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#1
Old 06-05-2011, 08:37 PM
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Why did cars start to become front-wheel drive?

When I was growing up in the 60s and 70s (and our family was driving used cars) everything was rear-wheel drive. It doesn't seem that front-wheel became popular until the late 70s.

Wiki says that this was because of fuel efficiency, but is that the only reason? Where there other reasons as well?
#2
Old 06-05-2011, 08:53 PM
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the transverse front wheel drive setup had a couple of advantages; the engine/transaxle package is lighter and more compact. Also, keeping the entire drivetrain forward of the passenger compartment meant the automaker could maximize the interior space yet make a smaller, lighter car.

There were front wheel drive cars in the '60s and '70s. the Olds Toronado from the '60s and the Cadillac Eldorado from the '70s were front wheel drive; even the leviathan '76 ElDorado with the 500 cu. in. V8 was.
#3
Old 06-05-2011, 08:58 PM
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Space and drivetrain weight are the advantages, which have been more of a focus since the seventies. I suspect the disadvantage is the increased complexity and maintenance difficulty when you are jamming a transversely mounted engine, a gearbox and differential into a small space, instead of being able to spread these out over the length of the car.
#4
Old 06-05-2011, 08:58 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TokyoPlayer View Post
When I was growing up in the 60s and 70s (and our family was driving used cars) everything was rear-wheel drive. It doesn't seem that front-wheel became popular until the late 70s.

Wiki says that this was because of fuel efficiency, but is that the only reason? Where there other reasons as well?
Packaging was more efficient, and they were perceived as being easier to drive in slippery conditions - the weight of the engine over the drive wheels increased traction, and thus safer.

At the time it was touted as a safety feature.
#5
Old 06-05-2011, 09:18 PM
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Does having more of a car's weight in front of the driver, rather than behind, also provide additional safety in a head-on collision?
#6
Old 06-05-2011, 09:49 PM
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Likely it does, but it only partly offsets the usually small size. Many of the small rear engine cars were death traps. Careful design is a big factor too.

Hardly anything automotive hasn't been done before. I think the modern trend toward front wheel drive started with the original Mini Cooper in the 60's. FWD was just one of many innovations designed to produce as much function as possible at the least cost. The Japs were just getting started in the automotive business and jumped on the design. Eventually the Americans and finally the Europeans followed. Of course, Saab never follows anybody.
#7
Old 06-05-2011, 10:29 PM
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Isn't one of the reasons that when you start to lose control with a FWD car it'll tend to understeer which is easier for most people to handle than an oversteer?
#8
Old 06-05-2011, 10:30 PM
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Front-wheel drive was very popular in colder cities because it's far superior for driving in snow. My last car was FWD and I just needed all-season tires. My current car is RWD and snow tires are absolutely required. These days all-wheel-drive cars are taking over for the same reason.
#9
Old 06-05-2011, 10:51 PM
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Ah yes, now I remember trying to drive in snow with a 1968 Mustang. I lived at the end of a narrow private road which would not get plowed, and was in constant fear of hitting the walls. I had to get spike tires for it.
#10
Old 06-05-2011, 10:54 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SenorBeef View Post
Isn't one of the reasons that when you start to lose control with a FWD car it'll tend to understeer which is easier for most people to handle than an oversteer?
All things being equal, sure. In real life, a car can be made to have all kinds of handling characteristics through suspension tuning, tires, and all that. I wouldn't think it's a big factor in the choice of drivetrain. More or less ALL consumer cars, front or rear wheel drive, are generally designed to under steer for the purposes you state.
#11
Old 06-05-2011, 10:54 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SenorBeef View Post
Isn't one of the reasons that when you start to lose control with a FWD car it'll tend to understeer which is easier for most people to handle than an oversteer?
Cart-before horse at work here.

The fact that understeer is easier to control was not a deciding factor in the decision to go front-wheel drive. It's just a pleasant by-product.

More weight over the drive wheels leading to better traction in low grip situations like Exapno said, more fuel efficient for little econo-boxes, and a litany of other reasons. But the understeer being easier for the general populace to deal with in an emergency situation just iced the cake and helped the movement to take hold.

I'm sure if we tried real hard we could come up with a bajillion reasons for the shift to FWD. I'm sure not many of them would coincide with what the automakers at the time were thinking.

