Another technological breakthrough
In technical advancement the Motor Industry is certainly not stagnant and it might well be said that seldom has the ordinary buying public had a wider or more exciting choice of new cars of all kinds. What is more, we are now witnessing another technological breakthrough of considerable significance.
There have been similar advances in the past, when items of specification now commonplace were introduced, to be regarded at first with scepticism, yet today found on all, or the majority, of production cars, and accepted without comment. For instance, until about 1923 four-wheelbrakes were in the minority. Such braking had been known long before the war, having been used by Arrol-Johnston, Argyll and Isotta-Fraschini and in the 1914 French Grand Prix by Delage, Fiat, Peugeot and Piccard-Pictet, yet in the early 1920s, such braking was thought to be too costly, too tricky, or simply unnecessary, some even thinking it dangerous, in spite of the reduced stopping distances and immunity from skidding that it provided.
Despite the splendid servo 4WB systems used from 1919 by Hispano Suiza and Delage, RollsRoyce took until 1925 to adopt such anchorage for their famous 40/50 hp chassis. Yet by 1927 only modest cars such as the Model-T Ford and Trojan (on which reverse gear could be quickly engaged in an emergency!) and She the Chevrolet and Jowett scorned brakes on their steered wheels and mostly they could be had as extra equipment. Indeed, the spread of four-wheelbraking was rapid. Of the cars available in Britain in 1924, only 28.5% were endowed with 4WB. By 1925 the figure had risen to 47%, with such brakes optional on another six per cent, and of the 1926 cars 75% were front-wheel braked. By 1927 88% of cars on the British market were so endowed and by 1928 this figure had risen to 93.8%, and with the coming of selfcompensating hydraulic operation, pioneered in America by Chrysler (after Duesenberg had used “water-brakes” to win the 1921 French GP) and by Triumph, with the Lockheed system, and Horstmann in Britain, such security became universal. . . .
It was much the same with the “Battle-of-the-Cylinders”. Of the many different cars available here in 1920, four-cylinder power-units were used in 180 of them, the six-cylinder engine in 55, and the eight-cylinder in only 17, although the horse-power tax was about to encourage smallbore cylinders. By 1925, the “four” was still well ahead of the “six”, in ratio of 70%/21.3% and a mere handful of designs (3.8%) had eight cylinders. Yet, perhaps inspired by racing-car leads, where multiples of small “pots” were deemed the most efficient, at the end of the vintage period, 1930, the six-cylinder car prevailed, at 52.5% over the “four” (26.8%) and although austerity had reduced its numbers, the eight-cylinder engine was found in 18.3% of Britishmarket cars. For luxury cars the straight-eight had come on hard, with Wolseley and Hillman even venturing inexpensive cars of this kind and Amilcar making a 2-litre version. When increasing traffic congestion called for shorter bonnets the vet-eight replaced the long in-line eights and, in the 1980s, we accept that the vet-eight is general for American automobiles and it and the compact V6 popular for large cars here.
Now another technological innovation is well under way that could soon be just as acceptable, eventually, even as universal as four-wheel brakes and multi-cylinder engines were to become. We refer to four-wheel-drive for private cars, allied to anti-lock braking. The origins of 4WD go back to 1966, so far as production private-cars (as distinct from specialist off-road vehicles like the highly successful British Land-Rover and later Range-Rover) are concerned, with the Jensen FF. It did not last, but Subaru (1981) and others revived it, and Audi had in 1980 cashed-in with it in sophisticated form. Tried but abandoned for GP racing but used by John Cobb for his 1939/47 LSRs of up to nearly 400 mph, four-wheel-drive is now regarded as essential for prowess in International rallying and is coming into use on the cars of ordinary mortals. Ford has applied it to the Sierra XR40 4, in conjunction with ABS braking. It is a breakthrough that should contribute as much to driving safety, enjoyment, and convenience as four-wheelbrakes did years ago. — W.B.