The Volvo Variomatic and How It Changed the Auto Industry

Volvo is known for its many innovations. Safety, of course, being its most famous and most respected innovation.

You may not know, however, Volvo also brought us another invention that changed the auto industry: The Variomatic or Continuously Variable Transmission. 

The Variomatic made its debut in 1966 when the Volvo 66 appeared on the scene. It was a compact car that rolled onto the United Kingdom's highways in 1975 marketed as a fuel-efficient, safe and enjoyable car to ride down narrow European streets.

Among its many features such as the safety steering wheel, headsets and steel side-impact bars, was its Variomatic or continuously variable transmission.  This fully automatic transmission, originally developed by Danish manufacturer, DAF, works like this:  The "V" shaped drive has two pulleys and two cones which can be changed when the "V" belt near the spindle and the rim. These cones are synchronized so that the belt is always at its highest tension.

So, when the Volvo transmission then running at its maximum torque, then its not constantly shifting gears. Since its not constantly shifting gears, as a manual transmission vehicle, the engine runs at a decent fuel economy or 75% of a what a manual transmission runs. (Manual transmission vehicles always have better gas mileage than automatic transmission ones.)

Also, the Volvo Variable Transmission has only one gear, so it runs the same backwards, too. Because of this innovation, it even won a number of "backward driving races" during this era.  

Soon after Volvo took over the Variomatic transmission, it passes through several hands, including Audi which produced its own version called the "multitonic". This reconfigured version is now available in forty different car models including pricy ones like Mercedes-Benz.

While Volvo didn't develop the Variomatic, it brought it onto the scene in its nifty, clunky and now, very rare, Volvo 66, almost four decades ago. It changed the industry from being dominated by manual transmission cars to easier to drive automatic transmission cars.  

And you thought Volvo was just a "safety" vehicle.

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