Quote:
Originally Posted by UncleFred
Does having more of a car's weight in front of the driver, rather than behind, also provide additional safety in a head-on collision?
Rear wheel drive vehicles also usually have the engine in front of the driver. But it is a pretty well known fact that the more heavy metal junk you have in between you and whatever you are colliding with the better your chances are at escaping death. So you are correct...in a tangential sort of way.
#12
Old 06-05-2011, 11:28 PM
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American FWD cars far pre-date the 60s and 70s. FWD Cords were sold in the 20s and 30s and were the inspiration for the Toronado.

The motor vehicle usually accepted as the first, the Cugnot, was FWD, in 1769.

Last edited by california jobcase; 06-05-2011 at 11:29 PM.
#13
Old 06-06-2011, 06:03 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by echo6160 View Post
But it is a pretty well known fact that the more heavy metal junk you have in between you and whatever you are colliding with the better your chances are at escaping death..
Cite? I question whether that is well known or a fact.
Large non-crushable items like an engine block and transaxle simply get driven back toward the passenger compartment in a front on impact. Ideally you want some space for a crumple zone and some well designed structural members that will yield in a way so as to dissipate impact forces without excessive intrusion into the passenger compartment. Look at INDY and F1 cars. Nothing of significant bulk or mass up front but the front suspension and they are able to handle massive wallops as the structure is designed to crush and or channel impact forces around the tub (passenger compartment) keeping it intact.
#14
Old 06-06-2011, 08:38 AM
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As I recall the first successful transverse mounted was the Fiat 128 in 1969 and Wikipedia seems to agree with me.

Front wheel drive really hit it's stride with the Volkswagen Golf/Rabbit in 1974.
#15
Old 06-06-2011, 09:10 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JoelUpchurch View Post
As I recall the first successful transverse mounted was the Fiat 128 in 1969 and Wikipedia seems to agree with me.

Front wheel drive really hit it's stride with the Volkswagen Golf/Rabbit in 1974.
I would find it difficult to call the Fiat 128 a success and not the Mini Cooper, http://edmunds.com/mini/cooper/


Quote:
Originally Posted by thelabdude View Post
Likely it does, but it only partly offsets the usually small size. Many of the small rear engine cars were death traps. Careful design is a big factor too.

Hardly anything automotive hasn't been done before. I think the modern trend toward front wheel drive started with the original Mini Cooper in the 60's. FWD was just one of many innovations designed to produce as much function as possible at the least cost. The Japs were just getting started in the automotive business and jumped on the design. Eventually the Americans and finally the Europeans followed. Of course, Saab never follows anybody.
I must admit I was wrong. The Mini Cooper goes back to 1959.
#16
Old 06-06-2011, 09:24 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thelabdude View Post
I would find it difficult to call the Fiat 128 a success and not the Mini Cooper, http://edmunds.com/mini/cooper/




I must admit I was wrong. The Mini Cooper goes back to 1959.
Minor nitpick, it's just called 'Mini'. The Cooper is a variant that first appeared in 1961. Other variants include the Mini Traveler, Mini Moke, and Mini Clubman.
#17
Old 06-06-2011, 09:38 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thelabdude View Post
I would find it difficult to call the Fiat 128 a success and not the Mini Cooper, http://edmunds.com/mini/cooper/
There are important technical differences between the 128 setup and the Mini. Most modern front wheel cars are descended from the 128.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Front-w....E2.80.93today
#18
Old 06-06-2011, 01:30 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hbns View Post
Cite? I question whether that is well known or a fact.
Large non-crushable items like an engine block and transaxle simply get driven back toward the passenger compartment in a front on impact. Ideally you want some space for a crumple zone and some well designed structural members that will yield in a way so as to dissipate impact forces without excessive intrusion into the passenger compartment. Look at INDY and F1 cars. Nothing of significant bulk or mass up front but the front suspension and they are able to handle massive wallops as the structure is designed to crush and or channel impact forces around the tub (passenger compartment) keeping it intact.
I think it's uncontroversial to use the general statement that the more stuff you have between you and another car is a good thing. Engines and transaxles aren't 'non-crushable', they just don't crush very much. They will absorb some of the impact before being pushed into the driving compartment.

Ideally, crumple zones and the like are used, but failing that, more stuff = less impact.
#19
Old 06-06-2011, 01:42 PM
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Advantages:
1. Better efficiency by removing the front to rear drive shaft.
2. Better efficiency by removing the 90 degree change in orientation at the rear differential (somewhat balanced by the U-joints in steerable, driven wheels)
3. Less weight from the missing drive shaft and the lighter construction of the rear of the car.
4. Better handling and efficiency from having the engine weight over the drive wheels.
5. Easier to build, the whole engine, transmission, drive wheel combo drops into the car as one assembled unit.

