1959 Buick Triple Turbine Transmission

October 20th, 2009

Further disassembly of the car has revealed that although the car currently has a standard twin turbine transmission installed, the car came from the factory with the optional Triple Turbine transmission.

The Triple Turbine transmission, abbreviated as “3T” in some reference manuals,  is considered the “ultimate dynaflow” by many Buick enthusiasts.  Buick produced several versions of the Dynaflow transmission from 1948 to 1963.  Unlike most modern transmissions which utilize mechanical gears and clutches to produce torque to get power to the wheels, the Dynaflow operates on an entirely different principle.  Rather than a mechanical connection, the Dynaflow essentially operates on spinning oil. In the most simplistic analogy, think of two fans facing each other inches apart.  Turning on only one fan will cause the other fan to spin simply because of the air being forced through its blades.  Imagine these two fans submerged in oil and you’ll understand the basic principle behind the Dynaflow transmission.  While the driver of a car with a mechanical transmission can hear and feel each shift point, the driver of a Dynaflow cannot hear or feel any shifting, just incredibly smooth and silent acceleration.

Although Dynaflows were extremely smooth, especially when compared to other transmissions of their day, they also developed a reputation for being relatively slow and inefficient because of its initial design. Buick improved the Dynaflow in 1953 by incorporating two turbines.  Named the “Twin Turbine Dynaflow,” this new design resulted in a higher level of performance and greater efficiency. In 1955 Buick further improved the design by incorporating variable-pitch stators for improved flexibility.  Instead of being fixed, stator blade angles were varied through a mechanical linkage corresponding to throttle position to generate extra torque. The more acute the blade angle, the greater the torque multiplication.

Continuing its refinement of the design, Buick invested a reported $86 million in tooling to produce one last version of the Dynaflow.  Introduced in 1958, the “Flight Pitch Dynaflow” was standard equipment on the Roadmaster 75 and Limited, and optional on all other 58′s.  This transmission utilized three turbines to further increase torque output.  One of the unique features of this transmission was the lack of a “Low Gear” (L) position that could be selected by the operator, and the addition of a “Grade Retard” (G) position to be used only for engine braking on long or steep declines.

This Grade Retard (G) position was a complex but useful feature because on long or steep declines the lack of a direct mechanical connection between engine and drive wheels resulted in a greater tendency for the car to “get away” from the driver unless the brakes were engaged.  Unfortunately, because many Buick owners had become accustomed to engaging low gear for faster take-offs with their previous Dynaflows, they attempted to use the new Grade Retard feature for this same purpose with disastrous results.  This improper operation, in combination with several design flaws, led to the early failure of many Flight Pitch transmissions.

Buick engineers were able to resolve many flaws with several internal enhancements and reintroduced the transmission in 1959 renamed the “Triple Turbine” (the word “Dynaflow” was dropped).  While not standard on any model, this transmission was an available option on all 59 Buicks.  The engineering improvements made the 1959 Triple Turbine the most refined Dynaflow ever produced.  Coupled to a lower final drive ratio, 2.78:1 with the Triple versus 3.07:1 with the Twin, it offered superior starting acceleration and greater efficiency.  Sales material for the 1959 Buick stated, “The Triple Turbine adds extra get-up-and-go to give you the ultimate in power performance.  The stator, with its infinite pitch stator blades that change angle automatically at your command, promises a new driving thrill.”  Cars equipped with this option can be identified by looking at the shift quadrant lens on the dash.  The shift quadrant sequence on the Triple Turbine reads P-R-N-D-G (where “G” stands for Grade Retard) whereas the Twin Turbine sequence reads P-N-D-L-R.  The below pic shows the original 3T dash quadrant plate (left) which was installed in my car from the factory, along with the standard 2T plate that was in the glovebox presumably to be switched out, but never was.

Despite the improvements over the Twin Turbine, the Triple Turbine never caught on with the public.  Due in part to its extra cost ($275 for LeSabre and $70 on all other Models), the poor reputation from the 1958 version, and continued failures based on improper operation (driving in the Grade Retard position), Buick discontinued the transmission at the end of 1959.  Because relatively few were made, and further because it was far more complex than a Twin Turbine, few transmission shops were willing or qualified to rebuild them as they eventually required service.  As a result, many of the Triple Turbine equipped cars were converted to Twin Turbine over the years.  Buick continued equipping its cars with Twin Turbines through 1963.

