View Full Version : push button shifters

03-05-2008, 04:22 PM
Today was my weekly climb of Camelback Mountain, in Phoenix. At the summit I chatted with a retired guy, a visitor from Detroit. He said his father had been a millwright for Chrysler, and always drove those cars. I mentioned the 1950s Chrysler Imperial, which had an automatic transmission shifted by push buttons on the dash. "The only car with that feature, as far as I know." He corrected me, said that he thought the Edsel also had push buttons.

It seems like a potential hazard to me. Were there other cars with this feature?

03-05-2008, 04:32 PM
Only one I've ever seen was Chrysler corp.

Mom had 57 or 58 chrysler, don't remember what model, real sweet car had the small hemi in it. Loved the car, hated the tranny though.
Had fins on it that should have had clearance lights.


03-05-2008, 04:38 PM
Early Barracudas had them, IIRC.


Rich Carlstedt
03-05-2008, 04:41 PM
Came out in the 1955 model and lasted till 58
used on the TorqueFlite transmission
It was not a hazard, it was like pushing a radio button
When going forward at any good speed, it would not allow instant reverse.
However...when stuck in the snow, and you needed to 'rock' the car, the forward/reverse buttons made it easy to time your motions. With a shift "lever' you sometimes stick it in park, and lock up the wheels

I worked for Ford as a machinist in 1957 when the Edsel came out.
they previewed one in our plant before public release, but do not remember the transmission control exctly, but there is something there as I recall ?

03-05-2008, 04:51 PM
At work I was moving this new truck with the push button auto. It was only a few feet behind another unit, and I was going to inch it forward. I put it in gear, gave it some fuel , moved it, moved my foot over to the brake, ended up with my foot on the oversize steering wheel tilt pedal. Of course in a split second I froze pushing harder down on the useless pedal,and flailing around with my hands for a gear shift; or a clutch with my other foot. Wrecked the hood, and pushed the rad and oil cooler into the fan which got wrecked also. The truck was less than 6 months old and you know what parts and body work are these days. To top it off, it was only back in service a few weeks when another driver negotiating between other trucks in the yard wrecked the hood again.

Alistair Hosie
03-05-2008, 04:54 PM
True story I was in Scotland when I was about sixteen years of age and was passing through Glasgow city centre I noticed a car showroom selling a plymouth barracuda around 1967 .It was fantastic ,it was the nicest car I had ever seen then. Can anyone bring back some meories for me and show me a photo of a 1967 // 1968 barracuda I thought it would be wondeful to own one then.Alistair

03-05-2008, 05:25 PM
My first car was a 1961 Dodge Lancer which had a push button shifter.
I actually twisted an axle by revving it in neutral and pushing the "D" button. That little 170 slant 6 had butt load of torque........

Alistair Hosie
03-05-2008, 05:34 PM
what's a but load of torque????:DAlistair

A.K. Boomer
03-05-2008, 05:35 PM
The thought the old Valiants had a pushbotton trans. I can remember my older brother saying it was so nice to do reverse to foreward shots in it, all with just a push of a button:D

Alan in Oz
03-05-2008, 05:49 PM
The Chrysler Valiant sold here in Oz in the late part of the 50's IIRC had the push button auto transmission, it also had the spare tyre bump in the boot lid, hence called the "frog".

03-05-2008, 05:53 PM
the Edsel had the gear buttons in the middle of the steering wheel where the horn button used to be.

03-05-2008, 06:02 PM
I think Chrysler used push button automatics from 1955 to 1964.

Edsel also used a variation on some of it's cars. Unlike the Chrysler system which was strictly mechanical in operation via cables, the Edsel system, called the Teletouch I believe, was a set of electrical switches mounted in the center of the steering wheel where the horn normally resides. Needless to say when panic set in most people revert to old habits and hit the transmission select buttons instead of the horn causing a lot of expensive noise in the process.:eek: I think the Edsel system was only used for one year, 57 or 58. Correct me if I'm wrong as my memory is worse than my hearing.

Also some Packards also used them, as well as quite a few commercial applications in trucks and heavy equipment.

Lew Hartswick
03-05-2008, 06:10 PM
I thing you folks are just too young to have driven cars back in the
"dim ,dark" days of 1953. My first brand new car was a 53 Plymouth
(two tone green) Belvedere. It had pushbuttons on a small pannel
sort of on top of the dash to the left of the steering wheel . I do
forget how many forward gears, could have been only 2 .
After that the 55 had the lever sticking out of the dash and moved
vertically (a red and black Belvedere) next came a 57 yellow and
black, a verry "forgetable" car. :-)

bob ward
03-05-2008, 06:12 PM
The 60 to 62 Valiant Q R & S models had push button shift on the dash, as did the first model of the next generation of Valiants. Push button shift was gone by late 64/early 65

03-05-2008, 06:22 PM
what's a but load of torque????:DAlistair
A lot of fun!
"Butt Load= Universal unit of measure conversion factor, can be used to convert anything to anything else" ie. MPH to TPI, Gal. to VDC, etc.

Optics Curmudgeon
03-05-2008, 06:51 PM
According to my copy of the CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics the Butt is a British unit of measure equal to 16.84375 cubic feet. No, I'm not kidding.


03-05-2008, 07:01 PM
We had a Terraplane when I was a lad with electric shift, though not push button as I recall.
Last time I saw that car there was a butt-load of chicken crap in the back seat.

03-05-2008, 07:09 PM
My first car was a Chrysler Neuport Station Wagon with the pushbutton shift and a 383. I don't remember the year, but it had fins, but not really big ones and they were horizontal. I rolled that puppy end over end once and 3 times sideways. I don't recommend trying that. :(


03-05-2008, 07:21 PM
I "inherited" an old DeSoto with push button. At the time I thought I must have done something to make The Big Man mad, but I learned to enjoy the laid back style. That was the only thing that still worked when I finally got rid of it.

Old is bad, the alternative is real bad.

03-05-2008, 07:44 PM
My father bought a 1956 Plymouth Belvedere with the push button shifter. I was a teenager and I remember that it was pretty cool to take my friends for a ride in the car --- on very infrequent occasions, I might add.

But I also remember (I think) that a neighbor of ours at that time had a Packard with a push button shift. It was mounted in the hub of the steering wheel.

03-05-2008, 07:47 PM
I remember my folks had a 62 or 63 Plymouth Valiant with the push button automatic.

I was about 8 or 9 at the time. I was "play" driving the car one day when I pushed more than one button at once. Both stayed pressed in. I attempted to push another button to get the others to release. It stayed in also. About this same time Mom wanted to go into town about 2 miles away.

Boy did I catch H*ll for that; especially since Dad had to leave work to come home and take the dashboard apart to unstick those buttons.

03-05-2008, 07:56 PM
According to my copy of the CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics the Butt is a British unit of measure equal to 16.84375 cubic feet.

Yes, and that is equal to 2 hogsheads, usually wine or beer.

03-05-2008, 07:58 PM
I thing you folks are just too young to have driven cars back in the
"dim ,dark" days of 1953. My first brand new car was a 53 Plymouth
(two tone green) Belvedere. It had pushbuttons on a small pannel
sort of on top of the dash to the left of the steering wheel . I do
forget how many forward gears, could have been only 2 .
After that the 55 had the lever sticking out of the dash and moved
vertically (a red and black Belvedere) next came a 57 yellow and
black, a verry "forgetable" car. :-)

You pretty much nailed that right on the head.

I owned a 56 Plymouth Delux back in the days. It was a great car with full bench(lounge seat) and 2 speed push buttons left of the steering wheel.
It was fun taking it to the drive-in movies. You didn't need worry about a darn floor shift lever always getting you legs tangled up and no worry about a darn o'l column shifter poking you in the back when you were- well, lets just say, eating your popcorn. :D

ahh, the good o'l days, :rolleyes:


03-05-2008, 08:01 PM
1964 Rambler Ambassador..327 motor/auto. Bushbutton shifter.
Also had a 1963 Chrysler with the same.

03-05-2008, 08:03 PM
My 63 Dodge Dart had a push button transmission. It was on the left side of the steering wheel. It was one of my first cars I had owned. It was back when I knew everything and hence I broke it in short order.:eek:

Tim Clarke
03-05-2008, 10:31 PM
Yup, I've seen the ones you all describe in the 70's when I routinely cruised local wrecking yards. Seems like the Chrysler Corp cars had Powerflytes thru 1956 [2 speeds] and torqueflights thereafter, all with either pushbuttons or dash levers until 1962 or '63. Don't forget the 1957 Mercury, push bottons also, but unlike the Edsel, on the dash.

Then there's the Corvairs and Pontiac Tempests with the dash shift levers.


Peter S
03-06-2008, 02:09 AM
My first car was a 1960 Dodge Pioneer, 318 and 2-speed Powerflite cast iron auto. The push buttons were no problem, just 4 buttons to match the ventilation buttons etc. Stylish dashboard on this model. There was no 'Park', just a good drum handbrake on the rear of the transmission. The buttons worked a cable, the cable movement between positions was very small, maybe 1/8" from memory. I took that cast iron trans out myself, the weight was an unpleasant surprise, didn't have a trolley jack, or guide studs, learnt the hard way.

The Aussie-made Valiants we got here (around 1965?) had slant six, some with push button Torqueflites with a lever beside the buttons to engage 'park'.

03-06-2008, 03:31 PM
My first car was a 1957 Dodge Coronet with the 2 speed pushbutton transmission. I worked all summer in a hospital to earn the $75.00 I paid for the car. This was in 1966 and that was a lot of money for a high school kid.

It also came with a few teeth missing on the ring gear so sometimes when I tried to start it, I would have to open the hood and turn the engine by hand by jerking on the belts to get to a spot the starter would catch. Pretty embarrasing when you have your girl at the A&W root beer stand.:)

Sold the car two years later with the same problem for $140.00.

03-06-2008, 07:29 PM
Corvairs had them I think.

But I could be wrong.

Peter S
03-06-2008, 08:28 PM
There were also cars with minature gearshifts on the dash, I think they were pre-select gearboxes, or maybe some kind of electric (Cotal?) or vacuum shift (Cord?). I can't recall which cars from memory, maybe Cord, Delage, Bugatti, and some of the English pre-select cars. Gear changing on the preselect gearboxes happened when you kicked the clutch pedal. The only ones I saw personally were the Daimler buses used here in Auckland into the 1970's. Very easy to change gear (lever on column, no force required), but the drivers used to give them heaps, you had to hold on when they kicked that clutch pedal going up hill. They had a fluid flywheel as well, so could idle in gear at the lights - the whole bus used to shake and vibrate.

03-06-2008, 08:54 PM
My dad had a '59 Rambler station wagon with this 'feature'. I still vividly recall the night my older brother managed to push in two buttons and get them stuck. My job was to hold the flashlight. I learned some interesting new words that night! :D


03-06-2008, 09:04 PM
what's a but load of torque????:DAlistair

Depends on the butt.

I had a '58 Edsel Citation with a push-button and a '62 Plymouth, also.
They were very good shifting cars.

I remember a vivid description of a drag race between a push-button Dodge and another car, at an early sixties dragstrip.

The guy said when the light changed, the guy took off, looked over at the other car, flipped him off and pushed the button with his middle finger and so forth, for the rest of the gears.
I only remember it because it amused me so much, at the time.

03-06-2008, 09:35 PM
The 1956 Packard had electro-magnetic solenoid operated pushbutton transmission selection. It was a concept ahead of available technology. Very troublesome.

As I remember, the Mopars pushbuttons were just a mecanical connection to the transmission.

thnx, jack vines

03-07-2008, 08:03 PM

Here's some information on the Barracuda....


Saratoga Bill
03-09-2008, 09:33 PM
57 Mercurys had push buttons too.


03-09-2008, 09:48 PM
So did the 57 Plymouth With big fins.

Spin Doctor
03-09-2008, 10:50 PM
I do know that AMC used push buttons in the early 60s. One kid at school had a 61 Classic or Ambassador with a 327 and a push button tranny.