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
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

2 February 1934 - The ethics of skidding

6 July 1934 - A tour of Cowley

1 June 1935 - Introduction of the driving test

22 June 1945 - Driving through post-WW2 Europe

21 January 1949 - Tidier tails

24 April 1959 - Aston Martin enters Formula 1

27 January 1961 - Ford Thunderbird road test

17 November 1961 - TVR Grantura road test

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

15 August 1990 - Giugiaro's vision of a 1990s Jaguar

28 April 1993 - BL's unseen concepts

16 March 1994 - Bentley's Concept Java

16 April 1997 - When Bugatti bit the dust

4 April 2001 - 0-260mph in 6.0 seconds

25 July 2001 - 180mph in a Chevrolet Corvette

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Comments
12

20 August 2015
is what it looks like.

20 August 2015
Well done! I've been trying to remember what this reminded me of:)

20 August 2015
The FF 4wd system was offered by Opel/Vauxhall as an option for their Senator, however the cost was over half the price of a regular Senator. The British Army bought some for patrolling the border between East-West Germany during the Cold War - there's one at Cosford museum.

20 August 2015
You would have thought that Jaguar or Rolls Royce might have been interested in acquiring them after seeing this. Imagine how a quattro XJS or XJ6 with ABS would have been in the early/mid 70's.

So much more to go wrong I suppose but in typical fashion the Brits come up with it only for others to bring it to market...

20 August 2015
jmd67 wrote:

You would have thought that Jaguar or Rolls Royce might have been interested in acquiring them after seeing this. Imagine how a quattro XJS or XJ6 with ABS would have been in the early/mid 70's.

So much more to go wrong I suppose but in typical fashion the Brits come up with it only for others to bring it to market...

Jaguar used it on the XJ220

20 August 2015
Ruperts Trooper wrote:
jmd67 wrote:

You would have thought that Jaguar or Rolls Royce might have been interested in acquiring them after seeing this. Imagine how a quattro XJS or XJ6 with ABS would have been in the early/mid 70's.

So much more to go wrong I suppose but in typical fashion the Brits come up with it only for others to bring it to market...

Jaguar used it on the XJ220

It was used on the concept but ditched for the production version.

20 August 2015
Are you the same Ruperts Trooper I've encountered on the Hyundai Owners Club GB website?

 

20 August 2015
Because then as now, they must have realised that the extra cost, weight and complexity of 4WD was't balanced by sufficient performance and safety benefits when objecftive tests were made. Had Autocar carried out some proper tests, it would probably have discovered that the actual benefits were small, despite being magnified by the poor tyres available half a century ago. All this talk of "corners could be rushed through as if the roads were dry" was just subjective nonsense.

20 August 2015
I think it's a bit churlish to sneer at this - it was obviously two decades ahead of its time and people do constantly buy cars with these features- especially of course ABS.

I sometimes work in Scandinavia and there are loads of 4WD estates and hatches - they certainly make more sense than SUVs you see that are just 2WD. In Norway there are stacks of electric cars now (Golfs, Ups, leaves etc), and in cities you can't move for Teslas. The way Tesla has been created by a maverick from another industry has similarities to the FF story; except it's been a bit more commercially successful...

20 August 2015
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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