Front Wheel Drive

The story of  pioneers of the front wheel drive motorcar

To most British motorists that think about such things, the Mini, was the beginning of the front wheel drive revolution. The revolutionary concept that was the Mini was it’s packaging.The packing of the engine, gearbox and final drive into a very compact unit, leaving sufficient space in a very small car for four people. The Mini didn’t start the front wheel drive revolution but the packaging revolution that has spread throughout the worlds motor industry. This was  made possible  because of the developments in front wheel drive technology that had gone on during the previous forty years, but until that time had been almost ignored by the British motor industry. The combination of front wheel drive and efficient packaging has revolutionised the world’s motor industry, being almost universally used, except were considerations of cost and or size are not important.
This is the story of those years before the Mini and the pioneers of front wheel drive.

From the Carriage to the Horseless Carriage

For the thousands of years, from the time of their invention, wheeled vehicles were pulled from the front. This was because it was an inherently stable arrangement, it made steering easier and gave maximum control.
This lasted as long as the foot was used to transmit the motive power to the road, but once the wheel was used to transmit the power of an onboard engine to the road the situation changed.
     Horse drawn vehicles at the turn of the century

This was due to the correct and universal understanding that the front wheels must be used for steering, and as it was so much simpler to drive the none steerable wheels,  rear wheel drive became the accepted method used for the pioneer self propelled vehicle. A few attempts to replace the horse in the horseless carriage with a means of pulling it were tried, as the following report in Le Sport Universel Illustre on the Latil et Riancey displayed at the Salon de I’Automobile in Paris in 1899.
"The H. de Riancey Automobile Company is showing a voiturette which is receiving approval by the most competent experts, including Baudry de Saunier.
"M. de Riancey has started from the principle that it is more sensible to pull than to push his voiturette.  He has invented an aggregate which pulls and steers, thus playing the part of the horse before your dogcart, dear reader.  This concession to your equestrian tastes will no doubt attract you and, 1 hope, will make a visit worth while”.
Perhaps it was like this “Victorian Combination” made in France in 1900 >
"There are special technical advantages: the mechanism is in one group, it can easily be protected, and there is no vibration.  Apart from the excellent balance thus achieved, the whole arrangement gives lightness to the carriage, a quality as yet rare among internal combustion vehicles.  The complete fore-carriage enables many a transformation to be made, for it can be attached to the front of a horse-drawn vehicle after very slight changes."
Another interesting but limited concept, was the Lohner-Porsche “Mixed” of 1901. A development of the Lohner electric car, that used electric motors in the hubs to drive the front wheels. The “Mixed” was a development  that had a motor/generator set in place of batteries. Both were the work of the young Ferdinand Porsche, who went on to use the system on all wheel drive military tractors used by the Austrian army in the first world war. The concept was soon  abandoned, I’m sure due to the cost and weight of the electrical equipment and the high unsprung weight of the front axle.

The picture here is of a  “Lohner Porsche Mixed”. The driver is Ferdinand Porsche during his military service and the passenger is the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, taken in 1902. >
In 1898 Louise Renault designed a car with the engine in the front (better cooling,) gearbox in the middle (easier gear-changing,) and shaft drive to the rear axle. It was successful because it used the technology of the time to it’s best advantage, but the packaging was terrible, making a high relatively unstable car. But as speeds where low at the time this didn’t much matter. Unfortunately most engineers carried on using this layout in various refined forms for the next eighty years, some still do were good packaging is not a priority.
Not all engineers were satisfied with this situation and by the early nineteen twenties began to experiment with other layouts. Amongst them were various front-wheel drive systems.
  1891 Panhard
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