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The Rear Wheel Drive Resurgence

Summary:
Two things once defined American cars. They were almost always rear-wheel-drive – even the economy cars – and they sometimes could be had with V8 engines. Or at least they fit. The  Pontiac Tempest was one such. Add a 389 and it became the 1964 GTO. Slide one into a Vega or Pinto . . . even a Chevette. Many did. The economy car became a high-performance car after a weekend’s knuckle-banging in the garage. One capable of outperforming high-end European cars. Which were defined by one other thing: Their (usually) high prices. Not many Americans could afford an E-Type Jag, Mercedes SL or a Ferrari Daytona. But many could afford a Camaro. Almost anyone could afford a Nova. And either – plus many others – could give an E-Type or

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Two things once defined American cars.

They were almost always rear-wheel-drive – even the economy cars – and they sometimes could be had with V8 engines. Or at least they fit.

The  Pontiac Tempest was one such. Add a 389 and it became the 1964 GTO.

Slide one into a Vega or Pinto . . . even a Chevette.

Many did.

The economy car became a high-performance car after a weekend’s knuckle-banging in the garage. One capable of outperforming high-end European cars. Which were defined by one other thing:

Their (usually) high prices. Not many Americans could afford an E-Type Jag, Mercedes SL or a Ferrari Daytona. But many could afford a Camaro.

Almost anyone could afford a Nova.

And either – plus many others – could give an E-Type or Daytona a run for the money . . . for a lot less money.

And then it all went away. Or at least, mostly. Vengeful oil cartels made gas impossibly expensive . Government termagants (of both sexes) made gas mileage expensive via heavy fines for cars that didn’t deliver it. This changed the landscape almost overnight – and seemingly forever. Those who lived through it will remember – and shudder.

Rear drive and V8s gave way to front-drive and small fours – maybe a small six, if you paid extra. A big V8 wasn’t offered and wouldn’t fit anyway – not without serious welding – because the engine bay was meant for a tiny and sideways-mounted engine. A V8 engine was much too long. Even if you managed to knuckle-bust one in there, there was no room left for the transmission – which in a front-drive car is likewise mounted sideways (it’s called “transversely”) and combined with the drive axles, packaged together into something called a transaxle.

Not, as Seinfeld likes to say, that there’s anything wrong with that.

The FWD layout takes up less space overall – leaving more space inside the car for passengers. It is cheaper to manufacture – and it gets the weight of the drivetrain over the driven wheels, which aids traction. Pulling the car rather than pushing it helps on that score as well. It’s the reason why Citroen called its first front-drive car, the 1934 Traction Avant, just that.

The name means traction forward.

Eric Peters
Eric Peters is a freelance car/bike/political columnist. He escaped the corporate-owned media Big Boys years ago. Without the censorship of the corporate tools

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