it shifted at about 50 or 55 mph.
The Chrysler two speed Powerflites, originally the only auto and then the low end one in later years after the three speed Torqueflites appeared, had two stators in the torque converter for more multiplication (2.7 max, I think) so they weren’t as bad as other two-speed automatics.
I know the mechanics are different, but isn’t driving this a lot like driving a Hondamatic (the only automatic Honda offered until 1980?) I have one in my Accord and the driving technique sounds exactly as what’s described here. I wouldn’t say the car isn’t fun to drive. I also wouldn’t say it’s fast!
I understood the Hondamatic shifted itself. Doesn’t yours?
We got a loaner when my mother’s 74 LeMans was in the body shop, thanks to a stupid teenager who shall go unnamed. The car was a 77 Civic wagon with a HondaMatic. It was a 2 speed clutch-less manual. In all respects, it was just like any other automatic, except that instead of “D”, you had 1 and 2. You could leave it in 2 for the performance of a 51 Fluid Drive Dodge, or you could start in 1 and shift to 2 for the performance of a 60 Falcon. I thrashed that car mercilessly, which required working that lever A LOT.
I learn something new every day; or now that you mention it, more like trigger old memories.
I had a ’75 Civic wagon with Hondamatic. I always started in first then wound it up and shifted to second. Not very quick but it could cruise at 70 mph. on a flat highway. I suppose in heavy stop and go,urban traffic you could just leave it in first, which would be attractive to drivers who disliked using the clutch. With four doors it was a cute very flexible little runabout.
Haha, yours looks exactly like the loaner/rental unit we got when my mother’s 74 LeMans was getting fixed after I ran it into a fire hydrant. This would have been probably 1976 or 77. I had clearly not learned my lesson and managed to explore that little Honda’s modest performance limits with great regularity for the 2 or 3 weeks we had it. It was crude, but in a refined way, if that makes any sense. My family got a very good opinion of Hondas from that little car. The Honda Matic was a real novelty for me at the time.
There’s no clutch pedal, but the driver has to shift it from range “1” to range “2”. You can also start out in “2” with reduced power.
No Honda-Matic was like a Torque-Drive, I think they even offered it on motorcycles for a little while too, which goes against every principle of motorcycle riding in my opinion.
Hondamatic was conventional, sliding gear transmission with a torque converter. Honda claimed it was much more efficient than a planetary type transmission. The set-up was cheap and worked surprisingly well. It cost about half a conventional auto-box and was impossible to kill.
And yes, Carmine, it sucked on the Honda 750A but you gotta give Honda credit for trying it. The torque converter was just too small on the bike to work well.
A spur gear transmission is more efficient than a planetary. For a planetary trans you have 2x the number of planets of gear to gear interfaces. That is the reason for the proliferation of the dual clutch automated manual transmissions.
However that greater interface area also means that the planetary is much stronger than a simple spur gear as the ring and planet carrier can better hold the natural tendency for the gears to want to drive each other apart.
Most of the efficiency loss is from a non-lockup torque converter, not the gearset. American Honda just cooked up a story to cover the fact that it was not a true automatic.
“No Honda-Matic was like a Torque-Drive, I think they even offered it on motorcycles for a little while too, which goes against every principle of motorcycle riding in my opinion.”
Off-topic…but as a veteran motorcycle rider, and also with a CDL and time working Fuller 9- and 10-speeds…I find shifting to be a nuisance at best and at worst a distraction in traffic. And yes, occasionally, I have had the bad form to dump the clutch in traffic or at a light. In fact I have done it in a time before electric start was universal…try kick-starting a compression-release Yamaha 500 thumper with traffic honking on you.
Avoiding working the gearbox, allows me to focus on the traffic, on the apexes, on the road surface, and on the scenery. My current ride is a Suzuki automatic…the Burgman 650.
No skill? Hardly. Just elimination of a repetitive brain-stem reflex at inopportune time.
I recall Ford offering a similar kind of column-shifted semi-automatic (as they called it) on early Mavericks. Well, I recall the ’70 Maverick owner’s manual referring to it. I’ve never seen one in person.
Part of the problem with these is they used the same column shifter as the automatic, and most of those are not set up for accurate manual shifting. If you overshoot high on the upshift you end up in neutral, an annoyance, or reverse, an expensive annoyance.
