Frickin’ Friday

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

– Shakespeare


Paradoxically…this piece begins:


“Nearly all COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. now are in people who weren’t vaccinated, a staggering demonstration of how effective the shots have been and an indication that deaths per day — now down to under 300 — could be practically zero if everyone eligible got the vaccine.”


CDC director Rochelle Walensky said the vaccine is so effective that “nearly every death, especially among adults, due to COVID-19, is, at this point, entirely preventable.” She called such deaths “particularly tragic.”

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”

– Huxley


I am not in a pleasant mood today. The sources of the distress are physical and mental. (Yeah, talk about mental…)

It seems as though no matter what idea I have, it is utterly rejected. I am indeed destined to spend decades of my life unemployed and underutilized. What would I do if I had to work? I shudder at the thought. I will rage once again: I AM NOT OBSOLETE!


This article is a somewhat technical discussion of the de facto first automatic transmission for automobiles, General Motors’ Hydra-Matic. According to the piece, upon its introduction GM proclaimed the Hydra-Matic to be “the most important automotive advancement since the self-starter.”

Manual transmission “devotees” (I would call them snobs) would argue with this, but it is clear that, at least in the US, the standard manual transmission is already dead on its feet, but no one has had the decency to knock it over and to give it a decent burial. Electric vehicles are about 2% of the new car market in the US while standard manuals are about 1%. Think about that…

The article claims that Hydra-Matic was first available on Oldsmobiles in October of 1939 (as a $57 option) on 1940 model year cars. I have seen it written elsewhere that the transmission was available earlier in 1939. In any event, it was jointly developed by Oldsmobile and Cadillac, but was introduced first in Oldsmobile because of economies of scale–Oldsmobile produced more cars than Cadillac at the time, providing a larger “testing” sample and allowing for amortization of development costs over more units–and to protect Cadillac’s reputation in case the transmission was a failure.

It was such a success that when Pontiac introduced Hydra-Matic in its 1948 cars, over 70% of them were equipped with it. (In that year, virtually all Cadillacs and Oldsmobiles were built with Hydra-Matic.) Widespread adoption of automatic transmissions is not a recent development. The Hydra-Matic was soon available on non-GM cars. To wit:


Lincoln, 1949-54

Nash (including Rambler), 1950-57

Frazer, 1951 (its last year of production)

Kaiser, 1951-55 (Kaiser’s last year of US car production was 1955)

Willys, 1954-55 (ditto for Willys)


Rolls-Royce acquired a license to produce Hydra-Matics for its cars, including Bentley, in 1952 and continued producing it at least through 1967. The company that advertised its products as “Like Nothing Else On Earth” and “Simply The Best Motor Car In The World” was using transmissions developed by General Motors. The Turbo Hydra-Matic transmission, the spiritual–if not mechanical–successor to the original Hydra-Matic, was also used by Rolls-Royce. From Hemmings a picture of a 1940 Oldsmobile 90 Club Coupe that was, I think, equipped with the Hydra-Matic:


See the source image


It’s amazing how after all this time of writing about cars, the mere act of doing so almost always calms me down and brings me joy. Anyway…just as people may look back at Tesla as a revolutionary event in personal transportation we have to acknowledge that GM’s development of the Hydra-Matic was also revolutionary.

Enjoy your weekend.









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