December 1, 2022

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Ford’s Cruise-O-Matic and the C Family of Automatic Transmissions (Part I)

As we finished up our protection of Typical Motors’ Turbo-Hydramatic household of transmissions, I asked which gearbox you may possibly like to see covered subsequent by Abandoned History. The remarks honed in on Ford, and the many variations of the C family members of automatics. Fantastic by me! Nowadays we head back to the Fifties to find out about the genesis of all the Cs. It was the extremely Fifties-sounding Cruise-O-Matic, created with delight in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Cruise-O-Matic was not developed in-home by Ford but was the initially computerized transmission employed commonly throughout the Ford-Lincoln-Mercury portfolio. Ford was rather late to the absolutely automatic transmission sport and only understood circa 1948 that they’d fallen at the rear of the opposition. By that time, GM experienced its 4-pace Hydra-Matic on sale for a total 8 model yrs. Additional on that in a moment.

Ford’s preliminary strategy was to buy an automated from another person else. The gearbox Ford settled on was the DG, a model new transmission built by the Detroit Equipment division of Borg-Warner. But there was a problem. It wasn’t created for Ford, so the individuals at Dearborn did not own the legal rights to use it (yet).

The DG was developed for Studebaker, so Ford approached hat in hand and requested if they could purchase rights to establish the DG. Studebaker was all right with promoting the rights with Ford, but their board had a stipulation. Studebaker would have a a person-yr unique appropriate to use the DG in its vehicles right before Ford could include it to their lineup. And funds-strapped Studebaker was already late to the automatic game much too the DG wouldn’t be ready for two far more several years – product year 1950 for Studebakers.

Sensing that a 1951.5 debut of a Ford automatic wouldn’t minimize the mustard, Ford determined to commit even much more dollars and acquire their own transmission layout. They’d already hired an engineer from Borg-Warner to be their VP of engineering, a male by the title of Harold Youngren. Youngren built an straightforward advice: Ford should go and acquire the automatic he’d been working on ideal up to the level he left his previous employer.

It was happenstance that the computerized in improvement at Borg-Warner was not at the behest of a certain automaker. Notably, it was produced by the Warner Equipment division of Borg-Warner, not the Detroit Equipment division. Ford approached Borg-Warner and signed a agreement instantly for the automatic. The settlement explained that Borg would construct 50 percent of Ford’s automatics, when the other half could be made in-dwelling at Ford or by yet another provider.

Ford did not want to farm out the transmission get the job done any extra than it had to, so it promptly place designs into movement for a brand name new transmission plant. When finished, Ford had the new 629,000 sq.-foot Fairfax Transmission Plant in Fairfax, Ohio, a village inside of Cincinnati.

At launch in 1951, the transmission was branded as the Ford-O-Matic. In Mercury cars, it turned the Merc-O-Matic, and at Lincoln, it was called Turbo-Generate. Truly worth a point out, Lincolns in the early Fifties employed the GM Hydra-Matic (gasp!). The Turbo-Push wasn’t tailored for Lincoln’s use till 1955, most likely soon after it experienced time to show by itself reliable. Ford’s automatic was renamed in 1958 to Cruise-O-Matic, a identify which is improved recognised.

The recently-created Ford automated had two pros around the previous automatics the firm utilised right here and there. The Borg-Warner layout experienced an integrated torque converter and a planetary gearset, which intended gearshifts occurred with no any interruption in torque. Remember that until eventually the Fifties, the computerized transmission was not typically any very good.

The Borg-Warner box also implemented a fashionable PRNDL change sample, in its place of Ford’s past PNDLR. The old pattern prompted excess shift shock (jolting) upon gear modifications. PRNDL also made actions like parking and rocking a stuck motor vehicle back again and forth much easier, as it eradicated the reduced gear variety from in between generate and reverse.

The transmission’s unique structure was technically a a few-velocity, but when set in D it started out in second equipment and then shifted to third. Initially gear was made use of only if the motor vehicle was in L (minimal). In cases exactly where a driver floored the gasoline off the line, the gearbox would change from next to initial in travel, then again to 2nd, and then third when the automobile was up to pace.

Because it had to go by means of the difficulty of licensing a transmission that was in advancement at Borg-Warner, Ford didn’t save substantially time in excess of their original designs to adopt the DG Borg-Warner unit from Studebaker. The Ford-O-Matic was all set for the model 12 months 1951, which gave Ford about a 6-month edge more than the purchase of the Studebaker automatic and subsequent keep on its use.

But Ford acquired the final chuckle! Studebaker obtained really few content years of use out of the DG automated. The automaker had been battling for decades, and its income troubles have been not assisted as automatics became extra common because the DG was alternatively high-priced to develop. The functionally and dimensionally very similar Ford-O-Matic was considerably far more affordable.

By the center of the Fifties, Studebaker was in a transmission jam. They approached Ford with the exact same ask for Ford experienced in 1948: Be sure to let us license your automatic for use in Studebakers. Ford consented and Studebaker commenced using the Ford-O-Matic immediately in their cars. They branded it the Flight-O-Matic.

The Ford-O-Matic remained in its initial guise for the initial handful of yrs, right before Ford started updates to meet up with a lot more modern day passenger motor vehicle calls for. It remained in production via 1965, at which position Fairfax Transmission was already midway as a result of its daily life as a transmission plant. Since your author lives about 15 minutes from the website and we’re talking Abandoned Background, let’s understand a bit more about what occurred when a substantial transmission plant shut abruptly.

As a smaller suburb within Hamilton County, Fairfax Transmission was a major employer in the area from its institution in 1950 till its closure. Fairfax created transmissions like the Ford-O-Matic and its successors for Ford’s big rear-push automobiles. But late Seventies downsizing killed the will need for the plant’s capacity, and it shut down entirely in 1979.

Soon after closure, Ford held on to the abandoned web-site at 4000 Crimson Lender Street till January of 1987, when it was marketed off to a distribution firm. Claimed enterprise prepared to renovate at the very least element of the web-site into warehouse house. Unsurprisingly the monumental internet site was not preserved going forward, and the 35-acre plot fell into important disrepair quite promptly.

The chemical substances, heavy metals, and asbestos from its times as a plant had been not contained or removed ahead of Ford sold the assets, and had been subsequently overlooked by its purchaser in 1987. Little by little, every thing from the manufacturing unit leaked into the floor. The manufacturing facility manufactured up seven % of the land space of the village and became a harmful eyesore and financial gap for a long time.

Environmental problems and web site decay continued into the 2000s. The predicament at the web-site bought negative more than enough that it was taken over as a project of the Cincinnati Port Authority. The govt firm received the house soon after it proven a Covenant Not to Sue towards the site’s proprietor for its numerous facets of environmental and normal negligence. The proprietor turned above the deed for no money, and in exchange was not sued for eternity by the metropolis.

The Port Authority took possession in 2006 and begun on a $60 million mixed-use redevelopment. All 629,000 square ft of the deserted factory ended up demolished, which meant recycling 1.5 million tons of metal and 120,000 tons of concrete, and digging up tens of countless numbers of tons of contaminated dust. Redevelopment was completed in 2009, and currently the website hosts a Walmart, a Wendy’s, a Bob Sumerel Tire, and other companies and places of work. The land is destroyed to the point where by the site simply cannot be made use of for residential purposes, and the groundwater underneath it is off-boundaries.

The consequences of the Cruise-O-Matic’s Abandoned Heritage will be felt in Cincinnati for a very long time to arrive. We’ll choose up subsequent time with happier tales of new transmission engineering.

[Images: Ford, Cincinnati Port Authority]

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