History of the automatic transmission

Written by rob wagner
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  • Introduction

    History of the automatic transmission

    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.

    (General Motors, Mercedes-Benz AG, BMW AG)

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    Sturtevants' 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. .

    1901 Panhard et Levassor featured an automatic transmission. ()

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    Reo Tries It

    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.

    The 1934 Reo came equipped with an optional automatic transmission. ()

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    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.

    An automatic transmission could be ordered for this 1940 Oldsmobile Series 90 sedan. ()

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    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.

    Buick began marketing its Dynaflow automatics in 1948. ()

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    Others Follow

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

    Ford introduced its Cruisomatic along with the other early postwar entries. ()

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    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.

    The 2007 Lexus LS 460 comes equipped with an eight-speed automatic. ()

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