The midship rear wheel drive (MR) layout consistently produces some of the best cars ever produced. With few exceptions these cars concentrate on a single characteristic and manufacturers pour their collective engineering talents into these cars. These cars are the result of the proverb "don't half ass two things, whole ass one thing." It's neigh impossible to make an mid-engine car not cool. Even the mid-engine minivans, like the Previa and Delica, are pretty awesome in their own right.
With so many options, here at The Blog we decided we were going to make a list of what the best mid-engine cars were. It was to be a glorious list of the coolest cars ever but then we hit a snag and couldn't agree what the Top 5 were. I was torn between the Countach and the Previa, Balto thinks there is no greater car than an Iron Duke Fiero, and another admin was all about the Lancia Scorpion. Knowing we were going to go nowhere arguing amongst ourselves and that the list was beginning to look terrible, we created a poll on the official MNCEC Facebook group to see what everyone's favorite MR vehicles of all time are. The results are below and with an additional honorable mention that deserved a spotlight as well.
Honorable Mention: Lamborghini Countach
Cocaine? Check. Sunglasses? Check. Additional cocaine? Check. Phil Collins No Jacket Required cassette? Leave it, you won't hear it, nor do you need it. There is too much awesome happening for it to be sullied by the car's stereo. I wanted to include the Countach as the Honorable Mention because it perfectly represents everything electrifying about a mid-engined car you can find, plus just look it. This is the most over the top, bodacious car ever made. Marcello Gandini designed it, i can only imagine after a weeklong cocaine fueled bender of bull fighting. It was on the wall of every kid who wasn't totally lame in the 1980's and this car is f&#*ing radical.
The MR layout is all about putting a single aspect above all else and with the Countach, it is aesthetic first and everything else second. This car was designed to be as ostentatious as possible with a wedge shape, an engine in the middle, crazy scissor doors, the widest tires ever fitted to a production vehicle and it was the world's fastest car, twice. It sucks go get into, it is a bear to drive, the AC is useless, the car is too loud, it's literally less aerodynamic than a Chevy Astro van, you can't fit a big mac through the window and the car actively tries to kill you. You don't care though, because if you have one, every time you walk out to your car and you see that shape, it gives you the same rush of Adrenalin you get from getting into a fighter plane. If this isn't a perfect example of why MR cars are brilliant, then I don't know what is.
5.) DeTomaso Pantera
The DeTomaso Pantera was the overpowered Italian immigrant to Detroit that Lee Iacocca spearheaded. As radical as the Countach is, the Pantera is it's equal in Italian muscle. Where the body on the Countach is angular and sharp, the Pantera has just enough curves to make it beautiful to people who aren't on a cocaine bender. Beneath that Ghia designed body lies a monster though. A Ford 351 Cleveland V8 is mated to the same gear box that the GT40 had making this one of the most powerful supercars of the 1970's.
The car was one of the cheapest entries to "Italian" supercar ownership in the 1970's and, despite some early quality issues, the car did not disappoint. It is by far the most maintainable super cars ever due to it's Detroit roots. Famously the Pantera was known for it's overpowered nature and quickly being able to lose control if driven past it's limit, as Vince Neil proved when his Pantera decided it wanted to go into oncoming and took the life of Hanoi Rocks singer, Dazzle. De Tomaso kept the car in production for an astonishing 21 years with various asthetic improvements and didn't stop production until 1992.
4.) Ferrari F355
While the Countach is aesthetics over anything else and the Pantera is pure brute force, our 4th entry, The Ferrari F355, which is equally single minded in it's approach. The Ferrari F355 is built for the driving experience with everything else as a distant second. The Tipo F129B DOHC 3.5L flat plane V8 and gated 6 speed shifter work in tandem with the rest of the chassis for a car that rewards you for driving it properly. Unlike most cars where the weight distribution affects the handling at the limit, the MR layout allows the car's limits to extend seemingly endlessly. Once all the oil temperatures are up to their proper levels, the 380 HP V8 provides more power than the Pantera ever did but with much more elegance to boot. Each shift is met with an audible "snick" accompanied by a click you feel as the gear engages. The car is absolutely confidence inspiring.
The rest of the car outside of the driveline is all designed for the driving experience, power steering shockingly makes the car actually drivable at low speeds and the air conditioning, which is historically atrocious in Italian cars, was made in Japan so it works as it should! These don't sound like they're focused on the driving experience but if you want a car that is pleasure above all else, these creature comforts are requirements. Ferrari's approach on this car is to have every aspect of the car reward the driver, from the leather wrapped key to the exhaust note. It is also worth talking about the body because it's Pininfarina designed lines are superb and it's rare to find a car that looks as beautiful as it sounds. The F355 took the same shape that started with the Dino and continued to evolve it to suit the design language of the time without cheapening it. This was also the last of the really great Ferrari V8's. After this, they began having automatic transmissions, designs that were distinctly not from Pininfarina and they lost some of that edge.
