SEMA News—August 2012
By Drew Hardin
Photo Courtesy of the Petersen Archives
Here to Stay
Don (left) and Bob Spar of B&M Automotive, seen here in a photo from that 1967 Car Craft article.
Given the explosion of sophisticated automatic transmissions in everything from Ferraris and Porsches to the new ZL1 Camaro, Roger Huntington, writing in the April 1967 issue of Car Craft magazine, could have been talking about today’s performance-car market:
“Automatics are here to stay in high-performance American cars. And, in fact, the age-old manual four-speed might just be falling back a hair. A lot of hot dogs like the convenience of two-pedal driving, and it is pretty well established that an automatic is quicker away from the stoplight—other factors equal. This is becoming a very strong sales factor in today’s supercar market. More and more guys are going automatic on their hot street machines.”
But 45 years ago, Huntington was describing a sea change taking place behind the engines built by the Big Three automakers. The inefficient two-speed “slush-o-matics,” as they had been called, were giving way to “highly efficient, precision transmission devices,” he wrote. “GM’s new three-speed Turbo-Hydramatic is coming on strong in hot cars,” while Ford’s then-new C6 transmission “has been successfully used in 1,000hp ‘funny’ cars.”
In a sense, the automakers were playing catch-up with the aftermarket, which had been modifying automatics for competition use for years. At the forefront of that movement were brothers Don (left) and Bob Spar of B&M Automotive, seen here in a photo from that 1967 Car Craft article. Bob is the “B” in the company’s name; he and friend Mort Schuman—the “M”—founded the company in 1953 after meeting while in high school and working together for a time as mechanics for “Madman” Earl Muntz. B&M was a general automotive repair shop at first, but the pair began to specialize in strengthening transmissions to live behind modified engines. Don joined B&M in 1955, and the company soon produced its first four-speed automatic transmission for racing: the Hydro Stick.
By the ’60s, B&M was one of the predominant racing transmission manufacturers. Top Fuel driver Frank Cannon piloted a rail with a B&M TorkMaster transmission to the first 200-mph pass in 1965. The company developed an automatic for Indy car racing, worked with Chrysler to design a torque converter to mate with the 426 Hemi engine for Super Stock racing and developed what we now know as the high-stall-speed torque converter.
B&M was also a founding member of SEMA when the association was formed in 1963, and Bob was chairman of the original SEMA Technical Committee—the product-specification arm of the association that eventually branched off to become SFI. Bob was inducted into the SEMA Hall of Fame in 1981 for his many contributions to the automotive specialty-equipment industry.