Rear-engine performance cars are some of the most fun cars ever to drive. Mastery of this layout instills a level of confidence and control that can’t be found in any other layout. Without that complete control, it can also be the most dangerous. Front-wheel-drive cars you can control with the brakes. All the weight shifts to the front, and there’s more grip.
A rear-wheel-drive car with the engine in the front can get a little out of sorts under braking and swing its tail out when the weight shifts to the front, but you can control it with the throttle. A rear drive, rear engine car offers lots of oversteer with a not-so-ideal center of gravity and weight distribution, but is easier to control thanks to all the traction over the rear wheels. These are affordable rear-engine performance cars that are on the market right now.
1987 Renault Alpine GTA: turbocharged rear engine
From 1981-1995 Renault under the influence of its performance division Alpine, made the A610. It was a coupe that had the hatchback and rear end of a Mitsubishi Starion, and the front end of the concept 3rd generation Camaro. This was a coupe that used a 2.5-liter turbocharged V6 with a single overhead camshaft and made 200 horsepower in 1987. It had another engine option that was a 2.9-liter V6, but it had a carburetor and only made 158 horsepower.
The interior is 1980s personified. Big rectangular buttons strewn about the cockpit, with a massive area to rest the left foot, in front of an emergency brake on the left of the driver. Its shift boot draped over the edge of the center console. These cars had hot looks, but unfortunately suffered from overheating, gear oil changes every 12,000 miles, and bad rust problems under the bodywork. You can find the classic Alpine GTA for roughly $35,000.
Chevrolet Corvair: 1960s American innovation
Fans of the Corvair will know its legacy. It is the only American-made car to have used an air-cooled rear mounted engine, which was a flat-six. It also used independent suspension all around. The engine was a heavy thing, clocking in almost 80 pounds heavier than the initial estimate which called for aluminum cylinders. Those were abandoned for cast-iron. Innovative in its design, the Corvair nevertheless suffered from extreme oversteer.
It could occasionally spin the car and send it backwards over the cliff, according to Silodrome, thanks in part to its 36/64 weight distribution. Its first engine had 80 horsepower, which Chevy replaced with a turbocharged engine in later models that made 180. At least it got power brakes. The Corvair proved to be a fun little car once Chevy worked out the handling kinks with its Monza suspension package. Corvairs can be found everywhere for around $14,000.
1999 Porsche 911 Carrera: manifested perfection
Late 1990s Porsches might sound like they’re getting old, but even 22 years won’t shake off a Porsche’s immaculate handling and car control. Entering the car is like slipping into a snug set of wingtips. The flat-six is close enough you can feel it purring behind your seat, and the gearshift glides into each position with staunch commitment.
Steering is tight and obedient in Carreras, and the grip from the fat tires is confidence-inspiring through each corner. The car begs for more and more aggression, and at some point as a driver it feels like tugging on the leash of a dog that’s chasing a squirrel up a tree. All that being said, the car may not be exactly practical and it’s expensive to fix. It’s also very cheap to buy, at roughly $15,000.
Can you daily drive a rear-engine car?
Rear-engine performance cars work well as daily drivers, and might even add some much needed spice to bland commuting. They are few and far between, so if you come across one that’s within your budget and are curious, give it a test drive and just try not to buy it.