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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Throwback Thursday


See the source image

From a Pinterest site a picture of an advertisement for the 1940 Oldsmobile Series 70 Business Coupe. “Business Coupe” was a term for a two-door car that either had no back seat or one that was removable. These were designed for traveling salesman who needed room to carry samples in their vehicle, hence the name “business coupe,” but since they were generally less expensive than cars with four (or more) seats, they appealed to budget conscious car buyers, as well.

Somewhat ironically, this “throwback” car actually represented a great leap forward in automotive history. For the 1940 model year, Oldsmobile offered the first truly automatic transmission, the Hydra Matic, which had been jointly developed by Oldsmobile and Cadillac. (Cadillac began offering the Hydra Matic on its 1941 model year cars.) This article from does an excellent job in chronicling the development of the Hydra Matic. The website author, Aaron Severson, wrote, “GM’s original Hydra-Matic transmission was one of the most important innovations in the history of the automobile. It wasn’t the first automatic transmission, but it was the first one that really worked and its resounding commercial success paved the way for every subsequent auto-shifter.” I think Severson actually undersells the quantum leap the Hydra Matic represented. It was a four-speed fully automatic and clutch-less transmission whereas virtually all previous cars had used two-speed or three-speed manual transmissions.

Severson also wrote, “In 2010, Ferrari raised the hackles of automotive purists with the announcement that it would shortly phase out its conventional manual transmissions in favor of F1-style sequential gearboxes. The announcement gave new fuel to an old debate: whether a conventional manual transmission and separate clutch pedal are fundamentally obsolete. Outside of a small contingent of enthusiasts and professional drivers, the automotive world has long regarded the manual gearbox as at best a necessary evil.” I think many auto enthusiasts would disagree with that last sentence, but as you know if you are a regular reader, I agree wholeheartedly.

US car buyers “voted” overwhelmingly in favor of the automatic transmission. By 1949, 90 percent of Oldsmobiles sold had automatic transmissions. By model year 1952, more than half of all new cars sold in the US were equipped with automatics. (Remember that no cars were built for the 1943-45 model years because of World War II.) Independent automakers such as Hudson, Kaiser and Nash bought Hydra Matic transmissions from GM so they could offer automatics to their customers as did Ford’s Lincoln division. Rolls Royce began building Hydra Matic transmissions under license from GM in 1952 and continued to use them until 1967. (Rolls Royce continued using GM automatic transmissions until 1998.)

All hail the 1940 Oldsmobile!


For some more awesome throwback cars, check this out.