Front-wheel drive (FWD) is a form of engine and transmission layout
used in motor vehicles, where the engine drives the front wheels only.
Most modern front-wheel-drive vehicles feature a transverse engine,
rather than the conventional longitudinal engine arrangement generally
found in rear-wheel-drive and four-wheel drive vehicles.
1 Front-wheel-drive arrangements
2.1 Prior to 1900
Société Parisienne - Victoria Combination
2.3 1900 – 1920
2.4 1920 – 1930
2.5 1930 – 1945
2.6 1945 – 1960
2.7 1960 – 1975
2.7.1 Giacosa innovation
2.8 1975 – 1990
2.9 1990 – present
4 See also
Most FWD layouts are front-engined. Rear-engined layouts are possible,
but rare. Historically they fall into three categories:
Front-engine transversely mounted/ Front-wheel drive
Front-engine longitudinally mounted/ Front-wheel drive
Front Mid-engine/ Front-wheel drive
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Prior to 1900
Experiments with front-wheel-drive cars date to the early days of the
automobile. According to various sources, sometime between 1895 and
1898 Gräf & Stift built a voiturette with a one-cylinder De
Dion-Bouton engine fitted in the front of the vehicle, powering the
front axle. It was thus arguably the world's first front-wheel-drive
automobile, but it never saw mass production, with only one copy ever
made. In 1898, Latil, in France, devised a front-wheel-drive system
for motorising horse-drawn carts.
Société Parisienne - Victoria Combination
1898-1901 Victoria Combination
1898-1901 Victoria Combination
In 1898/9 the French manufacturer
Société Parisienne patented their
front-wheel drive articulated vehicle concept which they manufactured
as a Victoria Combination. It was variously powered by 1.75 or 2.5
horsepower (1.30 or 1.86 kW)
De Dion-Bouton engine or a water
cooled 3.5 horsepower (2.6 kW) Aster engine. The engine was
mounted on the front axle and so was rotated by the tiller
steering. The name Victoria Combination described the
lightweight, two-seater trailer commonly known as a Victoria, combined
with the rear axle and drive mechanism from a motor tricycle that was
placed in front to achieve front wheel drive. It also known
as the Eureka.
By 1899 Victoria Combinations were participating in motoring events
such as the 371 km Paris-
St Malo race, finishing 23rd overall and
second(last) in the class. In October a Victoria Combination won
its class in the Paris-Rambouillet-Paris event, covering the 100
kilometre course at 26 km/h (16 mph). In 1900 it
completed 240 kilometres (150 mi) non-stop at 29 km/h
When production ceased in mid-1901, over 400 copies had been sold for
3,000 Francs (circa $600) each.
1900 – 1920
J. Walter Christie
J. Walter Christie of the
United States patented a design for a
front-wheel-drive car, the first prototype of which he built in
1904. He promoted and demonstrated the vehicle by racing at various
speedways in the United States, and even competed in the 1906
Vanderbilt Cup and the French Grand Prix. In 1912 he began
manufacturing a line of wheeled fire engine tractors which used his
front-wheel-drive system, but due to lack of sales this venture
1920 – 1930
1925 Miller 122 Indianapolis 500 front-wheel-drive racer
The next successful application of front-wheel drive was the
Alvis 12/50 racing car designed by George Thomas
Smith-Clarke and William M. Dunn of
Alvis Cars of the United Kingdom.
This vehicle was entered in the 1925
Kop Hill Climb in Princes
Buckinghamshire on March 28, 1925. Harry Arminius Miller
Menomonie, Wisconsin designed the Miller 122 front-wheel-drive
racecar that was entered in the 1925 Indianapolis 500, which was held
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday, May 30, 1925.
However, the idea of front-wheel drive languished outside the motor
racing arena as no major auto manufacturer attempted the same for
production automobiles. Market experiments in the
United States were
left to small endeavors such as the Ruxton (200 cars in 1929), and the
Cord L-29 of 1929. Neither automobile maker was particularly
successful on the open market.
Alvis Cars introduced a
front-wheel-drive commercial model of the
Alvis 12/50 in 1928, but it
was not a success either.
