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A transaxle is most commonly found in a front-wheel drive vehicle. This component combines the transmission with the drive axle, hence the term transaxle. This component can be found in both stick shift as well as automatic versions and with any engine from a four- to eight-cylinder. There also are rear-engine transaxle units found in exotic sports cars such as a Porsche and Lamborghini, as well as large vehicles such as a Greyhound bus.
Perhaps one of the earliest versions of the transaxle was found in the Volkswagen Beetle. This small, air-cooled rear-engine automobile was one of the longest-produced and best-selling vehicles of all time, surpassing Henry Ford's Model T. The success of the Beetle was responsible for General Motors' attempt at an air-cooled rear engine in the 1960s, the Chevrolet Corvair. In a roll-over test, it was determined the Corvair rolled over too easily and the vehicle was discontinued after much public debate.
A benefit of running a transaxle is that there is no drive shaft to wear out or vibrate. Coupling the engine directly to the transaxle allows the entire drive train to be removed from a vehicle as a complete unit. This makes repair and replacement an easy procedure. In a front-wheel drive vehicle, the only limitation to the power the transaxle is able to withstand lies in the steering knuckle's ability to tolerate the power without breaking.
One of the first American vehicles to utilize the transaxle was the Cord 810. This vehicle was touted as being well ahead of its time and was short-lived in spite of above-average performance. The front-wheel drive automobile was absent from the United States automobile manufacturing scene after the demise of the Cord until 1966 when the Oldsmobile Toronado made its debut. The first attempt at a front-wheel drive race car came in 1924 with the Miller 122. This vehicle met with minimal success at the Indianapolis 500.
Facing the fuel shortage of the 1970s, automobile manufacturers in the United States and others worldwide began releasing newly-designed front-wheel drive vehicles in the late 1970s. Although widely hailed as throw-away vehicles, the small front-wheel drive vehicles began to catch on, and as the quality improved, the vehicles began to be accepted as legitimate automobiles by the general public. Today, all vehicle manufacturers worldwide have front-wheel drive vehicles in their new car lineups.
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