Q: Hi, Greg, and thanks for helping me with this question. Who marketed the first front-wheel drive car, either foreign or domestic? Thanks much, Larry F., old-timer from New England.
A: Larry, the first consumer-available front-wheel drive, mass-marketed car came from the DKW F1 from Germany in 1931. Other German car producers, of which there were many back then, followed, as Stoewer later in 1931 offered a front drive. In 1932, the Adler car company released a front drive, followed by Audi in 1933. To this day, Audi and its Quattro all-wheel-drive is the most respected, be it front drive or all-wheel drive. In 1934, French manufacturer Citroen joined the fray.
The first American manufacturer with front drive is a toss-up between Ruxton and Cord, both who tried in 1929 but never sold enough cars to be labeled as mass-produced. BSA, the motorcycle name from overseas, sold a three-wheeled front-drive machine in 1929 with success, but we can’t include any “less than four wheel” vehicles on this list.
Personally, I remember the Simca cars in 1960 as front-wheel drive, although I’m sure many other foreign makes also sold FWD cars. I know the Saab “bumble bees” were front drive (emitting that special sound from their little engines), and the Austin Mini Coopers, too, the latter which were great in road racing classes.
As for the domestic big three and not counting the Cord 810, which had the transmission and engine installed backward in 1938, resulting in front drive worthiness, modern-day front-drive cars first appeared on those 1966 Olds Toronados, and then subsequent Buick Rivieras and Cadillac Eldorados. These were well before the Plymouth Horizon and Dodge Omni of 1978, followed by Chevy’s Citation, which came about in 1980. After 1980, many manufacturers introduced front-drive vehicles and minivans. I had the opportunity to drive a ‘66 Toronado thanks to my date to the prom’s family that year!
As for me, I’m still a fan of rear-wheel drive. I’ll admit that front drive is better in the snow, hands down, but for normal weather driving, a rear drive delivers the best in handling and weight transfer, far and above a front-drive design. That’s why most all of the world’s great motorcars use rear-drive platforms.
Thanks for your letter, and I hope this answer helps.
Greg Zyla writes weekly for GateHouse Media and welcomes reader interaction on collector cars, auto nostalgia or old-time motorsports at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, PA 18840 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.