The fundamental inventions

The earliest vehicles typically had 2 or 3 wheels, no suspension, a driving rear-end and a front steering-end. The four fundamental problems in designing a full 4-wheeler were solved one at a time.

Click here to learn more about the classification of steering/suspension/transmission mechanism.

Fundamental Problem 1: Differential gear for a two-wheel drive axle.

Learn about a differential gear in just 9 minutes!

Didier Mahistre’s book, 100 years of Motorcycles in Isère, recounts that in 1748, on Charonne Street in Paris, Jacques de Vaucanson, a watchmaker from Grenoble and a Companion of the Tour de France, presented Louis XIV with an automobile with four driving wheels and gears, including a differential, and metal belts. Two dozen sketches and the various machines are housed in the Paris Conservatory of Arts et Métiers.

In 1827, Onésiphore Pecqueur, head of the conservatory workshops, patented the differential. The prolific Pecqueur also invented a vehicle with a steam engine in 1828. His double-pivot steering using epicyclic reduction gears in the wheels is still being used.


Some credit Swiss-born Isaac de Rivaz with inventing the automobile around 1800, because of his work on combustion engines.

Fundamental Problem 2: The kinematics of two steering wheels

Steering is essential. The kingpin in a four-wheel vehicle is a central pivot between the chassis and the solid axle. This design was used in Roman chariots until the 19th century.

Urban driving requires a higher maximum turning angle, which implies greater wheel sweep and limited space for passengers.

Cheville Ouvriere

In 1818, Lankensperger and his patent agent, Ackermann, patented a double-pivot axle that had been invented in 1758 by Erasmus Darwin, Charles’ grandfather. This made it possible to have all the wheels be tangent to the trajectory.

In 1878, Jeantaud found a way to do the same thing by orienting the steering levers towards the center of the rear axle, whic paved the way for industrial development of 4-wheelers.

In 1893, Carl Benz filed a world patent (DRP 73515) for a "vehicle steering device with steering circles to be tangentially positioned in relation to the wheels".


Fundamental Problem 3: Compatibility between steering/transmission/suspension

Once viable technological solutions had been found for these three basic functions, they had to be integrated and made compatible to maximize traction.

As steering is largely on the front of the car, front-wheel drive requires compatible steering, transmission and suspension, and explains why a technological solution was so long in coming (Tucker, Tracta, Citroen) and long favored separating front steering and rear transmission despite the advantages of this design.

In 1901, the Ever Malcontent, an electric, rigid 2-engine axle car, became the first automobile to go at 100 km/h. Reconstituted by Venturi at the 2010 Mondiale.

30 passengers drawn by two horses; 40 passengers drawn by 3 horses. The Parisian horse-drawn tram of 1905 performed well.

Amédée Bollée the elder, another great inventor, was the father of steam-driven vehicles: the Obedient, La Mancelle, Speedy, and New, which he manufactured in small series from 1872-1881. These vehicles remained in use for a long time thanks to their many avant-garde inventions: front suspension with independent wheels and a transverse leafspring that Mercedes Benz was still using in 1950. This was the first independent suspension linking the wheels with non-rigid parts.

Click here to learn more about the classification of the various ground bond architectures.

Source: "Historic Corner" European Automobile Engineers Cooperation Newsletter.

bollee suspension

brevet Thomson

In 1839, Charles Goodyear invented rubber vulcanization (adding sulfur to make the material less sticky, and then heating it) although pre-Colombian American civilizations had already used the process to make balls for games, and shoes.

In 1887, the Scottish veterinarian, John Boyd Dunlop, covered the wheels of his son’s tricycle with an air-filled rubber casing. A patent that had been filed in 1845 by the Scot R.W. Thomson invalidated Dunlop’s patent.

Industrial production began in Belfast in 1890.

The elastic tire vied with the pneumatic for several decades: image: Giancarlo Genta, Motorvehicle dynamics, Scientific World.

elastic wheel_Genta

Michelin created the Airless Tweel, the 21st century solution to the problem.

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