Edmunds dealer partner, Bayway Leasing, is now offering transparent lease deals via these forums. Click here to see May lease deals!
Options

I want a 1930s driver - is that impractical?

2»

Comments

  • Options
    C13C13 Member Posts: 390
    This topic has meandered into a question that I've wondered about - the earliest car that you could enjoy driving several times a week. I certainly don't mean as one's only car. There's *nothing* I want as my only car. But something to enjoy putting a few hundred miles a month on...

    The problem is it's probably a question with no answer. It's always going to be true that you'd rather have something newish for every day use and keep the old-timer for pleasure driving. Who wants to drive something special in rush hour traffic anyway?
  • Options
    netranger4netranger4 Member Posts: 149
    C13 has a good point there. If one lives where traffic jams are not common and road rage is fairly controlled you could choose a few days of the month to drive your pride and joy. That could be a 20's, 30's or 40's car. An 8-cylinder car would be preferable due to the speed on the freeways. Or if you prefer, a non-freeway route would be more like the original conditions the cars were designed for.
  • Options
    andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,718
    My commute is about 14 miles, and there's only one stretch, of maybe 3 miles, where I can get up to 70-75 mph depending on traffic conditions. But it's also 3 lanes, so if I didn't want to go that fast, I could just stay in the right lane. But the rest of it is mainly 2-lane roads, where I'm typically going 40-50 mph. Very few traffic lights, as well.

    There are a few hills, but as long as I have an engine that's torquey enough at those speeds, I'd be fine. The oldest car I've logged much driving time on is my '57 DeSoto, so I can't comment on how anything much older would perform as a daily driver. But as long as the curves aren't too sharp, the DeSoto keeps up quite well with traffic. In fact, the traffic's usually too slow for it!
  • Options
    Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    I think you could go pretty far back, depending on the car you chose. You'd want at least the following:

    6 cylinders or better
    self-starter (no crank)
    hydraulic brakes

    So let's see...self-starter was in 1912 on up...hydraulic brakes at least 1924 on up, and of course 6 cylinder cars were before that....putting all this together, however, so it seems to me that a late 20s, early 30s medium-price car would be your earliest practical everyday auto. Something like a Buick is affordable and a very nice driving car in that time period.
  • Options
    netranger4netranger4 Member Posts: 149
    If I may add to your listing of desirable features for the 20's and 30's daily drivers it seems appropriate to add the following:
    1920's cars = Synchromesh transmission at least on 2nd and 3rd gears,closed cars (side curtains and touring car tops can be difficult to manage if weather turns nasty)and finally, a decent defrost/heater setup.
    1930's cars = Overdrive transmission or free wheeling feature.
  • Options
    Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Ah, yes, very good additions! Some companies actually offered an option called a "California Top", which was really the first removable hardtop, to avoid those horrible side curtains on the phaeton or torpedo bodies. I'm not exactly sure when the first real "convertibles" (originally meant to mean a car with a soft top but roll-up windows). I know Ford made one in 1929.
  • Options
    isellhondasisellhondas Member Posts: 20,342
    Yeah...I think these may be one of the very best cars from the late thirties that could be used s a daily driver. They were fantastic cars that can be driven at freeway speeds with ease.

    The straight eights were bulletproof.
  • Options
    Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    AND overhead valve engine too!
  • Options
    isellhondasisellhondas Member Posts: 20,342
    They had such a sweet sound...they just ran and ran...fantastic cars, weren't they?
  • Options
    dpwestlakedpwestlake Member Posts: 207
    The 2 speed automatic transmission left a bit to be desired in the old Buicks
  • Options
    isellhondasisellhondas Member Posts: 20,342
    What two speed? The Dynaflows didn't come out until 1948 and they weren't really a two speed per se.
  • Options
    dpwestlakedpwestlake Member Posts: 207
    A friend of mine has a 49 Buick. When you step on the gas the engine starts screaming then the car starts to move as if it was startled by the noise.
  • Options
    andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,718
    the first year for the Olds HydraMatic? How many gears did that thing have? Would the HydraMatic have found its way into Buicks prior to the DynaFlow, or did Buick have to put up with semi-automatics until '48?

    Didn't they have a 4-speed HydraMatic for a few years in the late 50's?
  • Options
    Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Theoretically 1939...the earliest car I ever saw an automatic on was a 1941 Oldsmobile, and I could be wrong but it seems like it was a 4-speed automatic.

    I don't know why Buick chose Dynaflow....I guess in those days inter-make rivalry at GM was pretty strong, and there wasn't the shared platforming we have now. But the Hydramatic was much superior to Dynaflow or Powerglide (wasn't the first Powerglide '53?)
  • Options
    andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,718
    Didn't the Dynaflow shift more smoothly or quietly, or something like that? I know it was nicknamed "DynaSlow". What did Pontiac use way back then...HydraMatics?

