A quick look at today’s automotive offerings and you’ll notice that almost all passenger cars are front-engined, while most sports cars come with a mid-engined configuration. The Porsche 911 is the most known exception from this rule, having its engine mounted above the rear axle. The 911 isn’t the only rear-engined car on the market, the Smart ForTwo and ForFour, Renault Twingo, Tesla Model S, and Tata Nano have similar configurations, but all of them are part of the minority. However, it wasn’t always like this.
Decades ago, rear-engined vehicles were significantly more popular. The first notable rear-engined car dates back to 1886, when Karl Benz launched the Patent-Motorwagen. The concept gained more traction in the 1930 and remained somewhat popular until the 1980s. Mostly found in small, affordable cars, the layout allowed for the rest of the vehicle to be used for passengers and luggage. It was also preferred by many carmakers since the drivetrain can installed easily at the factory compared to front-wheel-drive layout where the driven wheels also steer the car.
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Jay Leno may have cast from from show business for a second time, but he certainly hasn’t given up his passion for cars. In his latest episode of Jay Leno’s Garage, he features his own 1966 Chevrolet Corvair Yenko Stinger while he interviews its previous owner who completely restored the car to its previous glory.
The story behind the Yenko Corvair is quite an interesting one. Don Yenko — the legendary aftermarket performance builder and who Leno equates to Chevy’s version of Carol Shelby — specially ordered 100 Corvairs from General Motors. Yenko set out to create a road racer from the rear-engine car. The Corvairs were modified with optional equipment categorized in stages one through four.
Jay’s Stage II Stinger produces 190 horsepower — up from 110 horses produced by the standard Corvair’s engine. That power comes from a rear-mounted, quad-carbureted, 164-cubic-inch (2.6-liter) flat-six mated to a manual transmission that spins the rear wheels. Speaking of wheels, Jay’s Corvair rolls on 15-inch steel rims verses the original 13-inch “wheelbarrow” wheels. The only other modification done after Yenko’s work was an aftermarket air breather added to the engine to keep oil from spewing from the crank vent.
On the road, the Yenko handles well. Its non-power steering and non-power brakes make for an authentic experience, although stopping requires a heavy foot. The flat six’s exhaust note is certainly different from the average 1960’s-era American muscle car.