June 13, 2022

Types of Engine placement in car | Front-Rear-Mid Engines

 Automakers all agree to place the engine in the front of cars, vans, and trucks, after over a century of innovation. Why do we do this? What about cars where you pop the box? Porches, Volkswagens. What about those cars with the engines in the middle? What about supercars? Rear engine vehicles represent some of the best-selling and best-performing cars out there.

Front Wheel Drive | Rear Wheel Drive | Mid Engine

There exist all kinds of cars in the world. They have various types of engines, characteristics, transmissions,  features, and much more. A lot of people do not know that cars are also segregated based on the placement of their engines. There are mainly 3 types of positioning dynamics. They are Front, Rear, and Mid Mounted engines. Let’s see how they stand apart from each other.

Front Engine

Front-engine front-wheel drive vehicles are more tolerant than the steering since the engine's weight is over the front wheels. That gives them more traction. That means it's easier for your less proficient drivers to not spin out on icy roads. It's also more thrifty to cool the engine if it's in the front. So, it's cheaper to fabricate.

Why are most car engines in the front?

Let's go back to the time when in the 19th century, most horseless carriages had rear-mounted engines with rear-wheel drive. In 1895, French automaker Panhard created the foremost front-mounted engine with rear-wheel drive. To execute this, they invented the modern transmission. This design was outstanding to the rear-mounted designs at the time because it circulated the weight evenly between the front and rear wheels, which enhanced the handling and gave the front wheels more traction. Front engine rear-wheel-drive evolved to the pinnacle with Ford cranking out 16,500,000 Model T's from 1908 to 1927, and all other car makers obeyed lawsuit.

Rear engine

In 1934, Mercedes Benz looked at engine placement and asked a very German question: "Why don't we try it in the trunk ya?" This rear-end freak fest, produced the model 130h. Czech manufacturer Tatra followed suit and started producing rear-engine cars. The rear-engine design race peaked in 1938 when Volkswagen released the Beetle, designed by Ferdinand Porsche. Yeah, that Porsche. Tatra immediately sued VW, due to the Beetle's similarity to Tatra's rear-engine V570 and 97. 

Volkswagen was able to avoid a lawsuit by Germany that invaded Czechoslovakia. They did wind up paying a settlement after the war though, remember guys, war can't solve all your problems. The VW Beetle was cheap and economical. The original Beetles got 32 miles to the gallon and sold like Animal Crossing in a pandemic. After the victory of the Beetle, Everybody was dabbling with back row bangers. Rear engine and rear-wheel-drive cars were great for acceleration since the engine weight is right on the rear tires.

Problems in Rear Engine wheel drive

The main problem though is oversteer. Since all the weight is in the back, tight turns tend to make the rear of the car swing around in a fashion. Many attempted, but few achieved making a rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive vehicle that was handled pleasingly. They rev like a dragster and kind of handle like a dragster. The first real success in that department was the Porsche 911. Yes, that Porsche. The 911 came out in 1964 with a balanced 16-pack. And they got around the oversteer problem by keeping the car downward and the wheelbase shorter than the Beetle. 

Some other popular rear-engine vehicles include the DeLorean DMC 12 and the Alpine a110. Not surprisingly, these cars are two-door coupes. Rear engine, rear-wheel-drive cars, pretty much had to be until the Corvair. It's the only American car with an air-cooled rear engine. An engine that sat behind the rear tires meant no floor bump to get in the way of your feet. The only problem though, is they've had a pretty long wheelbase for rear engine parts. 108 inches, 20 inches longer than the 911. Nevertheless, they sold like beefcakes laced with gravy.

A book that Investigated the entire automotive industry

One buyer was a young politician by the name of Ralph Nader. After driving the car, he became concerned about the car's handling ability. He published the book "Unsafe at any speed" in 1965. The book investigated the entire automotive industry, but was especially critical of the Corvair, calling it, I quote, a "one-car accident". According to the book, The Corvair's swing axle rear suspension would cause the rear tires to quote, tuck-under around turns, which would cause the car to drift. And since the front suspension had no anti-roll bar, the Corvair would be prone to rollovers, a sedan with rollovers. That's insane. By the time the book came out, Chevy had already redesigned the Corvair with a four-wheel independent suspension, but it was too late. "Unsafe at any speed" was a bombshell and people took notice. Corvair sales were cut in half, in 1966. People were afraid to buy rear-engine cars that were Unsafe at any speed. I don't blame them. Chevy decided to move on and produce after the 1969 model year.

