In 1893, before the establishment of a modern automotive industry in Britain, English engineer Bramah Joseph Diplock patented a four-wheel-drive system for a traction engine, including four-wheel steering and three differentials, which was subsequently built. The development also incorporated Bramah's Pedrail wheel system in what was one of the first four-wheel-drive automobiles to display an intentional ability to travel on challenging road surfaces. It stemmed from Bramagh's previous idea of developing an engine that would reduce the amount of damage to public roads.
Ferdinand Porsche designed and built a four-wheel-driven Electric vehicle for the k. u. k. Hofwagenfabrik Ludwig Lohner & Co. at Vienna in 1899, presented to the public during the 1900 World Exhibition at Paris. An electric hub motor at each wheel powered the vehicle. Although clumsily heavy, the vehicle proved a powerful sprinter and record-breaker in the hands of its owner E.W. Hart. Due to its unusual status the so-called Lohner-Porsche is not widely credited as the first four-wheel-driven automobile.
The first four-wheel-drive car, as well as hill-climb racer, with internal combustion engine, the Spyker 60 H.P., was presented in 1903 by Dutch brothers Jacobus and Hendrik-Jan Spijker of Amsterdam. The two-seat sports car, which was also the first ever car equipped with a six-cylinder engine, is now an exhibit in the Louwman Collection (the former Nationaal Automobiel Museum) at the Hague in The Netherlands.
Designs for four-wheel drive in the U.S., came from the Twyford Company of Brookville, Pennsylvania in 1905, six were made there around 1906; one still exists and is displayed annually. The second U.S. four-wheel-drive vehicle was built in 1908 by (what became) the Four Wheel Drive Auto Company (FWD) of Wisconsin (not to be confused with the term "FWD" as an acronym for front-wheel drive). FWD would later produce around 15,000 of its four-wheel-drive Model B trucks for the British and American armies during World War I. Approximately 11,500 of the Jeffery or Nash Quad models (1913–1919) were similarly used. The Quad not only came with four-wheel drive and four-wheel brakes, but also featured four-wheel steering.
The Reynolds-Alberta Museum has a four-wheel-drive "Michigan" car from about 1905 in unrestored storage. The Marmon-Herrington Company was founded in 1931 to serve a growing market for moderately priced four-wheel-drive vehicles. Marmon-Herrington specialized in converting Ford trucks to four-wheel drive and got off to a successful start by procuring contracts for military aircraft refueling trucks, 4×4 chassis for towing light weaponry, commercial aircraft refueling trucks, and an order from the Iraqi Pipeline Company for what were the largest trucks ever built at the time.
Daimler-Benz also has a history in four-wheel drive. In 1907 the Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft had built a four-wheel-driven vehicle called Dernburg-Wagen, also equipped with four-wheel steering, that was used by German colonial civil servant, Bernhard Dernburg, in Namibia. Mercedes and BMW, in 1926, introduced a rather sophisticated four-wheel drive, the G1, the G4 and G4 following. The 1937 Mercedes-Benz G5 and BMW 325 4×4 featured full-time four-wheel drive, four-wheel steering, three locking differentials, and fully independent suspension. They were produced because of a government demand for a four-wheel-drive passenger vehicle. The modern G-series/Wolf such as the G500 and G55 AMG still feature some of the attributes, with the exception of fully independent suspension since it hinders suspension articulation. The Unimog is another Mercedes truck.
It was not until "go-anywhere" vehicles were needed for the military that four-wheel drive found its place. The Jeep, originally developed by American Bantam but mass-produced by Willys and Ford, became the best-known four-wheel-drive vehicle in the world during World War II. Willys (since 1950 owner of the Jeep name) introduced the CJ-2A in 1945 as the first full-production four-wheel-drive passenger vehicle. Possibly beaten by the 1938 GAZ-61.
The Land Rover appeared at the Amsterdam Motor Show in 1948, originally conceived as a stop-gap product for the struggling Rover car company, and despite chronic under-investment succeeded far better than the passenger cars. Land Rover developed a luxury 4WD with the Range Rover in the 1970s, which, unlike some offerings from other manufacturers, was capable of serious off-road use. The inspiration was a Willys MB that was frequently run off-road on the farm belonging to chief engineer Maurice Wilks, and was felt that it needed some refinement.
Kaiser Jeep, the successor to Willys, introduced a 4WD wagon called the Wagoneer in 1963. It was revolutionary at the time, not only because of its technical innovations such as an independent front suspension and the first automatic transmission with 4WD, but also because it was equipped and finished as a regular passenger automobile. The Super Wagoneer (1966 to 1969) was powered by Rambler or Buick V8s. Its high level of equipment made it the first "luxury" SUV. American Motors (AMC) acquired Kaiser's Jeep Division in 1970 and quickly upgraded and expanded the entire line of serious off-road 4WD vehicles. The top range full-size Grand Wagoneer continued to compete with traditional luxury cars. It was relatively unchanged during its production through 1991, even after Chrysler's buyout of AMC.