    I'm not sure about the Powerglide, but I think it came out a bit earlier than 1953. Probably not much earlier though. The only reason I say this is in my Chrysler history book, at one point it stated that Chevrolet was selling 1/3 of their cars with automatics, but Chrysler didn't even have one yet, and most makes wouldn't have one until 1954.
  • Options
    isellhondasisellhondas Member Posts: 20,342
    Came out in 1950. If you started out in "drive" they started (and stayed) in second gear. For faster accelration you could put it into "low" and shift it yourself.

    Starting in 1953 they made the one-two shift by themselves.

    Buick never used Hydramatics and never used a semi-automatic. The Dynaflows worked like the early Powerglides. They were sluggish off the line but you could start in low and shift them to drive yourself if you really felt the need.

    They were also very tough and reliable.

    And, yes, Olds had a pretty crude version of Hydramatic in 1939. Like our host, I've never seen one but by 1941 they refined them and these were actually pretty common especially in '41 Cadillacs.
  • Options
    isellhondasisellhondas Member Posts: 20,342
    Yes, Pontiac also used Hydramatics in the old days. The old Hydramatics were big heavy four speed units. When they changed gears, you knew it!

    In 1953, a fire distroyed the Hydramatic factory. As a result, some Oldsmobiles came with Dynaflows and some Pontiacs had Powerglides installed. The factories also had to promote the hell out of manuals because of the shortage.

    I don't know what Cadillac did.
  • Options
    badgerpaulbadgerpaul Member Posts: 219
    I think Cadillac used Dynaflow's too. The fire put Ford in a bind because they were buying Hydra-Matics and sticking them in Lincolns.
  • Options
    andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,718
    ...what year the HydraMatics went from the 4-speed design to the 3-speed? And what the rationale was behind it? I just think it's kind of weird that way back in the 40's and 50's, these things had 4 forward gears, but through the 60's, 70's, and even a good part of the 80's, they went to 3-speed.

    Was it just too far ahead of its time, and they deemed it unneccessary and over-built or something? That could be the case, considering that the Chrysler Torqueflite was only a 3-speed, and Chevy used Powerglides up through the late 60's, didn't they? Didn't Ford have some 4-speed automatics in the 60's, as well?
  • Options
    kinleykinley Member Posts: 854
    in the passenger compartment as the rear oil pump was eliminated. With the 4 Speed, the car was able to start under compression, but not with the 3 speed. Rather than using "P" the driver of the 4 speed put the directional lever in "R" and it stayed there. IMO the Hydramatic was the best. Powerglide behind the 235 'Blue Flame 6' engine was full of hope and using 1st was necessary. Olds used to be considered the 'experimental' car and was the first with the Hydramatic. Others included Hudson, Kaiser, Nash, and Lincoln as mentioned earlier. Packard's Ultramatic was an excellent tranny in its day also.
  • Options
    andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,718
    that would seem to make sense, as cars got lower and lower over the years that a bulky transmission would intrude more and more into the passenger cabin. I used to read through old issues of Consumer Reports in the library at college, and remember that, depending on the GM car you bought, sometimes the transmission hump and driveshaft tunnel would be shaped differently, I guess to accommodate whatever transmission was under there. I had a '69 Bonneville and currently have a '67 Catalina, and the transmission humps in both cars are pretty small.
  • Options
    dpwestlakedpwestlake Member Posts: 207
    I recall an article in C&D or R&T about a test drive of a late 40s mopar with a semi auto. It was more like a 2 speed auto bolted up to a 2 speed manual. You started in low range engaged using the clutch, as you accelerated there was a lag then a clunk when it went into second, after winding out second you depress the clutch and shift to high range, another lag as the auto section clunked into low (3rd) then the automatic upshift to 4th.
  • Options
    andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,718
    That sounds about right. When I was a kid, my grandfather had a '53 DeSoto Firedome with a semi-automatic. I don't ever remember actually seeing the thing move, but it would end up in various parts of the yard from time to time, so I'm presuming it moved under its own power. But that's about how my grandfather described driving the thing. Around the time I turned 16, I had my eye on it, and of course he picked that time to sell it! I remember reading an old Consumer Reports road test of a '52 (I think) Firedome 'vert, and it was good for 0-60 in about 17 seconds. I remember them saying that the Hemi V-8 shaved about 4 seconds off the acceleration time of the old inline 6. I know it sounds pathetic today, but I guess for a 2-ton car with 160 hp (gross), that's not bad!
  • Options
    Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Yes, that sounds like Fluid Drive...you had a column shift, with first gear selected by pushing the lever into what normally is the 2nd gear position on a 3 on the Tree setup. After revving that high perfomrance flathead to about 10 mph, you let off the gas, a solenoid clicked in, and viola! 2nd gear appeared without having to touch the lever. For third, you pulled the lever down, but you had to press down on the clutch pedal. (It had a clutch pedal just like a normal three speed car).

    You could bring the car to a stop without removing it from gear, but you had to depress the clutch to go from reverse to first or from third to first, and to shift from one/two to three.

