Throwbacks: Examples and Non-Examples

What do the Triumph Toledo, the Ford Taunus and the Rover 75 have in common?

1972 Triumph 1500: source
1972 Triumph 1500: source

For a very long time the general trend in automotive drivetrain layouts has been to move from rear-wheel drive to front-wheel drive. It started in earnest in the 60’s with smaller cars from mainstream manufacturers though of course the pioneers were specialists, Citroen and Lancia. Thus a trickle of front-wheel drive superminis exploited the packaging efficiency of front-wheel drive and showed the way forward. Then the Golf/Kadett/Escort class yielded as follows: 1974 for the Golf, 1979 for the Kadett and 1980 for the Escort. Things took a little longer to

Ford Taunus 2.3 Ghia
Ford Taunus 2.3 Ghia

change for the family car sector. While Renault and Citroen only used FWD, Ford held out until the ’93 Mondeo; Peugeot gave up in 1992 when the 505 died. Thereafter all their cars had driven front wheels. The Ascona went FWD in 1981, though, typical of GM Europe’s engineering bravado. The remaining rear-wheel drive die hard’s belonged to the larger car class and to what were then known as “prestige brands”: Jaguar, BMW and Mercedes plus the true luxury cars and sporting thoroughbreds. That’s the rough outline: brands either stayed rear-wheel drive for reasons of prestige or handling requirements and the rest chose front wheel drive as it suited the packaging and price points. Seen this way, the transition is a one way street: once you go front-wheel drive you don’t go back.

Which is where our disparate trio come in. The 1965 Triumph 1300 emerged as a progressively engineered sports saloon from a respected manufacturer. The 1300 replaced the rear-driven Herald, famous for its humorous swing-axles and enormous bonnet and wing arrangement. BMC had been doing quite well with their front-wheel drive trio of vehicles and Triumph wanted some action. It was a brave move but also possibly suicidal.

Even at this point, Triumph could be seen to be gradually fading (they effectively died by 1981, Acclaim notwithstanding). Rear drive showed desperation. However, things didn’t proceed as planned with Triumph’s front-wheel drive ambitions. The problem lay in the cost and complexity of the front-wheel drive package and, quite possibly, in the handling of the understeering tendencies it demonstrated. And here the evolution of the 1300 gets rather blurry.

In 1970 Triumph replaced the 1300 with the 1500 which had a bigger engine and the same FWD arrangement. In 1970 they also produced the Dolomite which had two doors, a 1300 engine and rear-wheel drive in what was essentially the same body-shell but was marketed as a cheaper car. For 1973 Triumph adapted the 1500 body-shell for rear-wheel drive and this was known as the Dolomite which soldiered on until 1980. So, if I get this correctly the 1300 and 1500 front drive saloons became the rear-wheel drive Toledo and Dolomite and were sold simultaneously for a while. The bigger 2000 saloon departed the vale of tears in 1977.

1998 Rover 75
1998 Rover 75

Next on our list, the Ford Taunus and, by implication the Ford Sierra. In 1962 Ford launched the front-wheel drive V4-powered Taunus 12 M (M for “Meisterstuck”). They stuck with front wheel drive with the 1966 Taunus 12M during which time Ford began the long process of winding down design for national markets (if we lament the end of British Ford manufacture, we must also lament the end of design of German Fords for Germany). At this point, FoMoCo decided that front-wheel drive was too idiosyncratic and opted to rationalise their European family cars around a rear-wheel drive concept used in the more conservative British market. Thus the 1970 Taunus TC (for Taunus-Cortina) went for a rear-drive model and it stayed with this for the Sierra of 1982 which ran until 1992, a twenty-two year regression if you like.

And finally, more poignant is the case of the Rover 75. Rover had been toying with front-drive ever since the days of their ill-starred marriage to Honda (let’s call that 1980 when the initial dating began). BMW insisted on Rover staying front-wheel drive and had hopes that Rover would be the “best-handling front-drive cars in the world”. That phrase always sounded to me as a pulled-punch, or a stunted ambition. It revealed Rover’s fetters.

