Will Edwinson

Author & Storyteller

Old Time Technology

There was a column some years past in the Idaho State Journal about the 1949 Nash 600 four-door sedan.  That column brought back a few memories for me. I’d like to take you back in time a wee bit with today’s post and share a little trivia about some of the cars of yesteryear . The air-conditioned cars we enjoy these days are nice, but on the other hand, the cars of the ‘40s and ‘50s weren’t really all that bad. We didn’t know anything different at that time, so we traveled with the windows down, and we coped. I even remember on one trip to California in 1952 when my cousin and I bought a large block of dry ice, wrapped it in a towel, placed it on the floor of the front seat, turned on the blower fan and let it blow the cool air around the car.  Worked pretty good too, 🙂

Nash Super 600

1949 Nash 600 Super

Many of the buildings of that era were not air conditioned either, but were equipped with ceiling fans.  The doors and windows in our homes were opened to let a gentle breeze waft its way through the house, which provided reasonable comfort, and we slept with the windows, and sometimes the doors, open as well.

1949 Packard sedan

1949 Packard Sedan

Though that model of Nash mentioned earlier may have been described as the car with the inverted, or upside down bathtub look, it was not the only car with that design.  Packard was actually the first. Dad owned a 1949 Packard much like the one pictured here, except his car was a dark charcoal grey, instead of blue. They came out with that design in 1948 and carried it through the 1950 models.. However, those so-called funny looking cars that were laughed at back then, may have been fifty years ahead of their time, because they would probably fit right in with most of today’s cars which I think are also ugly.)

Packard was a prestigious name in the auto industry in those days in that it was Cadillac’s chief rival, but not prestigious enough to overcome the ridicule of that body design.   The company finally got it’s act together in the design area in 1951 and beyond,  but a deterioration in quality control ultimately led to the Packard’s demise.  Nash Motor Co.  met the same fate.  I’m told that Packard was the first auto to offer air-conditioning, which I believe came in the mid to late 1940s on the most luxurious model. The condenser was n the trunk, and the vents were in the ceiling, just as they are now in the newer model cars.  So as they say, what goes around comes around.

1949 Cadillac 62 Sedan


Among the things I remember about Dad’s Packard in addition to the soft, but stable ride, was the transmission.  It was a standard shift with a clutch, but there was an option with an electric switch on the dashboard that when activated, you could shift through the gears without using the clutch.  Chrysler Motor Company, as I recall had a similar feature on their fluid drive transmissions.  On that transmission—if my memory serves me correctly—the clutch was used to put the car in first gear.  The driver could then engage the clutch, but car wouldn’t start moving until the driver pushed on the accelerator with his foot. Once the car was moving, one could up shift through the gears just by letting up on the accelerator. The shift lever on these autos was also on the steering column instead of the floor. General Motors offered two versions of automatic transmissions in the late 1940s; the Hydra-Matic,, which was available in the Oldsmobile and Cadillac.  Buick had its own version, the Dynaflow.

Packard later came out with their version of an automatic transmission in 1951, which they called the Ultramatic.  It incorporated the best features of Buick’s Dynaflow drive, and General Motors’ other transmission, the Hydra-Matic.  The Buick Dynaflow was designed and touted as being the automatic transmission that eliminated the jerky up shift so prevalent in the Hydra-Matic.  Another disadvantage of the Hydra-Matic was that while ascending hills on snow-covered roads, it would down shift rather harshly into a lower gear causing the rear wheels to lose traction.

1949 Buick Super II

1949 Buick Super

The smooth flow of the non-shifting Dynaflow drive eliminated that problem.  One disadvantage of the Dynaflow, was that it was always in a fluid state, which meant the engine was always running at a rather high rate of speed in relation to the rear wheels.  It was a smooth drive, but gas mileage in Buicks of that era ranged from 8 to 12 miles per gallon; which in the days of thirty cent per gallon gasoline probably wasn’t too painful,  but Buick owners, nevertheless, still lamented Buick’s poor mileage when the other car makes of similar size were getting 15 to 18 miles per gallon. Chevrolet later used this same transmission under the name Powerglide.  I don’t think Chevrolet’s Powerglide gas mileage was all that great either.

Packard took the best features of the Dynaflow transmission and the Hydra-Matic and combined them.  Packard’s Ultramatic was a straight fluid drive up to about thirty-five to forty milers per hour, then locked into direct drive which afforded the vehicle much better gas mileage, and was still able to maintain traction at slower speeds on the snow packed hills, because when it slipped back from direct, into fluid drive, it provided a smooth flow of power to the rear wheels without the sudden jar of a major downshift so prevalent in the Hydramatic.  In closing, I still remember the sweet sound of the in-line eight cylinder engines of those old Buicks and Packards.

For more nostalgia stories, why not click on the free download button at upper right on this page to receive a free copy of the first three chapters of Buddy…His Trials and Treasures.  It’s a book about the adventures of a young boy growing up in rural America during the 1940s.  They are of the same era as the movie, A Christmas Story.


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