Disadvantages:
1. Doesn't burn rubber the way rear wheel cars do.
#20
Old 06-06-2011, 01:46 PM
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Quote:
1. Doesn't burn rubber the way rear wheel cars do.
Eh? given sufficient power, it's actually easier to break traction on a FWD car as the weight transfers rearward on launch.
#21
Old 06-06-2011, 01:52 PM
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Originally Posted by jz78817 View Post
Eh? given sufficient power, it's actually easier to break traction on a FWD car as the weight transfers rearward on launch.
Yeah, but it doesn't look or sound as good.
#22
Old 06-06-2011, 04:38 PM
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Originally Posted by TriPolar View Post

Disadvantages:
1. Doesn't burn rubber the way rear wheel cars do.
I had a Grand Am with the HO Quad 4 and 5 speed. You could catch third at 70 mph and lay rubber.
#23
Old 06-06-2011, 05:09 PM
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Originally Posted by thelabdude View Post
I had a Grand Am with the HO Quad 4 and 5 speed. You could catch third at 70 mph and lay rubber.
before or after the vibration shook your teeth out?
#24
Old 06-06-2011, 05:30 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TriPolar View Post
Advantages:
5. Easier to build, the whole engine, transmission, drive wheel combo drops into the car as one assembled unit.
Regardless of the other advantages, I think this would have eventually carried the day. Car assembly lines can accept large, complex components from other plants and drop them right into the line. This economic advantage seems pretty difficult to over-emphasize.
#25
Old 06-06-2011, 05:35 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by phreesh View Post
I think it's uncontroversial to use the general statement that the more stuff you have between you and another car is a good thing. Engines and transaxles aren't 'non-crushable', they just don't crush very much. They will absorb some of the impact before being pushed into the driving compartment.

Ideally, crumple zones and the like are used, but failing that, more stuff = less impact.
Thank you.

I thought I had been non-specific enough so as to avoid the "cry cite"...

Think of it this way - ever seen the Mythbusters episode where they try to split a car in half via a snowplow? If not, try youtubing it. The general consensus at the end was that all that "stuff" up front - namely engine, transmission, and the like, made it IMPOSSIBLE to completely destroy the front of the car in even the most extreme of circumstances. The one with the engine/transmission in the rear split right down the middle all the way to the engine...that was in the back.

Basically - more metal in front means less overall damage. All accidents are unique though, and YMMV.
#26
Old 06-06-2011, 06:47 PM
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Originally Posted by Telemark View Post
Regardless of the other advantages, I think this would have eventually carried the day. Car assembly lines can accept large, complex components from other plants and drop them right into the line. This economic advantage seems pretty difficult to over-emphasize.
for the longest time now- even with longitudinal engines- the engine and tranmission have been installed as a unit from below the car. Either along with the front crossmember (as in a unit-body car) or by decking the body onto the frame with the powertrain already installed in the frame.
#27
Old 06-06-2011, 07:22 PM
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They are much better in snow with the weight over the drive wheels.
#28
Old 06-06-2011, 10:40 PM
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A couple of the key factors in crash safety are deceleration and intrusion. Deceleration is basically a function of the crush space in front of you. The greater the length of the crumple zone, the softer the deceleration of the occupants. As was pointed out already, engines and transmissions only take up that space as virtually incompressible objects (they are treated as such when engineering vehicles). There are tricks you can play, such as subframes that will shear just right so the engine starts to drop out of the way during the crash. But still...having all that stuff up front is not a positive thing safety-wise, as they reduce your crush space Not that having it behind you doesn't bring its own problems!


Quote:
Originally Posted by echo6160 View Post
Thank you.

I thought I had been non-specific enough so as to avoid the "cry cite"...

Think of it this way - ever seen the Mythbusters episode where they try to split a car in half via a snowplow? If not, try youtubing it. The general consensus at the end was that all that "stuff" up front - namely engine, transmission, and the like, made it IMPOSSIBLE to completely destroy the front of the car in even the most extreme of circumstances. The one with the engine/transmission in the rear split right down the middle all the way to the engine...that was in the back.

Basically - more metal in front means less overall damage. All accidents are unique though, and YMMV.
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