3.) Toyota MR2
Much like the Ferrari F355, the MR2 offers that seemingly endless limits if driven properly. Of course if you don't know what you're doing with it, you'll fling the back end around on you faster than you can soil yourself. Toyota's MR2 was the best parts bin engineering project Toyota has ever produced. It featured parts from across Toyota's catalog and they were assembled to create the best driver's car Toyota could possibly produce, the results were simply magnificent. In the previous description on the F355 we mentioned how great the shifter felt, this car provides that same feeling for 1/10th the price. If you want to feel one of the best feeling transmissions ever produced for the mass market, I implore you to go drive an AW11. Each gear gives you that audible snick and physical click that you get in the F355 and it makes you feel like you're the coolest person on earth every time you shift gears.
This is cheapest car on this list and personally my favorite to drive of any of the cars here. Honestly, it is the affordability that I like. You would never in your life take a F355, bounce it off of redline and drop the clutch, but in an MR2 you will. Why? Because if you break anything, you can just go find a parts store, ask for some axles from a Corolla and fix it with a hammer. Of course don't mistake cheapness with a lack of performance or reliability, the MR2 can move. The original AW11 had the high revving 4A-GE engine and a supercharged 4A-GZE variant, the second gen SW20 had the turbochaged 3S-GTE, which was faster off the line than a mk.4 Supra, and the final ZZW30 even had the quick revving 1ZZ-FE engine too. Each MR2 was great in it's own right and there wasn't ever a generation that was skippable, unlike most other cheap performance cars, and that is exactly why it ranks so high on our list.
2.) Ford GT
When this car got onto our list I struggled with which generation I was going to feature. I would naturally go with the original Ford GT40, I'm sure there is someone who is all jazzed up about the 2000's era GT still and there's also the modern Ford GT that everyone has their jimmies rustled over today. But I decided that each deserved being mentioned, if for nothing else each generation of the Ford GT represents Ford as a company in that moment in time to the fullest.
The original Ford GT40 came out when Ford was at it's peak, it was the best Le Mans car of the 60s. They took on Ferrari, then won and then won multiple more times with it. Ford made a limited number for the road and today they're priceless items in the collector market.
In 2005, Ford was resting on their reputation and beginning to get sloppy as a brand. The new GT was a recreation of the original GT40 but arguably played too closely to their past and seemed like Ford was just rehashing the name. The car did have a pretty good racing pedigree, although it wasn't as successful as the original GT40. A modified version of this car was the fastest modified production car in the world at one point.
The modern Ford GT represents the new post-recession Ford who have learned to not rest on their laurels and it uses new technology to reinvent past nameplates so their legacy continues, rather than becomes a legend. Although the car has only been out since 2016, it has already won it's class at Le Mans, on the 50th anniversary of the original Ford GT40 win. This new Ford GT is on the fast track to being one of the best cars of our current era.
1.) Acura/Honda NSX
For our number one spot we went with a car that was as close to perfect as you can get. It was affordable, it performed second to none, you could live with it and the car handled perfectly. This car was the NSX, Acura/Honda's very first super car. This was Honda sparing no expense because they had something to prove, they already dominated the small car market and now they wanted to take on Ferrari. Not only would their new super car perform better but they would do it for less money too.
With a 3,000 lb all-aluminum body and a 3.0L DOHC C30A V6 that could rev to the stratosphere, the 270 HP only had to haul 11 lbs for each horsepower. That power to weight ratio was only 1 lb off from the Ferrari 438's power to weight ratio. This, combined with a short ratio gear box, meant that the NSX could compete with cars that had significantly more power. Later models increased HP to nearly 300 HP. For handling Honda called upon their best race car drivers including Ayrton Senna *queue heavenly chorus* to advise on handling during development. The credit for design goes to, among others, Ken Okuhama and Shigeru Uehara, who would go onto to design the Ferrari Enzo and S2000 respectively.
The car has garnered a legend among Japanese car enthusiasts for every style of racing you could think of. Though, it's most successful racing endeavor was in Super GT touring car racing where it was dominant for the majority of it's career. The Super GT cars also inspired a limited production NSX called the NSX GT, which is mentioned nearly as a mythological figure since only 5 were produced. Supposedly the car has a distinctive snorkel, like the Super GT cars, along with a widened body and weight reduction, the specifics of which are a mystery as Honda has never officially given any figures.
After the first generation NSX was discontinued, Honda held off on releasing another model for nearly a decade, despite having the HSV-010 GT concept ready to produce if Super GT required them to. Finally, we got a proper new NSX in 2016 and it has proven to be excellent, just like the original. It pushes the limits of what the super car manufacturers are doing with a mid-engine AWD twin-turbo V6 hybrid-electric Ferrari 458 fighter. The car has been absolutely divisive with reviewers and the public having no middle ground between love and hate, but that's just the tale of the NSX. When the NSX was originally released, it was considered the people's champ by some and uninspired by others. Of course we know today what side of that argument history stands on.