On Fords, and later on VWs and Toyotas…I’ve found there’s sufficient blocking – such as, having to pull the column lever forward, or the floor shifter against the spring gate, or press a button on the shift handle…to get into Reverse. D and N just slide back and forth; 2 requires a lift or a button, and L requires a higher lift or a longer pull back.
It is a sloppy and unnatural movement; but someone would really have to be determined to “accidentally” get R.
I never heard of it happening back in the day; but in this lawsuit-happy society? Who knows?
On a floor shifter, yes. Those Maverick semi-autos were all column shift, IIRC. When you pulled the shift lever fully back the detents between gears were kinda soft. Remember these were the years of Ford transmissions which you could easily not get all the way into Park.
I thought I knew most everything about domestic cars from the 50’s -60’s , but this Torque Drive/ Powerglide is new to me. I have owned, or spent a respectable amount of time in two cars with 2 speed automatics. The first was a 66 impala with 283/ Powerglide transmission.
Though it always worked, it always slipped and slid between low and high gears.
The second vehicle I never drove, as it was my Dads car.
It was a 55 Chrysler New Yorker with 331 and Powerflite 2 speed transmission. That combination seemed quite a bit smoother as far as shifting
Ah, another with experience of the ’66 Impala 283/Powerglide combination. I have fond memories of that car because it was my first and it was a convertible, but the Powerglide was awful.
All this…to save $50?
A dumber PowerGlide…is right. Since most cars were financed by that time…what would be an extra $50 over 36 months?
This wouldn’t be a GM Deadly Sin. This would be one of the thousands of venal sins GM did…that either insulted the customer, wasted marketing money and development and assembly resources, or both and more.
Why would this insult the customer? If you didn’t like it, you didn’t order it, if you wanted a full automatic, that was available too, jeez, GM can do no right for some people here.
$68 was $442, another $50 would be $325 in todays $$ so now were talking about $767 dollars in todays money.
How the insult? Such a miniscule savings…and for such a nuisancical setup. It was almost a trap, to make SURE that NEXT TIME you double-checked and underlined the AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION order box.
I can’t imagine driving such a setup. On a manual, clutching is the easiest…it’s brain-stem automatic. It’s keeping it in the proper gear for traffic that’s a nuisance.
And the Auto Stick Shift…as marketed by VW, et al…at least had an ergonomic shifter. A quadrant on the column…is annoying and unnatural to shift through. Not anywhere as easy, even, as an H-gate three-on-the-tree.
It was never offered instead of a fully automatic transmission, no one was ever forced to take it, like on the VW, where it was the ONLY choice except for stick.
GM got it exactly backwards, this development money should’ve been spent on putting a 4-on-the-floor behind the 4 and 6.
This trans came to my mind a few weeks ago when my Daewoo-built Chevy Optra threw an electronic hissy fit and triggered both the CEL and the HOLD (locks it in third) function.
Basically, the Aisin-Warner transaxle was stuck in third except by manual shifting. Of course I was out of town and had to go 90 miles home on the expressway with no overdrive. It did it for 2 days, then fired up and worked perfectly the third day. Hasn’t done it since. No idea what caused it.
Powerglide, Turboglide, Torquedrive, Dynaflow, and Packard’s Ultramatic were all transmissions that never should have been! Chrysler’s semi-automatics, Hydrive, and Powerflite also fall into that category. Why were any of those used when there was Hydramatic and the Borg-Warner automatic, especially when the B-W could be set up to use all three gears automatically?
Really?!? Let’s just go all the way and say that there was no reason for automatic other than the Torqueflite. The entire industry should have just waited until 1956 for self-shifting. Or maybe it would have taken longer without the fifteen years of experience that Chrysler got with the various semi-autos and the Powerflite.
Keeping this a HydraMatic or BW discussion, neither Chevy or Buick could use a Hydro – they were still using torque tube drive, which would take the Hydro’s none-too-smooth nature and transmit every jerky shift into the passengers’ butts. Also, no way could the Hydro work given a Chevy’s pricing. The PowerGlide was exactly what Chevy needed in the 1950s. Its only problem was that GM kept it in cars about a decade too long.
When discussing the BW, are you referring to the Studebaker DG, or the early Ford-O-Matic (a derivative of which Stude picked up in 1956)? The DG could not handle the torque output of really big engines (like the Hudson Hornet). Hudson put some DGs into its cars after the fire at the HydraMatic plant in the early 50s, and they were none too fondly recalled by Hudson nuts. The BW units started in second instead of first because the 1-2 shift was too rough.
