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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Old News is Good News. Front Wheel Drive turns into mid engine sports car, a history(1970-2011)

At the end of the 60's the boys at Fiat cars took what was to become the new Fiat 128 front wheel drive economy transverse engine and gearbox and put it in the back of a show car.  The Fiat x 1/9 was born.  Front wheel drive is a tight packaging problem for an engineering group and the europeans were the real innovators in the field.  Our idea of front wheel drive i the U.S. was a big block toronado...not exactly the economy car and efficient package europe needed.

So Fiat put the whole front drive transverse engine/trans/driveshafts/brakes/spindles from the front of the 128 and put it ito a little sports car.  If you lock down the steering tie rods fwd works like a charm in the back.  A 2000 lb car with maybe 85 horsepower was still a hoot to drive.  A terrible car, but no car tried any harder than the x 1/9.

Next up was the new x-car platform from GM and the chysler k-car platform around 1980.   These new front drive cars were  designed to save the companies and usher in the era of frugal front drivers to america.  Pontiac eventually did  what Fiat did in 1970...they took the 2.5 liter iron duke 4 cyl econobox engine and front wheel drive transmission/suspension/brakes from the x-car platform and moved it to the rear of a little mid engined sports car.  Over 300,000 of these cars were sold...not bad for a two seat commuter that looked and performed like a sports car.

There have been a few fwd to rwd conversions in the kit car world as well  but none of them ever sold well.  Either too expensive like the k1 attack or just not thought out well they never caught on.  I really think that if they had launched some of the early 4 cyl mid engine kits today with our 4 buck a gallon fuel prices they would have done fine.  But fuel stayed below 2 bucks a gallon all the way into the new why go small here in America...cobras were king of the home built universe...heck they still are really.  We had our trucks, we were not even thinking global warming, we were in the good old U.S.A where cheap gas was our birthright.  That didn't take too long to turn around.

The car business today is really simple.  We all know that if fuel isn't 4 dollars a gallon now it will be soon.  We all agree that burning it all and putting it in the air is probably not the best thing for the planet.  Efficiency can be fun at three levels can zip around in tiny nimble cars AND save the planet AND save you bank account.  Most of us are keeping the v12's in the garage for date night.

For the last three years I have been publicly sharing the fun i am having building this little G3F sports car out of a jetta sedan.  I proves that fun is contagious.  V8 guys love the car, japanese car fans love the car, vw/audi guys can't get enough since the old beetle projects really are not around anymore,  and we all are having fun with a kit that actually blows cold air or hot air into an OEM quality cockpit and dash.  The simplicity of an MG, Jag or Cobra from the 60's is what makes those cars so very special...but a daily driver is not a race has to have a bit of comfort to sell well.

So here we are about to ship number 2 and 3 frames that will be bolted on to the unframed Jettas waiting out there in the kit car project world.  Our version of a hybrid doesn't refer to the refers to our frame for an unframed car hybrid frame concept.  This is our contribution to the front wheel drive to mid engine story that started with Fiat in 1970...but we are keeping the econobox instead of making a new platform by and adding a frame to the rear of an existing car.  Time will tell how big a financial success the G3F is, but huge volume or just a few hundred doesn't matter to us cars project guys...we just want to build and drive then repeat the process.

A huge thanks to all those VW, Fiat, Chysler and GM engineers who made the front wheel drive economy cars so very easy to work over....without you we wouldn't have all these ultra compact engines/trannies to play with.  I will stick to making frames and bodies that use all that fabulous engineering and let VW engineer and manufacture the parts for the drivetrain...too rich for my blood...its more fun that way.

Mark Smith


  1. wow this is pretty awesome, you have done a great job. sports car is so pretty cool and i love sporty cars too

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