Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Universal Joy of Rear Wheel Drive

Some things are truly universal.  Nearly all people on this planet recognize a nod of the head as "yes" and a shake for "no", regardless of our radically different cultures and geographic locations.  Darwin studied this phenomenon deeply, and he was led to the conclusion that it is simply innate human behavior - it's an instinctual remnant of evolution.
Darwin - a huge proponent of oppo

Extrapolating the theory of evolution to cars, it can be surmised that the fittest of the species are bland, anonymous front wheel drive commuting capsules - appliances utterly bereft of fun or that sparkle of something special that endows objects with a human element.  In other words, modern cars, as shaped by modern demands, are by and large, efficient, joyless and uninspired - a metaphor for our current collective state of being.

It's clear that evolution has been derailed by advanced medicine, technology and consumer economies - the simple fact that we don't have to fight for our next meal has softened our instincts and dulled our inner animal.  Comfortable suburbanites are not the fittest, and neither are their cars of choice.

But just as with people, there have been a handful of extraordinary machines that have escaped the gravity of mediocrity and reached an evolutionary zenith.  And just like common head gestures, the design approach to these cars is universal - a smallish, light, front-engined, rear wheel drive sedan with a powerful four cylinder engine.

AE86 in its natural state - sideways

The MKI & MKII Ford Escorts, BMW 1500 through E30 M3 and Toyota AE86 Corolla are all examples of this distinguished lineage of automotive DNA.  Born of different times, cultures, and sometimes continents, but innately "right" in their effectiveness and fitness for purpose - driving.  Driving for driving's sake, for speed, for competition, for style and expression, for that rarefied zone of human/machine interface where driver and car fuse, where total concentration and engagement of the senses take over and one's sense of self and the pressures of life disappear, albeit briefly.  Those fleeting seconds of pure exhilaration that make you feel alive are best served up by a small, RWD box with a rorting twin cam, a manual transmission and a limited slip differential.

MKII Escort - hoon's delight

But why is such a simple recipe so rarely offered?  What do ever-tightening regulations on safety and emissions mean for our hobby?  Will the short-term dominance of dual-clutch manumatics and mid-term disappearance of the internal combustion engine mean the end of the driver's car?  Well, I'm an optimist.  I believe that if the Mayan predictions for 2012 mean anything, they mean a leap forward in the evolution of human consciousness - a future of instant-torque electric motors spinning rear tires made of hemp and recycled blue jeans to that magic point between slip and spin, a future of clearly-sighted and sweeping corners paved with organic walnut extract, where the enlightened and de-burdened masses are free to hoon about sideways to their heart's delight.

Here's to the 2014 MKVII Escort.

Parick Snijers absolutely destroying the 1988 Manx/Isle of Man Rally in an E30 M3


  1. The 1st FWD car I remember driving was a Ford Fiesta. I hated everything about the car's drivetrain layout. Whoa what is that tugging at the wheel? Torque steer? What the heck is that? How do you balance the throttle, brake and steering inputs to drift thru a corner?

  2. I learned more about driving from my 2WD Nissan Pickup than any other vehicle I've ever owned. It was, unfortunately, an automatic, but the lessons of rear-wheel-drive car control are magnified with an empty pickup bed. You quickly learn the kind of corners and road surfaces that can be negotiated at an elevated speed and which ones are best taken more carefully. I also remember thinking it would be a disaster when the snow came - quite the contrary. With a set of snow tires and the right approach to throttle and brake application, much could be accomplished. I'm actually glad it wasn't my first car - that would have been an '81 Honda Accord, with which I learned the "most basic" basics - but as my second car, it was a nice taste of what light weight and simple engineering can do.