And Ralph Nader went on to head for president like a million times. In the meantime, automakers kept messing with front-engine structures. The British Motor Corporation asked a very British question. "Why don't we make our cars as undersized as possible? "So we stay out of other people's away because we're courteous and unassuming and love to prompt." That's my British accent, I'm sorry. That's right. I'm talking about the mini designer Alec Issigonis, who had the bright idea of engineering the transmission into the oil sump, flipping the engine around to minimize the engine footprint, so you could squeeze it under a hood, that was a little over four feet wide. The engine could only make 33 horsepower, but it was enough to power the Brits since the car was so tiny and light.

Rear Mid-Engine transversely-mounted

Transverse engines permitted the hood to be compressed and per passenger space to be maximized inside. Plenty of companies from Fiat, Volvo to even Land Rover use transverse engines, but none as awesomely as a 1965 Lamborghini Miura, which uses a B12 transverse engine mid-mounted behind the two seats. That's right. The transverse engine transformed in six years. Anyway, back in Detroit, the big three we're concentrating on the front-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout, producing some cars, you might have heard them around like Mustang, Camaro, Firebird, the Charger, etc. With the engine in the front, there was no danger of oversteering unless you push that gas. They have a bit of understeer, but the engine weight improves the front tire traction so it's easier for your average driver to corner.

It's also cheaper and easier to put a radiator in the front of the car, and running hoses to the back sucks from a design efficiency and maintenance standpoint. It makes sense to have your radiator engine in the same place.

Muscle car Era

Thus began the muscle car era, with the big three and AMC trying to cram as many horsepowers as possible into a car. But when you want more horsies that usually means a bigger, heavier engine. As engines got beefier. You got a little more power mo toke more torque, yeah.  But less weight on the back wheels decreases rear-wheel traction and acceleration. To keep some weight on the back tires, you have to move the engine further back and push the passengers back towards the rear axle and you're left with an enormous hood. I'm talking 80s Camaro, 70s Firebird, 70s Chargers, and pretty much every muscle car ever. If you push the engine far enough back, you get a front-mid engine car.

Mid Engine

If the engine is between the front axle and the passenger compartment, it's technically mid-engine, but front mid-engine. If you're already sacrificing passenger area and want to maximize power and handling, you have to rethink engine placement. Take the Corvette, for instance, the C7 Corvette was the best front-engine rear-wheel-drive car that Chevy could design. But they're ultimately delivering the mid-engine Corvette. It's called the CA. Not only does it offer up to 700 horsepower.

Why does moving the Corvette's engine back, improve handling? 

With the engine behind the two front seats, but in front of the rear axle, the Corvette's center of gravity is in the middle of the car, which means a lower polar moment of inertia. Alright, the polar moment of inertia. Think about a figure skater spinning. When they pull their arms in, they spin more quickly. Think about you sitting in an office chair revolving around, when you pull your arms in you communicate faster, and if you can put your arms and legs out you spin slower. Why is that? The same principle applies to cars. If your car's center of mass is centrally located, it can change direction fast and with less struggle. The engine layout also improves braking. With the weight of the engine spread evenly across all four tires, all four brakes help equally. That's why mid-engine vehicles are the best handling, most costly two-seat vehicles on the planet. You've BMW IA's, it's your Audi R8's, it's a Porsche Cayman's, most Ferrari's and Lamborghini's, McLaren's lotus's, or is it low tide? 

Summary

To sum it up, let's run down the pros and cons of each engine location. The rear engine got great acceleration, but there's less weight on the front tires. You're more likely to Tokyo Drift if you don't know what you're doing. Mid-engine, awesome handling and braking but no room for extra passengers or luggage. And generally, they're expensive to ship.

Front-engine, they're prone to a bit of understeer, but maximum traction on the front tires. They're spacious and they're cheap to build. Automakers have verified that they can create rear and mid-engine designs that work pretty well. But most consumers want an entire second row of seats and they typically don't need all that performance for driving the children to Chilies. They offer a cheaper, more spacious front-engine car that's good enough. The front-engine cars have one, at least for now.

Some other popular:

Front-engine vehicles include Toyota, TATA, Maruti Suzuki, Hyundai, etc.

Rear-engine vehicles include: Porsche

Mid-engine vehicles include: Ferrari, Lamborgini


What are your experiences with steering rear-engine cars?

Do you have an engine placement preference?

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