There are only a few different engine layouts found in production 2-wheel-drive cars. If you’ve never browsed that grey bar down the side of Wikipedia, here’s a quick and easy legend to understand them.
FF – Front-engine, front-wheel-drive. This is, unfortunately, the most common.
FR – Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive. Mustangs, Z-Cars, Ferrari Daytonas, Miatas.
RR – Rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive. These are your VW Beetles, Porsche 911s, and Chevy Corvairs.
MF – Mid-engine, front-wheel-drive. There are only a few examples of this, like the mk1 Saab Sonett and the Citroen Traction Avant. These are FWD cars whose engine sits behind the front axle.
MR – Mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive. The #1 choice of exotic supercar manufacturers. This layout, not to be confused with RR, places the engine between the cab and the rear wheels. They’re almost exclusively two-seaters, with a couple of notable exceptions.*
But not many examples of the best layout, MR, can be called “American.” Most are Italian, British, German, or Japanese. There were, however, a few stateside production cars with engines for seat-back warmers, and we’ve dug up a handful to help smooth out your Monday. Some are obscure, some are famous, and one is neither, but they’re all pretty awesome.
Pontiac Fiero – We’d like to call this the “poor man’s Ferrari,” but the Toyota MR2 holds that distinguished office. The Fiero sits one door down as Minister of Bad Ferrari Body Kits. But as with those body kits, the poor Fiero is often thumb-screwed with a bad rap. It was a good car for its day, and a bold move for GM when it debuted. And unlike its Toyota arch-rival, it was available with a V6.
SSC Ultimate Aero – Shelby SuperCars, (no relation, seriously) is a tiny, California-based firm who only build one model at a time. They have a hobby of picking fights with giants. The Ultimate Aero used its 1,046 hp, supercharged Chevy V8 to steal the Fastest Production Car title from VW’s Bugatti brand in September of ’07, pushing up to 256.18 mph and beating Bugatti’s record of 253.7. They held it for almost 3 years while Bugatti reworked the Veyron into a Super Sport version. Which, admittedly, trounced the Aero at 267.86. SSC is reportedly working on something call the “Tuatara,” which they say should beat the Veyrons back, but we haven’t heard anything in a while.
Consulier GTP – This certainly wins the list prize for Goofiest Looking Supercar. The GTP was the brainchild of businessman and once (very) hopeful Presidential candidate Warren Mosler. While it competed in and won many races, it was too good for IMSA and was banned in 1991. Powered by a 2.2 liter Chrysler straight 4, turbocharged to 190 hp, the Consulier weighed just under a ton. Mosler offered a $100,000 “bounty” for any unmodified production car that could beat the GTP around a track. He lost to a Corvette, but instead of giving the money, gave some excuses. It was funny.
Ford GT/GT40 – We all know the story. Ferrari, the kings of Le Mans at the time, bit their thumb at Ford, who threw their very expensive glove in challenge, hiring Carroll Shelby to tune their incredible and incredibly beautiful GT40. It chewed up Ferrari at La Sarthe, and that was that. It got a 34-year homage when it was resurrected as the GT in 2003.
Falcon F7 – In its most powerful phase, the F7 has a 620 hp LS7. It weights right around 3,000 lbs, should hit 60 in 3.6 seconds, and covers a 1320 in 10.9. But you won’t care about all of that if they’ll just let you look at it for a few more seconds.
Alessi AR-1 – Nick Alessi started working on cars at age 12. Though he made his name producing fiberglass rebuilds, he eventually designed his own, calling it the AR-1 (not to be confused with the AR-15). It first showed up at the 1979 New York Auto Show, though it must have gotten the wrong address for the Batmobile auditions. Now Nick has a new one, and it’s packing the same Chevy mill as the Falcon, weighs a little more, and somehow goes a bit faster, reaching 60 in 3.4 seconds.
Bonus! AMC AMX/3 – This one is neither very American, sporting an Italian gearbox and body, nor production-level, as it was designed as a concept, and only 5 were built before the order was cancelled, but it’s too beautiful to leave off the list.
We missed a few key players here for time’s sake. Who would you add to the list?
*Note: Pedants will point out that not all MR cars have engines located behind their cabs. Technically, “mid-engine” refers to any car whose engine is behind the front axle and which has a rear-bias weight distribution. So yes, there are actually “front-MRs” and “rear-MRs,” but for our purposes, we’ll just stick with the traditional definition.
Andy Sheehan is a blogger, aspiring novelist, and relentless hoon. He plans to will his 2002 Subaru WRX Wagon to his firstborn, plans his daily commute around the swoop of its roads, and doesn’t plan to ever buy an automatic. A cool-car omnipath, he loves the common Mustang or Chevelle, but hunts for the weird and wonderful Velorexes and Cosmos of the autoverse. And when he can afford a garage, he’s going to turn an MX-5 into a race car.