There must always have been people inside Rover who felt that front-wheel drive was insufficiently macho. After all, BMW, Jaguar and Mercedes all stood firm that if you wanted to sell a prestige car it had to have the power sent to the boot. Rover had been gearing up for an assault on the upper ranks, ever since the 200 challenged the 3-series. BMW’s purchase of Rover stymied those hopes.

The 75 first went on sale as front-wheel drive comfort-orientated car. If anyone can confirm this I’d be interested: Rover engineers based their body-shell on the rear-wheel drive 1988 BMW E-34. When the chance came and Rover was ejected from the house of Bavaria, engineers tried to re-engineer the 75 as a rear wheel drive car with a Ford V8. They also had a go messing up the styling. That didn’t really work; like Triumph it suggested panic.

The Rover 75 lives on as a Chinese market car and is still front-wheel drive.

2000 Jaguar X-type:
The much-loved 2000 Jaguar X-type:

Of our trio, one stands out as a half-baked case. The Taunus bodyshell was not remodelled for rear-wheel drive unlike the other two. It was replaced with a new body designed for RWD. This finds echoes in Alfa Romeo’s reversion to RWD for their new Giulia and Hyundai going RWD with their Genesis line. Another half-case might be the much-loved Jaguar X-type which used the Mondeo’s front-drive architecture adapted to all-wheel drive and then adapted back to front-wheel drive. You can tell that they really did want to use RWD in going to all that trouble. I suspect were forbidden by Ford’s bosses who missed a trick here by not allowing Jaguar to provide a RWD platform for use on Fords and Mercuries.

This exhausts my list of front-wheel to rear-wheel drive throwbacks. If anyone can think of others then we can add to the world’s sum of knowledge.

Remember, the rule is that the body must have been originally front-wheel drive rather than being, as in the case of the Taunus-Cortina and Giulia, a reversion on a new body.  Jaguar is a false case as the donor car was not a Jaguar. Is a RWD throwback a British thing


Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

35 thoughts on “Throwbacks: Examples and Non-Examples”

  1. I can think of one example (or two, depends on how you count) that is a bit reminiscent of the Rover 75 in that the performance variants got their own drivetrain. Unlike in the other cases, it’s not only the driven wheels that were thrown back, they even took their engine with them.
    Yes, it’s Renault and their R5 Turbo and Clio V6. Originally FWD supermini bodyshells with a sportscar underneath. Of course, as a mainstream car, the more sensible layout lived on.

  2. 1935-38 Citroën UA: A RWD TA, for those who feared FWD. 15,000 were made.
    IKCO Peugeot RD1600 / ROA: Peugeot 405 on top, Rootes Arrow below.

    1. I have to disagree about the Citroën UA. According to ‘Toutes les Citroën’, it’s a production of the old ‘Rosalie’ RWD models that ran alongside the Traction. It didn’t have the latter’s unibody design.
      So, while it’s a throwback, it’s not based on a FWD body.

    2. The UA was indeed based on the old upright Rosalie. But I’m pretty sure that another company attempted to produce a RWD car using the Traction bodyshell. Now who was that? Looking for more information I came across the small joy that Google translates “homokinetische kruiskoppeling” from the Dutch, not as constant-velocity universal joint, but as “gay kinetic cross coupling”. Is that the sort of thing that makes Jeremy Clarkson laugh? I guess so.

    3. It was the Licorne, based on bought in 11 Legere bodyshells, ending up with Citroen engines, more traditional detailing and rear drive. About 1000 were made.

    1. This is good stuff. The Peugeot is not an example of desperation – I guess Iranians really like their oversteer and opposite lock antics. The Cord example: can we call that expediency? I note that Hupp wasn’t Cord so this is not a case of the same marque and body switching from F to RWD. If I am strict Robertas’ will be disallowed as IKCO isn’t Peugeot? Or is it a joint venture?
      Simon’s closest so far.

  3. Richard, I would pedantically contend that the RD1600 / ROA would contend as it was sold by IKCO as a Peugeot, unlike the Paykan and Samand families which were Iran Khodro branded. Also IKCO built FWD 405s in parallel with the RD1600 / ROA.

