If you ever get into a discussion with some of your friends about obscure auto parts or options, we have one for you to bring to light that will be hard to beat. Skeptical? When was the last time you heard about Chevrolet’s Torque-Drive transmission? Now that we have your attention, it was in the spring of 1968 when Chevrolet introduced this “semi-automatic” transmission. The Torque-Drive transmission was actually derived from a modified Powerglide transmission, and could only be shifted manually.
The new Torque-Drive transmission consisted of a torque converter and a two-speed planetary gear set. It was available in all Camaro and Chevy II models equipped with either the 230 or 250 cubic-inch inline six-cylinder engines, and behind the 153 cubic-inch four-cylinder engine that was an option in the Chevy II. The idea was that this transmission would be a low-cost option between choosing the standard three-speed manual transmission, and the fully automatic Powerglide transmission.
Essentially, this new transmission was still a Powerglide without the valve body and shift solenoids. The absence of those parts resulted in the transmission losing its ability to shift automatically between the two gears. These changes did make it cheaper to build and sell; just $68.65, in 1968. That was about $50 less than the Powerglide.
When driving a car equipped with a Torque-Drive transmission, the shift lever was mounted on the steering column, and the shift positions from left to right, Park, Reverse, Neutral, Hi, and 1st. The driver started out in 1st gear, and when it was time to shift, he or she popped the lever into High gear. If you really didn’t feel like shifting at all, it was found that some drivers just left the transmission in High gear. Imagine doing that with a four-cylinder equipped Chevy II. Finally, it was recommended that under normal driving conditions, First gear should only be used at speeds up to 20 mph, but must not exceed 55 mph. Also, downshifting from Hi to 1st gear at speeds above 55 mph would result in transmission failure.
Whether unfortunate or not, the Torque-Drive transmission didn’t survive a long and fruitful existence, as it was only available in four and six cylinder Novas and Camaros, from mid-year 1968 through 1971, and then in the 1971 Vega. According to one source, roughly 14,000 Torque-Drive transmissions were built and installed by Chevrolet, and then it just disappeared as an obscure footnote in automotive history.