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Hemmings Motor News has been around since 1954. We're proud of our heritage, but we're also more than the Hemmings full of classifieds that your father subscribed to. Aside from new editorial content every month in Hemmings, we have three monthly magazines: Hemmings Muscle Machines, Hemmings Classic Car and Hemmings Sports and Exotic Car.

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Long Before the Mini, Marmon-Herrington's Transverse-Engine Front-Wheel-Drive Vans Made the Rounds in the US

Posted June 21, 2022 5:00 AM by dstrohl
Pathfinder Tags: Marmon-Herrington

Delivery trucks tend not to rank among the automotive segments considered to be hotbeds of innovation, but during the Thirties and Forties they incorporated all sorts of then-cutting-edge technology, from hybrid powertrains to rear-mounted engines to a transverse-engine front-wheel-drive layout adopted about a decade and a half before Alex Issigonis's Mini debuted.

While Issigonis gets all the credit for pioneering the front-wheel-drive layout that became popular in the ensuing decades (ignoring the argument that Dante Giacosa's Fiat 128 had far more influence on other carmakers than Issigonis's Mini), he wasn't even the first to position the engine in an east-west orientation in a front-wheel-drive car. Suzuki's Suzulight and the Trabant both introduced the configuration earlier in the Fifties, DKW had a transverse design in the Thirties, and J. Walter Christie put his transverse engines out front for all to see as far back as the early twentieth century. The idea wasn't widespread, but it had been around, and in 1945 Arthur W. Herrington decided to try it out in a small delivery van.

Herrington and his engineers at Marmon-Herrington, who reportedly spent years researching not just how delivery drivers went about their jobs but also how the maintenance men kept the delivery vans trucking along, noted how such innovations as the unitized rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive powertrain package simplified maintenance and repair. However, as implemented in the Stutz Pak-Age-Car, it took up a lot of otherwise usable cargo space, so Herrington decided to move what he called the "power unit" to the front. To do so, he needed to turn the engine — a Willys-sourced 134-cu.in. four-cylinder — by 90 degrees, mount a split transmission (something like the Oldsmobile Toronado's TH425 to the engine), then run a driveshaft all the way across the front of the van to a special differential within the solid front axle (mounted via parallel leaf springs). The whole powertrain and even the sheetmetal around it could be unbolted from the rest of the delivery van, which ended up being basically a big empty box with a couple of doors, a windshield and a low load floor.

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