    I suspect there are other things which changed driven ends in the developing world and closed markets. The only one I can immediately think of is the Renault 12 based Dacia 130* series, which included some RWD pick ups.

    Sean, if the Hupp and Graham Paige cars count, does the Austin 3 Litre?

    1. Robertas: I’ll grudgingly concede the RD 405 but I’d have been happier if it had been sold in France too. Still, if you are an Iranian it would look different, a simultaneous sale or a regression? I suppose they liked the simpler engineering involved.
      The Austin 3-Litre is a freak. It evolved before in the early 60s and used a 3.0 straight six; with RD it avoided the touch of Alec that dogged the BMC Mini family and successors. The body seems to have not been derived from anything Issigonis did. Maybe there are bits of the 1800 in the centre? Discuss.

  4. The Phoenix Four’s desire to have a stonking rear-driver in their range, though possibly just the thing that David Brent would think to do when he won a car company at the tombola, has always confused me. All the more so when I realised that, despite what TWBCM told me at the 75’s birth, the car did not sit on an old 5 series platform, so it wasn’t just a case of just sticking the RWD bits back on.

    1. The people at Rover wanted the V8 RWH car to right an historical wrong and also to generate publicity. It´s the kind of skunkworks project that sometimes works and in this case it didn´t. The styling really scraped the bottom. Evidently all the good people had left a long time ago. I´d suggest that if one did own a Rover V8 that it would be a good idea to put on it the original Rover 75 bumpers and lights and throw away the plastic mask Rover sold the car with. I am sure you can get those bits for nearly nothing and sell the V8 parts on eBay for a tidy profit.

    2. The ZT / 75 V8 was another example of The Great White Elephant At The Trump Of Doom. The Phoenix Four didn’t take any chances – they had the MG SV as well.

      Other examples of TGWEATTOD: Borgward P100, Glas 2600/3000GT, Talbot Tagora Leyland P76 – and that’s just scratching the surface.

      The Ro80 fits the description, but it upsets me too much thinking about it. The final Saab 9-5 fits too, but it’s a subtly re-worked Chevy Impala, and therefore a symbol of the wrongness of GM’s stewardship of Sweden’s second most succesful carmaker.

  5. Sean: that’s great trivia even if I can’t allow it as an example. There aren’t really a whole lot of clear cases. Triumph is still the best one, with the Dolomite and Toledo outliving their FWD roots. The 1300 died in 1970; the 1500 stopped in 1973. The manufacturer was the same, the model name changed but the body was essentially the same. The Rover V8 seems to be analogous though the FWD 75 stayed in production at the same time.

  6. Richard – what I should have said is that the 3 Litre (ADO61) was effectively a parallel project to the 1800 (ADO17). As you correctly state, Greek Al had no part in it. ADO 17 was the work of Chris Kingham’s cell, under Issigonis. ADO61 was managed by Ron Nicholls, reporting directly to Hopeless Harriman.

    Harriman had a fixation with large, rather pompous, cars with no pretensions to sportiness. He seems to have been oblivious to the 1960’s being the era of the “driver’s car”, despite what was coming out of Solihull and Canley. The 3 Litre was intended to be a straight Austin Westminster successor, and early publicity material used that name.

    I’ll refer those interested in ADO61 matters to If you don’t know the story of its troubled genesis, and who else was involved, be prepared for a shock!

    Returning, literally, to the core matter, the 3 litre was intended to use the entire centre section of ADO17. The roof and its structure, glass (inexplicable front door quartelights excepted), doors and door apertures are clearly common to both. It’s unlikely that the floorpan or bulkheads were shared.

    The RWD configuration precluded the carry-over of the ADO17’s horizontal front Hydrolastic displacers. When I met Dr. Moulton in 2009, he said that he had little to do with the 3 Litre. Its hydraulic self-levelling system was BMC’s work; he had developed a simpler and cheaper electric system which never went into production.

