Why was the idea of front wheel drive shelved from the 1920s to the 1970s?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Sep 01, 1989

Dear Tom and Ray:

I ran across an interesting bit of history recently. It seems that Cord made a front wheel drive car in 1929. I also found out that Mr. Cord put himself in dire straits with the Securities and Exchange Commission by valuing and devaluing his stock. I understand he finally left for some South American country with a suitcase full of money. My question is; if in 1929 it was possible to provide front wheel drive, why was the idea shelved until the late 1970s?

RAY: That's an interesting question, John. Front wheel drive was prohibitively expensive back in the 1920's. Its resurgence came about because of the downsizing of cars. Front wheel drive was also found to improve roadholding and traction in smaller cars. If a car is heavy enough, however, rear wheel drive is fine. Not only that, but rear-drive cars are easier to work on because everything isn't crammed up front. While the trend over the last 15 years has certainly been toward front wheel drive, some of the luxury car makers like Mercedes and BMW have stuck with rear wheel drive. They felt, and continue to feel, that rear wheel drive provides better balance, comfort, and performance than front wheel drive. The new Japanese luxury car makers, Lexus and Infiniti, have added their vote to this belief by introducing their new super sedans with rear wheel drive.

TOM: And to add to your bit of automotive history, did you know that Cord also built the first electric car? It had a 200,000 foot extension wire attached to it. I think it was called the Umbilical Cord.

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