(This article originally appeared in Hemmings Classic Car #112, January 2014)
Selling the Dual-Range Hydramatic in 1952
In an effort to make driving automobiles more safe and convenient, engineers of the 1930s started getting serious about automatic transmissions in mass-produced vehicles. By late 1939 the fully automatic transmission was a reality and introduced on 1940 Oldsmobiles as the Hydramatic Transmission. While a few hundred thousand vehicles were running the Hydramatic by 1942, it would be refined and (literally) battle tested during World-War II. By 1950 over a million cars relied on the Hydramatic Transmission and the first major upgrade to the system was introduced on 1952 Pontiacs – the Dual-Range Hydramatic. For the first time, drivers could choose to operate their vehicles with either three or four speeds and Pontiac advertisers were quick to trumpet the new dual-range feature in the division’s sales literature for the year.
Our first piece encourages consumers to do some research on their own. It is simply a 4” X 4 ¾” triangular shaped announcement card asking if the reader has driven the new Dual-Range Pontiac. The triangle represents a teepee and features a Native American woman peeking out of the door to “ask” the question. No transmission specifications are given and the Dual-Range concept isn’t defined. It is simply a teaser encouraging deeper investigation.
A second sales brochure for 1952 gives extensive details on the Dual-Range Hydramatic. In this catalog readers can finally learn about transmission specifics. They learn how the driver can select to drive the car as a three-speed car thus providing greater performance in heavy traffic conditions. If the driver prefers, a fourth gear can be incorporated for high-speed economy. The catalog also describes how the driver can even shift between the two settings whenever the vehicle is travelling less than 60 mph. To handle the demands of Dual-Range Performance, both six-cylinder and eight-cylinder Pontiac engines for 1952 saw compression ratios increase to 7.7:1.
Our last piece of literature highlighting the Dual-Range Hydramatic is actually a spiral-bound dealer binder. In addition to providing details, specifications, and color and fabric samples on all of Pontiac’s model offerings, nearly half of the 62-page binder addresses the high compression Pontiac engine and Dual-Range transmission. For those of you who are like me and enjoy interactive literature, this piece has one cardboard page that features a moveable gear selector. As you “shift” pictures and features change to match the selected gear. When the lower driving range is selected three advantages to this setting are emphasized: flexibility in congested traffic, increased engine braking and spectacular acceleration. When you shift to the high range the benefits described include cruising at highway speed with lower engine revolutions, quieter operation, longer life and a feeling of effortless coasting. Of course pictures are worth at least a thousand words and other areas in the binder include Mylar pages that can be peeled back to reveal even more engine and transmission features.
The Hyrdramatic transmission was not new in 1952 but it was certainly more convenient. That year’s offering of a dual-range selector was another luxury feature that contributed to a growing trend toward in American cars. More than 80% of Pontiac’s 271,373 cars produced included the improved Hydramatic transmission — Dual-Range sales literature was clearly a success!