1930 – 1945
MF layout with engine behind the transmission in the
Renault widely used this configuration into the 1980s.
The first successful consumer application came in 1929. The BSA
(Birmingham Small Arms Company) produced the unique front-wheel-drive
BSA three-wheeler. Production continued until 1936 during which time
sports and touring models were available. In 1931 the
DKW F1 from
Germany made its debut.
Buckminster Fuller adopted rear-engine, front
wheel drive for his three
Dymaxion Car prototypes. Other German car
Stoewer offered a car with front-wheel drive in
1931, Adler in 1932 and
Audi in 1933. In 1934, the very successful
Traction Avant cars were introduced by
Citroën of France. The Cord
810 of the
United States managed a bit better in the late 1930s than
its predecessor one decade earlier. These vehicles featured a layout
that places the engine behind the transmission, running "backwards,"
(save for the Cord, which drove the transmission from the front of the
engine). The basic front-wheel-drive layout provides sharp turning,
and better weight distribution creates "positive handling
characteristics" due to its low polar inertia and relatively
favourable weight distribution. (The heaviest component is near
the centre of the car, making the main component of its moment of
inertia relatively low). Another result of this design is a lengthened
1945 – 1960
Mini with a transverse engine
FF layout as pioneered in the
Mini is today the most
common in mass market passenger cars
Front-wheel drive continued with the 1948
Citroën 2CV, where the
air-cooled lightweight aluminium flat twin engine was mounted ahead of
the front wheels, but used Hooke type universal joint driveshaft
joints, and 1955
Citroën DS, featuring the mid-engine layout. Panhard
Germany and Saab of Sweden offered exclusively
front-wheel-drive cars, starting with the 1948 Saab 92.
In 1946, Lloyd Cars, the English car company, had produced the
front-wheel-drive roadster, Lloyd 650. The two-stroke, two-cylinder
motor was mounted transversely in the front and connected to the front
wheels through four-speed synchronised gearbox. The high price and
lacklustre performance had doomed its production. Only 600 units were
produced from 1946 to 1950.
In 1954, Alfa-Romeo had experimented with its first front-wheel-drive
compact car named "33" (not related or referred to sports car
similarly named "33"). It had the same transverse-mounted,
forward-motor layout as the modern front-wheel-drive automobiles. It
even resembled the smaller version of its popular Alfa Romeo Giulia.
However, due to the financial difficulties in post-war Italy, the 33
never saw the production. Had Alfa-Romeo succeed in producing 33, it
would precede the
Mini as the first "modern" European
front-wheel-drive compact car.
In 1955, one of the first Japanese manufacturers to utilize
front-wheel drive with a transversely installed engine was the Suzuki
Suzulight, which was a small "city" car, called a kei car in Japanese.
In 1959 Austin
Mini was launched by the British Motor Corporation,
Alec Issigonis as a response to the first 'oil crisis',
the 1956 Suez Crisis, and the boom in bubble cars that followed. It
was the first production front-wheel-drive car with a watercooled
inline four-cylinder engine mounted transversely. This allowed eighty
percent of the floor plan for the use of passengers and luggage. The
majority of modern cars use this configuration. Its progressive rate
rubber sprung independent suspension, low centre of gravity, and wheel
at each corner with radial tyres, gave a massive increase in grip and
handling over all but the most expensive cars on the market. It used
Constant-velocity joint drive shaft universal joints.
1960 – 1975
Renault 4 rolling chassis with gearbox ahead of engine
FF layout as used by
Audi and Subaru
The transversely mounted engine combined with front-wheel drive was
popularized by the 1959 Mini; there the transmission was built into
the sump of the engine, and drive was transferred to it via a set of
primary gears. Another variant transmission concept was used by Simca
in the 1960s keeping the engine and transmission in line, but
transverse mounted and with unequal length driveshafts. This has
proven itself to be the model on which almost all modern FWD vehicles
are now based.
Renault on their jointly developed small
car engine of the 1970s where the 4-cylinder block was canted over to
reduce the overall height of the engine with the transmission
underneath (PSA X engine). The tendency of this layout to generate
unwanted transmission "whine" has seen it fall out of favour. Also,
clutch changes required engine removal.
Triumph 1300 was designed around a longitudinal engine with
the transmission underneath.
Audi has also used a longitudinally
mounted engine overhung over the front wheels since the 1970s.
one of the few manufacturers which still uses this particular
configuration. It allows the use of equal-length half shafts and the
easy addition of all-wheel drive, but has the disadvantage that it
makes it difficult to achieve 50/50 weight distribution (although they
remedy this in four-wheel-drive models by mounting the gearbox at the
rear of the transaxle.) The
Subaru 1000 appeared in 1966 utilizing
front-wheel drive mated to a flat-4 engine, with the driveshafts of
equal length extending from the transmission, which addressed some of
the issues of the powertrain being somewhat complex and unbalanced in
the engine compartment - the
Alfa Romeo Alfasud
Alfa Romeo Alfasud (and its replacement,
the 1983 Alfa 33) also used the same layout.
Honda also introduced several small front wheel drive vehiches, with
the N360 and N600, the Z360 and Z600 in 1967, the
Honda 1300 in 1969,
followed by the
Honda Civic in 1972 and the
Honda Accord in 1976.
Also in the 1970s and 1980s, the Douvrin engines used in the larger
Renaults (20, 21, 25 and 30) used this longitudinal "forward" layout.
The first generation Saab 900, launched in 1978, also used a
longitudinal engine with a transmission underneath with helical gears.
Oldsmobile Toronado was the first U.S. front-wheel-drive car
since the Cord 810. It used a longitudinal engine placement for its
V8, coupled with an unusual "split" transmission, which turned the
engine power 180 degrees. Power then went to a differential mounted to
the transmission case, from which half-shafts took it to the wheels.
The driveline was set fairly at centre-point of the wheels for better
weight distribution, though this raised the engine, requiring lowered
Little known outside of Italy, the Primula is today primarily known
for innovating the modern economy-car layout.
– Hemmings Motor News,
This Active Tourer MPV wants to be more stable than a BMW M3, and
using the Dante Giacosa-pattern front-wheel-drive layout compacts the
mechanicals and saves space for people in the reduced overall length
of what will surely become a production 1-series tall-sedan crossover.
– Robert Cumberford,
Automobile Magazine, March, 2013
Front-wheel drive layout had been highly impacted by the success of
small, inexpensive cars, especially the British Mini. As engineered by
Alec Issigonis, the compact arrangement located the transmission and
engine sharing a single oil sump — despite disparate lubricating
requirements — and had the engine's radiator mounted to the side of
the engine, away from the flow of fresh air and drawing heated rather
than cool air over the engine. The layout often required the engine be
removed to service the clutch.
As engineered by Dante Giacosa, the
Fiat 128 featured a
transverse-mounted engine with unequal length drive shafts and an
innovative clutch release mechanism — an arrangement which Fiat had
strategically tested on a previous production model, the Primula, from
its less market-critical subsidiary, Autobianchi.
Ready for production in 1964, the Primula featured a gear train offset
from the differential and final drive with unequal length drive
shafts. The layout enabled the engine and gearbox to be located side
by side without sharing lubricating fluid while orienting the cooling
fan toward fresh air flow. By using the Primula as a test-bed, Fiat
was able to sufficiently resolve the layout's disadvantages, including
uneven side-to-side power transmission, uneven tire wear and potential
torque steer, the tendency for the power of the engine alone to steer
the car under heavy acceleration.
After the 128, Fiat further demonstrated the layout's flexibility,
re-configurating the 128 drive-train as a mid-engined layout for the
Fiat X1/9. The compact, efficient Giacosa layout — a
transversely-mounted engine with transmission mounted beside the
engine driving the front wheels through an offset final-drive and
unequal-length driveshafts, combined with MacPherson struts and an
independently located radiator — subsequently became common with
competitors and arguably an industry standard.
