Currently reading: Throwback Thursday - Four-wheel drive on test, 19 August 1966
Does farming know-how translate to the road? Henry Ferguson thought so, and his four-wheel drive prototype won favour with our testers
Matt Burt
3 mins read
20 August 2015

Harry Ferguson revolutionised farming with his engineering ingenuity. Having made his 
fortune doing so, he set about changing the world of road cars.

Ferguson had a vision of a car that would use cutting-edge technology to be safer than existing production cars and provide decent traction even on the poor roads of developing countries.

In 1950 he formed Harry Ferguson Research, based in Coventry, to develop his ideas. Ferguson died in 1960, but the company carried on his work and revealed the prototype R5 in 1965.

The R5 had been in development for some years and looked dated by the standards of the day. But underneath it was truly forward-looking, with four-wheel drive, anti-lock brakes and a 2.2-litre flat four engine driving all four wheels through a Teramala torque converter and modified Mercedes-Benz manual gearbox. Torque was divided equally between front and rear wheels.

The all-disc brake set-up used a central Dunlop Maxaret anti-lock device and a vacuum servo. The car was handed to Autocar for a full road test in 1966.

“We were perhaps fortunate in having almost continuous rain while we covered some 800 miles in the car,” wrote our testers. “The Ferguson formula shows to best advantage when the conditions are slippery, and we soon came to enjoy our superior controllability over the other traffic.

Full-power step-offs could be used without wheelspin and corners could be rushed through as if the roads were dry.

“At MIRA we took even greater liberties in exploring its limits, which came eventually at extraordinarily high speeds on the inner road circuit.

“Initially there is some marked understeer as the wheels are turned for the beginning of a corner, but from this point on the car just drives round and pulls its way out from the apex without any tail flick or running wide.

“The braking system demonstrates the effectiveness of anti-lock for safety. It has not yet been perfected, but it still offers more control than present cars without it. The biggest criticism is the high pedal load needed for an emergency stop on a wet surface. As this effort is applied, the pedal ‘bounces’ under the foot at quite a slow and rhythmic rate as pressure in the lines is relieved cyclically to unlock the wheels.”

The R5 was bristling with other neat ideas, apart from proving the potential of the four-wheel drive philosophy.

“From the roller blind to cover the luggage behind the folding rear seats to the novel arrangement of switches around a fixed steering wheel boss, a lot of thought has gone into the R5. Perhaps for the time available, such an ambitious project has had too small a team.”

Small team or not, later that year some of the technology underpinning the R5 reached production in the Jensen FF.

Previous Throwback Thursdays

4 March 1899 - Steam, electric or combustion engine? 

26 June 1906 - The first French Grand Prix

9 July 1907 - The beginning of Brooklands

14 February 1913 - 100 miles in one hour

8 April 1916 - Making post-war predictions

25 March 1922 - Caterpillar tracks are the future

4 July 1925 - Citroën lights up the Eiffel Tower


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6 May 1971 - Driving Ford's Supervan

12 June 1976 - Cars for under £100

10 July 1976 - Land's End to John O'Groats on one tank

13 May 1978 - Ferrari 512 BB road test

19 January 1980 - Talbot Horizon road test

13 February 1982 - 4x4s tested on the farm 

17 April 1985 - Secrets of a lost British supercar

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16 March 1994 - Bentley's Concept Java

16 April 1997 - When Bugatti bit the dust

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25 July 2001 - 180mph in a Chevrolet Corvette

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Moparman 20 August 2015

Different times

Safety didn't really sell back in the days. It wasn't until Volvo and Mercedes started banging on about it that the middle class started to care and when they care is you see the government start to care. Sadly, the standards of driving have deteriorated just as the cars became safer (and heavier and less space-efficient) so the net effect isn't what it could be if idiots drove properly. However, the greatest safety effort is only starting; the denial of your privilege to control your own vehicle. We will soon long for the days of heavy cars which were operated by a real-live human being, no matter how stupid they were.
Bangbox 20 August 2015


Yes you're right - Decent winter tyres are probably much more suitable for most users, so long as you remember them! When I had winter tyres on our last family car, I always put them on and took them off too late in the year; so kind of ended up out of phase with the appropriate seasons...
LP in Brighton 20 August 2015

@ Bangbox

Fair comment, and there is no doubt that 4WD has big traction benefits on slippery surfaces, or where cars have very high power to weight ratios. And ABS has become so cheap that there is now no question of not having it. But I'd still argue that 4WD isn't worth having for the majority of cars sold in this country, even some SUVs manage without it!

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