Front Wheel Drive

The story of  pioneers of the front wheel drive motorcar

Part Six Maturity

Dante Giacosa's first front wheel drive car was the Autobianchi Primula. Autobianchi was a subsidiary of Fiat. Ready for production in 1964, it had a four cylinder water-cooled engine of 1221cc that was already fitted in the Fiat 1100D. The rest of the car was of all new design. The engine was transversely mounted with the four-speed gearbox located inline with the crankshaft. With a gear train to the offset differential and final drive and unequal length drive shafts. This is the arrangement we see under the bonnet of most front wheel drive cars today. Other features of the design are not so familiar, such as the gearchange on the steering column. Also the wishbone and transverse leaf spring front suspension and the dead rear axle with half-elliptic springs. The steering was by rack and pinion, a first for Giacosa, but almost twenty years after it's first use by Issigonis.
Autobianchi Primula.

The next Issigonis front wheel drive design followed the same theme to his previous creations but was again bigger. The 1800 was a six example of the Mini packaging with similar uncompromising body design. Marketed as an Austin, Morris or Wolseley, two hundred and ten thousand examples were produced in an eleven year run.
In 1965, the DKW 102 became the Audi Heron. The two-stroke engine being replaced by a four-stroke four, from Daimler-Benz the new owners.
Peugeot joined the ranks of front wheel drive car makers with the 204. This was in 1965. The 204 had a 1130cc four cylinder inline engine mounted transversely in front of the gearbox and final drive. It had equal length drive shafts and as the picture below shows, McPherson strut front suspension. In production from 1965 to 1977, with 1.6 million examples produced.
Peugeot 204 power train and suspension.
Standard Triumph's first front wheel drive car the 1300 of 1965, had a unique powertrain layout. The four cylinder inline engine was mounted fore and aft over the front wheels with the gearbox and final drive located underneath, but not in the engine sump as in the mini but in a separate enclosure.  The 1300 was produced until 1970 and the 1500 that replaced it was in production until 1973, but only just over two hundred thousand examples were produced in that time when Triumph abandoned front wheel drive. The only other front wheel drive Triumph was a Honda designed car the "Acclaim", made by the British Layland Motor Corporation from 1981 to 1984.
The R16 was Renault's first family size front wheel drive car. First produced in 1965, it had a hatchback body which was advanced for it's time, but the powertrain arrangement was the old fashioned French layout of a fore and aft engine located behind the front wheels with the gearbox in front.
Renault R16
The Japanese company Mikasa produced a series of small front wheel drive cars fitted with an air cooled twin cylinder engine, from 1957 to 1961, but the first significant Japenese front wheel drive car was the Subaru FF-1. Introduced in 1966 the FF-1 was the first in a long line of Subaru models that continues to this day, with a water cooled flat four engine mounted ahead of the front wheels. Originally fitted with a 977cc engine, this was increased to 1088cc and then 1267cc by 1970. The FF-1 was superseded by the Leone in 1971.
Subaru FF-1   Honda N600
Honda also introduced their first front wheel drive car in 1966 the N360. It was fitted with a transversely mounted air cooled O.H.C four stroke parallel twin cylinder engine. Honda had extensive experience of this type of engine in their motorcycles. Other versions were the N400, N500, and N600. that had engine sizes to match the name. Over 1.1 million examples had been produced by 1971 when the "N" series cars were replaced.
Front wheel drive was usually the preserve of the small car, but in the United States in 1966 Oldsmobile, a division of General Motors produced the Tornado. The Tornado had yet another powertrain layout that seems to be unique to that model. The large V eight engine was located fore and aft over the front wheels, the power then went through a torque converter at the rear of the engine and was conveyed by chain to the automatic gearbox that was located on the left hand side of the engine. I have no details of the final drive unit, but presume it was at the front of the gearbox. Engines up to 7.5 litres were fitted in some models of the Tornado. A true test of the front wheel drive principle.
Oldsmobile Tornado
When NSU produced their first front wheel drive car in 1967, they didn't just move the engine from the rear to the front but produced a completely new car with a new type of engine. The Ro80 was the second NSU car with a Wankel rotary engine. The 995cc twin rotor engine was located ahead of the front wheels, fore and aft, next was a torgue converter and a sevo operated clutch ahead of the final drive unit with a three speed gearbox behind. The Ro80 chassis was also of advanced design with passive safety a high priority. That combined with an aerodynamic body shape made it a milestone in automobile design. Unfortunately due to engine reliability problems it didn't become a big sales success. Only thirty seven thousand two hundred and four examples were produced by 1977. By then NSU had been absorbed into the Volkswagen empire, the Ro80 being the last car to carry an NSU badge. This is often the price of innovation.
  NSU Ro80
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