Because the Triple Turbine offered faster acceleration, improved fuel economy, unparalleled smoothness, and the unique grade retard feature to keep speed in check on long declines, it is considered the absolute pinnacle of Dynaflow evolution.

Below are pages from the actual  1959 Buick Facts Book describing the operation of the optional triple turbine and standard twin turbine transmissions (Click on the next three Picture to Enlarge).

After learning my car was originally equipped with the Triple Turbine, my plan was to locate, rebuild, and reinstall one back into the car.   I went so far as to buy an entire rolling chassis with a Triple Turbine in the hopes of using it, but in the end I had to decide against it. The bottom line was that there was simply too much cost and uncertainty involved with trying to rebuild it.

Here are the reasons I abandoned switching back to the Triple Turbine…

I contacted Fatsco’s (http://www.fatsco.com/) one of best antique transmission shops here in NJ (they also own a large nationwide transmission parts distribution business) and they told me they wouldn’t touch it. Instead the old guy who owns the place told me about the numerous times he’s replaced 3T’s with the standard Twin Turbine (2T) Transmissions on 59 Buicks in his shop simply because of the complexity and lack of parts availability for the 3T.

I also had Greg talk to his guy that has been rebuilding the transmissions in his show cars for a hundred years…bottom line…he’d done a few 3T’s many, many years ago…but wasn’t keen on doing another (he’ll do the twins any day of the week).

I contacted and spoke with Moses Ludel in Nevada (775-463-5965), the world famous master transmission rebuilder and he told me no problem rebuilding it and that he’d done a few. He said that he would rebuild it back to factory specs “even if it didn’t come that way from the factory” (which he claimed was one of the problems). Only downside… paying over $5,000 for the rebuild (not including crating and shipping clear across the country).

I spoke with Jim Hughes of Ohio (419-874-2393) who was a super nice guy and he told me he rebuilds many of them each year, and sometimes even has a rebuilt one on the shelf (but he doesn’t right then) and that he ships out same day when he has one and asks that you ship back the core in the same crate. The price was even relatively reasonable compared to Ludel. Downside…it still cost twice as much as rebuilding a twin, and if I ran into a problem down the road there is nobody around here to fix it so I would have to bring it somewhere… have it dropped, crated and shipped back to Ohio.

I talked with Lamar Wilkins  at Buick Obsolete Parts in California (661-945-5150) who was extremely knowledgeable, manufactures certain 3T parts and also rebuilds 3T’s. Once again the problem was distance so I had the same issue.

So, if Jim Hughes, Lamar Wilkins or anyone else that rebuilt 3T’s had a shop nearby I would have gone for it, but all things considered it just didn’t make sense to try it with so many uncertainties.

One thing I had to consider was this, the 3T’s original rear axle ratio (which is still in my car) was 2.78:1 and the standard 2T was 3.07:1.  If I really wanted to make the car correct with the 2T I would need to find a differential with the proper ratio.  Since the car drove OK before the rebuild I’ve decided to keep what I have.  Although this will result in a bit slower acceleration, it will have “longer legs” at cruise.

The original owner must have really liked this model Buick. I’m not sure what Cadillacs of the day were going for, but the cost of the options was probably bringing him close to that price range. The list of options this car came from the factory with is now as follows:

Bucket Seats, Air Conditioning, Triple Turbine Transmission, Air Ride Suspension, Wonderbar Radio w/Foot Switch, Rear Speaker, Power Antenna, Automatic Heat and EZEye Glass.

~ Tom Sidoti
1959 Buick Electra 225 Convertible

Media Blasting & Primer

November 2nd, 2009

Newest developments include a surprise hiding behind the drivers side rocker molding. It’s a pretty good dent, but at least it’s not rust.  There was some filler in the rear quarter above the wheel well, and also some old lead repair in front of the rear wheel but thankfully nothing rust rust related.

The engine and tranny are now out and just about everything has been removed from the body:

Time to get on with the media blasting…

Now into the shop…

This is a milestone update in that we’re finally starting to put stuff onto the car instead of taking it off.
It may only be epoxy primer that’s being added…but its still something!

