There was a time when front wheel drive was something of a novelty. My first car, an Austin Mini 1000 (converted to Cooper S spec), was unusual at the time for its transverse engine front drive layout. Among the heavy iron of what we used to...
There was a time when front wheel drive was something of a novelty. My first car, an Austin Mini 1000 (converted to Cooper S spec), was unusual at the time for its transverse engine front drive layout. Among the heavy iron of what we used to call the “Big Three,” only the Oldsmobile Toronado used the setup, and even then with a conventional North-South engine layout and a Hi-Vo chain drive to the transaxle. Even then the transmission used Hydramatic innards similar to the much-loved THM 400.
Even small cars, where the packing advantages were clear, stayed away from front drive. Toyota, Nissan (then Datsun), Ford, GM, Chrysler and others stayed traditional with solid axles (the fabulous Datsun 510 excepted) and usually leaf spring rear suspensions. It’s time for fair disclosure here … I don’t like front wheel drive. Front wheel drive makes agile cars understeering dogs.
Front wheel drive gave me hands that look like Frankenstein. Front wheel drive taught me how to swear. Front wheel drive ruined my eyesight, I swear, and I think front wheel drive is the reason I can’t hit a green in regulation, even on a short par three. Yes it adds interior space, at the cost of under hood space where we work. And I doubt if the average car buyer cares which end of the vehicle spins the wheels. I can’t blame the British … their cars were so fatally unreliable it’s a wonder they didn’t kill front drive forever.
It’s Volkswagen’s fault. They launched the excellent Rabbit in the fall of 1974 and the rest is history. A couple of years later GM started work on the infamous “X bodies,” which spawned a dozen models of indifferent build quality and of course, the craziness of 90 degree V-6’s sideways in the engine bay. At least when Chrysler went cab-forward they oriented the engine correctly. Ford tried to import the Fiesta, but nobody cared for English cars anymore so they crafted the Escort, Tempo and their Mercury twins. Enough said.
No one was blameless in the 70s and early 80s and the cars were all substandard by today’s measure. But there is hope … rear wheel drive is coming back. Sporty cars have always stuck with it and GM is rumored to be considering a new, low cost two seater, presumably to succeed where Fiero and Solstice failed. Good luck to them. My opinion is pretty unpopular with most drivers I meet, but I always remind them that the cars which take the most abuse are cabs and cop cars … and they didn’t drive Crown Vics and Caprices for years because they liked the gas mileage.
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