Front Wheel Drive

The story of  pioneers of the front wheel drive motorcar

Part Three Consolidation Years

The 1920’s were years of experiment, with finally the production of a small number of specialist front wheel drive cars, sports and luxury, all relatively costly. The 1930’s saw these joined by front wheel drive cars at the other end of the price range.
In Britain BSA made 10,000 of a varied range of three and four wheeled car from 1929 to 1940.
In Germany DKW started making their series of cars prefixed “F”, making over 200,000 by 1939. In the middle of the price range Adler produced the “Trumpt” and “Trumpt Junior” in large numbers, and Audi produced the “Front”, the first in a long and distinguished line of front wheel drive cars with the Audi name.
In France, Citroen began their long association with front wheel drive in 1934 with the “Traction Avant”, and J.A. Gregiore created for Hotchkiss, the “Amilcar Compound”, which was made in relatively small numbers from 1938 to 1940. There was also front wheel drive models from Georges Irat.
Cord in the USA return in 1936 with the 810 and 812.


The first inexpensive front wheel drive vehicle to reach the British market, the BSA “Three Wheeler Twin”, although not mass produced, was made in large numbers compared with it’s predecessors and could not have been more different.
B.S.A. three-wheeler 1929
A three wheeled cyclecar, as ultra light cars were then described. The specification in many respects was normal, being similar in layout to the “Morgan” three wheeler. With two wheels at the front and one wheel at the rear and a 1021 c.c. Vee twin-cylinder air-cooled engine was mounted in front. A simple channel-section chassis that was formed in the rear with a large-diameter central tube; the single rear wheel was mounted on a hinged arm having as an extension a leaf spring that was enclosed within the central chassis tube.
The major difference was the transmission that was similar in layout to the Alvis 12/75 including the inboard drum brakes. Four quarter elliptic springs each side were used for the independent front suspension. A four wheeled version was available only in 1932, the FW32. In 1933 a four-cylinder engine version of the three and four-wheeled car was added to the range. With a 1075c.c.side-valve water-cooled engine in place of the twin being the only major change. The three wheeled cars were dropped after 1936, the “Scout” series of cars being available from 1935 to 1940, being the last BSA cars.
1938 BSA Scout


The company DKW was founded by Jorgen Skafte Rasmussen, a Danish engineer. The initials DKW came from an unsuccessful venture, a steam powered vehicle, in German Dampt Kraft Wagon. Fortunately the company became successful as motorcycle manufacturers, with a factory at Zschopen in the German region of Saxony. Between 1919 and 1930 the company made an assortment of rear wheel drive cyclecars and lightcars. The first front wheel drive car from DKW, the FA, later to be called the F-1, was introduced in 1931. It was an ultra lightweight car, weighing only 450kg. It had a water-cooled 2 cylinder 2stroke engine, mounted transversely in the chassis, with the 3- speed gearbox in front and the final drive assembly in front of that between the front wheels,
  J.S. Rasmussen  The DKW FA powerunit.
Twin transverse ½ elliptic springs were used at the front and the rear of the steel ladder chassis for the all independent suspension. With 15bhp from the engine a maximum speed of 75kpm was attained.  It was made in roadster, cabriolet and saloon form. After the first revolutionary step of producing the FA, the F series of cars that followed evolved, with changes introduced as the model numbers progressed. The F-2 a 584cc engined version of the F-1 was introduced in 1933, with a little more power and a little more speed. An engine capacity of 584cc was available until 1938.The F-4 of 1934 saw the spur gear drive between the engine and gearbox replaced with a chain. The F-5 also of 1934 had major engine changes using the Schnuerle deflectorless-piston loopscavenge system, which made an important contribution to efficient two-stroke engine operation.
DKW F2 chassis.
The rear suspension was changed to a dead axle and a transverse leaf spring.The F-5 was also available with 684cc engine. The F-7 had the front suspension changed to one leaf spring and wishbones.
 The last model before the Second World War was the F-8. That had a revised chassis frame incorporating rack and pinion steering and an engine of 589cc. In 1939 a 692cc engine was fitted in some models and was made until 1942.
After the war, two versions of the F series were produced. The factory at Zwickau were the DKW were produced before the war was then in the DDR, the eastern communist part of Germany and a car named the IFA F-8 was produced there from 1948 until 1955.The second F series car the DKW F-89 was made in Dusseldorf in West German, by the pre-war management. Based on the F-8 but with the 684cc engine moved ahead of the front wheels. This was in production from 1950 until 1954. Between 1931 and 1955 around 300,000 FA’s to F-89’s had been made. These cars can justifiably be claimed to the first mass produced front wheel drive cars, the fore runner’s to all the millions produced since.
DKW F5 chassis.
J.S. Rasmussen the founder of DKW took over the ailing Audi concern in 1928, making DKW along side the Audi’s at their Zwickau factory. To counter the worsening economic crisis in the German motor industry, in 1932, DKW, Audi and two other motor manufacturers located in Saxony Wanderer and Horch, merged to form Auto Union AG. One of the first products of the merger was the Audi “Front”, which was as inferred by it’s name was a front wheel drive car. It had a 2.3 litre six-cylinder engine designed by Professor Porsche and made by Wanderer. That was mounted behind the final drive and four-speed gearbox as in the Tracta. With power steering system made under licence to a US design combined with a ZF steering box. The box section backbone chassis had  transverse leaf springs front and rear, combined with wishbones at the front and swing axles at the rear. The cars place in the market was similar the Audi’s produced today, being of medium price and high quality. It was made from 1933 to 1938 in the Horch factory in Zwickau.

