Pushbutton Transmissions I Remember JFK: A Baby Boomer’s Pleasant Reminiscing Spot

Packard introduced it with their 1956 Caribbean. It was the electrical one, and it had problems. If you parked on a steep hill, the shifting motor would lock up trying to get the car out of Park. It would trip a breaker, and you would be stuck. To make matters worse, when Packard’s production ceased that year, the manufacturers of the shifting mechanism destroyed the tooling. Replacement parts became impossible to obtain.

The king of the boneheaded electrical shifters was the Edsel. Not only did the shifter have lots of problems, they mounted the buttons in the middle of the steering wheel Guess what would would happen when drivers made an emergency move for the horn.




  1. BubbaRay says:

    #19, Uncle Patso, I used to work at my grandfather’s gas station as a “fillup guy” and I remember those well. In those days, hiding gas caps was a complete art. Behind license plates, under taillights, etc.

  2. Thomas says:

    Now we have this site to push our buttons.

  3. Paddy-O says:

    # 21 BubbaRay said, “In those days, hiding gas caps was a complete art. Behind license plates”

    When I was about 12 I worked at a station. I hated the ones behind the lic plates because it would slosh back and sometimes shoot out the filler hole.

  4. MotoMan says:

    For the last couple of model years, the Yamaha FJR1300 motorcycle has had an electric shift option. I’ve no idea how well they’re selling.

  5. moss says:

    Dodge and DeSoto and Chrysler introduced their version the same time as Packard. Packard’s was driven by an electric motor – Chrysler Corp used mechanical pushrods.

    The standard demo for the Desoto – since they’d come out the with DeSoto Automatic model in ’54 – was to floor the car in reverse in a parking lot aimed for a wall, then, punch it [or shift it] into drive about 20 feet before you hit the wall and burn rubber till you changed direction to forward.

    Not with your own car, of course.

  6. SVT_Wruby says:

    the new Jag XF essentially has a PB Trans.

    Dubbed the “JaguarDriveTM Selector”, its a cool knob that rises out of the console when you start the car.

    Also the MB 7 Speed Trans has an odd lever on the steering column of some models that is essentually a selector switch.

    Along with the increasing use of electric parking brakes, the push button transmission is here!

  7. howzitjoe says:

    I actually took driver’s ed with a push-button Valiant. Our family car was a 57 Chevy Bel-Air 283 which you could lay rubber with if you revved the engine then dropped it into low with the automatic. Of course I never told dad…
    I ended up buying a 65 Rambler Classic who’s one redeeming valve was that the front seats reclined all the way back turning it into a bed.

  8. alphanumeric says:

    Actually they’re making a comeback through the big rig industry.

    All new big rigs are going automatic and they’re all push button.

    And like back in the day they are still pieces of crap.

  9. Luc says:

    What the hell is “an emergency move for the horn”? I only know emergency moves for the brake and on the steering wheel. Morans who go for the horn instead of the brake deserve to die. Too bad they usually take someone else with them.

  10. wrench says:

    My first car, a 56 Plymouth had a pushbutton transmission. One wild night out drinking with the boys, I found out what happened when I put it into reverse at 60mph. Sort of miss that old car.

  11. Art says:

    BigBoyBC said, on April 20th, 2009 at 7:23 pm

    “I don’t know much about cars, I was wondering that with computers in cars and modern transmission technology. Is there still a need for manual transmissions?”

    Real men drive stick shifts (MANuals), girlie men drive automatics (said in my best Arnold voice). Show me an automatic that can downshift automatically to power thru a turn. Show me an automatic that doesn’t downshift when you accelerate slightly to get in the left lane on the freeway, revving the engine, thereby giving the guy in the middle lane, that you just swung around, the idea that you want to race. I could go on and on …

    In my car, as in my office, I am in charge, not the computer!

  12. Kris says:

    Forget about 1950s and 60s. I rented a 2006 Taurus that had sun shades that obscured the rearview mirror and when you turned the steering wheel, you couldn’t possibly see the gear display as it was totally obscured by the steering wheel. Came in handy when parking…..

    And the previous generation of Citroen C5, circa 2006, had a handbrake operating FRONT wheels, handy in emergencies…..

  13. Peter says:

    Check out the new Lincoln MKZ…pushbutton is back!!