How four-wheel found traction

A rough road: Willys, Ford early adopters

Last month, I attended England’s largest Classic Car Show at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham.
This year’s show was the largest and most successful in the event’s history, and there were many vehicles on display from my youth. And some that I had never even heard that were amazing.
One in particular that caught my eye was a 1952 Ferguson F4 Prototype, which sparked an interest into the history of four-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, 4X4 — whatever you want to call it.
The first 4WD (four-wheel drive) system was developed in 1893 by British engineer Joseph Diplock, who patented a four-wheel drive and four-wheel steering system for traction engines. Six years later, Ferdinand Porsche built a four-wheel drive electric vehicle.
The world’s first 4WD internal combustion engine car was the 1903 Spyker 60 HP, which is on display in the Louwman Museum in the Netherlands.
It was not until Second World War that there was a need for go-anywhere-4×4 utility vehicles. That would be built by Willys and Ford, the first production built Jeep as we know it today. History shows they were actually beaten to it in 1938 by GAZ, who built the GAZ-61 but the world was not that familiar with what was going on in Russia.
Today, all-wheel drive vehicles are common place. I took a quick inventory of the vehicles in my family and discovered that three out of the four are permanent all-wheel drive: one American, one German and the other Japanese.
During the early 1950s, Harry Ferguson, the pioneer of the modern agricultural tractor, developed a 4WD system known as the Ferguson Formula for passenger cars in a factory near Coventry, England.
The Ferguson R4 prototype looks like a giant Standard 8.
It is powered by a 2.2-litre horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine, and fitted with four-wheel independent suspension, four-wheel drive and Dunlop four-wheel disc brakes with the Maxaret anti-locking system.
This was the first ABS system, originally designed for aircraft.
The American Motors Corporation was the first manufacturer to mass produce passenger cars using the FF (Ferguson Formula) system.
The 1980 Eagle model line was the only American built and the world’s first complete line (sedan, coupe and wagon) of permanent automatic all-wheel-drive passenger cars.

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