Really, until the Torqueflite, there was no real consensus on what an automatic transmission should look like. There were many approaches. Even though the Hydro was the early leader, it proved to be a technological dead end. I don’t think we can criticize other designs in the pre-1956 era, there were a lot of good ideas, several of which were refined an incorporated into what has become the almost universal design of the modern automatic. I’m specifically thinking of the Dynaflow’s torque converter, and the Ultramatic’s lockup torque converter.
GM automatics in the 1960s are interesting because it seems that they tried every way to NOT build a Torqueflite copy – and every way was a failure. The THM worked off of the TF template, and was quite a good unit. The TorqueDrive, though, is a head-scratcher.
Hindsight is cruel. Now that everyone knows what works and what doesn’t, all the false starts, blind alleys and stages along the way look silly. Progress is a hard road.
The earlier BW DG auto was different transmission than the one that was first used in ’55 or ’56 and lasted well into the 70’s used by Jagaur. It was used by Ford, Mercury. AMC, Jeep and Studebaker all ending in O-Matic. It was a full 3 speed auto. Ford & Mercury had it starting in 1st going to 2nd and then to 3rd automatically. Studebaker had it starting in 2nd and then to third automatically. AMC(Rambler) had 2 drive ranges, Drive 1 was like the FMC version Drive 2 was like the Studebaker version. They were made in cast iron and aluminum versions as well air and water cooled versions. It could handle 1-2 shifts very well at 4500 rpm as I had one in my 63 V8 Rambler drove it very hard for over 100,000 miles without ever doing anything to it other than keeping the fluid topped off. It was still going strong when I totaled it with over 144,000 miles.
My great aunt Jean had a ’70 Nova four door with Torque-drive. This car was as cheap and basic as you could get. Dark green outside, black vinyl seating and rubber floor mats inside. This car was purchased used about ’72 and a previous owner had installed an under-dash Mark IV air conditioning system. My aunt was one who set the selector at “Hi” for all her driving and while I understand now how Torque-drive works, at the young age of 11, I didn’t. However, I was curious as to why their wasn’t a “Drive” position with the selector marked “Hi.”
I would see my aunt when we visited rural Georgia. She lived about 3/4 of a mile from my grandmother. I can still hear her accelerating out of the drive onto the highway and the engine revs building until she got close to her home and then you would hear them reside. I can only imagine what a miserable driving experience this car was.
Now, the Ford Maverick Semi-Automatic transmission, that is news to me – never heard of it until now.
Here’s a link to a CC on the 1970 Maverick’s semi-automatic (C4-‘S’):
In the discussions of why the transmission was ever made, is it possible that the savings from spec-ing Torque Drive instead of Powerglide was significant to the fleet buyer, and that GM created TD as a boon to build fleet business?
The first car I owned was a `71 Nova, 250 six w/ Torque Drive. The car was originally a fleet vehicle for Commonwealth Edison, the electrical utility for the Chicagoland region.
Other sumptuous appointments included dog dish hubcaps, blackwall tires, rubber floors, no radio and no backseat, all in black. Getting uncomfortable on those vinyl seats in the Illinois summers? Open up the triangular vent windows, and the kick panel vents for maximum air flow (actually wasn’t bad – I really miss kick panel vents). The paint was a striking shade of Ubiquitous Beige. All mine for 150 dollars, 1976-style.
A large fleet customer like Com Ed had to have bought hundreds of these vehicles, and I’d believe the savings at $68 per for the TD added up. I have no idea if fewer parts in the TD resulted in lower maintenance costs, but that would have appeal to the fleet customer too, right?
The uninspired driver could stay in “Hi” all day long, but the “Lo” gear proved quite useful in getting to remote off road locations where the utility lineman may have to work. These same locations were, coincidentally, conducive to mildly illicit partying as I recall.
Did Com Ed take out the back seat, or did GM do it for them as part of the fleet deal?
I just purchased a four door 70 nova with an l6 and one of these td transmissions. I like it. But have been thinking about swapping it out for something else. Any idea where I can get more info on them?
Around this time the Fiat 850 was available with a semiautomatic called Idroconvert. I can’t imagine that they sold many in the States, or that they could get out of their own way.
