The expertise of almost all the vehicle-sytems is actually summarised in the suspension. Whether a car has a particularly high center of gravity, whether the engine is in the front or the rear or if the weight is taken off the rear axle at high speed, all this is evaluated by the suspension. It is here that the capabilities of the car are as a rule, transferred by four small contact surfaces between the tyres and the road. If this is done smoothly, with a high degree of effeciency and under all possible conditions, then the suspension has done the job properly.
The influence that certain construction decisions have here, is enormous. For many years, actually for a whole century, the big question mark was, how the individual components of the drive-train, e.g., the engine and the gearbox, were to be arranged. At the time, when the automobile was created, it was taken for granted that the engine should be mounted at the rear. Carl Benz even mounted it flat, lying on it's side, because he was afraid that an upright engine could cause the car to tip over. This was not confirmed. Nonetheless, it still took approx. 20 years, before the engine was moved to the front. After that it was no longer started by turning the flywheel but with a crank-handle.
The gearbox had by no means, an exactly fixed position, actually, the same as it is even today. From about 1900 onwards, it was separated from the engine and driven by a short shaft, transferring the power through a chain to the rear wheels. By the way, even after the middle of the last century, this type of engine with the gearbox separated, was actually still around, e.g., in the BMW 501/502. We won't even mention the Transaxle-principle, which right now, is celebrating a happy comeback. As a matter of interest, a Frenchman by the name of Marcel Renault, is reputed to have first driven the rear wheels through a cardan-shaft with the suitable gearing.
The only thing in the following approx. 20 years, that underwent a radical change was the center of gravity. The power-train was mounted lower down and the chassis deviated considerably from the two straight longitudinal profiles. As far as racing cars were concerned, something new only appeared in the 1930's, when Ferdinand Porsche mounted the Auto-Union engines behind the driver. Indeed, it has stayed that way, right up to today, only the gearbox and the final drive have changed. The first serial production front-wheel drives appeared somewhat earlier.
The fact that the front-wheel drive only appeared almost 50 years after the invention of the vehicle with a combstion engine, has to do with the drive shafts. The above shown model was created before the turn of the century. However, if you enlarge the picture, you can make out the drive shafts where universal joints were used to achieve the necessary flexibility. Of course, such an uneven transmission of the torque when the steering angle was increased, caused a disturbance in the steering. A problem which was to some extent, solved only through the invention of the homokinetic Tracta-joint (constant-velocity joint), a good 20 years later.
No, the first serially built front-wheel drives did not have the same configuration as the cars of today. The position of the 1932 DKW Front, was indeed, transverse, it was however, mounted as a mid-engine, behind the front axle. The 1934 Citroen Traction Avant had the same type of mid-engine, however, it was straight-mounted. The latter, by the way, also had a monocoque-body (self supporting), which however, would only really assert itself after the mid-century. This change definitely influenced the chassis construction.
Apart from the experimenting with particularly streamlined bodies, Porsche's Beetle development, which was probably derived from Ledwinka's love of the rear-engine, the engine remained up front. This only changed after the war, when born out of necessity, a great many compact cars were created, these however, disappeared again after the mass appearance of the tranverse mounted engined front-wheel drives. As far as sports cars, and those which would like to have been known as sports cars were concerned, this was followed by a good decade of mid-engined vehicles.
The relationship between the engine position and the chassis can be well explained using the mid-engine as an example. Since actually, there's no good reason, why the really usable space behind the front seating should be obstructed by an engine. Unless of course, we're talking about weight-distribution, since a vehicle tends to break away, if countermeasures are not taken, there where the greatest weight is found. By the way, in this context, the already mentioned Professor Porsche, even paid attention to the position of the fuel tank, to ensure that the handling with a full tank, did not differ that much from when the tank was nearly empty.
What remains of the mid-engine philosophy, is the Porsche Boxster, the creation of which, had not only technical reasons but at least half of it was marketing strategy. Apart from it's rear-engined relative, the 911, when a new sports car in this category appears, it mostly follows the Transaxle-principle, unless however, special reasons speak against it, as in the case of the Bugatti Veyron. It now seems that the world has been divided, between the so-called standard drive in the large models and the front-wheel drive, whereby, with particular regard to the dictates of downsizing, the future belongs to the transverse engine. 12/13
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