Can You Think Of Any Cars That Switched Engine Location On The Same Model? There’s A Few So Let’s Talk About Them

Enginelocation Top

In general, where its decided to stick an engine in a car is a pretty huge part of its design and development, and, generally, that means you can’t change it once you start building cars. But the World of Cars is vast and baffling and beautiful, to the point where I suspect it had to have happened at some point, right? I’ve been doing some digging and thinking, and I think it has happened, at least sort of. And, interestingly, there’s one company that seems to have done engine location swaps for the same model – or at least pretty close – more than any other. So let’s dig in.

When I talk about the same model of car that swapped its engine location, I mean cars that are on the same basic platform, not just have the same name, so things like the VW Golf-based Volkswagen New Beetle or the 2011 version of the Beetle do not count, even though they share a name and general look as the original rear-engined Type 1 VW Beetle. Same goes for the modern, front-engined Fiat 500s; like the modern Beetles, they’re an entirely different platform and everything. So those types of cars don’t count.

So what does count? What I’m hoping to find are cars that were designed with, say, a rear engine and then later in production converted to front, or vice-versa. Or went from front to mid-engined. I’m going to exclude cars that went from front- to front-mid, like the Ford Mustang, in some configurations, or subtle shiftings that may take a car from rear- to barely rear-mid, like you could argue the Porsche 911 has. I’m looking for more dramatic location swaps.

Also, it needs to be a production car, even if that production is limited. And the platforms, even if they’re extensively modified, need to at least have started out the same. All that make sense? With that in mind, let’s see what we can come up with.

The Kohlruss Steyr-VWs: So Close

KohlrussIn a lot of ways, these cars are perfect examples of what I’m talking about: a car that started life as a front-engined car, but ended up rear-engined. The problem is that often these were literally the same cars, because the Kohlruss Steyr-VWs were non-running Steyr 50 or 55 (nicknamed the Steyr Baby) models that, after WWII, were combined with leftover wartime VW Kübelwagens to become rear-engined.

I wrote about these years ago, and while there were a number of different variations of this same idea made by various small coachbuilders, the most common seem to have come from Austrian coachbuilder Kohlruss, who took the Baby Steyrs that suffered from engine or gearbox failures – which was many, many of them – and stuck in whole drivetrains from Kubels, effectively transforming a front-engined car into a rear-engined one.

But, while multiple ones were made, this was an aftermarket, desperation change, not real production. It’s conceptually what I’m thinking of, but unless it’s production, I can’t count it.

Do Dual Engines Count? The Citroën 2CV Sahara

SaharaThis one is a little tricky, because while it definitely is a production (low volume, but whatever) car, and definitely was a front-engined car that was adapted to have a rear engine, the only time that rear engine layout was used was in the same car as the front engine. Yes, the 2CV Sahara is one of the only production twin-engined cars ever, so I’m not sure if this counts.

I mean, maybe it does? Citroën absolutely did the engineering to install their air-cooled flat twin into the rear of the 2CV, and, hypothetically, they could have built a rear-engine/rear drive 2CV with a front trunk if they felt like it, but there wouldn’t have been much point to that. Getting four-wheel drive without having to engineer driveshafts or new gearboxes, though, that was what they were after, and the twin-engine solution did that.

Still, I’m not sure if this counts, because the engine wasn’t moved, it got another instance in the same car, which feels different.

The One Who Did It: Renault

Renaultr5

I think the only actual, people-could-have-bought-one examples of a model of car available with the engine in two different locations has to be Renault, with their Renault 5 and the Renault 5 Turbo versions starting from 1980 (one front-FWD economy car, the other a mid-RWD sports car) and then later they did the same basic idea with the two generations of Clio and Clio V6.

Clios

For both of these cars, even though the much more powerful mid-engine versions were heavily modified from their origins as a little FWD econobox, they crucially did at least start with the same platform and modify it to work with the mid-mounted engine location. Other similar rallycross-focused cars like the MG Metro 6R4 may look like the little shitboxes they derived from, but, in the case of the MG Metro 6R4, the whole car was built on a was a very racing-focused tube chassis that had nothing to do with the original car.

How did it end up that Renault managed to pull this strange feat off when no other automakers had ever succeeded? Or, maybe more accurately, bothered? I think there’s two reasons Renault felt comfortable trying this.

First, they had a bit of history with drivetrain flipping, as the same drivetrain that powered the old 1947-1961 Renault 4CV went on to power the later Renault 4 from 1961 to 1994, just driving the opposite wheels at the opposite end of the car.

4cvand4

I should mention that Volkswagen did something similar when they flipped their air-cooled flat four around 180° and put it in the front of the Brazilian VW Gol, so this kind of thing wasn’t unheard of, just not terribly common. And, Toyota stuck transverse fours from FWD hatchbacks into the middle of an MR2, GM did something similar with the Fiero, and so on. Still, Renault did it for their high-volume cars, so I think they had some comfort there.

Next is the Renault 21, which came out in 1986, after the R5, but it’s another example of Renault’s unusual comfort with weird drivetrain variants in the same car, because this is one of the incredibly rare cars I can think of that came in a both transverse and longitudinal engine configuration at the same time. It was the Renault 18, which we got in the US as the Eagle Medallion.

Eagle18

The smaller 1.7-liter engine was installed transverse, and the larger 2-liter engine was installed longitudinally, both driving the front wheels. This isn’t the same as a whole location swap, but it’s weird, and I take it as proof that for whatever crazy Gallic reasons, Renault has been uniquely willing to make cars in engine layout variations that seem to make no sense to anyone else.

