Front Wheel Drive
The story of pioneers of
the front wheel drive motorcar
Part Three Consolidation
The 1920’s were years of experiment, with finally
the production of a small number of specialist front wheel drive cars,
sports and luxury, all relatively costly. The 1930’s saw these joined by
front wheel drive cars at the other end of the price range.
In Britain BSA made 10,000 of a varied range
of three and four wheeled car from 1929 to 1940.
In Germany DKW started making their series
of cars prefixed “F”, making over 200,000 by 1939. In the middle of the
price range Adler produced the “Trumpt” and “Trumpt Junior” in large numbers,
and Audi produced the “Front”, the first in a long and distinguished line
of front wheel drive cars with the Audi name.
In France, Citroen began their long association
with front wheel drive in 1934 with the “Traction Avant”, and J.A. Gregiore
created for Hotchkiss, the “Amilcar Compound”, which was made in relatively
small numbers from 1938 to 1940. There was also front wheel drive models
from Georges Irat.
Cord in the USA return in 1936 with the
810 and 812.
The first inexpensive front wheel drive vehicle
to reach the British market, the BSA “Three Wheeler Twin”, although not
mass produced, was made in large numbers compared with it’s predecessors
and could not have been more different.
A three wheeled cyclecar, as ultra light
cars were then described. The specification in many respects was normal,
being similar in layout to the “Morgan” three wheeler. With two wheels
at the front and one wheel at the rear and a 1021 c.c. Vee twin-cylinder
air-cooled engine was mounted in front. A simple channel-section chassis
that was formed in the rear with a large-diameter central tube; the single
rear wheel was mounted on a hinged arm having as an extension a leaf spring
that was enclosed within the central chassis tube.
The major difference was the
that was similar in layout to the Alvis 12/75 including the inboard
brakes. Four quarter elliptic springs each side were used for the
front suspension. A four wheeled version was available only in 1932,
FW32. In 1933 a four-cylinder engine version of the three and
car was added to the range. With a 1075c.c.side-valve water-cooled
in place of the twin being the only major change. The three wheeled
cars were dropped after 1936, the “Scout” series of cars being
1935 to 1940, being the last BSA cars.
The company DKW was founded by Jorgen Skafte
Rasmussen, a Danish engineer. The initials DKW came from an unsuccessful
venture, a steam powered vehicle, in German Dampt Kraft Wagon. Fortunately
the company became successful as motorcycle manufacturers, with a factory
at Zschopen in the German region of Saxony. Between 1919 and 1930 the company
made an assortment of rear wheel drive cyclecars and lightcars. The first
front wheel drive car from DKW, the FA, later to be called the F-1, was
introduced in 1931. It was an ultra lightweight car, weighing only 450kg.
It had a water-cooled 2 cylinder 2stroke engine, mounted transversely in
the chassis, with the 3- speed gearbox in front and the final drive assembly
in front of that between the front wheels,
The DKW FA powerunit.
Twin transverse ½ elliptic springs were used at the front and the rear of the steel ladder chassis for the
all independent suspension. With 15bhp from the engine a maximum speed
of 75kpm was attained. It was made in roadster, cabriolet and saloon
form. After the first revolutionary step of producing the FA, the F series
of cars that followed evolved, with changes introduced as the model numbers
progressed. The F-2 a 584cc engined version of the F-1 was introduced in
1933, with a little more power and a little more speed. An engine capacity
of 584cc was available until 1938.The F-4 of 1934 saw the spur gear drive
between the engine and gearbox replaced with a chain. The F-5 also of 1934
had major engine changes using the Schnuerle deflectorless-piston loopscavenge
system, which made an important contribution to efficient two-stroke engine
DKW F2 chassis.
The rear suspension was changed to a dead
axle and a transverse leaf spring.The F-5 was also available with 684cc
engine. The F-7 had the front suspension changed to one leaf spring and
The last model before the Second World
War was the F-8. That had a revised chassis frame incorporating rack and
pinion steering and an engine of 589cc. In 1939 a 692cc engine was fitted
in some models and was made until 1942.
After the war, two versions of the F series were produced. The factory at Zwickau were the DKW were produced before
the war was then in the DDR, the eastern communist part of Germany and
a car named the IFA F-8 was produced there from 1948 until 1955.The second
F series car the DKW F-89 was made in Dusseldorf in West German, by the
pre-war management. Based on the F-8 but with the 684cc engine moved ahead
of the front wheels. This was in production from 1950 until 1954. Between
1931 and 1955 around 300,000 FA’s to F-89’s had been made. These cars can
justifiably be claimed to the first mass produced front wheel drive cars,
the fore runner’s to all the millions produced since.
