The Other Way Round. The Story of the Rear Engined Passenger
The concept of engine position in the earliest
cars is irrelevant as the passengers usually sat on top of the machinery
and layout of the latter was dependent on the means of transmitting the
engine power to the rear wheels. This led to compact but high cars, but
due to the very limited performance was not unduly unstable.
Because it made the best use of the technology
of the time, the front engine rear wheel drive layout was to become standard
about the turn of the century. This allowed a small reduction in height
as speed increased and stability became important. For the next thirty
years the front engined, rear wheel drive layout was refined resulting
in a decrease in height but increasing intrusion of the machinery into
the passenger space and the rear seat passengers located over the rear
The idea of locating the engine at the rear
of the car to overcome this problem was conceived in the nineteen
twenties and developed in the thirties. The layout reached a peak of popularity
in the nineteen sixties, then fell out of use except for sporting cars
after the rise in the popularity of the front wheel drive car. During the
period when rear engines cars were produced in millions and one case tens
of millions, the engine was usually located outside the wheelbase. It is
the cars of this period that I am reviewing here. The vast majority were
light cars but there were some notable exceptions as you will see in the
1914 GKW And its mid engine
There were a few rear-engined cars
those first cars and the beginning of the rear engine period proper.
cyclecar era produced a notable example in the G.W.K. made in Britain
1911 and 1930, initially by Grice, Wood and Keiller, at Maidenhead in
The transversely mounted rear engine was not the only unusual feature
the car. Throughout their years of production G.W.K cars were always
with a friction drive transmission, utilising a friction disk that
across the face of the flywheel to produce different reduction ratios
4 to 1 in top to 14 to 1 as the lowest gear. The rest of the car was
for it's day. The engine fitted was a 1069cc water-cooled Coventry
unit; it weighed 9.5-cwt and cost £150. Production between 1918
1930 was not great with nearly 200 examples of various types made.
G.W.K were struggling on in Britain, Hanomag in Germany produced the
Kommissbrot", The latter being a popular name given to the car and
to a loaf of bread. Made from 1924 to 1928 in which time 15,800
examples were produced. It's single cylinder water cooled engine of
500cc was mounted
at the rear with three speed gearbox and a chain final drive in an oil
bath to the solid rear axle. A two seat car with a 40 mph maximum
in most respects it was late example of the cyclecar.
Limited experiments in front wheel drive
and rear engine layouts had been carried out, but the need for a more complex
means of transmitting the power to the driven wheels than the almost universally
used live axle was the stumbling block.
The simplest alternative to the live axle
was the swing axle. The swing axle had been used by Hans Ludwinka at Tatra
since the early nineteen twenties and Ludwinka was to become one of the
pioneers of rear engine cars. The Tatra swing axle didn't use flexible
joints but a system of bevel gears that allowed each drive shaft to move
independently. The flexible coupling commonly in use at the time was the
fabric coupling it had a limited degree of deflection and working life
and was not suitable for use with swing axles. The availability of better
flexible couplings of the hardy Spicer type made it possible to develop
a reliable swing axle transmission. The combination of the rear mounted
engine with swing axle transmission proved to be the simplest way to remove
the engine and the transmission from the passenger space and lower the
overall height of the car.
1928 onwards, the idea of a people's
car with a rear mounted air-cooled engine, all independent springing
a backbone frame was promoted in Germany by an engineer and journalist
Josef Ganz. Ardie a German motorcycle manufacturer produced an
experimental car with a forked backbone frame the Ardie Ganz, in 1930.
Adler a German manufacturer produced another Ganz prototype in 1931.
In 1933 the first of his designs to go in production the Superior was
made by Standard Fahrzeugfabrik. It had a rear mounted two stroke
Ardie-Ganz prototype 1933 Standard Superior
In 1927 Sir Dennistoun Burney the designer
of the airship R100, set up a company to produce aerodynamically efficient
cars, Streamline Cars Ltd at "Cordwallis Works", Maidenhead Berkshire England.
The prototype of 1928 used an Alvis front wheel drive chassis turn back
to front with the steering returned to the front. This was clothed with
a teardrop shaped body. The production cars of which there were twelve
made between 1929 and 1933 had a space frame chassis with all independent
suspension using transverse leaf springs, hydraulic brakes and a variety
of engines were used, mounted at the rear behind the rear wheels. This
design had a top speed of 80mph.
The design was adopted by Crossley Cars
in 1933, fitted with 1991cc overhead valve six-cylinder engine. The radiator
was moved to the front of the car and a pre-selector gearbox fitted. Only
twenty-five examples were produced and that was in 1934.
Crossley 2 litre Burney
While these few expensive cars were being
produced in Britain, in Czechoslovakia and Germany various designs, prototypes
and a few production cars were being created.
The Other Way Round. links