History of the automatic transmission

Written by rob wagner | 13/05/2017
History of the automatic transmission
(General Motors, Mercedes-Benz AG, BMW AG)

An automatic transmission allows a vehicle to change gear ratios from a gearbox without requiring its driver to use a shift lever or a clutch. Its origins date to 1894, when the modern automatic transmission was introduced by Frenchmen Louis-Rene Panhard and Emile Levassor. Ten years later, the concept was improved by the Sturtevant brothers in Boston, Massachusetts.

Sturtevants' Transmission

History of the automatic transmission
1901 Panhard et Levassor featured an automatic transmission.

The Sturtevant brothers developed the two-forward-speed automatic transmission, but metal technology at the time was primitive and the gearbox was prone to failure due to the stress of changing gear ratios. .

Reo Tries It

History of the automatic transmission
The 1934 Reo came equipped with an optional automatic transmission.

Automaker Reo developed the Self-Shifter in 1934 that basically used two transmissions: one used at ordinary speeds and the second when low gear was required to slow the car.


History of the automatic transmission
An automatic transmission could be ordered for this 1940 Oldsmobile Series 90 sedan.

In 1940, General Motors' Oldsmobile marketed a reliable version, the Hydra-Matic, which combined a fluid coupling with three planetary gearsets that were hydraulically controlled.


History of the automatic transmission
Buick began marketing its Dynaflow automatics in 1948.

The Hydra-Matic was soon offered in Cadillacs and Pontiacs, but World War II interrupted mass production for all civilian models and was converted to military uses.

Others Follow

History of the automatic transmission
Ford introduced its Cruisomatic along with the other early postwar entries.

Buick followed with its Dynaflow in 1948; Packard offered the Ultramatic in 1949; and Chevrolet debuted the Powerglide in 1950.


History of the automatic transmission
The 2007 Lexus LS 460 comes equipped with an eight-speed automatic.

German and Japanese automakers are leading the way today with new automatic technology, with BMW developing the first six-speed automatic in 2002; Mercedes-Benz a seven-speed 7G-Tronic in 2003; and Toyota's eight-speed found in the 2007 Lexus LS 460.

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