1975 – 1990
Corporate Average Fuel Economy
Corporate Average Fuel Economy standard drove a mass changeover of
cars in the U.S. to front-wheel drive. The change began in 1978, with
the introduction of the first American-built transverse-engined cars,
Plymouth Horizon and
Dodge Omni (based on the European designed
Simca Horizon), followed by the 1980
Chevrolet Citation and
numerous other vehicles. Meanwhile, European car makers, that had
moved to front-wheel drive decades before, began to homogenize their
engine arrangement only in this decade, leaving
Audi (and Volkswagen)
alone with the
Audi front drive-longitudinal engine layout. Years
before this was the most common layout in Europe, with examples like
Renault 25 (a
Chrysler LH ancestor)
Alfa Romeo 33,
Volkswagen Passat, etc. This transition can be
exemplified in the
Renault 21 that was offered with disparate engine
configurations. The 1.7-litre version featured an 'east-west'
(transversely) mounted engine, but
Renault had no gearbox suitable for
a more powerful transverse engine: accordingly, faster versions
featured longitudinally mounted (north south) engines.
By reducing drivetrain weight and space needs, vehicles could be made
smaller and more efficient without sacrificing acceleration.
Integrating the powertrain with a transverse as opposed to a
longitudinal layout, along with unibody construction and the use of
constant velocity jointed drive axles, along with front wheel drive
has evolved into the modern-day mass market automobile. Some suggest
that the introduction of the modern
Volkswagen Golf in 1974, from a
traditional U.S. competitor, and the introduction of the 1973 Honda
Civic, and the 1976
Honda Accord served as a wake-up call for the "Big
Chrysler already produced front-wheel-drive vehicles in
their operations outside North America). Ford's 1976
Ford Fiesta was
its first front-wheel-drive car in Europe, GM was even later with the
1979 Vauxhall Astra/Opel Kadett.
Captive imports were the US car
makers initial response to the increased demand for economy cars. The
popularity of front-wheel drive began to gain momentum, with the 1981
Ford Escort, the 1982 Nissan Sentra, and the 1983 Toyota Corolla.
Front-wheel drive became the norm for mid-sized cars starting with the
1982 Chevrolet Celebrity, 1982 Toyota Camry, 1983 Dodge 600, 1985
Nissan Maxima, 1986
Honda Legend, and the 1986 Ford Taurus. By the
mid-1980s, most formerly rear-wheel-drive Japanese models were
front-wheel drive, and by the mid-1990s, most American brands only
sold a handful of rear-wheel-drive models.
1990 – present
The Chevrolet Cobalt, a front-wheel-drive car made from 2004 to 2010
The vast majority of front-wheel-drive vehicles today use a
transversely mounted engine with "end-on" mounted transmission,
driving the front wheels via driveshafts linked via constant velocity
(CV) joints, and a flexibly located electronically controlled cooling
fan. This configuration was pioneered by
Dante Giacosa in the 1964
Autobianchi Primula and popularized with the Fiat 128. Fiat
promoted in its advertising that mechanical features consumed only 20%
of the vehicle's volume and that
Enzo Ferrari drove a 128 as his
personal vehicle. The 1959 Mini, while a pioneering transverse
front-wheel-drive vehicle, used a substantially
different arrangement with the transmission in the sump, and the
cooling fan drawing hot air from its side-facing location.
Volvo Cars has switched its entire lineup after the 900 series to
front-wheel drive. Swedish engineers at the company have said that
transversely mounted engines allow for more crumple zone area in a
head-on collision. American auto manufacturers are now shifting larger
models (such as the
Chrysler 300 and most of the
Cadillac lineup) back
to rear-wheel drive. There were relatively few
rear-wheel-drive cars marketed in North America by the early 1990s;
Chrysler's car line-up was entirely front-wheel drive by 1990. GM
followed suit in 1996 where its
B-body line was phased out, where its
sports cars (Camaro, Firebird, Corvette) were the only RWDs marketed;
by the early 2000s, the
Chevrolet Corvette and
Cadillac Catera were
the only RWD cars offered by General Motors until the introduction of
the Sigma platform. After the phaseout of the Ford Panther platform
(except for the Mustang), Ford automobiles (including the Transit
Connect van) manufactured for the 2012 model year to present are front
wheel drive; its D3 platform (based on a Volvo platform) has optional
all wheel drive.
