It's not really rational, but I've always loved rear-engined cars. There's something about them that just feels like they're from an alternate history, a more optimistic world of dirigible travel and lunar bases. That's not how it turned out, but there was a time when it felt like it might. That's what this chart's about.
Back in the '60s, rear-engined designs were getting a lot of interest. They'd been experimented with before, but successes of cars like the Beetle and Fiat 500 were making other manufacturers see the benefits to rear engine designs, especially in small economy cars and sports cars. A lot of rear-engine designs were born in this era.
This chart compares the rear-engine car market in America between today and 50 years ago, in 1963. The chart only shows cars that would have been relatively easy to acquire in the US — that's why there's no rear-engine cars from such pioneers as Tatra and Skoda. They were trapped with other ass-engined comrades like the Zaporozets behind the Iron Curtain, and as a result never really made it to the US.
I kept it to the US market to keep it under control a bit, and it's my home market, so there's that. But even with that restriction, look how much has changed. In 1963, there were about 25 or so distinct models of rear-engine car that people could buy. Today, there's three. That's what, an eighth?
Globally, things are a little better, as there are cars like the Tata Nano and a few other Japanese Kei cars that retain a rear engine, even if we did lose the VW Type 2 this year in Brazil. But not many.
For rear-engine car fetishists like myself, some solace can be taken in the fact that the rear-engine cars are very high-profile: the 911 is an icon that will always have its engine way out back, and the Tesla Model S is a bold new way of looking at things, and that includes electric motors on that rear axle.
So, I'm hopeful electric cars may spawn a rear-engine renaissance. Until then, have a chart: