Say goodbye to the T-Bar

It’s time to say goodbye to the good old T-Bar as car companies around the world embrace push-button autos.

And that mean it’s goodbye to not just the gear shift but centre console too, as the transition to shift by wire is almost complete — the need has all but gone.

Chevrolet’s large SUVs now have push button automatics and the maker’s other vehicles will follow in the next two or three years as they are updated. 

Ford, Chrysler and Jaguar are just some of the many brands that have “experimented” with rotary dials in the centre console.

So far, the jury is out on their ease of use, but my guess is that push buttons will win this one, simply because they can be placed on the dashboard, whereas the dial has to be in the centre console — taking up space.

And that’s the benefit of shift by wire push buttons — they free up so much space.

Next time you are in your car, just look at how much space the selector occupies.

Imagine all of that space being used for storage.

No need for dashboard glove boxes anymore, which allows the dashboard’s surface to be moved further away from the passenger, improving safety.

GM’s HydraMatic transmission, which debuted in the Oldsmobile brand in 1938, is generally acknowledged as the world’s first mass market automatic.

The gear selector was on the steering column and until the early 1950s, that’s where it remained.

By my reckoning the first to have a floor auto shifter was the 1953 Chevrolet Corvette.

Back then the Corvette was only available with Chevrolet’s two-speed PowerGlide, which was bolted behind the totally mis-named “blue flame” six cylinder engine.

To infuse a sports car ambience, the engineers and styling team decided to place the selector on the side of the transmission tunnel. 

The selector’s knob read PNDLR, which was the Chevrolet gear sequence until it was changed for safety reasons — like accidentally moving the level from L to R at speed—to PRNDL.

By the early 1960s the idea had transitioned to American mainstream cars, usually as an option accompanying bucket seats.

It gave otherwise ordinary cars a sporty and special aura.

Car companies were not stupid and ensured punters paid plenty of money for the privilege of having the auto selector removed from the column.

Back in the 1950s and early 1960s Chrysler decided to use push buttons for its PowerFlite and TorqueFlite automatics.

These were located on the dashboard.

Ford’s ill-fated Edsel went one step further, with push buttons on the steering wheel hub.

It was ridiculed at the time, but these days, with most controls anchored somewhere on the steering column, it is not as silly as it was made out to be.

The first locally built car to have a floor selector was the AP6 Valiant V8. 

Ironically, it replaced the much loved and prized push buttons of the 1962-1965 Valiant.

David Burrell is the editor of Retroautos.com.au



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  1. Good story. Old enough to remember the push button transmission selector buttons on the dash of those Valiants! Even the number have buttons will decrease as we more and more move to the auto park selection.

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