Idroconvert was a total stone, per a 1968 Road & Track test of it. About this same era, was the Porsche Sportomatic (4-speed manual with automatic clutch and torque converter).
i had one of these in my 70 nova . in fact i still have it its sitting in my 74 nova .let me tell you these trannys are a turd . gotta say there pretty strong tho . but 0-60 in 3 hours . then i got sick of it and put in a th350 , huge difference my car has power now . i been trying to sell the torque drive to a couple local stock car drivers that run powerglides . but they want nothing to do with it ..
I almost failed my driving test due to torque drive. I used a 1969 Nova for the test, and the guy dinged me several points for shifting in an automatic. I showed him the owner’s manual which indicated that shifting was indeed appropriate in this vehicle.
I still own one. A 68 250 Camaro with 25,000 original miles. My mother in law bought it new in Southern Calif. I bought it out of her estate after she passed. It’s in my garage here in Liberty, Mo. where I had it shipped.
Go back and look at the print ad. Obvious the target was VW. They used Volkswagen’s font (same font used up ’til the diesel cheating scandal – THAT’s when it was finally changed!) and general print ad layout.
I guess VW finally fired Doyle Dane Bernbach then?
Wow. Super-lame, considering Chrysler dropped even optional availability of their 2-speed Powerflite after 1961, after which every automatic vehicle they built came with the superlative 3-speed Torqueflite (which had been available and popular since 1956).
It seems counterproductive to me to hinder a 4 or 6 with the TD…since they don’t have much torque. A light car like a Nova or Malibu with a 2 barrel 307 or 350 and highway rear end gears would be the best use of the TD to me. Just floor it and wait for things to happen – just like todays CVTs!
BTW – I hate CVTs, especially when they program in those fake shift points. At least the TD didn’t have that unless you shifted to Lo.
Were these more or less reliable than a PG?
Terrific discussion. I just enjoy reading and learning from you all. Ca anyone tell me about a used 1953 Lincoln that I had? If had a Borg-Warner automatic that had two range shifts, each of two speeds. Thus, it had four gears.
Your Lincoln had a GM-sourced Dual Range HydraMatic.
I have a silly question. What exactly is the difference between this and the sport modes found on today’s automatics?
Fascinating discussion that is mostly new to me (I’m not really the gear-head that many of you are). I’m having trouble wrapping my head around only having two gears. Doesn’t that result in massively high RPMs at speed?
I think back to my childhood (born in 62) and it seems to me that every automatic car that my family owned had more than two gears. How prevalent were these sort of systems?
Two-speed torque converter automatics were fairly common in the ’50s and ’60s, pretty rare by the ’70s, although they took a while to disappear. They didn’t necessarily entail high RPM at highway speed so much as big gaps between gears — where high is too high, but you’re going too fast for low. The torque converter helped some, but only some.
In the ’50s, when most Europeans could only dream of a fully automatic tranny, some German cars offered the ‘Saxomat’, a conventional manual box and clutch with no clutch-pedal. The clutch operated both centrifugally and also by a vacuum servo linked to a switch on the shifter. Mercedes had the similar ‘Hydrak’, which added a fluid-drive to the setup.
I guess those were somewhat popular with WWII survivors that had lost a leg. At least they had four-speeds.
Many years ago, I got to test-drive a friend’s ’58 Auto-Union (DKW) with a Saxomat.
It was not fun!
Happy Motoring, Mark
Behold the Dynaflow Torquedrive- shortened to Dorque Drive.
I don’t think the TorqueDrive experiment was that bad, particularly considering the context. The Nova was a new generation in 1968 and the Corvair was on its last legs so GM decided to give the Nova a better shot at the VW market with a small four cylinder engine on the option sheet. So, losing the clutch pedal on the cheap seems logical for TD.
Unfortunately, manual transmissions were still common (meaning everyone knew how to drive one), and even though it wasn’t that expensive, I can see the frugal going for other options on the order sheet. Combined with the big hit on performance with those already horsepower/torque-challenged small engines, well, it’s probably not much of surprise that TorqueDrive didn’t last long. But it was still worth a shot.
I do kind of wonder if there was anyone mechanically inclined enough to get a TorqueDrive, then convert it back to a fully automatic PowerGlide for a few bucks. Seems like it would be an easy and cheap way to go. In fact, I’m rather surprised that enterprising dealerships didn’t do exactly that.
