Amazing automotive inventions: four wheel drive

On UK Fuel Cards’ blog, we don’t just like to harp on incessantly about the benefits of fuel cards – we also like to take a broader look at the world of motoring and how fleets have developed across the years. Today we’re having a look at four-wheel drive. Regardless of whether your fleet vehicles are equipped with this technology, we all know that it’s an invaluable system for off-road vehicles, and doesn’t half help fleet drivers in tricky weather conditions, too. Given the obvious benefits of four-wheel drive, it’s rather surprising that it’s taken so long to become common in roadgoing cars and trucks. Figures from the US suggest that nearly a third of new cars feature all-wheel (or four-wheel) drive, so it’s clear that consumers are increasingly seeing the value in this technology.


The very beginning

The first vehicle with four-wheel drive was actually developed way back in the 19th century. Bramah Joseph Diplock, a British inventor, first submitted a patent for a four-wheel drive system for a traction engine back in 1893. By the turn of the century, a certain Mr Ferdinand Porsche showed off a four-wheel drive electric vehicle. Given the weight of the batteries and its limited range, the car wasn’t exactly successful, however. Furthermore, the Lohner-Porsche featured a motor at each wheel, so isn’t usually thought of as the first four-wheel drive automobile. The first mechanical four-wheel drive vehicle came just a couple of years later. The Spyker 60 HP was a racer with a single engine but four-wheel drive, and is widely credited as the first motorcar with four wheel drive.


The Jensen FF

A variant on the Jensen Interceptor, the Jensen FF is thought to have been the first passenger car to feature four-wheel drive. It was also the first car to feature an anti-lock braking system when it came to the market in the mid ‘60s. This innovative car was a revelation at the time it was developed, but failed to succeed commercially given its inflated price. However, thanks to its groundbreaking technology and stunning aesthetics, the Jensen FF lives on in the hearts of many motoring enthusiasts today.


Audi Quattro

While we’re on the subject of revolutionary cars, let’s move on to the Audi Quattro. Now inescapably associated with DCI Gene Hunt in Ashes to Ashes, the Quattro’s iconic status isn’t just limited to its roadgoing iterations. It also made a splash in motorsport, and in particular, Group B rallying. Audi was the first motorsport company to take advantage of the change in rules at the World Rally Championship, with four-wheel drive vehicles allowed to compete in the championships from 1979 onwards. Many of the sports top competitors, however, chose to dismiss the technology at first. The Audi Quattro performed so well in testing that Audi’s competitors were suddenly scrambling to make use of four-wheel drive, too.


Four-wheel drive has evolved significantly since the Audi Quattro first burst onto the racing scene. Many modern vehicles switch to four-wheel drive automatically when road conditions worsen, allowing for a greater degree of control when required. There remains some concern about the additional fuel consumption of some four-wheel drive vehicles, but with the right fuel card in place, you’ll be able to recoup these costs with ease!


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