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1939/1940 Overdrive Transmission


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I recently purchased a 1940 Chrysler Saratoga, but have yet to pick it up. I know that in 1939 Chrysler introduced a new overdrive that they called "cruise and climb". My Saratoga has both overdrive and fluid drive. Is its overdrive like the ones used by numerous manufacturers after Worle War II? In other words does it have a kick-down feature? If so, is it activated by an electric solenoid? Many thanks for your help.

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Guest Bob Call


Looking at my Chilton's manual (1953 edition) it says that since 1940 Chrysler cars have been equipped with either 1) a 3 speed standard transmission, 2) a 3 speed standard transmission with overdrive, or 3) a 4 speed semi-automatic transmission (Fluid-Torque Drive). Sounds like your car has the 4 speed Fluid-Torque Drive, commonly called fluid drive.

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The owner tells me that the car has fluid drive and it clearly has an overdrive control under the steering wheel. Dammann's book "70 Years of Chrysler" states that the 40 Chrysler fluid drive replaced the flywheel in front of the 3 speed transmission with overdrive. Fluid drive was standard on Imperials and optional on all eight cylinder models (Traveler, New Yorker and Saratoga). According to Dammann the M-4 semiautomatic transmission was first offered in 1941 and the overdrive option was dropped.

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Yes, the Cruise & Climb overdrive has a "kickdown" feature using an electric solenoid. There's an interposing relay and fuse assembly for the kickdown, located either on the firewall or the inside left fender. I can't remember the exact location; it's been over 40 years since I had my '40 Crown Imperial.


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Guest imported_Bill-W

Fluid Drive was not a transmission, but a fluid coupling between the engine and the clutch. You could thus come to a stop without using the clutch and the car would not stall. You needed the clutch to shift between the gears, though. Both the parts book and the service manual carried information on Fluid Drive in the Clutch section, and not the transmission.

Fluid Drive was first offered on the 1939 Chrysler Custom Imperial and in 1940 on all eight cylinder models. The transmission with Fluid Drive on these models was the basic 3-speed manual transmission. Overdrive was optional.

The 4-speed semi-automatic Vacamatic (as it was called on American-built Chryslers) was introduced for 1941 and was optional on Royal and Windsor models. The eight cylinder models used a 3-speed manual transmission plus overdrive and would not get Vacamatic until 1942.

After the war the 4-speed semi-automatic transmission was controlled by hydraulics. The sales people called the Chrysler version Prestomatic in 1949.

In 1951 Chrysler introduced a torque converter on the new hemi-powered V8 models called Fluid Torque Drive. Again, this was not the transmission but the torque converter between the engine and clutch. Just to confuse matters, the 4-speed semi-automatic on the Chrysler was now called Fluid-Matic.

For 1953 Fluid Torque Drive was available on the Windsor models but the unit now used the engine oil on all applications, eliminating the pump and oil supply behind the converter.


Vancouver, BC

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  • 1 month later...

An handsome feature of the 40 Chrysler is it's 5-speed semi-automatic transmission. As Bill-W explains, it compromises a fluid couling, a 3-speed and an automatic overdrive. Will give brisk acceleration for its age if not the coupling slips under power.

For 41 they just blocked the gear-handle from engaging 1st gear (to make it appear a 4-speed like the 6-cyl cars?), but this can easily be removed to give the owner that extra take-away.

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