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Q & A with Kit Foster: December 21, 2015

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My dad took me and some friends to the Powerama in Chicago (Q&A Oct. 29). There were diesel engines everywhere. The most memorable thing for this then-14-year-old was the angle drive arrangement in the GMC bus. The engine sat at about a 45-degree angle at the rear of the bus.I’m sure there was a rationale for this strange setup, but I’m not sure what it was.
— Paul Ayres, Farmington Hills, Mich.



I think you’re referring to the angle drive patented by British engineer Dwight Austin in 1932. It was used on both “Old Look” (1940-69) and “New Look” (1959-77) GM transit buses, and allowed for compact power transmission from a transverse engine without using drive chains. The engines were also canted rearward for easier maintenance access. Other readers attended Powerama, too. Read on:


I was living on the north side of Chicago when the Powerama arrived. It occupied a portion of Soldier Field as well as all of what was then Meigs Field Airport. GM actually installed tracks to display locomotives and various rolling stock. Elephants and bulldozers were demonstrated in a boulder-moving contest. A temporary pedestrian bridge was built over Lake Shore Drive from the Soldier Field parking lot. An EMD dump truck was used as a swimming pool. I was seven at the time, but the images still linger.
— William A. Lloyd, Las Cruces, N.M.


My father attended the Powerama exhibition and took our whole family with him, including 12-year-old me.What I remember most is being impressed by the massive Euclid earth-moving equipment and, of course, the Electro-Motive trains.
My father was the General Manager of the GMFabricast Division in Bedford, Ind., from 1952 to 1959.Fabricast was the aluminum foundry for GM, making such things as turbine blades for jet engines, Hydra-Matic transmission cases and valve bodies, the Buick aluminum brake drums, and other cast-aluminum components. The Fabricast display at Powerama included a demonstration of the latest injection-molding technology the division used.During the exhibit, representatives from Fabricast operated one of their injection-molding machines right on the premises, making gold-colored, triangular plastic key fobs like the one pictured in Old Cars, and handing them out to attendees. I used to have a number of the plastic versions and one or two very nice chrome-plated metal versions of the same key fob. I may still have them somewhere in my memorabilia.
— John C. Zink, Tulsa, Okla.


Thanks all, for sharing your memories. I was 11 that year but, alas, I lived 1,000 miles away.


I picked up this transmission indicator some years ago. To date, I have not figured out what vehicle it fits, or what position the “G” indicates. Could you shed some light on this?
— Jim Jones, Lewisville, Texas



I think so. I’m pretty sure it’s for a 1961 Chevy with the Turboglide transmission. Turboglide was a constant-torque automatic transmission available as an alternative to Powerglide from 1957 to 1961 on V8-engine Chevrolets (except Corvettes). It was much like Buick’s Flight-Pitch Dynaflow, in that it changed the pitch of the stator blades in the torque converter to vary the gear ratio. Thus, there were no abrupt shift-points felt, and it didn’t have a low gear, per se, thus no “L” position. Instead, for engine braking it counter-rotated the turbines to soak up power. Initially this position was labeled “Hr” for “Hill retarder.” Many people thought it meant “High range” when it was really quite the opposite, so during 1957 the quadrant was changed to show “Gr” for “Grade retarder.” Apparently for 1961 it was displayed merely as “G.” Turboglide was not very popular, as many customers missed the feel of the shift points (a complaint about continuously-variable transmissions today) and it also had quality problems. These were pretty well fixed by 1961, but its reputation was already tarnished. You may have to look long and hard to find anyone who needs this indicator, but you can enjoy it as a memento of a dead-end technology, or maybe as a “what’s it” to amaze your friends.

To submit questions to this column: E-mail or mail to: Q&A, Old Cars Weekly, 700 E. State St., Iola, WI 54990-0001

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