It just now occurs to me that the Torque Drive was almost the exact opposite of the old Chrysler Fluid Drive. The old Chrysler system needed a clutch pedal to shift between ranges, but once underway you never needed to touch the lever, just lift your foot from the gas for a second. The Torque Drive dispensed with the clutch pedal but had you working the lever from every traffic light unless you were content with glacial performance. I think you are right – everyone knew how to drive a 3 speed and everyone knew the benefits of a full automatic. These half-measures gave neither the benefits of a stick nor the benefits of an automatic, so it is not surprising that they went extinct.
Yeah, downshifting a semi-automatic at every stoplight would quickly get the driver thinking, “I paid extra for this? A clutch pedal isn’t ‘that’ bad and I could have gotten better performance with a manual for free”. Add-in miserable highway performance with passing being an exercise in terror (remember, not as many multi-lanes back then), it’s not hard to understand why these didn’t last. GM buyers would tolerate a sluggish, full-auto Power Glide but not a semi-automatic version.
Still, like I said, it was worth the effort. Torque Drive might have sold better if they could have gotten the price down to at least half of a Power Glide. That would have offered up a great marketing gimmick to which consumers might have been more receptive.
And I still think that it would have been really slick if dealership service departments could have figured out a cheap way to modify a Torque Drive into a Power Glide. Hell, maybe GM could even have offered a DIY kit with the necessary parts which could conceivably kept the warranty if the modification was sanctioned. That might have ramped-up Torque Drive sales considerably. A cheap, bottom-feeder Nova or Camaro with a converted Torque Drive might have found plenty of buyers and given the secretary-special Mustangs and Falcons a run for their money.
It would almost certainly have been easier to just go to a junkyard, buy a Powerglide from a wreck, clean it up, and swap it in.
How prevalent were these sort of systems? [2 speed automatics]
Go to drag strip and see all the professionally prepared Powerglides. Amazing for such a “lowly” transmission.
When Speed Channel still existed, the show “Pass Time” had many drag racers with the PG.
Dragsters don’t need passing gears, though, or gear spacing to get through urban traffic at part throttle.
All this brings back memories, especially regarding passing on two lanes roads with limited power. We had a 1951 Dodge Diplomat (2 door hard top) with the flat head six and gyromatic.until 1958 A total slug. Its stable mate was a 1955 Desoto Sportsman( 2 door hardtop) with a hemi and 2 speed power glide. It could go, but it didn’t like to stop.
When I was in college, my roommate had a 1953 Cadillac hearse. He went to school six months and worked on the railroad six months. I was the care taker of the hearse. I often took my first and present wife out in it. The Hydramatic factory had burned and the hearse had Dynaflow. It was as fast as a bus.
The first and present wife’s Mother had a 1961 Rambler American convertible with a flat head six, two speed automatic and vacuum wipers. I drove it with her from Columbus Ohio to Toledo, Ohio, in a snow storm on two lane roads.
And yes may father was “cost effective” as he was a child of the Depression.
If there were a museum for bizarre attempts at cost-cutting, this would belong in it, along with the last B&W fake-wood console TV (I think Zenith sold one in ’81 with digital tuning, but no remote), a “Even at this LOW price” Kenmore window air conditioner with no thermostat, and the entry level Kenmore washer with no temperature control (you had to adjust the spigots!). I’m sure there are plenty of other examples. Seems that things like this were either aimed at cheapskates, creatures of habit who didn’t want to mess with a new feature, or buyers (fleet owners looking for lower insurance rates, laundromat operators who didn’t want customers overriding their choices, etc.) who had some specific reason to restrict the capability of the item.
I currently own one. A 68 Camaro, 250 I6, ith the torque drive. It has 25,000 original miles Was Bought new by my Mother in la in Hawthorne Calif. When she passed, I bought it out of her estate and am the second owner.
Trip to the “Twilight Zone”.
I don’t think ANY EARLY CAMAROS with 6 cylinder were built with the torque drive!!(were there?!), tho ironically, that would be the best car to put it in! IF you got the optional horseshoe console shifter(unavailable in nova or vega), which i often shift my regular powerglide manually with – for better acceleration off the line or to downshift at speeds less than say 35mph.
I love the look & feel of that shifter!
Torque drive with a COLUMN shift is just plain dumb if you ask me, with that poor location & all that complicated linkage to the trans – bound to wear something out prematurely.