Reverse racing - a bizarre motorsport from the Netherlands
An ingenious invention by DAF conceived one of the most ridiculous and exciting racing events in history.
When you see someone using a reverse gear in a car, most likely they are pulling out from a parking spot or a garage. In any case, they aren't going fast. But what if you could go backwards with nearly the same speed as you can go forwards? Well, you don't need to imagine that, as DAF already made it happen in the late 1950s.
DAF Daffodil - one of the DAF's cars. It looked great and featured a Variomatic CVT (like all of the others)
Introducing a Variomatic CVT
Nowadays, DAF is most known for producing lorries. However, older readers or those interested in classics may remember that in a brief period between 1958 and late 1970s, DAF produced a fair few cars, which sold quite well, especially in the Netherlands, company's motherland. As back then a recipe for a regular passenger vehicle wasn't developed yet (a straight-four, turbocharged engine at the front and a FWD wasn't so common), their products were quite creative and unique in terms of design and engineering.
Probably the biggest innovation DAF has put into their cars was a Variomatic CVT. CVT is an abbreviation for Continuously Variable Transmission, which means that the transmission has an infinite number of gears and can always operate in an optimal rev range. Construction of the Variomatic itself was quite brilliant to say the least, and its basic principles are used to this day in various applications. However, like all the things in the world, Variomatic had its benefits and drawbacks, one of which was especially peculiar.
Variomatic CVT - a transmission that made it possible to race in reverse. By Stahlkocher - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=903000
In theory, CVTs should guarantee the best possible balance between performance and fuel efficiency. However, for many years manufacturers avoided putting any sort of automatic transmissions in small cars, as they dulled acceleration of an already underpowered vehicle and increased fuel consumption. What is more, monotonous sound resulting from a use of CVT made it seem like the car wasn't accelerating at all, as pushing hard on the accelerator pedal resulted in a persistent noise and little to no change on speedometer's reading. DAFs and Volvos with a Variomatic CVT weren't speed demons either, at least when going forward. However, they had one impressive, redeeming feature.
An innovative construction of a Variomatic CVT meant that it was able to operate at the same speeds, regardless of the direction of car's motion. What is more, neither DAF nor Volvo (Volvo bought DAF in the 1974) implemented any measures to limit top speed in reverse gear. This meant that cars with the Variomatic transmission were able to go nearly as fast backwards as they could forwards (rear of the car was less aerodynamic, so the top speed was a bit lower). Suddenly, a boring road hog when going forwards was transformed into a race car in a class of its own whilst reversing. What followed was a series of probably the greatest motorsport events the world had ever seen.
DAF 44 - it had an astonishing 34 BHP. Not the quickest one when going forward, but in reverse it could probably outrun most supercars of its time
Thrilling opposite racing
Since DAFs were designed and priced to appeal to regular people, they quickly became affordable enough to be used in amateur racing. Whether it was an initiative of a manufacturer itself or just the Dutch being bored, the reverse racing was born in the blink of an eye.
Initially, reverse racing looked like Formula One or touring car racing, only the cars were much slower and competitors were driving in reverse. Racing itself required a surprising amount of skill. Steering in reverse is tricky on its own, but there was much more to those races. Slow acceleration meant that any unnecessary braking was a huge time loss, thus drivers had to conserve their speed as much as they could. Slowing down was difficult as well, as turning whilst braking could result in some catastrophic results. Combine all of it with a challenging handling and you have a recipe for a truly exciting race. Take a look:
As the time passed, DAFs continued to get cheaper, so they soon started to be used in more destructive reverse races and Destruction Derbies. What was it like? Well, switch the tarmac in a previous recipe for a dirt road and add some obstacles on the track. As you can imagine, crashes were bound to happen, which made them even more appealing to the public. Here's one I found on YouTube:
What is the situation like nowadays
Even though this technology is over half a century old, I don't think there are any cars that can outrun Variomatic DAFs and Volvos (when driving in reverse of course!). Even cars that are theoretically able to go as fast in reverse, like electric vehicles, can't beat them, as manufacturers put electronic limiters on them (for example, Tesla limits reverse speed to 15mph).
If you want to experience driving backwards at 50mph (or more), you can still find DAFs and Volvos (like 340 model) with a Variomatic CVT. You can buy one for yourself or take it for a test drive, pretending to be interested, and go for it, preferably without an owner inside and on a long and lonely strip of road. I don't advise you to do that, I'm just informing you that such possibility exists ;-)
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