    That said, he remained on cordial terms with Ron Nicholls long after his falling out with Greek Al. In Moulton’s late-life autobiography there’s a picture of Nicholls on a visit to Bradford-on-Avon in 2008. The book makes no mention of the 3 litre, nor BMC’s two other ’60’s Hydrolastic RWD projects, the Manzu / Conrad / Werner-styled ADO30 E-Type rival, and the EX234 ‘Hydrolastic Midget’.

    The 3 Litre deserves to be a DTW favourite, if the dogma-free policy allows such an indulgence. It was awkward-looking and underdeveloped, but has a sui generis quality, and hints of potential for greatness. LJKS was a fan, and no less a person than Harry Webster chose a Rover V8 engined ADO61 as his daily driver during his reign as BLMC’s Technical Director.

    1. Correct there: I have a morbid fascination for the 3-Litre, right down to the useless name. I like its indifferent styling and opulent interior. I suppose they are quite pleasant bulldozers to drive, with that nostalgic glue/horsehair/oil smell these cars always have.
      In a nutshell, it’s more a holdover than throwback?

  7. To know the 3 Litre is to love it. It sometimes seems like a car devised to annoy Greek Al with its extravagant use of roadspace – nearly half a metre longer than the 1800, but with less interior space. Pininfarina is credited with the styling, but perhaps Pressed Steel’s drawing office tidied it up – somehow, the tail end of a Gordon-Keeble sneaked in.

    As for the “useless name”, ‘3 litre’ is stretching a point, but perhaps BMC were ahead of their time in using non-capacity related designations, long before BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Jaguar/Daimler usually gave a little more, BMC quite a lot less.

  8. Never tired on name-dropping my connections with the Royalty of motoring journalism, I shall repeat the fact that I think (he didn’t introduce himself) that I once briefly met Martin Buckley in a supermarket car park when he was driving a black 3 litre. In theory the model had a lot going for it, except a clientele.

    Possibly a result of being tall, but I’ve always felt that internal space,which is relatively cheap to provide, is one of the great luxuries of car ownership though, inexplicably, most manufacturers and, I guess their loyal customers, don’t seem to agree.

  9. I’d like to mention the Ford Escort RS Cosworth. While the Escort was fwd, the Cossie was more or less a Sierra in an Escort suit.

    From Wikipedia: “Ford developed the car around the chassis and mechanicals of its spiritual predecessor, the Sierra Cosworth to accommodate the larger Cosworth engine and transmission, whilst clothing it in Escort body panels to make it resemble the standard Mk V. ”

    Which means it retained the Sierras rwd architectural DNA with a longitudinal front engine driving mainly the rear wheels. This is a special case, as the Cossie was 4WD, but I’d argue for this case since the car it was based on was primarily rwd.

  10. Is it just me but isn’t the Dolomite/Toledo are very nicely handled design? I like the way the sill sweeps up behind the rear wheel and becomes the boot: a curve meets a straight line. Michelotti did some good work. Triumph really had some good foundations for success: they were a British BMW and Rover should have closed in 1980.

  11. Undercapitalisation and woefully poor quality in things which matter – engines, gearboxes, electrics driveline components and paint – were Triumph’s downfall by the early 1970s. The cars had developed a bad reputation in the trade in the UK and the USA through cost cutting and less than rigorous manufacturing processes.

    In the ’60s, with a tricke of Leyland money, amazing things were achieved on a shoestring, with something new almost every year. In this sense they were more a British Glas than a British BMW – the parallel extends from being bankrolled by profitable agricultural machinery in the ’50s to hubristic V8-engined grand tourers at the trump of doom.

    With the loss of the profitable Ferguson manufacturing sub-contract, Standard-Triumph wouldn’t have lasted long into the 1960s if Leyland Motors’ unstoppable ambitions had not included car manufacturing. They had looked far and wide for merger partners, and everyone had looked around and walked away.

    If MAN or Magirus-Deutz had a Leyland-like mindset, Glas or Borgward could have been global aspirational brands, and BMW a little-known aerospace components and motorcycle manufacturer.