The large panels that don’t fit into a blasting cabinet were also finished


~ Tom Sidoti
1959 Buick Electra 225 Convertible

1959 Buick – Brief General History

November 3rd, 2009

Below is a little background information on how the 1959 Buick came into existence…along with a few words about the engines and transmissions for the different Buick models…

If 1959 was a year of unprecedented change for all of General Motors, Buick embodied that change more than any other division.  With radical new styling and all new model names, Buick made the most dramatic break from its past by far.  Puffy styling with vaulted roofs, massive bumpers and excessive ornamentation, made way for bold new “Delta Wing” styling with sleek rooflines, slender bumpers and tasteful use of chrome and stainless.  Perhaps nothing demonstrated Buick’s commitment to transform itself more than its daring decision to rename all its models.  Gone were the Special, Super, Roadmaster, and Limited; in their place stood LeSabre, Invicta, Electra and Electra 225.  Buick’s new slogan for 1959 was, “The Car: Buick 59,” and what a car it was!

The Genesis:

The genesis of Buick’s (and all of GM’s) new design came not from the designers at GM’s vaunted Design Studio, but rather from the chance discovery in 1956 of Chrysler’s new “Forward Look” line of vehicles for 1957.  The clean lines of the Chrysler vehicles made the entire GM line look dated in comparison.  Not to be outdone, GM stylists began work almost immediately to create new designs.  Already too late to make significant revisions to the 1958 Buick, stylists and engineers abruptly abandoned their plans to make 1959 the third evolution of the 1957 design.  All five GM divisions were instead given the green light to start with a clean sheet to develop an all-new line of vehicles for 1959.  This was a monumental challenge in that GM engineers were tasked to complete in less than two years a job which generally took three or more.

In an effort to streamline the process and reduce costs, the decision was made to standardize one set of bodyshells that could be lengthened or shortened for the entire GM line (except Corvette).  Although each division would continue to use its own unique suspension, powertrains and exterior sheetmetal, the inner body structure consisting of cowl, windshield, greenhouse, and inner door panels would be the same for all divisions.  Because Buick’s design was selected, all other GM divisions were compelled to construct their 1959 designs around the Buick inner body structure.

Time of the Essence:

Buick sold 737,035 cars in 1955 to capture third place in industry sales by outselling Plymouth, a ranking it maintained with its 1956 models.  Although expectations were high that the all new 1957 Buicks would build on that success; those hopes were firmly dashed with the introduction of Chrysler’s new Forward Look vehicles of the same year.  1957 Plymouth sales shot up to 762,231 units, far outpacing Buick’s production of only 404,069 units, knocking it back down into fourth place.  The overwhelming response to the new Chrysler Corporation vehicles confirmed the public’s desire for fresh new styling.  With its sales rapidly falling, time was of the essence for Buick to quickly develop a vibrant new design in anticipation of reclaiming third place.  As its engineers worked feverishly on the upcoming 59’s, Buick’s worst fears were realized when its stodgy 1958 offerings garnered only 240,659 sales, its worst showing in 10 years further dropping Buick into fifth place.  Desperate to close the door on 1958, Buick introduced its 1959 models on September 19, 1958, the earliest release date of any new American car since the mid 1940’s

The Car:

The 1959 Buick dared go where no car had gone before and is perhaps the most spectacular Buick ever built.  Never before had a GM vehicle undergone such a dramatic transformation from one year to the next.  In extreme contrast to the previous year, the new Buick’s side profile emphasized its long, low and lean styling which was brilliantly accented by two simple stainless steel moldings.  Its rear end was dominated by stunning sharp-edged delta wings set above circular protruding taillights reminiscent of jet exhaust ports.  Four chromed rows of small beveled rectangles appearing to float in mid air made up the broad front grill.  Canted headlights beneath angled stainless brows gave the 59’s a menacing face as instantly recognizable as its fabled rear.  More than any other car of its era, the 59 Buick exuded motion even when standing still.  If the iconic 59 Cadillac brought the definition of excess to new levels, the 59 Buick is widely acclaimed for executing the cleanest, most elegant design of any GM division.

Accolades for the 1959 Buick line included an Electra 225 Convertible being selected as the Pace Car for the 1959 Indianapolis 500, Motor Trend magazine naming the Invicta four-door hardtop as “Best Looking Car Overall”, and also naming the Invicta Estate Wagon “Best Looking Wagon” for 1959.


