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Who Invented Front-Wheel Drive and Why is it So Widely Used Today?

Posted September 21, 2022 5:00 AM by dstrohl
Pathfinder Tags: car culture

Inventors and engineers had long been intrigued by the idea of front wheels driving a vehicle, imagined in the same manner as horse-drawn carts — in which horses pulled, rather than pushed — the advantages seemed obvious. Placing the weight of an engine over the drive wheels improved traction, while combining the engine, transmission and final drive in one unit afforded a more compact chassis layout with improved space efficiency.

Though simple in concept, the mechanism necessary to transmit power to the front wheels must also steer the vehicle, which perplexed early developers. Solutions were both complex and expensive. Meanwhile, having the engine power the rear wheels was uncomplicated, so pushing a vehicle, rather than pulling, became the norm for production motor vehicles.

Credit for transferring front-wheel drive from theory to execution goes to Frenchman Nicholas Cugnot, who, in 1769, built a three-wheeled steam-powered carriage. His design pulled goods over the rough and tumble streets of Paris. More than 100 years later, the first gasoline-powered car to use front-wheel drive appears to have been the Lepape. A story unto itself, the Lepape was described in Voitures a Petrole in 1897, and in Petroleum Motor Cars, the English version, one year later. Others were to follow in Europe, a few of which met tremendous success. Those engineers were not alone in experimenting — several Americans were working on it at the same time.

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#1

Re: Who Invented Front-Wheel Drive and Why is it So Widely Used Today?

09/21/2022 10:45 PM

Given that during the early days, combining steering and drive functions on the front axle were challenging, I wonder if anyone ever experimented with front wheel drive cars with rear wheel steering ?

That'd be like driving a fork lift.

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#5
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Re: Who Invented Front-Wheel Drive and Why is it So Widely Used Today?

09/22/2022 12:23 PM

I operated a forklift for a few years. Maybe because the rear wheel was small, the vehicle seemed hyper responsive in the turns. Based on this, operating a rear wheel steering vehicle at high speeds intuitively seems almost dangerous. Maybe the rear wheel diameter would have to be increased. But, I admit this is beyond my expertise.

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Re: Who Invented Front-Wheel Drive and Why is it So Widely Used Today?

09/22/2022 2:28 PM

I can imagine that stability would very much be an issue.

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Re: Who Invented Front-Wheel Drive and Why is it So Widely Used Today?

09/22/2022 8:31 PM

Well the degree of turning ability would have to be minimized the faster you go...and you would have to learn to steer backwards, right to go left etc....

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Re: Who Invented Front-Wheel Drive and Why is it So Widely Used Today?

09/23/2022 2:30 PM

As a young man I worked in a warehouse for maybe a year or two and my job was driving a Forklift supplying dry felt rolls to an asphalt shingle line production....the rolls were about 8 ft in diameter and stacked 3 high in the storage area...you had to spear the roll with a long rod in the center....It seems I drove that vehicle about 50/50 forwards and reverse, not any difference once you get used to it...but you had to be careful cornering with that heavy roll on the front, especially if it was in the air....

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Re: Who Invented Front-Wheel Drive and Why is it So Widely Used Today?

09/22/2022 8:43 PM

I wonder if anyone ever experimented with front wheel drive cars with rear wheel steering ?

Maybe, but they never lived to tell about it...

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Re: Who Invented Front-Wheel Drive and Why is it So Widely Used Today?

09/23/2022 12:28 PM

I doubt that would as a safety/handling aspect. Rear wheel steering, especially with a trailer.

now Chevrolet and I believe Dodge trucks had 4 wheel assist steering on their trucks… especially for people that are challenged with backing up trailers.

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#2

Re: Who Invented Front-Wheel Drive and Why is it So Widely Used Today?

09/22/2022 3:54 AM

Four-wheel drive from 1813:

(A working replica is depicted here; the original is in the Science Museum in London, UK)

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Re: Who Invented Front-Wheel Drive and Why is it So Widely Used Today?

09/22/2022 4:09 AM

With the engine weight over the driving and steering wheels, front wheel drive vehicles can cope with some tricky driving conditions. Letting the tyres down a bit can increase grip if needed, othertimes you are saving gas.

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Re: Who Invented Front-Wheel Drive and Why is it So Widely Used Today?

09/22/2022 4:41 AM
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Re: Who Invented Front-Wheel Drive and Why is it So Widely Used Today?

09/23/2022 2:27 AM

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Re: Who Invented Front-Wheel Drive and Why is it So Widely Used Today?

09/23/2022 7:54 AM

When I was in college, I replaced the u-joints on my driveshaft. When it started getting noisy again, I realized what I had done, assembled the driveshaft with the u-joints at 90 degrees instead of parallel. Lesson learned...

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Re: Who Invented Front-Wheel Drive and Why is it So Widely Used Today?

09/23/2022 10:44 AM

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