  12. On the Citroën UA matter, I apologise for passing on bum information.

    My source was Jon Winding-Sørensen’s masterly – but not infallible – compact history of the company in CAR March 1971, which describes the UA thus:

    “One of the most obscure Citroëns, the UA was built to accommodate those who were scared by front wheel drive. The car looked like a normal TA, but with the engine turned round and driving the rear wheels. In addition to the 11UA and the 7UA made between January 1935 and July 1938, a few 11UDs with 1766cc diesel engines were manufactured in 1937. These must be the most exclusive Citroëns ever”. Altogether about 15,000 UAs were made.”

    Licorne and Corre La Licorne don’t even get a mention. Perhaps Jon conflated the UA and Licorne Rivoli.

    It’s always distressing to find that one’s gods have feet of clay…

    1. The conventional UA is interesting only because it showed that Citroen were (understandably) hedging their bets over new technology. With that error, I wonder if Mr W-S is technically correct in saying that the UA was offered in diesel form. The Rosalie it was derived from has the dubious credit of being the world’s first production diesel car (1933 – with particulate thanks to Harry Riicardo), but was that marketed as a UA or did it still call itself a Rosalie? I know we have a French Citroen expert looking in to this site from time to time, maybe they can comment?

      The Licorne was a distant memory to me from a grainy photo and a couple of lines in an old book of mine, which took some time to find – as you say, the company was Corre-La Licorne and had been around since the beginning of the century, but it didn’t survive the Pons Plan. It seems odd that Citroen were willing to dilute the novelty of the Traction by having another maker produce similar looking vehicles but, I suppose, they struck a good deal which Michelin told them to accept.

  13. The exact timing of this putative rear-drive throwback is unclear.
    What I was hoping for was a case of a FWD car going to only RWD and the FWD version ceasing production. As it stands the Toledomite is the clearest case.

    1. The Licorne Rivoli and Normandie appeared in 1936, two years after the Traction Avant was announced. There’s a comprehensive website about the marque here, including the odd fact that, for 4 years from 1942, Ettore Bugatti owned the company.

      Was it tempting fate to call a car “the Unicorn”. I mean, imagine trying to market something named after a mythical animal … say ‘Bigfoot’ or ‘Yeti’.

    2. Taking Corre-La Licorne research still further throws up the fact that they made electrically powered vehicles during the War and that this 1942 Milde Krieger is based on a Licorne platform. An EV Monospace that doesn’t use up the world’s steel resources.

    3. Regarding the name Licorne, it’s all about connotations really. It isn’t used in French as a byword for dreams and fantasy the way it is in English, so no one would have sneered at it back then.

    4. I wasn’t sneering, just asking. The name dated from 1901 and, to me, it has the optimism of the early days of motoring.

    5. Very much so. You wrote about ‘innocent times’ or something along those lines in your piece about the Route Master. This is very much another illustration of the same concept.

  14. I’m still dredging l’insolite for some regressive rwd conversion from the colonies, but here’s the English Licorne, the Gartrac G6:

    Remembered from my Triple-C reading days. Gartrac made conversion kits to adapt Escort Mk.3 bodyshells to RWD for rallying and rallycross use, using Escort Mk.1 and 2 drivetrains, and the much more useful range of RWD-only engines.

    The G6 was the road vesion, more sophisticated to the point that it borders on Brougham: 2.8 and 2.9 Köln V6, occasionally Sierra Cosworth driveline. Extra regression points for proper longitudinal leaf springs at the rear.

  15. On the Triumphs, the reality is even more confusing.

    The home market had the original 1965 1300 and 1300 TC, and a 1500 with the same body was offered for export. They were replaced by a Michelotti-facelifted, long-tail FWD 1500 in 1970, as you rightly state. However, that left a gap at the bottom of the range, so the Michelotti face was mated to the short-tail, old 1300 body, with RWD for cost-saving—that was the Toledo, also from 1970. Like the earlier car, it was available either as a Toledo 1300 for the home market, and a Toledo 1500 was offered for export. The FWD 1500 was succeeded in 1973 by the RWD 1500 TC, but that was not a Dolomite. The Dolomite was a separate line created the year before, and was an even more upmarket RWD car (proving your point, perhaps, about RWD and prestige here?) with an OHC 1·9 (known usually as the 1850). The Dolomite Sprint with the two-litre 16-valve OHC came from this range (another story, though). The 1500 TC was, effectively, a way for BL to make things simpler and cheaper, by doing away with the FWD models altogether.

