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