Hotchkiss drive

Rear chassis, possibly of a Napier, with torque reaction taken by a long girder alongside the jointed driveshaft

The Hotchkiss drive is a system of power transmission. It was the dominant form of power transmission for front-engine, rear-wheel drive layout cars in the 20th century. The name comes from the French automobile firm of Hotchkiss, although it is clear that other makers (such as Peerless) used similar systems before Hotchkiss.

During the early part of the 20th century the two major competing systems of power transmission were the shaft-drive and chain-drive configurations. The Hotchkiss drive is a shaft-drive system (another type of direct-drive transmission system is the torque tube, which was also popular until the 1950s).

Torque reaction effects on a leaf spring in a Hotchkiss drive system

All shaft-drive systems consist of a driveshaft (also called a "propeller shaft" or Cardan shaft) extending from the transmission in front to the differential in the rear. The differentiating characteristic of the Hotchkiss drive is the fact that it uses universal joints at both ends of the driveshaft, which is not enclosed. The use of two universal joints, properly phased and with parallel alignment of the drive and driven shafts, allows the use of simple cross-type universals. (In a torque-tube arrangement only a single universal is used at the end of the transmission tailshaft, and this universal should be a constant velocity joint.) In the Hotchkiss drive, slip-splines or a plunge-type (ball and trunnion u-joint) eliminate thrust transmitted back up the driveshaft from the axle, allowing simple rear-axle positioning using parallel leaf springs. (In the torque-tube type this thrust is taken by the torque tube to the transmission and thence to the transmission and motor mounts to the frame. While the torque-tube type requires additional locating elements, such as a Panhard rod, this allows the use of coil springs.)

Some Hotchkiss driveshafts are made in two pieces with another universal joint in the center for greater flexibility, typically in trucks and specialty vehicles built on truck frames. Some installations use rubber mounts to isolate noise and vibration. The 1984–1987 RWD Toyota Corolla (i.e., Corolla SR5 and GT-S) coupe is another example of a car that uses a 2-part Hotchkiss driveshaft with a rubber-mounted center bearing.[1]

This design was the main form of power transmission for most cars from the 1920s through the 1970s. Presently (2016), it remains common in pick-up trucks, and sport utility vehicles.

There is no connection between The Hotchkiss drive and the modern suspension-modification company Hotchkis.


  1. Toyota 1984-1987 RWD Corolla mechanical service manual
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