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Transmission Spotlight: Powerglide Transmission


Throughout the history of automobiles, manufacturers have tried to improve on transmission operations. In 1940, General Motors implemented the first version of the automatic transmission. Named Hydramatic, it was initially placed in that year’s model Oldsmobile.


A Transmission Shift

After World War II, car manufacturers took the knowledge they gained and put it to use in their commercials vehicles. At the start of the 1950s, General Motors put it to use in the next generation of an automatic transmission. This was one called the Powerglide transmission.


Two-Speed Transmission

The Powerglide was a two-speed transmission used for the low-end passenger cars and trucks under the Chevrolet brand. When the Hydramatic plant was damaged by fire in 1953, the Powerglide was placed in the company’s Pontiac and Oldsmobile models.


A Transmission for a Generation

The Powerglide transmission was the go-to for General Motors vehicles from 1950 to 1973. Though the company advertised this new version of the automatic as shiftless, it actually wasn’t. In the earliest models, drivers had to shift up one gear to gain maximum acceleration. In turn, the transmissions were quickly damaged as they were run too long before a gear shift.

In the 1960s, General Motors worked out the kinks. Soon enough, the Powerglide transmission became a truly shiftless operation. Thus, drivers no longer needed to worry when to properly move up a gear. In addition, when paired with V-8 engines, the shift between low and high gear felt seamless.


From Low-End to Muscle

With the transmission’s improvement, it became General Motors’ standard automatic until the three-speed TH350 was implemented in 1973. Some of the Chevrolet models to utilize the transmission included the Corvairs, Camaros, Corvettes, and Malibus.

The transmission wasn’t relegated to simply Chevrolet models. It was commonly seen in cars made by AMC and Fords. Over two decades, GM produced 17 million of this two-speed model.


Powerglides for Today’s Vehicles

Automatic transmissions have come very far since the invention of the Powerglide. Yet, that second-generation transmission is still used today. That’s due to its simplicity and lightweight construction. In addition, it allows for a variety of horsepower options.

Today, in combination with a low rear gear, this transmission is an option for quarter-mile vehicles used in drag races. In addition, because it’s less than 100 pounds due to its aluminum construction, the transmission is used in racing with high-performance engines.

This is due to the way the transmission is coupled. Instead of a mechanical coupling used in a clutch-driven gearbox, it uses a fluid coupling. This eliminates the bump or pop felt as transmissions are shifted into gear from neutral. In turn, this allows for an increased speed capacity. In fact, using this transmission with current turbo engines has resulted in speeds up to 260 mph.


Finding Powerglides

It’s not hard to find Powerglides today. An internet search provides numerous locations where these are sold or custom built. How much they cost depends on the amount of horsepower required and if installation is needed.