Nissan GT-R LM Nismo
Nissan GT-R LM Nismo race car holds the record for being the
most-powerful front-wheel-drive car, with its combustion engine
outputs approximately 500 hp (370 kW; 510 PS) while the
flywheel system is intended to have an additional output of
approximately 750 hp (560 kW; 760 PS). This accounts
for a total of 1,250 hp (930 kW; 1,270 PS). Power from
the flywheel was intended to be split between the front and rear
wheels, making the car all-wheel drive in this configuration. However,
due to unreliability the car was raced without the flywheel and with
500hp driving the front wheels only.
However, the 1970
Oldsmobile Toronado remains the most-powerful
street-legal front-wheel drive production car till today, with W-34
option producing 400 hp (298 kW).
Cadillac Eldorado, with front-wheel drive introduced in 1967,
holds the record for the largest engine in a front-wheel-drive
production vehicle, at 8.2 L (500 in³), starting with the 1970 model,
lasting until the 1976 model year.
Dodge Neon SRT-4
Dodge Neon SRT-4 from RaceDeck Racing broke the land
speed record for its class at
Bonneville Salt Flats
Bonneville Salt Flats in
Utah on August
16, 2006. Driven by Jorgen Moller Jr., the record was set at
221 mph average speed for both runs on the five mile course.
Category:Front-wheel-drive sports cars
^ a b Georgano, G.N (Nick) (1973). The Complete Encyclopedia of
Motorcars, 1885 to the present day. London: Ebury Press.
^ a b Grace's Guide to Industrial History. Profile of La Societe
^ a b c d Bonhams Auctioneers, Profile description of Parisienne at
^ a b c d Bonhams Auctioneers - Profile of La
Société Parisienne -
^ Unique Cars and Parts.
Voiturette Racing - Before The Formula One
Wheel Drive Used in 1908." Popular Science, November 1930, p.
52 bottom of page, photo
^ "J. Walter Christie". Featured drivers. VanderbiltCupRaces.com.
2011. Retrieved 2011-07-24.
^ Day, Kenneth (1989). "Part II: Racing history". In Iles, Robert.
Alvis:the story of the red triangle (2nd ed.). Somerset, England:
Haynes Publishing Group. pp. 113–63.
^ The Front Drive - Why Not? Popular Mechanics, January 1930, pp.
^ "Cord front-drive car is here", The New York Times. April 12, 1936.
Car of the Year 1965: BMC Scores a Win". Hemmings Motor
News, August 2011.
^ "By Design: BMW Concept Active Tourer".
Automobile Magazine, Robert
Cumberford, February 2013 Issue.
^ "Dante Giacosa". Fiat500USA.com.
^ a b "Collectible Classic: 1971-1979 Fiat 128".
^ "1969-1984 FIAT 128 Saloon". Classic and Performance Car. Archived
from the original on 2014-04-08. It’s the recipe for technical
orthodoxy that has since been adopted by the entire industry.
^ Bryan T. Nicalek. "The
Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon".
^ Brick by Brick: The Biography of the Man Who Really Made the Mini,
Martyn Nutland, p. 237. Authorhouse, Bloomington, IN, 2012.
^ "The Chrysler-Dodge LX Cars: Charger, Challenger, 300, 300C, and
^ Sherman, Don (1998). "
Cadillac goes to RWD - rear-wheel drive".
Automotive Industries (extracted in LookSmart).
Personal luxury car
Leisure activity vehicle
Cabriolet / Convertible
Coupé de Ville
Drophead coupe (Convertible)
Saloon / Sedan
Sedanca de Ville (
Coupé de Ville)
Spider / Spyder (Roadster)
Town car (
Coupé de Ville)
Gasoline / petrol (direct injection)
Homogeneous charge compression ignition
Layout (engine / drive)
Front / front
Front mid / front
Rear / front
Front / rear
Rear mid / rear
Rear / rear
Front / four-wheel
Mid / four-wheel
Rear / four-wheel