When Porsche announced they would be taking a bunch of their cars from their collection, some right out of their museum, covering seven decades of Porsche cars and taking them to Sonoma Raceway for a bunch of gassy auto journalists to drive around, I was of course interested, but with a caveat: I didn’t want to talk about the same things that have been said about these cars forever. No breathless, reverential praise or the same clichés you’ve heard a million times before. I wanted to put these cars in a larger perspective, in a framework of a larger history. The history of rear-engined cars.
These Porsches are ideal for this sort of thing because, duh, they’re rear-engined. Porsche is arguably the most important holdout of rear-engine automotive design as well, with hardly anyone else still producing true rear-engine designs except for the Renault Twingo/Smart platform and large bus manufacturers.
Well, I guess lots of EVs are technically rear-motor’d, so perhaps we’ll see a renaissance there, but I’m talking about traditional combustion cars now.
As someone who loves rear engines, Porsche’s dogged refusal to abandon rear-engine designs has always delighted me, and in this video I go into why this is the case, all while trying not to spin out again on that rain-slicked track.
Regarding that spin-out at the beginning, let me just say that skinny tires, a wet track, and all the weight in your butt is a tricky combo to deal with, especially when you’re talking to a camera and maybe going a bit quicker than a smarter person should.
I found out afterwards that the Porsche 356 America I was driving there was one of 14 left and worth somewhere between three and four million dollars, so I’m really, really happy I got it to stop on the grass instead of against a wall.
If I had hit a wall, I don’t think I’d be offended if Porsche just decided to relive me of my kidneys right there on the track.
All of these cars were an absolute dream to drive—how often do you get to be behind the wheel of a 959? I hope my little exploration of the history of rear-engined cars proves interesting, and maybe will make you a little nostalgic for a future that never really managed to happen, and is now only glimpsed at in cars like the 911.