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Trail’s End: LSV Concept Car, A Mid-Engine Spin On Four-Wheel Drive

Posted in Features on March 30, 2018
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Photographers: Four Wheeler Archives

Concept vehicles are exciting for both sides of the automotive community. Manufacturers get a chance to bring platforms to life showcasing prospective new technology while us consumers get to sit back and watch the parade, left wondering which of these creations will make it to the assembly line. Back in 1990, C&C Incorporated of Brighton, Michigan, introduced a 4x4 not much different in size from a Suzuki Sidekick or a Geo Tracker. The spritely little rig was called the LifeStyle Vehicle (LSV) and measured 140 inches long, a hair over 6 feet wide, and could fit a standard golf cart within its 91-inch wheelbase.

The LSV featured stylish tube bumpers, 15-inch wheels, Michelin all-terrain tires, and with urethane body panels, the LSV was not only resistant to rust, but could bounce back from minor dings and dents without as much as a blemish to the paint. For more of an open-air ride, the windows and fiberglass roof of the LSV could be removed in under four minutes. However, none of these qualities are what separates the LSV from other 4x4s of the period.

The LSV’s drivetrain was a four-wheel-drive system patented by ASHA Corporation in Santa Barbara, California, and began with a four-cylinder engine taken from a front-wheel-drive vehicle. The engine was mounted amidships and was rotated 90 degrees, pointing its halfshafts toward the front and rear differentials instead of at the typical front drive wheels. The differentials were a mere 7 inches in diameter and housed a seemingly insignificant 1.5:1 reduction gear, which was in fact sufficient due to the final drive reduction of the transaxle. The pint-sized differentials left space for longer A-arms and MacPherson struts in each corner that gave the LSV 10-11 inches of suspension travel at each corner. With a five-speed manual transmission, the LSV was said to get up to 88 mph while carrying a payload of 19.2 gallons of fuel.

To our dismay, the LSV has not become a staple of the off-road community but it does leave us thinking about mid-engine setups and off-roading without a transfer case. A mid-engine setup centers the engine weight that would normally hover over the front axle, or the rear axle in a rear-engine configuration. Why don’t we see many engines mounted this way? With the exception of high-end sports cars, many folks would rather have space for passengers in the vehicle’s center rather than the powerplant.

Does this make the LSV a failure? Not at all. The rig put a 90-degree spin on a typical FWD transmission and showed what could be accomplished with some ingenuity and transaxle gear reduction. The real twist here is that the intention of the LSV might not have been to “wow” four-wheelers with mid-engine, 4WD frankenmagic. Instead, David L. Draper of C&C Incorporated appeared to be more interested in showcasing his forays into retractable vehicle sunshades and aftermarket gloveboxes.

Where does this leave us? Those of us not flocking to the garage to try and mount a Honda Civic motor behind the driver seat of the weekend wheeling rig are left to anticipate the next batch of concept vehicles. Perhaps a concept of yesteryear will take form on the market! After all, the reimagined Ram Power Wagon we know today was still in concept form back in 1999.

Is there a bizarre concept vehicle you wish would have made its way to market? Perhaps you saw the LSV in the flesh back in the ’90s. Shoot us a message at editor@fourwheeler.com and let us know. Remember to include high-resolution images of any mid-engine concept rigs you may have in your collection.

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