    By this time, late 40s, early 50s, GM was just starting to come out with modern cars, and by 1955-56, GM had just about walked away from all its competitors--and continued to leave them in the dust for most of the early to mid 60s...until Mustang and the Mopar muscle cars came along.
  • Options
    speedshiftspeedshift Member Posts: 1,598
    why they stopped using the Hydro and went to the early 3-speed Hydra-Matic (aka Roto-Hydramatic or "slim jim"). If I remember correctly (and I probably don't) the 4-speed Hydro had a low first gear because it didn't have a torque converter multiplying torque to get the car of the line.

    The early Hydro really banged off those shifts but the '56-up Hydro was smoother. I had a '61 Bonneville with one and the two-three shift was really the only noticeable shift.

    GMC light trucks also used the Hydro, at least through the '50s, and their optional V8 was the Pontiac.

    The early 3-speed that replaced the 4-speed in most applications was nothing like the later Turbo-Hydramatic. It was kind of a cross between the Hydro and Turbo with a low 2.98:1 first gear and a small torque converter. Second was a normal ratio, about 1.5:1 so the gap between first and second was as wide as the Grand Canyon.

    Bonnevilles and Star Chiefs were the last GM cars to use the four-speed Hydro, through '64. Olds and the junior Pontiacs used the slim jim from '61-64.

    I don't know of any Ford four-speed ATs at least for cars.
  • Options
    netranger4netranger4 Member Posts: 149
    I recall a female neighbor having a 1939 Chrysler Royal Opera coupe with sidemount spare tires and "Fluid Drive" script on the trunklid. As Mr Shiftright correctly states the shifting technique in his post. They were quite common in 1940 and 1941 Chrysler, DeSoto and Dodge cars. Plymouth remained a standard shift throughout the 40's and well into the 50's. I believe the '53 Plymouth was the first automatic of that make. Those fluid drive transmissions were extremely dependable and required very little maintenance. There were a number of attempts at clutchless/automatic transmissions over the years. One make, the "Premier" had a push button selector on the steering column in 1918. One pushed the buttons in the order desired and an electromagnetic transmission shifted gears. Reo used a magnetic clutch system in the Flying Cloud cars up until 1937 when they ceased production of passenger cars. There were many variations of all types where one could shift without using the clutch. Also remembered was a magazine ad for the 1937 Oldsmobile with the Hyrdamatic selector mounted on the right hand side of the steering column with a very stubby lever to change positions. Oldsmobile tended to be an experimental car on which new ideas were tested and some of those were moved to the other GM lines. In 1951 Chevrolet installed Powerglide in their cars, although it is believed to have been installed in the late 1950's models as well. The 1937 and 1938 Hudsons & Terraplanes had the 'Electric Hand' shifter on the the steering column. The small box in the pattern of an 'H' allowed the driver to shift through the gears without using the clutch. When the lever was moved through the pattern, a solenoid disengaged the clutch. This was apparently not too successful as it only appeared for two years. Hudson's confidence was reinforced as they provided a shift lever, which snapped into the floor mounted transmission with a ball and socket arrangement in the event that the 'Electric Hand' should fail. Ah progress.
  • Options
    isellhondasisellhondas Member Posts: 20,342
    Definately came with Powerglide as an option. They beat Ford to the punch by a year since Fordomatics didn't show until '51.

    The Fluid Drives were pretty tough UNLESS a 16year old decided to see how fast he could get one to change gears! A VERY nice De Soto fell victim to a buddy of mine...too bad.
  • Options
    andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,718
    it had a flat-6, a 236, I believe. I think it put out about 112 hp (gross), and he had the Fluid Drive. I don't know how much that car would've weighed...3800 lb, maybe? I was suprised at how well the thing kept up with highway traffic though! It wouldn't set any 0-60 speed records, but it wouldn't hold up traffic either. We caravanned to a couple of car shows, and his '50 had no trouble keeping up with my '57, which has a 341 Hemi w/ 270 hp (gross). I'm guessing the '50 must've been geared just right, and, even though it didn't have much hp, still had enough torque.
  • Options
    fowler3fowler3 Member Posts: 1,919
    In the 1950's, Gen. Chuck Yeager drove a Model A Ford as his favorite car. He was a Colonel back then, and when he was sent to Germany he had it shipped over to drive while there. It was in mint condition.

    If you don't recall who Yeager is, he was the AF test pilot who broke the speed of sound.

    The suspension on Model A's was similar to the Model T because most roads had not been paved and they had to take potholes that a modern SUV driver would consider rough country. You might call the Model T and Model A the first SUV's.

    I recall my dad telling me about having to change tires three or four times on a 45 mile trip which took most of a day. But it was so much better than driving a horse-drawn buggy and having to stop for the night,then continue on the next morning. Yes, that's how long it took to go 45 miles in the old days.

    That's why pictures of really old cars show some with several tires strapped on the back.

    fowler3
This discussion has been closed.