    At the start of 1973, it was Toledo (RWD), 1500 (FWD) and Dolomite (RWD) in terms of the order (lowest to highest); by the end of the year, it was Toledo, 1500 TC and Dolomite, all in RWD.

    Now, if you can continue to bear with me: in 1976 no one knew what was going on, and everything became a Dolomite. The base Dolomite came with the 1300 engine and the very basic Toledo face, but the long boot: the short-boot cars were no more—at least on the home market. The 1500 TC vanished, but there wasn’t much of a gap in there for it, given the Dolomite range went from 1300 to Sprint now.

    As a very odd postscript, short-body Toledos were still being assembled in New Zealand into 1978, and kept up to date with the Dolomite range in other respects. The last Toledo 1500s had the plastic side rubbing strips of the 1978 Dolomite 1300 and 1500, for instance.

    Here are some links from my site if you want to follow the mess:,_1500

    I’m very, very glad I stumbled across your site today.

    1. Thanks for your comment Jack and welcome to the site. Very pleased you’re enjoying what you’ve seen so far. New Zealand’s climate seems to be very kind to older cars, but even so the amount of BLMC / BL vehicles in seemingly daily use there was for me, quite striking when I visited ten years ago. I daresay, their numbers have diminished since.

      Interesting too how whenever one thinks they’ve heard the worst of BLMC / BL’s product decisions, the barrel reveals further depths. It wasn’t even ineptitude, I’d suggest. More outright civil disobedience, not just on the shop floor but at boardroom level too.

  16. Hi Eóin, this is a fantastic site—it has the sort of stories I enjoy, and I’ve since subscribed to the WordPress feed. You are right that it’s getting harder to see the BMC–BL vehicles in New Zealand these days, though British Car Day was last Sunday and many survivors turned up (my write-up’s on AROnline). As you probably gathered from observation, the fall really happened in the 1970s: like Britain, we loved the ADO16 but the Allegro made little impact, at the same time the Japanese made inroads. We didn’t have a gentlemen’s agreement with Japan: they came in, and the local assemblers were all too happy to meet demand. NZMC began building Hondas alongside BL cars in the 1970s (long before Michael Edwardes talked to Honda), so many of their cars came out in BL colours. Ford bid farewell to Escort and Cortina in favour of Mazda-sourced product. From dominating our roads in the 1950s and 1960s—so much so that our roads looked like a facsimile of Britain’s—by 1984, the only locally assembled car sourced from British kits was the Ford Sierra estate.

    The boardroom seemed too keen to play politics at BL. There was never a unified culture, and it always seemed to be us versus them—and by that I meant Stokes and his Triumph men versus the old BMC people.

  17. In 1992, Ford produced a RWD Escort with the 2.3 litre pre-Zeta 4 cylinder 16v lump. It used half of the 4×4 system as used in the RS2000 4×4. It required no BIW changes. Sadly Ford bottled it as it may have sent conflicting messages out. After all, they had just launched the Mondeo as FWD. To then go and launch a RWD Escort to get that cars badly tarnished image back might have seemed hypocritical.

    But in answer to this opening gambit of this essay, are we not forgetting the Metro to MGF metamorphism? Here we have a new body shell admittedly, but huge chunks of trim, driveline, pressings and of course, subframes remained unchanged.

    Its the subframes which are the key, but I also firmly believe the bulkhead, front floor pan and inner front wings are identical. The engine, gearbox, steering rack, suspension, front and rear brakes, radiator, hubs, seats, Hydragas, swtichgear, washer bottle, etc are all interchangeable. Its stretching the point, but thats the privilege a right to reply gives the reader.

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