Q: Hello Greg. When did the Chevy Powerglide two-speed automatic first come out? It was a very popular transmission right on through the 1960s, and today many drag racing cars utilize Powerglide race units. When did it all start? Stanley M., Pennsylvania.
A: Stanley, the first-ever Chevy Powerglide transmission arrived in 1950 as a $159 option on the Chevrolet. Back then, Chevy engineers found that using the new Powerglide took a lot of power away from the inline 6-cylinder "stovebolt" engine, so they utilized the bigger 235-cubic inch, 105-horse truck engine to allow for better acceleration.
Notable, too, is that the early Powerglides through 1953 necessitated a shift into low to start with any authority or else you started in high gear. In 1954, all Powerglides automatically started in low gear. Cars with three speed transmissions came with the 214-inch, 85-horse 6-cylinder. The nickname "stovebolt" for Chevy's inline-6 came into existence due to the quarter inch by 20 head bolts, which were also used in the building of un-welded wood burning stoves.
There were two primary versions of the Powerglide used through its life cycle. The initial two-speed Powerglide came in a cast iron case and was used through 1961. Then, then all Chevy Powerglides came with aluminum cases and internals. The aluminum Powerglide was successful from 1962 up until 1973, when the 3-speed Turbo-400 series of transmission were introduced. As you note in your letter, the aluminum Powerglides are still used today in drag racing and is the choice of most all racers running automatics from companies like Hughes, TCI and ATI.
In ending, just as the 265-inch small block V8 that appeared in 1955 is one of the most popular engines ever built, the Powerglide from 1950 receives my vote as the most popular automatic ever introduced. Both designs live on, and I don't see aftermarket sales stopping anytime soon thanks to collector cars, hot rods and race cars.
Thanks for your letter.