  1934 Audi Front
Adler of Franfurt-on Main, Germany, started by making bicycles in 1880, later typewriters and commenced car production in 1900.
The first of their front wheel drive cars, the Trumpf, was designed by the company technical director of the time, Rohr. This was in 1932. As well as front wheel drive, the car had other advanced features, The body was electrically welded to the box section chassis, making it a near monocoque. All independent suspension using torsion bars and rack and pinion steering. The layout of the power train was similar to the Tracta and the Alvis, with the final drive at the front, with the four-speed gearbox next and then the engine. This resulted in a long bonnet, which fortunately was still fashionable at the time. Tracta joints were used in the outboard end of the transmission. The car was light for its time, being just over a thousand kilos in 4-seat saloon form.
The engine and the brakes were as most other cars of that date, the engine being a side-valve, four, of 1500cc to 1700cc producing 38bhp to 40bhp, and the brakes were mechanically operated.

  Adler Trumpf
The Trumpf-Junior, a smaller version of the Trumpf, also designed by Rohr, with a 995cc engine, was produced from 1934. Both cars were available in five body styles.
By 1941 when all Adler car production ceased. It was not to resume after the war. Just over twenty five thousand Trumpf's also almost one hundred and three thousand Trumpt-Juniors had been made.

Adler Trumpf-Junior
In 1936 another car bearing the name "Cord" was produced, the V-8 engined 810.  It is mainly remembered for its stunning body style, designed by Gordon Buehig it was an instant classic. This time the designers had got the layout right, with the gearbox, a four -speed Bendix preselector unit, ahead of the final-drive unit and the engine behind, making a much more compact assembly. Front suspension was by independent trailing arms and a transverse leaf spring. The engine, a 288.6 cubic inch Lycoming product, produced 125bhp in basic form, but a supercharged version could be fitted producing 190bhp,with a top speed of 110mph. A longer wheelbase version was also produced the 812, but a combined total of less than three thousand examples of  the 810 and 812 were made by the time the Cord empire collapsed in 1937.


Andre Citroen, set a design team to work on the car that was to become the Traction Avant in 1932. He had decided to produce a car of advanced specification that would replace all his existing models. The whole car was to be completely new.
It would have front wheel drive and a low profile similar to the Adler Trumpf, combined with a monocoque chassis/body unit, built using the Budd process. Another feature to be incorporated into the design and almost it's undoing, was the use of a torque converter in place of a conventional gearbox.
As is the practice today, the "Traction Avant", was designed by a team, each being a specialist in the various components. The design team leader was Andre Lefebvre. Andre Citroen had recruited him for the task when the project was falling behind schedule. Citroen had taken a licence, and purchased machinery from America, to manufacture the "Rzappa joint".
An early 7cv Traction Avant

This was to be used at the outboard end of the drive shafts. But then thought better of it.
It would be almost thirty years before versions of the "Rzappa joint" were used successfully in mass-produced cars. Then J.A.Gregoire was retained as a transmission consultant. "Tracta joints" were fitted to the prototypes and some early production cars, but proved unsatisfactory. According to J.A. Gregoire's account, this was due to poor quality machining. The "Tracta joints", were then replaced by the double Hardy Spicer joints that were used through out the life of the car. The drive joints were not the only problem with the early cars. The torque converter proved to be unsuitable for the car and if the design team had not produced a conventional gearbox quickly the whole project would have failed. The layout of the power train was more compact than the Tracta's and the Adler's, in that the gearbox was ahead of the final drive, with engine behind and the weight distribution was improved as a conscience.
                                                                                 Citroen “Traction Avant” power train. The gear box is on the left, ahead of the final drive

The suspension was independent on all wheels with torsion bar springs and at first friction dampers. The friction damper, were replaced by telescopic hydraulic dampers in 1935. The steering gearbox was initially of worm and sector type, but was discarded for rack and pinion in 1936. Hydraulic brakes completed an advanced specification. Over two hundred and eighty thousand of the various 7cv and 11cv models were produced between 1934 and 1940. But Andre Citroen did not live to see the Traction Avant flourish. The early problems with the car, ruined Citroen and the company past to other hand, soon after which Andre Citroen died.
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