If you think Car Lust features a lot of weird and quirky cars, then today's car should really raise your eyebrows. If it looks a little strange, well, that's because it is.
The car illustrated here is the Gordon Diamond--built in California by H. Gordon Hanson in the mid-1940s; Hanson conceived the car in 1943 at the height of World War II. He built the prototype in 1945 and licensed it in 1947. No further Diamonds were produced, but the one prototype was enough to blow some minds. Namely, mine.
As the name implies, the Diamond's wheels were arranged in a diamond pattern. Instead of two wheels in front and two in back, the Diamond featured individual wheels at the front and rear, which steered in opposite directions to enhance maneuverability. This presaged the four-wheel-steer systems decades later, which counter-steered at low speeds. The more modern systems steered both front and rear wheels in the same directions at higher speeds to prevent twitchy high-speed handling--an innovation the Diamond did not feature.
Rather than front-, rear- or all-wheel drive, the Diamond was, well, middle-drive. The two amidships wheels were driven by a rear-mounted Ford truck V-8 generating 100 horsepower. I'm guessing that rear-mounted lump of metal did no favors to the Diamond's weight distribution.
The seating positions were similarly unorthodox; the driver sat up in the leading tip of the diamond, with two passengers sitting side-by-side across the middle and one as tail-end Charlie just ahead of the engine. So, in its own way, the Diamond offered three-row seating. This might seem like a weirdly cramped seating arrangement, and I'm sure it was, but it wasn't a small car. At 80 inches wide, the Diamond was wider than a contemporary Honda Pilot SUV. The wheelbase, measured between the front and rear individual wheels, was 156 inches--the same as a 2009 Ford F-250 Super Duty Crew Cab Styleside pickup.
Okay, so the Gordon Diamond is quirky--so what? Why is a strange one-off, produced more than 60 years ago, included among the cars after which I lust? Well, let me start by explaining that I've spent a depressing percentage of my time on Earth thinking about car handling and dynamics. Weight distribution, weight transfer under acceleration, braking, and handling, the friction circle, understanding the loads on each wheel and the impact of changing loads on handling ... I've been thinking about this stuff since I was a kid. I understand how understeer and oversteer happen, what provokes them, how you compensate with driving technique. I'm no scientist or race-car-driver--just a fascinated enthusiast.
Well, when I was a kid I stumbled across a short article about the Diamond in a book--and my brain immediately went into TILT mode. I had no earthly idea how the Diamond would handle; all of my internal calculations were immediately short-circuited. I spent untold hours looking at that car, trying to figure out how it would take a corner, and whether there were any intrinsic advantages to the Diamond layout--none of which did much for my popularity in fourth grade. I even talked it over with a few of my smart classmates, and they were flummoxed too. Would the middle wheels convey added stability by acting as outriggers? If the middle wheels acted as a fulcrum around which the weight would transfer under braking or acceleration, would that help or hurt their traction? I just didn't know.
For the majority of my car-loving life, the Gordon Diamond has hovered somewhere in my subconscious; every time I drove a test car, some tiny part of my brain would wonder how the car would work in a diamond configuration. Even now, while I have some guesses, I'm not sure.
Here's what I think. I think the Diamond could be aerodynamically fantastic--the shape is naturally close to a teardrop, and so it has natural advantages over brick-like cars. The trade-off of course is in packaging efficiency--for most of the car's length, it is not as wide as it could be.
Dynamically, I think the middle wheels would always have good traction, regardless of braking or accelerating attitude. While accelerating traction wouldn't be as strong as a rear-engine, rear-wheel drive car like a Porsche 911, or even a mid-engine, rear-wheel drive car, it would be much better than a front-engine, front-wheel drive car.
In corners, I'm guessing the Diamond would be quite spooky. The combination of lots of weight in the rear with not much weight at the front, and a small one-tire contact patch at the front would lead to heavy understeer. Yet ... all that engine weight sits atop a counter-steering wheel. The rear contact patch is also small, but with that much weight over the tire, it could bit pretty well. If the counter-steering rear tire has more traction than the front tire, that could lead to some incredibly twitchy tail-happy handling. And since the car isn't much wider than normal cars, the two amidships wheels wouldn't convey much more outrigger stability than a more conventional layout.
I think so, anyway. The thing is, I just don't know--and I've been grappling with this question for 20-odd years. If anybody has insight into this question, I'd love to hear it.