Sports cars with rear-mounted engines are rare, and that’s why the Porsche 911 lineage is incredibly successful and has a massive cult following around the world. It’s almost religiously worshiped in some instances, and given its legacy, it’s hard to argue with the fanatics.
It’s also pretty widely accepted now that flat engines are perfect for rear-engine layouts, and that’s just one of the reasons why Porsche’s tried and tested idea has come so far: it has been perfected to within an nth of flawless driving pleasure.
But while the 911 has gone on to spawn multiple generations and continues to be thought of as the world’s definitive rear-engine sports car to many, what others have graced the automotive world over the years, and have any been as successful as the 911? Let’s take a look at some of the very best in history.
10 Ginetta G15
Known particularly for its adventures in motorsport, Ginetta also offers its “Get on track with Ginetta” experience, for those that want to explore the boundaries of its creations on unique track days. But Ginetta has created a memorable legacy for itself with a few great sports cars, too.
The G15 first appeared in 1968, and took the idea of a lightweight, British sports car to new heights thanks to its unique rear-engine layout. It came with an option of either a 875cc or 998cc inline-four engine, which made the car top out at 108mph. But its real selling point was the fact that it weighed just over 1,200 pounds. A fabulous example of what can be achieved with a simple engineering idea and clear methodology.
9 Chevrolet Corvair Corsa
Arguably America’s most well-known rear-engined car, since it was mass-produced in such large numbers. Having debuted in 1960, the Corvair Corsa rewrote the car industry in America, largely because it had its engine at the back. The 1965 models were fitted with a turbocharged 2.7-liter flat-six which, fun fact, was only the second turbocharged engine ever put into a production car.
It was good for 180 hp, and became the first real sports car that Americans could buy that was homemade and somewhat comparable to what Porsche was offering at the time. They’re becoming rarer to get your hands on these days, which is why a classic 1966 Chevrolet Corvair Corsa that wants a new home is something we feel very sad about.
8 Abarth Simca 2000
A joint project between Turin-based brands Abarth and Simca, the 2000 coupe was fitted with a 1,946cc four-cylinder engine that produced around 200 hp and contributed to a low overall weight of just 1,518 pounds. Its real strength comes with its top speed, however, with official readings stating the AS 2000 was good for 168mph.
The coupe’s styling is definitely unique and has come about thanks to clever engineering solutions from the partnering firms. The radiator-cooling inlet was designed to be the oval manifold seen along the car’s front bumper, for instance. A 1965 Abarth Simca 2000 GT Corsa was sold at Bonhams for nearly $270,000 back in 2014, with recent valuations now holding them closer to $300,000.
7 Denzel 1300
It’s not really a list if you don’t have at least one super quirky entrant, is it? The Denzel 1300 is a car that isn’t known to many and is the brainchild of brilliant engineer Wolfgang Denzel. It acted as an early competitor to the Porsche 356, and it’s estimated that only 65 were ever made. Less than 30 are still in circulation today, which is why a 1955 WD Denzel 1300 sold for well over $300,000 at RM Sotheby’s back in 2019.
Utilizing the 1100cc engine and running gear from the early Volkswagen Beetles, Denzel shed huge amounts of weight from his design using lightweight aluminum. He also upgraded the con rods, cylinder head, and pistons to allow the 1300 to put out over 70-hp, which was lightning quick at the time.
6 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia
Here’s something that’ll truly set your pants on fire. Not only is the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia a bargain head-turner, compared to the prices commanded by some of the other classic cars on this list, but the Karmann Ghia is, in our opinion, one of the best-looking cars of the 20th century. The fact that it has a rear-mounted flat-four, which ranges between 1.2 and 1.6 liters, is the icing on the cake.
Performance is not the aim of the game here, but rather, enjoying the cruiser experience in such a way that onlookers can only stop and stare at the effortless display of bravado emanating from man and machine. The original Beetle upon which this is based is a cool car, but this is on another level entirely. Nostalgic gearheads should consider buying a Volkswagen Karmann Ghia.
5 Smart Roadster Brabus
This is a rather odd duet, because Brabus is known for partnering with slightly more extravagant firms like Mercedes-Benz to produce maniacal creations like the Brabus P 900 Rocket. But the aftermarket tuning house’s continued partnership with Smart has now led to the 422-hp Smart 1 Brabus – an all-electric pocket rocket – proving that this is more than a one-off.
But it all started in 2003 with the Smart Roadster Brabus: a wicked take on a car that was intended for urban crawling. A tiny 0.7-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine put out 99 hp, and while that won’t send adrenaline coursing through your body, it’s a fair amount more than the standard car and enough to enjoy to the absolute max on every occasion.
4 Ginetta G4
The second feature from the performance genius’ over at Ginetta, and one of the coolest-looking cars on this list. The G4 continues to follow the ideology of ‘less is more’, and does so by pairing a 1,340cc four-cylinder engine with a curb weight of just 1,124 pounds. It only made 91 hp from its rear-mounted engine, but too much power really does defeat the purpose of a car like this.
It exists to provide you with all the response and feedback you could possibly want from a sports car, and means you really can enjoy driving in its absolute purest form. Classic Ginetta G4’s are listed at Hemmings for around $75,000, or you could find out all you need to know about the Ginetta G60 and opt for a modern alternative.
3 RUF CTR Yellowbird
Relatively unknown outside of Europe, RUF is a brand that previously adopted Porsche bodies and built similar vehicles based on its concepts. Perhaps its crowning moment came with the Awesome RUF CTR 3 Club Sport, but the car which practically made RUF what it is was the 1989 RUF CTR.
Utilizing a 3.4-liter twin-turbocharged flat-six motor, the CTR is instantly recognizable from its bright yellow paint – hence the name ‘Yellowbird’ – and its low-slung profile added a bit more aggressiveness to the 1987 Porsche 911 upon which it was based. It produced 469 hp through a five-speed manual, and with only 29 ever being built from scratch, the Yellowbird is a true unicorn.
2 Renault Alpine A110
When you take a look back at the original Alpine A110, it becomes increasingly obvious why it has built such a long-lasting legacy in the minds of gearheads around the world. Its silky body shape and tough-as-nails nature, which spawns from a successful voyage in rallying, come together to make this rear-engined icon a true great.
The original car has a four-cylinder unit with a displacement of between 1.1 and 1.6 liters. A curb weight of just over 1,500 pounds also made it a driving experience that few other cars from its era could provide. Of course, a modern iteration has also now been created, with its most lethal form coming by way of the Alpine A110 R Fernando Alonso Edition.
1 Porsche 911
As cliché as this may be, there really is no car more deserving of first place. The Porsche 911 has been with us since 1964, and it has firmly stamped its authority as not just the best rear-engined car in the world, but also its leading sports car. No wonder the Porsche 911 is running the market and the streets.
You can take your pick of which engine and generation is best, because there are very few wrong answers here. We believe the 2023 Porsche 911 GT3 RS’ flat-six engine is pure bliss, and certainly a worthwhile shout for the best rear-mounted engine of all time. In this guise, it creates over 518 hp, providing plenty of punch to the car that’s simply obsessed with aerodynamics.