1966 Oldsmobile Toronado
1966 Oldsmobile Toronado. Click image to enlarge

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Article and photo by Bill Vance

Front-wheel drive is now a very popular layout in passenger cars, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that the American industry made the transition in a big way, although there had been significant pioneering work in both Europe and America.

The English Alvis and French Tracta introduced production front-wheel drive cars in the late 1920s. In 1931 Audi of Germany’s truly advanced Front model with a transverse engine and front-drive predicted most of our present layouts.

The car that did much to popularize front drive was the French Citroen Traction Avant, which came out in 1934 and lasted right through until 1955. The BMC Mini launched in 1959 really set the modern trend.

In America, the Christie Front Drive Motor Co. had front-drive racers as early as 1904, and production models by 1905. Ruxton and Gardner also tried fwd but soon gave up.

In competition, Harry Miller’s front-drive racers dominated Indianapolis in the 1920s. But by far the best known American front drive car was the Cord with its 1929 -’31 L-29, and 1936-37 810/812 models.

Although continued in Europe, front-drive languished in North America until it was revived in 1966 by GM’s innovative Oldsmobile division in the Toronado, followed a year later by Cadillac’s Eldorado.

General Motors had some imaginative engineering in the 1960s, including Chevrolet’s rear-engined Corvair, the Pontiac Tempest’s “hanging rope” driveshaft, and passenger car turbocharging in the Olds F-85 Jetfire V8 and Corvair Monza Spyder.

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