We blow the dust off the forgotten rides from the golden era of mid-engine sports cars.
Nowadays, the lineup of mid-engine sports cars is restricted to pretty much anything that is light as a feather, fast as hell, and as expensive as a Jeremy Clarkson fracas. But not too long ago, there was a family of cars that had their engines placed between the driver’s bottom and the rear axle of a car. Problem is, these glory days are long gone thanks to practicality becoming a serious consideration on a purchase that, at least for gearheads, should be ruled by emotion.
The BMW M1, not to be confused with the 1M coupe that predated the 2 Series, was a strange car for BMW to build. It didn’t look like any BMW that had come out of Bavaria before, and for a good reason. It was styled by famous Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, and from day one the car was intended to meet FIA Group 5 racing standards so that BMW's M division could chalk up some wins. To meet the rules, BMW had to build 400 road going versions of the car to be sold to the public, so the 3.5-liter inline-six BMW M1 was born. With 273 horsepower and driving dynamics that most racing drivers of its time laughed at, the M1 was ditched by BMW in 1981 after a sad three year production run.
Coming in at just as sad if not worse than the BMW M1 is the Pontiac Fiero. This car is loved by those who want to slap Ferrari and Lamborghini body kits onto their cars but hated by anyone who was looking for a decent car. With a low design and engineering budget, the Fiero had it bad from the get go. With suspension from the GM parts bin and a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine making a pitiful 98 horsepower, the innate performance potential that the mid-engine design had was immediately killed before the car was born. Owners still tried their best to squeeze every possible ounce of power out of the tiny engine, but since it was designed to perform well at low revs, the taxation resulted in many cases of fiery engine failure.
No one really knows what the Spyker C8 is supposed to be, but with a 4.2-liter Audi-derived V8 lying in the car’s midsection, it seems like it means business. The 400 horsepower that the engine makes adds flame to this fire, but in the end the performance prowess is a myth. Even Spyker says that the car isn’t intended to be a track car but one built to charm its customers with style, grace, pace, and exclusivity. Jeremy Clarkson once said that the car is one you wear as a fashion statement rather than drive. As much of an oddball that the car is, there is no doubt that it turns heads anywhere it goes, and it has its mid-engine layout to thank for that just as much as its styling.
The Porsche 914 came from a strange period in the brand’s history. At the time, Porsche had a close relationship with Volkswagen and the two wanted to cooperate to build a two-seater. But like the other mid-engine cars on this list, the two companies had a disagreement about which company was investing more money. This ensured that Porsche had to pay huge amounts to produce the chassis, hindering development from the beginning. The first versions only had a 2.0-liter flat-6 engine that produced 108 horsepower to move the small car’s 2,072-pound body. While Porsche 911 fans heavily criticized the car, the 914 eventually morphed into the Porsche Boxster that we all know and love today.