50 years of the rear engine: what kind of beloved skids were they

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What kind of beloved slingshots were they?

50 years of the rear engine: what kind of beloved skids were they-Renault

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The sound of the air-cooled rear engine in the BMW 700 LS indicates that it comes from a BMW motorcycle.

Source: BMW

50 years of the rear engine: what kind of beloved skids were they-Skoda Posthum

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The Porsche 911 also has its engine in the back, still today. Other rear engine icons:

Source: Porsche

50 years of the rear engine: what kind of beloved skids were they-Porsche

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Subaru 360.

Source: Subaru

50 years of the rear engine: what kind of beloved skids were they-NSU

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Volkswagen 1500 Type 3 Variant.

Source: VW

50 years of the rear engine: what kind of beloved skids were they-Carl Benz

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Mazda R360 Coupe.

Source: Mazda

50 years of the rear engine: what kind of beloved skids were they-rear engine

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NSU Prinz 1000.

Source: Audi

50 years of the rear engine: what kind of beloved skids were they-Carl Benz

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NSU TTS further development from Prinz 1000.

Source: Audi

50 years of the rear engine: what kind of beloved skids were they-engines

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Renault 8 Gordini with rear engine and Renault 12 with front engine.

Source: Renault

50 years of the rear engine: what kind of beloved skids were they-auto

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Seat 850, left in-house development with four doors.

Source: Seat

50 years of the rear engine: what kind of beloved skids were they-Ralph Nader

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And finally the Skoda 1000 MB.

Source: Skoda

The rear engine was loved and despised by car enthusiasts, and it is impossible to imagine the Porsche 911 without it. Now Smart and Renault are reviving the controversial technology.

TA stroke of genius or a life-threatening mistake? Half a century ago, rear-engined automobiles became famous, they were lifted into the sky and dragged through the cocoa, occupying top positions in the top ten of the biggest vehicle flops as well as in the bestseller lists.

The opinions of the critics were just as opposite. While the American consumer advocate Ralph Nader wrote his book “Unsafe at any speed” and made the rear-engined Chevrolet Corvair the hook for the first public debate about safe cars, fresh models rose to the stars in the registration statistics . Including such different innovations as Fiat 850, NSU Prinz 1000, Renault 8 Gordini or Seat 800, but also the Porsche 911.

Nobody could accurately predict which way would lead into the future, even though the creator of the Mini was himself, Alec Issigonis, the new rear-engined Hillman, was the car that was going in the wrong direction. So much uncertainty led Renault, NSU, Simca, Subaru and Fiat to invest in the development of front and rear engine concepts in parallel.

In fact, it would take more than a decade until the front and rear of the engine were finally clarified. Mostly anyway. Everything stayed the same with the Porsche 911. But despite all their experience with rear-engined models, Renault and the Daimler brand Smart currently want to do it new and better, now with the engine above and not behind the rear axle.

Declared out of fashion

But Mercedes had to bury the rear engine before the war with the unsuccessful 130H and 170H models. The automotive industry also outbid itself before the 1950s with ever higher horsepower and more displacement. The era of European small cars and cabin scooters was over, and in the mid-1960s, car buyers were demanding horsepower and prestige. Rear-engined cars were still in keeping with the times?

Yes, said the specialist media and sent the new models VW 1500 (Type 3) and NSU Prinz 1000 into the first forerunners of today’s endurance tests, while the Beetle was able to assert itself in comparison tests with the Opel Kadett and Ford 12 M despite its pre-war construction.

Not to mention the spectacular Porsche 911, whose production finally started in 1964. No, said some product planners in the industry and declared models with a rear engine to be out of date, only to be taught better by car buyers.

For example, Italy’s largest car manufacturer only achieved the greatest sales success in its history to date because it mistrusted its own market analysts. These had advised Fiat on a modern model with at least 1.0 liter displacement. Instead, the Turin-based company presented the 850 type as a classic rear-engined sedan with elegant lines by its in-house star designer Felice Mario Boano.

3.5 million rear engines at Skoda

The Fiat 850 became a shooting star that even overtook the Italian rear-engined people’s cars Fiat 500 and 600, which were still on sale. With the 850, the group cracked the production mark of 500,000 units for the first time in just 18 months. A success that was further accelerated by the sports cars 850 Spider and 850 Coupe from 1965 – and was repeated in a similar form in Spain.

Skoda placed its 1000 MB a class higher, which was not only celebrated in Eastern Europe as a milestone for a modern mid-range sedan. With innovative rear engine technology and in various body shapes, the 1000 MB became an export success. Almost half of the four-cylinder models developing 37 hp to 43 hp were sold outside the home market, even in Australia and New Zealand.

A total of 3.5 million rear engine types rolled off the production line at Skoda by 1990. The luxury limousines from the Czech brand Tatra were powered by eight-cylinder units in the rear for even longer. In 1964 it was the new Tatra 603-2 that caused a sensation as a V8 official car, but was not officially exported to Western Europe.

Here it was powerful, compact rear-wheel drive cars that for the first time shook the establishment with conventional drive technologies. First and foremost the new Abarth OT 1600 in the sheet metal cladding of the Fiat 850 with spoilers. Its 154 hp are said to have been enough to take on some twice as powerful Ferraris at top speed.

Posthumously rehabilitated

Then the compact newcomer Renault 8 Gordini, whose 95 SAE PS was good for 170 km / h. Finally, there was the NSU Prinz 1000 as a harbinger of the TT, which even showed some Porsches its raised tailgate. And the NSU Spider, which is now going into series production with a slight delay, is the world’s first car with a rotary engine.

Not to forget the advantages of better traction for sprint duels, when the engine developed its power at the rear and its weight loaded the driven rear axle.

On the other hand, the rear-engined models could also become unpredictable on slippery tracks. First understeer, then suddenly break out – the danger was well known.

Lawyer Ralph Nader found enough arguments to fight the supposedly unsafe Chevrolet Corvair. At the same time, it was one of the top ten American vehicles that made technology and design history at the time. With independent suspension, turbo engines and simple shapes, the Corvair, which is compact by American standards, set a counterpoint to all technically staid and chrome-laden road cruisers.

Carl Benz as a forerunner

Although the 1972 Chevy suffered from certain deficits, reparations were made posthumously. At that time, a white paper by the US Department of Transportation declared the Corvair with a swing axle to be at least as safe as its American competitors.

Rear-engined cars have their own character – and have done so since 1886. After all, Carl Benz was already installing the power unit on the rear axle in his patented motor car. A development that peaked in 1964. At that time, 35 brands followed the technology that made a cardan shaft superfluous. From Abarth to Zagato: Almost all manufacturers had one or more models with water or air-cooled motors on the rear axle.

Thanks to the electronic assistance systems, the rear engine is now facing a small revival. It is doubtful whether this will turn into a similar triumphant advance.

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