J.S. Rasmussen the founder of DKW took over
the ailing Audi concern in 1928, making DKW along side the Audi’s at their
Zwickau factory. To counter the worsening economic crisis in the German
motor industry, in 1932, DKW, Audi and two other motor manufacturers located
in Saxony Wanderer and Horch, merged to form Auto Union AG. One of the
first products of the merger was the Audi “Front”, which was as inferred
by it’s name was a front wheel drive car. It had a 2.3 litre six-cylinder
engine designed by Professor Porsche and made by Wanderer. That was mounted
behind the final drive and four-speed gearbox as in the Tracta. With power
steering system made under licence to a US design combined with a ZF steering
box. The box section backbone chassis had transverse leaf springs
front and rear, combined with wishbones at the front and swing axles at
the rear. The cars place in the market was similar the Audi’s produced
today, being of medium price and high quality. It was made from 1933 to
1938 in the Horch factory in Zwickau.
Adler of Franfurt-on Main, Germany, started
by making bicycles in 1880, later typewriters and commenced car production
The first of their front wheel drive cars,
the Trumpf, was designed by the company technical director of the time,
Rohr. This was in 1932. As well as front wheel drive, the car had other
advanced features, The body was electrically welded to the box section
chassis, making it a near monocoque. All independent suspension using torsion
bars and rack and pinion steering. The layout of the power train was similar
to the Tracta and the Alvis, with the final drive at the front, with the
four-speed gearbox next and then the engine. This resulted in a long bonnet,
which fortunately was still fashionable at the time. Tracta joints were
used in the outboard end of the transmission. The car was light for its
time, being just over a thousand kilos in 4-seat saloon form.
The engine and the brakes were as most
other cars of that date, the engine being a side-valve, four, of 1500cc
to 1700cc producing 38bhp to 40bhp, and the brakes were mechanically operated.
The Trumpf-Junior, a smaller version of
the Trumpf, also designed by Rohr, with a 995cc engine, was produced from
1934. Both cars were available in five body styles.
By 1941 when all Adler car production ceased.
It was not to resume after the war. Just over twenty five thousand Trumpf's
also almost one hundred and three thousand Trumpt-Juniors had been made.
In 1936 another car bearing the name "Cord"
was produced, the V-8 engined 810. It is mainly remembered for its
stunning body style, designed by Gordon Buehig it was an instant classic.
This time the designers had got the layout right, with the gearbox, a four
-speed Bendix preselector unit, ahead of the final-drive unit and the engine
behind, making a much more compact assembly. Front suspension was by independent
trailing arms and a transverse leaf spring. The engine, a 288.6 cubic inch
Lycoming product, produced 125bhp in basic form, but a supercharged version
could be fitted producing 190bhp,with a top speed of 110mph. A longer wheelbase
version was also produced the 812, but a combined total of less than three
thousand examples of the 810 and 812 were made by the time the Cord
empire collapsed in 1937.
Andre Citroen, set a design team to work
on the car that was to become the Traction Avant in 1932. He had decided
to produce a car of advanced specification that would replace all his existing
models. The whole car was to be completely new.
It would have front wheel drive and a low
profile similar to the Adler Trumpf, combined with a monocoque chassis/body
unit, built using the Budd process. Another feature to be incorporated
into the design and almost it's undoing, was the use of a torque converter
in place of a conventional gearbox.
As is the practice today, the "Traction
Avant", was designed by a team, each being a specialist in the various
components. The design team leader was Andre Lefebvre. Andre Citroen had
recruited him for the task when the project was falling behind schedule.
Citroen had taken a licence, and purchased machinery from America, to manufacture
the "Rzappa joint".
early 7cv Traction Avant
This was to be used at the
outboard end of the drive shafts. But then thought better of it.
It would be almost thirty
years before versions of the "Rzappa joint" were used successfully in mass-produced
cars. Then J.A.Gregoire was retained as a transmission consultant. "Tracta
joints" were fitted to the prototypes and some early production cars,
but proved unsatisfactory. According to J.A. Gregoire's account, this was
due to poor quality machining. The "Tracta joints", were then replaced
by the double Hardy Spicer joints that were used through out the life of
the car. The drive joints were not the only problem with the early cars.
The torque converter proved to be unsuitable for the car and if the design
team had not produced a conventional gearbox quickly the whole project
would have failed. The layout of the power train was more compact than
the Tracta's and the Adler's, in that the gearbox was ahead of the final
drive, with engine behind and the weight distribution was improved as a
“Traction Avant” power train. The gear box is on the left,
of the final drive
The suspension was independent
on all wheels with torsion bar springs and at first friction dampers. The
friction damper, were replaced by telescopic hydraulic dampers in 1935.
The steering gearbox was initially of worm and sector type, but was discarded
for rack and pinion in 1936. Hydraulic brakes completed an advanced specification.
Over two hundred and eighty thousand of the various 7cv and 11cv models
were produced between 1934 and 1940. But Andre Citroen did not live to
see the Traction Avant flourish. The early problems with the car, ruined
Citroen and the company past to other hand, soon after which Andre Citroen
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