Hooniverse Asks: Should Forward Control Make a Comeback?

I was thinking the other day that technological advances in collision avoidance—things like smart cruise control and automatic braking—will likely make front-end collisions appreciably rare in the future. If that actually is the case, then it might portend the return of one of my favorite automotive formats, the forward control truck or wagon.
Look at that fabulous Jeep FC up there, and realize that’s a roomy cab and commodious pickup bed, all riding on an 81-inch wheelbase. It just doesn’t get much more space-efficient than that, nor as jaunty a ride.
The problem of course with riding atop the front wheels like this, or in a traditional VW Type 2, Corvan, or their ilk, is that when you run into something YOU are the energy-absorbing part of the equation. Now, if we could eliminate, or at least mitigate to a significant extent, the chances of that happening, we could have the best of both worlds. What do you think, should automakers be considering a return to Forward Control now that tech might make them safe?
Image: CurbsideClassics

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26 responses to “Hooniverse Asks: Should Forward Control Make a Comeback?”

  1. smalleyxb122 Avatar

    I reeeeeally want to say yes. They are space efficient and cool.
    Part of what makes them cool is that they are different than what we have now. A comeback would degrade that coolness factor.
    Crumple zones are another major concern. Forward control trucks and vans wouldn’t sell well today with safety being such a big selling point. No matter how strong you make them, drivers won’t feel as safe in them.
    Sitting over the front wheels doesn’t do nice things to ride quality. In days when the general buying public wants trucks that ride like cars, forward control vehicles will not compare well with their competition.
    No, they shouldn’t make a comeback. There is not a good business case for the quantities that they would sell. That makes me sad.

    1. Sjalabais Avatar

      Aaaaand that was that discussion. You’re probably right, but it is not like forward control, even with 4wd, is dead in other markets:
      There’s the Mitsubishi Fuso Canter 4×4:
      The Multicar:
      A whole range of UAZ commercial vehicles:
      There are also a couple of kei trucks like the Suzuki Carry 4×4:
      I am fully aware that there is a jungle of regulation around it, but my point is that if these vehicles get developed further all around the globe, there might be an inroad to the US, too, later on. Just like the European Focus, Sprinter etc have caught on, too.

      1. Tanshanomi Avatar

        Technically, that last one is semi-forward-control. The front axle is well ahead of the seats, as opposed to true forward control where the door step well is in front of the front wheel. The semi-fc design seems to be increasingly popular, probably for a bit of crash protection?

    2. P161911 Avatar

      Don’t forget aerodynamics. FC ensures the drag coefficient of a barn door.

      1. Sjalabais Avatar

        Aren’t possibilities for a perfect aerodynamic drop shaped vehicle excellent with FC?

        1. P161911 Avatar

          That is beyond FC, several feet in front of the front wheels. Also, wasn’t this thing rear steer?

          1. Sjalabais Avatar

            Right in both accounts. But I’m really just interested in the shape here – a lot of FC vehicles could employ a shape that is aerodynamically good. All that without having a vast dashboard wasting space like in some RV’s where driver and passenger sit way behind a massive windshield.

          2. Guest Avatar

            You think that’s beyond FC?


            (I’ve never driven one of these, but I want to. However, I think it might induce motion sickness.)

        2. Guest Avatar

          Interesting that you should post this, since Bucky Fuller’s birthday was only few days ago (July 12th).

    1. Kiefmo Avatar

      The tiny wheelbase on that thing is frightening. How does the driver not constantly swing the tail into nearby objects when turning?

      1. Alff Avatar

        I’m going to bet that’s a somewhat specialized configuration for areas with tight roads. My kids’ bus route to school included a pass through a nearby lake community. Their traditional school bus took out a couple of mailboxes every year.

      2. Sjalabais Avatar

        Every 360 earns a sick child. Would make an ok game at the Android shop…

  2. Ross Ballot Avatar
    Ross Ballot

    Heart says yes, brain says no.

    1. kogashiwa Avatar

      Hindquarters consider bouncing along sat directly atop the front axle and also say no.

  3. Van_Sarockin Avatar

    FC is superior packaging efficiency. Ride quality is a function of chassis and suspension, and does not have to be awful It is a different seating position, and so some view and ride motion is very different from most cars. As for safety, FC leads to enhanced situational awareness and focus on task, lessening the likelihood of poor driving and accidents. It’s amazing how much Spidey Sense resides in your kneecaps, when they are your crush zone.

  4. Professor Lavahot Avatar
    Professor Lavahot

    I know for a million practical reasons they can’t, but YES!
    All the way forward!
    There will always be a place for them for specialized roles, such as the RV I someday want that can still fit into a standard parking spot:

    1. Sjalabais Avatar

      If this was British I guess its aristocrat-ish name would have been the McGamble 666.

  5. desmo Avatar

    Ye Goode Olde Mercedes MB100 from the 1980s is still in production. Albeit not in Europe but in China, were laws are lax and with a different body (=Fuso). However:
    The real problem with FWC vehicles is not their crash behaviour. (This can be solved, otherwise cabover big rigs would not exist, let alone buses). Nope, the problem is understeer. You cannot change the laws of gravity. The smaller the cabover vehicle – the higher it is tending to oversteer.
    It is correct that FWC vehicles will hardly pass a crash test. But prior to that they will fail on evasion-test. THAT is the expensive duty and reason why FWC vehicles will not make a comeback.

    1. Van_Sarockin Avatar

      Most FC trucks are pretty severe understeerers. Except when a lightly loaded one is on a slick road, and exhibits snap oversteer. (ask me how I know…) A lot of that is suspension geometry, as well as center of gravity and polar moment, which could be managed if it was a higher priority than some other values that usually govern truck design. You can also rear mount the engine, like VW and Corvair…

  6. Krautwursten Avatar

    Or you could stop running into something, or at the very least accept the miniscule risk of running into something as a trade-off for the practicality and yes factor gained. Almost the entire rest of the world drives forward control trucks all the time, and we’re doing just fine.

  7. SlowJoeCrow Avatar

    Forward control is great for efficiency and maneuverability, but engine service can be difficult without a tilt cab and the big nut is crumple zones for safety regs. You can build a very strong FC vehicle, as in the VW Vanagon versus Volvo 850 crash test where the VW basically “ate” the Volvo’s crumple zones leaving the crash dummies in the Vanagon lightly injured and the Volvo’s simulated occupants badly injured.
    I love the looks and efficiency of FC, but as Land Rover’s experiment with an FC 88 and the early Econoline pickup’s propensity for stoppies show that you really need enough wheelbase to keep the weight distribution from being to front heavy. Either by a longer wheelbase or an engine behind the cab.

  8. Tiberiuswise Avatar

    If anyone has the Blu-Ray of TOS, there’s a camera truck made out of a Jeep FC-150 in the Billy Blackburn’s Home Movies special feature.

  9. smokyburnout Avatar

    all of the top Dakar truck teams have moved away from forward control designs in the past few years. apparently you can drive faster if every bump doesn’t go directly up your spine

    1. Rover 1 Avatar
      Rover 1

      And no-one in Europe makes a FC van anymore for crash test reasons and aerodynamics as well.

  10. Hellenic Vanagon Avatar
    Hellenic Vanagon

    Please have a look about Vanagon’s passive safety here: