When I was about eight years old, my parents took me out of school a few days early to make a trip to Mexico to visit my grandparents and to help move my Uncle Hugh’s family from there to Utah. I remember I had perfect attendance at my elementary school and I wasn’t sure I wanted to miss any school days. But that didn’t last long.
We had a brand-new 1951 two-toned green Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight four door sedan. Boy, it was really something. We could cruise along at a cool 60 miles per hour on the straight stretches, except that there weren’t very many straight stretches back in those days. This was long before interstate highways came into being. We drove through the middle of every big city and little town, stopping at each stoplight and stop sign. I don’t recall any four-lane highways anywhere on the route. We rode with the windows down because automobile air conditioning back then consisted of a dry ice-filled tube-like thing that you attached to a window. We didn’t have one of those--few people did.
It was really neat to stay in motels along the way. Each one was a unique mom and pop operation with some gimmick to attract the tourists. Some had western motifs featuring cowboys and/or Indians while others might use huge dinosaurs or flying saucers to get the travelers’ attention. It was a real treat to eat in little cafes that smelled of fresh brewed coffee and cigarette smoke. Even that was a new experience for me since nobody in my home drank coffee or smoked.
When we got to Mexico we had a nice visit and then my folks helped Uncle Hugh fill the ample trunk of his big black Buick. He then loaded up his wife and passel of my cousins and we all headed back to Utah. We were six in our car so altogether we made quite an menagerie. As we traveled along, my father would comment on how much better our Oldsmobile was than Uncle Hugh’s Buick.
“That Buick Dynaflow transmission can’t hold a candle to the Hydramatic in this Oldsmobile,” he would say. He brought up the subject many times on that trip. In my little head I wondered if my dad was just prejudiced toward the Oldsmobile or if the Hydramatic really was better. My inquiring mind wanted to know. Over the years I learned a few things about the two methods of propelling an automobile down the road.
The Hydramatic transmission was developed by the Oldsmobile and Cadillac divisions of General Motors and was introduced in 1939 for the 1940 model Oldsmobile. GM wanted to test the transmission in the Olds before putting it in the Cadillac so if it turned out to have a few glitches the luxury Cadillac name wouldn’t suffer any negative publicity. It was the first fully automatic mass-produced transmission for passenger car use.
Hydramatic was a complex design that was expensive to produce. It added a whopping $100 to the price of a car that sold for about $2,000. It was not as smooth as Buick’s Dynaflow but was purportedly more efficient, especially at highway speeds.
Dynaflow originated in GM’s Buick division and was used from the late 1940s until 1963. Buicks equipped with the Dynaflow transmissions were unique among American automobiles of the time in that the driver or his passengers would not be able to detect the tell-tale interruption in acceleration that resulted when other automatic transmissions of the day shifted through their gears. Acceleration was one smooth, if inefficient and slow, experience. It was because of the slow shifting that the Dynaflow was nicknamed, “Dynaslush.”
When the Hydramatic plant burned in 1953, for a short time even Oldsmobiles and Cadillacs were equipped with the Buick transmission while a new plant was being built. It was interesting to me that during World War II both transmissions were widely used in American tanks and other military vehicles which gave both transmissions the bragging rights to having been “battle tested.”
So, which was the superior transmission? I suppose it depends on one’s point of view and whether or not one’s predilections lean towards Oldsmobiles or Buicks. Of course, the point is moot now that the Oldsmobile is no longer in production.
Someone once said that a thing is perfect if it fills the measure of its creation. In other words, if a thing does what it was created to do, then it can be deemed to be perfect. Was the Dynaflow then perfect? How about the Hydramatic? Does the statement apply to other things, say, human beings? Just like the automobile transmission, we didn’t just pop into existence in and of ourselves. We were created for a purpose. Do we have the potential of becoming perfect by filling the measure of our creation?
I guess for now, I’ll just leave it at that. However, I really liked that old ’51 Oldsmobile. If I were to vote, I think I would go with the Hydramatic.