Three transmission choices were available for 1959 Buicks.  Although rarely ordered in base form, LeSabre’s came standard with a three speed manual transmission with column mounted shifter.  Optionally available for LeSabres were the Twin Turbine and Triple Turbine automatics.  The Twin Turbine was standard on all other models with the Triple Turbine an available option (the manual gearbox was only available on LeSabres).  Although the Twin Turbine and Triple Turbine were previously marketed as Dynaflow transmissions, Buick dropped the term “Dynaflow” in 1959 perhaps in a further attempt to emphasize the clean break from its past.  While both automatic transmissions were carryovers from 1958, improvements were made to both.  The Triple Turbine was dropped after 1959 and working examples are as rare today as manual transmission cars. Rear end ratios for LeSabres were 3.58 with syncromesh, 3.07 for the Twin Turbine, 3.23 for the Twin Turbine with Power Pack option, and 2.78 for the Triple Turbine.  All other models were 3.07 for the Twin Turbine and 2.78 for the Triple Turbine.


Powering all 1959 Buicks were two different engines, the venerable 364-cid engine first introduced in 1957 was joined by an all new 401-cid engine.  LeSabres came from the factory only with the 364, while the potent 401 was standard on all other models.

The 364-cid LeSabre engine was offered in four different versions.  Base cars with the standard three-speed manual could only be had with the 364 with 8.5 to 1 compression and a 2-barrel carburetor.  This low compression version used regular fuel, and although not disclosed in Buick literature, is believed to deliver 210 hp and 340 ft lbs of torque.  The air cleaner snorkel of this version was emblazoned with “Wildcat” and a depiction of a leaping wildcat.  The standard engine for LeSabres equipped with optional automatic transmissions was the 364 with 10.5 to 1 compression.  This high compression engine required premium fuel and delivered a published 250 hp @ 4400 rpm and 384 ft lbs of torque @2400 rpm using the two-barrel Carter or Stromberg carburetor.  Air cleaner markings were the same as noted above for the manual cars.   LeSabres with automatic transmission could also be ordered with the optional “Power Pack.”   This option consisted of a 10.5 to 1 high compression 364 requiring premium fuel and was further equipped with a 4-barrel Carter and dual exhaust system.  This version delivered a published 300 hp @ 4600 rpm and 405 ft lbs of torque @ 2400 rpm.  Markings on the air cleaner lid consisted of dual opposing “Wildcat” lettering above dual opposing leaping wildcat depictions.  One final version of the 364 was produced for the export market.  This was a low compression engine for automatic transmissions that used regular fuel and delivered 235 hp and 375 ft lbs of torque.  Although not technically a US production option, it is possible that this engine could have been special ordered, possible air cleaner markings are unknown at this time.

The all new 401-cid engine was offered in only one version with 10.5 to 1 compression.  This high compression engine required premium fuel and delivered a published 325 hp @ 4400 rpm and a whopping 445 ft lb of torque @ 2800 rpm.  This was the most powerful engine ever offered by Buick to that point.  The air cleaner lid was emblazoned with dual opposing “Wildcat 445” lettering (for the torque rating) above dual leaping wildcat depictions.  Dual exhaust was standard on Electra and 225 models, and optional on all other models.

1959 Buick Spring Accent Paint Scheme

November 4th, 2009

One of the 1959 Buick options was a special paint treatment they called “Spring Accent”.  This was a two-tone paint scheme that had the hood and trunk painted different colors as well as the sides being different colors with the split occurring at the side moldings.   All cars built in the U.S. used white as the primary or “hood” color (which was also the color of the engine bay and trunk interior), but Canadian built cars could be ordered with any color as primary.

I’d been planning all along to repaint the car all white, just as it came from the factory.  A picture of a Spring Accent 59 Buick on Jay Leno’s website, and a couple more that were sent to me, had me second guessing my plan. In my eyes all white seemed classier, but the red/white spring accent theme seemed more vibrant. Below is a picture of my car in all white, followed by some painted in Buick’s Spring Accent red and white colors, the last picture shows the Canadian reversed color scheme (red as primary).

After thinking about it, while I really like the Spring Accent theme, in my eyes it just seems to loose something on a convertible, especially from the rear. I don’t know if it’s the red/white combo, or just the different colors on the hood and trunk that don’t look quite right when the top is down.  The car will remain all Arctic White…

~ Tom Sidoti
1959 Buick Electra 225 Convertible