The modern mid-engine era kicked off in the ’60s, first with race teams, closely followed by all manner of exotic road cars. To this day, anything with its engine in the middle is surely worth the premium asking price? Perhaps not.
We’re big fans of mid-engined sports cars, Lotus in particular proved time and again, smaller engines and precise handling is the better performing combination over a flying lap. Unfortunately it’s way more complex than that; heat, noise, and installations themselves are going to ramp up costs, which is bad news for buyers, more so if the latest sports car design turns out to be a flop.
Incredibly many of these hyper-sensitive mid-engined cars still sold in considerable numbers with insanely high prices, sometimes badge prestige alone is enough to paper over even the most glaring design faux pas.
10 Lancia Stratos HF Stradale
Going fast over any terrain is a compromise between power, speed and agility, a challenge every WRC constructor faces, and one that often presents a variety of engineering “fixes” that wouldn’t be acceptable in road cars. Transferring dirt-busting performance to the road is where compromises become more of a nuisance.
Lancia’s all conquering Stratos is a perfect example. Mid-engined, fast, with the ability to change direction in the blink of an eye demanding 100% concentration levels, sounds easy? Not if you are a normal gearhead with your face and feet pointing in the same direction, Lancia, compromising on space, placed the steering wheel and pedal box askew, resulting in a peculiar sideways driving experience.
9 Lamborghini Countach
Every gearhead’s dream ride, the Countach selling more posters and video games than real world cars. A striking V12-powered mid-engined monster that screams look at me performance without a sole consideration towards usability.
The first hurdle is getting in, the low cockpit door sills marred by the eye-catching scissor doors is a Lamborghini trademark. Having contorted yourself into the driver seat, it’s time for some pre-launch checks, foot on the surprisingly heavy clutch, select neutral, both requiring a considerable amount of effort. The Countach might be space age in appearance, but in realty the engine, transmission and chassis were a bit agricultural.
8 Jaguar XJR-15
Jaguar’s other ’90s supercar, the much rarer hardcore XJR-15 could have been the answer to disappointed XJ220 owners’ dreams, the promise of a V12-powered 200 mph supercar. Before getting too carried away with supercar hype, its worth remembering the XJR-15 shared much of its chassis, engine, and design with Jaguar’s Le Mans racers.
Tucked away behind the cockpit, we find a 6-liter naturally aspirated V12 motor pumping out 450 hp with enough noise to announce your arrival from miles away – civil the big cat wasn’t. Even with extensive race car experience, owners would be in for a nasty surprise, no traction control meant the XJR-15 would easily spin its wheels in any gear, off-road excursions usually being the end result.
7 Lamborghini Miura
Stepping back into Raging Bull territory, the Miura is credited with being the first mass-produced mid-engined supercar, and stunningly gorgeous to boot. Launched to a huge fanfare of praise in 1966, the Miura instantly became the performance benchmark, continuing in production up until 1973.
Styled by Bertone, packing a transverse rear mid-mounted V12 rated at 345 hp, Lamborghini claimed a top speed of 177 mph. Only the brave would attempt this kind of speed anywhere other than a wide open spaced track. The Miura, as gorgeous as it undeniably was, had a nasty habit of high-speed lift, above 120 mph its nose and steering lost interest in the tarmac.
6 Saleen S7
Crossing the pond for Saleen’s insanely fast S7 sports car, hand-built with the sole purpose of going fast, a claimed top speed of 248 mph elevated this US mid-engined contender into the world’s fastest car category.
Depending on personal preferences, Saleen offered a choice of non-turbo and turbocharged engines, the latter, frankly the only sensible choice for proper gearheads, pushing out 750 hp. On appearances near perfect; sleek, fast and threatening, but climbing into either seat reveals a problem. A short wheelbase and overhangs leaves little room for essentials, both driver and passenger forced to share legroom with the front wheels.
5 Ferrari F50
Formula 1 for the road, it was an ambitious claim, one that Ferrari ultimately failed to deliver on. The F50 had big boots to fill, while the F40 stunned and wowed gearheads around the world, the F50 often gets overlooked.
Sure, it had a mid-mounted enlarged version of Ferraris’ successful TIPO F130B Formula 1 engine, 4.7 liters of naturally aspirated perfection dishing out 512 hp. Larger and less powerful perhaps, but at least Ferrari followed race car design, using the engine as a stressed drivetrain member. Great for the track, less so for the road, where excessive engine vibrations made even the shortest journey tiresome.
4 Caparo T1
Another carmaker aiming to deliver F1 thrills for the road, Caparo taking a more extreme approach, reverting to an open wheeled design. In many regards, a huge success if top end speed is your thing, topping out at 205 mph. Secret to the T1s storming performance, a mid-mounted Menard designed 3.5-liter naturally aspirated V8 punching out 575 hp.
The path to glory wasn’t trouble free, frequent technical difficulties marred what was the closet thing to F1 on public roads. Embarrassing incidents aside, the T1’s biggest setback is connected to its wings, at high speeds providing all the grip you would need, through low-speed corners less so.
3 Ferrari Testarossa
Big, brash and very much the poster child for Ferrari in the ’80s, the Testarossa topped off the Italian carmakers line-up, even though other models adorned with the prancing horse logo were much better drivers cars.
Firstly, adorned with more slats than your local blind manufacturer, the Testarossa’s flanks and raising swage lines are pure Hollywood, added to which its rear end measures 12 inches wider than its nose. Slicing through traffic becomes a game of chicken for the unwary, too big and heavy for more than a short nostalgic blast.
2 Gumpert Apollo
In a very Teutonic fashion, Gumpert burst on the supercar stage in 2005, the Apollo clearly a case of function over form, with a truncated nose and matching rear, it’s not exactly pretty. However, don’t be too hasty to pass judgment, the Apollo more than makes up for its looks, Audi-sourced turbocharged engines produced up to 690 hp on the road, with a top speed of 223 mph.
On a track, it makes perfect sense, on public roads it’s another story. Overly heavy and aggressive race-style clutch near guarantees every gearhead will stall the engine at least once, and most likely repeatedly at low speeds.
1 Lamborghini LM002
Throwing the LM002 into the mix, not technically a car and officially classified as front-engined. However, lift the hood and the Countach-sourced 5.2-liter V12 is pushed way behind the front axle, made more apparent by a center console big enough to house not just a cup holder or two, but potentially a take-away meal for four .
Bigger and heavier should equate to more space, but you’d be wrong, the LM002 barely seats four cocooned by industrial-sized mechanical intrusions. Initially aimed at military users, cramped interiors, heavy controls and a thirst for gasoline to stretch even the best supply chains would have been too much.
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