Archive for April, 2011

It is hard to remember a time when most cars sold in the United States were front engine and rear wheel drive. However, up until the late 1980’s American manufacturers usually put the engine in the front and carried the power back through a transmission and drive shaft to the rear wheels. Many times the rear wheels were connected on one axle and not independently suspended on sub assemblies. Now most American made cars are powered by an engine in the front and driven through the front wheels. There was a time in history when engines sat at the other end of the car and drove the rear wheels. The rear engine rear driven cars are pretty much just a memory today.

Porsche
One manufacturer that continues to place its engine behind the rear wheels and drive from the rear is Porsche. The 911 and all its variants are still powered by a rear engine. Although the engine is now water cooled, the designers have clung to the original formula of Dr. Porsche from the forties.

Volkswagen

It is hard to remember that the original Volkswagens were all rear engine, air cooled cars driven through the back wheels. The original beetle was also designed by Dr, Porsche who believed that the most sensible configuration for a car was rear engine rear wheel drive and the engine could be cooled by air, no need for a radiator and hot water in a car. One problem was always getting het into the car on a cold winter day. The Beetle proved to be one of the longest running production models in the history of automobiles.

Fiat

Or many years Fiat built rear engine cars. The original 500 was a rear engine micro car designed for the narrow roads of Italy and Europe. The 500 has been reincarnated as a front engine front drive micro car for the new century but enthusiasts will remember the original car as a fun to drive runabout that spawned a generation of knock offs such as the Trabant.

American Cars
American automakers were not immune to the trend either. Chevrolet briefly flirted with rear engine cars when it made the Corvair. Deemed to be unsafe at any speed the car was removed from the market due to bad publicity and a campaign by Ralph Nader. Preston Tucker also developed and built several cars in the late 1940s that were rear engine, powered by a helicopter engine. Tucker was driven out of business by the big three and the U.S. government so no one knows how successful his car may have been.