PowerFlite was the name of a two speed automatic transmission produced by the Chrysler Corporation. Chrysler was the last of Detroit's Big Three automakers to introduce a fully automatic transmission, some 14 years after General Motors had introduced Oldsmobile's Hydramatic automatic transmission and nearly three years after Ford's Ford-O-Matic.
By comparison, even independent automakers Studebaker and Packard had beaten Chrysler into the marketplace with automatic transmissions; Packard's Ultramatic debuted in 1949, and Studebaker's Automatic Drive was introduced in 1950.
The competitive situation dictated that Chrysler had to come up with something to satisfy buyers who didn't want to shift for themselves, so in 1953, Chrysler built a very few late-season Imperials with the new PowerFlite on the way to its full introduction for the '54 model year.
A two-speed unit, PowerFlite was simple to operate and simple in its construction as well, with fewer parts than competing transmissions. It was also quite durable, being used behind every Chrysler Corporation engine from the lowly Plymouth Six to the Imperial's Hemi V-8.
Unlike most other automatic transmissions, PowerFlite did not feature a "Park" range, making it necessary to use the handbrake whenever the car was parked. All Chrysler products featured an "independent" handbrake, which consisted of a single brake drum mounted on the driveshaft, just behind the transmission. This had the (intended) effect of locking both rear wheels in the same way that the "Park" setting did in other transmissions.
When first introduced, PowerFlite was controlled by a single lever mounted on the steering column, using the unique shift pattern of R-N-D-L (the most common shift pattern on other makes was P-N-D-L-R). Chrysler promotional literature stressed the greater safety of its pattern, because it was only necessary to move the lever one notch to the left or right to put the car in motion. This pattern also was more similar to the standard "H" shift pattern in manual transmissions, and also similar to the shift pattern of the semi-automatic Fluid Drive transmission used previously by Chrysler. In most other makes, it was necessary to pass through all forward ranges to put the car in reverse, and then back through some of those ranges to drive forward.
In 1955 Chrysler moved the shift lever to the dashboard in a vertical slot with "R" at the top and "L" at the bottom. In 1956, Chrysler's famous pushbutton transmission controls appeared, and remained in use until 1964.
Production of PowerFlite began in 1954, but was quickly eclipsed by Chrysler's launch of its first three speed automatic transmission, TorqueFlite, in 1956. Despite this, the simple and durable PowerFlite remained available through the 1961 model year, after which it was discontinued.