Jensen applied the Formula Ferguson (FF) full-time all-wheel-drive system to 318 units of their Jensen FF built from 1966 to 1971, marking the first time 4WD was used in a production GT sports car. While most 4WD systems split torque evenly, the Jensen split torque roughly 40% front, 60% rear by gearing the front and rear at different ratios. Subaru introduced the mass-produced Leone in 1972 featuring a part-time four-wheel-drive system that could not be engaged on dry pavement. The American Motors Corporation (AMC) introduced a full-time AWD vehicle the same year as the Subaru in the Jeep Cherokee and Wagoneer with Quadra Trac (1973 model year models were for sale starting September 1972). It dominated all other makes in FIA rally competition, due to the performance of the full-time AWD, which did not require the driver to get out of the vehicle to lock hubs or manually select between 2WD and 4WD modes in the car like other American four-wheel-drive vehicles of the period. Drivers Gene Henderson and Ken Pogue won the Press-on-Regardless Rally FIA championship with a Quadra Trac equipped Jeep in 1972.
American Motors introduced the innovative Eagle for the 1980 model year. These were the first mass production cars to use the complete FF system. The AMC Eagle was the world's first complete line (sedan, coupe, and station wagon) of permanent automatic all-wheel-drive passenger models. The new Eagles combined Jeep technology with an existing and proven AMC passenger automobile platform. They ushered a whole new product category of "sport-utility" or crossover SUV. AMC's Eagles came with the comfort and high-level appointments expected of regular passenger models and used the off-road technology for an extra margin of safety and traction.
The Eagle's thick viscous fluid center differential provided quiet and smooth transfer of power that was directed proportionally to the axle with the greatest traction. This was a true full-time system operating only in four-wheel drive without undue wear on suspension or driveline components. There was no low range in the transfer case. This became the forerunner of the designs that followed from other manufacturers. The automobile press at the time tested the traction of the Eagles and described it as far superior to the Subaru's and that it could beat many so-called off-road vehicles. Four Wheeler magazine concluded that the AMC Eagle was "The beginning of a new generation of cars."
The Eagles were popular (particularly in the snowbelt), had towing capacity, and came in several equipment levels including sport and luxury trims. Two additional models were added in 1981, the sub-compact SX/4 and Kammback. A manual transmission and a front axle-disconnect feature were also made available for greater fuel economy. During 1981 and 1982 a unique convertible was added to the line. The Eagle's monocoque body was reinforced for the conversion and had a steel targa bar with a removable fiberglass roof section. The Eagle station wagon remained in production for one model year after Chrysler acquired AMC in 1987.
Audi also introduced a permanently all-wheel-driven road-going car, the Audi Quattro, in 1980. Audi's chassis engineer, Jorg Bensinger, had noticed in winter tests in Scandinavia that a vehicle used by the German Army, the Volkswagen Iltis, could beat any high-performance Audi. He proposed developing a four-wheel-drive car, that would also used for rallying to improve Audi's conservative image. The Audi Quattro system became a feature on production cars.
In 1987, Toyota also developed a car built for competition in rally campaigns. A limited number of road-going FIA Homologation Special Vehicle Celica GT-Fours (otherwise known as Toyota Celica All-Trac Turbo in some markets) were produced. The All-Trac system was later available on serial production Toyota Camry, Toyota Corolla, and Toyota Previa models.
Some of the earliest mid-engined four-wheel-drive cars were the various road-legal rally cars made for Group B homologation, such as the Ford RS200 made from 1984 to 1986. In 1989, niche maker Panther Westwinds created a mid-engined four-wheel-drive, the Panther Solo 2.
In 2008, Nissan introduced the GT-R featuring a rear mounted transaxle. The AWD system requires two drive shafts, one main shaft from the engine to the transaxle and differential and a second drive shaft from the transaxle to the front wheels.
The Ferrari FF introduced in 2011 features a unique system called 4RM, which does away with the heavy center differential and instead attaches a smaller, second transaxle that draws power from the front of the engine. This allows the car to keep the traditional rear transaxle design without the need for a second driveshaft for the front wheels.
Today, sophisticated all-wheel-drive systems are found in many passenger vehicles and some exotic sports cars and supercars. Mainstream luxury and near-luxury vehicles which can absorb the extra cost involved, and for which the fuel economy penalty of some 5% is not an issue, are offered with AWD (or "4x4" or "4WD") as a safety enhancement to meet owners' expectations for a full complement of up-to-date technology.
Read more about this topic: Four-wheel Drive
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