If there's one thing that all automotive enthusiasts can agree on, it's that we love improving vehicle performance. Whether it's a snappy six-speed manual or a smooth-shifting automatic, we love to talk about gears and transmission ratios until the cows come home. In this blog post, we're going to take a look at the history of the automatic transmission – from its humble beginnings as an experiment in Germany to its current role as the standard transmission type for most passenger vehicles. So put on your thinking caps and join us on a journey through time as we explore the development of one of the most important pieces of automotive technology ever created!
Gottlieb Daimler is credited with inventing the first transmission in 1885. This early version was a crude, two-speed design that was used to power bicycles. However, it wasn't long before the concept of a transmission was adapted for use in automobiles. By 1900, cars were becoming more commonplace throughout Europe, and the demand for transmissions was growing with it. However, since most vehicles of this time were fairly rudimentary machines, with only one or two speeds, the transmission didn't gain much attention. It wasn't until the 1930s that automatic transmissions truly became an important automotive technology.
The 1930s were a pivotal time for car production. Many of the now-popular automakers, such as Ford and Rambler, were established during this decade. Since demands for cars was at an all-time high, vehicle manufacturers began looking into ways to produce more powerful machines with higher levels of efficiency. This, in turn produced a demand for better transmissions. The three main types of car transmission in use at this time were the manual, semi-automatic, and fully-automatic.
The manual transmission was by far the most popular choice for early automotive engines. This type of transmission used a long metal shaft that ran through the vehicle to control everything from the throttle to the brakes. It worked by pushing down on one of the pedals to engage the gears, then letting up once you were ready for a shift. The semi-automatic transmission was an improvement over its manual counterpart, since it only required the driver to push down on the clutch pedal in order to shift gears. Unfortunately, this type of transmission also had its drawbacks – mainly that drivers had to release the clutch pedal every time they wanted to shift gears. This made shifting extremely difficult during times of high gear changes, such as when starting from a dead stop.
The fully-automatic transmission was the perfect solution for most drivers. Instead of having to actively push down on pedals or use a hand lever, this type of transmission automatically shifts gears without any extra effort from the driver. The automatic transmission used a system of hydraulic valves and pumps to adjust gear ratios, which was controlled by a component called a torque converter. This type of transmission was very efficient and fairly easy to use, so it quickly gained in popularity. Initially though, drivers were worried that this new technology might be dangerous, since there was no way to manually control the vehicle if something went wrong.
Despite these concerns, automakers continued working on ways to improve automatic transmissions. One of the biggest challenges they faced early on was how to develop a transmission that could adapt itself for all driving situations. The electric transmission solved this by providing infinite gear ratios between fixed input and output speeds. The torque converter was used to smoothly start and stop the vehicle, while a fluid coupling was used to connect the engine and transmission at all other times. An automatic transmission that could adjust itself depending on how hard you were accelerating became available in 1939, but it wasn't until 1948 that an automatic system for all driving conditions was developed by Cadillac.
Cadillac began using a four-speed automatic transmission in their Series 61 model, which was created by the Wilson Pre-Selector Company. This type of transmission used a fluid coupling and a two-element hydraulic torque converter to engage gears between fixed input and output speeds. It also included a fluid coupling that allowed for infinite gear ratios, which could be selected using a control lever that was mounted on the steering column. This type of transmission proved to be fairly reliable, and it wasn't long before other automakers began adopting similar technology for their own cars.
Today's automatic transmissions are no longer based around hydraulic components like they once were. Many modern systems use computer chips and sensors to adapt to driving conditions, which allows for smoother shifting and more efficient fuel use. Modern automatic transmissions are still fully-automatic though, making them perfect for almost any situation – regardless of how many times you think you might want to shift gears.
While automatic transmissions have come a long way over the years, there are still some areas where they can be improved. One of the biggest complaints drivers have is that automatic transmissions can sometimes be sluggish or unresponsive. This can especially be a problem when trying to accelerate quickly or merge into traffic.
Another common issue with automatic transmissions is that they can be too sensitive to changes in driving conditions. For example, if you're driving on a hilly road and suddenly hit the brakes, your transmission might downshift too quickly – which can cause the car to jerk or lurch forward.
Automakers are constantly working on ways to improve automatic transmissions, and it's likely that we'll see even more advances in this technology in the years to come.