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Trail’s End: May 1965, V is for V-Drive

Posted in Features on January 8, 2018
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Photographers: Four Wheeler Archives

The year was 1965, and the world of four-wheel drives was about to change—or so we thought. Folks much like us wondered: Will there ever be a passenger car that can pull with all four wheels? If you so desired, 4WD could be added to the package on some station wagons of the time, but those vehicles were essentially trucks—with high gear ratios, stiff solid-axle frontends, and tall profiles. The thought of a comfortable, mild-mannered four-wheel-drive passenger car remained largely a dream.

Enter stage right, the engineers at Dana. Contracted by Chevy to improve the drivelines of Blazers, vans, and station wagons, Dana devised a propulsion system involving more driveshafts than we were accustomed to seeing underneath 4x4s. They called it the V-Drive system.

The V-Drive system was built using a Twin I-Beam front suspension as a model, adding the equivalent of a Dana 30 differential to each beam. Each pumpkin got its power from an output shaft, extending diagonally from a gearbox directly behind the vehicle’s transmission. Bevel gears within the gearbox split the power between the rear driveshaft and the two forward output shafts, allowing these vehicles to pull with all four wheels.

This configuration would accomplish the goal of maintaining a low ride height. From the sketches, it looked as if there would be no outward difference between 2WD and 4WD vehicles—at least until you peeked underneath and noticed the extra differentials. There was also the benefit to auto manufacturers of being able to offer 2WD and 4WD versions of the same rig, since the V-Drive system could use the same frame, engine, steering, and suspension as its 2WD counterparts.

People of the ’60s were excited about the possibility of 4x4 capabilities extending outside the confines of trucks and Jeeps. With this advance in technology, not only could the family station wagon haul the kids and the dog to the drive-in theater, but also survive a trek to the ski slopes when the mountain passes weren’t perfectly plowed.

The V-Drive idea was never embraced by the manufacturers. Instead, Vehicle Engineering and Manufacturing Company (VEMCO) was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where the company began retrofitting Ford and Chevy vans in the late ’70s. The vans had the plush suspension setup that was previously only afforded to passenger cars, and the 4x4 capability reserved for rugged off-roaders. It’s a shame the company was so short-lived, converting the last 2WD van to VX4 in the ’80s. What are we left with today? A few of us lucky enough to find these VX4 gems in barns and junkyards, waiting to be revived—and a plethora of AWD sedans.

Have you ever seen this type of 4x4 setup? Perhaps in a van sitting derelict in a dusty garage? Or better yet, on a restored and rumbling rig out at the trailhead? They might not be very conspicuous as they roll by, but V-Drive systems are still out there. Drop us a line at editor@fourwheeler.com and let us know if you’ve ever wrenched on or wheeled one of these rarities, and remember, we’d love to see pictures.

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