I feel like I may be missing some other examples of the same models with completely different engine locations, so if you can think of any, let’s put them in the comments, so this page can become a bold and welcome resource for all weary wonderers thinking about this same, vitally important question.

 

 

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84 Responses

  1. Don’t know any engine location switches off the top of my head, but I do know of a body swap: The Peugeot 405 ROA is a Peugeot 405 body swapped onto an ancient Iranian-made Hillman Hunter-variant shell (Paykan), longitudinal engine and rear solid axle with leaf springs and all.
    It’s one of the most bizarre contraptions I’ve ever come across and it was made all the way up to 2016.

    But wait, there’s more! The Renault Sepand K is a Renault 5 body on streched a Mazda 121 shell, where the original R5 engine was switched to a horizontal one from the Mazda 121 donor. This weird chimera of a car was made until 2008 or so.

  2. I don’t think you could technically count it, but I want to remind everyone that the Ford Festiva Shogun exists.

    Essentially the same formula as the Renaults. 3.0 V6 SHO engine mid mounted in a FF designed hatch. It was designed by Ford Engineers, seven were built, but I don’t think it was *technically* a Ford product.

    1. It was not, in fact it was so not-blessed by Dearborn that the shop that did build it had to buy a complete Festiva and a a complete Taurus SHO to use as raw material. No crate motors, no bodies-in-white.

      1. Those were built by Chuck Beck that builds the Beck 550 Spyders, to hear Chuck tell it he had a connection at Ford but I haven’t heard him go into more detail than that. He used to bring the original prototype to Caffeine & Octane occasionally, along with his 550, Lister replica and sometimes a motorcycle he built with an Espada V12 in it. Great guy, always willing to talk cars.

  3. I recall Volkswagen doing a Golf with a huge engine in the rear, Renault R5 style, but I can’t find it now. It was shown as a one-off “concept car”, but was really more just an engineering project.

    I do seem to recall them letting at least a few journalists have a look at it, and maybe even drive it.

  4. The spanish built Seat 1200 Sport started as a concept for a NSU sports car designed by Aldo Sessano and based on the rear-engined NSU Prinz platform. NSU abandoned the project and Seat purschased it, then converted it to Front Wheel Drive but let the rear air vents from the original design in the production model. Also there’s no equivalent in Fiat’s lineup

      1. W-why is every image that is supposed to be in that article instead replaced by an advertisement. Every. One. That page is literally just ads with some small amounts of text squeezed around it. Who does that?! I didn’t get to see a single SEAT!

  5. This has got me thinking – for each major maker, how much time elapsed before they had a production vehicle with each major engine position? E.g. Chevrolet front engine the first ~50 years until the Corvair (rear) and then another ~50 years until the C8 (mid).

        1. Yeah, if we want to just talk nameplates, not actual platforms, the Fiat 500 started out front engine/RWD in the 1930s, went to rear engine/RWD in the ’50s, then front engine/FWD in the ’90s, then went electric in the 2020s (still front motor/FWD)

  6. “…the MG Metro 6R4 may look like the little shitboxes they derived from…”

    Hey! As the former owner of an MG Metro 1300 I… have to admit that my status as “former owner” rather undercuts any objection I might otherwise raise.

  7. The Triumph 1500 of 1972 became the Triumph 1500 TC in 1973, TC because, or course, twin SU carburetors. Very little mention, if any, was made of the slightly more radical change. The TC was rwd, the 1500 was fwd. Not a change of engine but fun stuff anyway.

    1. I also nominate the Triumph 1300/Toledo which changed from front engine FWD to front engine RWD over a single model year. Yes only Triumph would dredge up an old RWD setup instead of figuring out how to make their FWD design more cost-effective. On the other hand, the Toledo RWD is a really nice little sedan.
      https://www.curbsideclassic.com/curbside-classics-european/curbsid-classic-1974-triumph-toledo-they-did-what-to-the-1300/

  8. Having a friend who had a Renault Car (translating here for the ‘murcans), I’d say the 5 Turbo wasn’t so much a change of engine location as the addition of an engine. We could never figure out what the hell that thing in the front was supposed to do. Ballast? Still, it was kind of fun downhill. Not so much up.

  9. The vehicle known variously as the Smith Flyer, Briggs & Stratton Flyer, and Auto Red Bug went from having a gasoline engine located as part of a fifth “motor wheel” to having an electric motor mounted at the rear of its main platform. It was street-legal in some jurisdictions at the time of its manufacture, so I’m calling it a car.

  10. I’m not sure I can think of another EV example (although thr F-150 Lightning makes a decent argument for itself), but the Ford Transit ditches the front engine if you go electric.

    1. Wasn’t some generation of the Mitsubishi Eclipse like that? Seems like I remember hearing that Turbo cars had their transmission on the opposite side? I may have misunderstood.

  11. Those 1st gen Brazilian VW Gols were a frickin pox ridden nightmare. They had the body done but the engine was not ready so some chucklehead engineer came up with the idea of putting the old air cooled flat four in the front and the result was that people ran away from them in droves. They only lasted a year I think before they released it with the 1.6 AP and I can’t remember the last time I saw one here. People knew they would soon be released with 1.6 AP water cooled engine so why buy a slightly differently shaped beetle.

  12. I think this ones won’t count, as there’s just one single example, and it’s not evne road legal.

    I give you the Renault Espace…. and the Renault Espace F1.
    ( or going from the mostly underpowered front engined Monospace that defined Monospace as a car category to a mid engined monster that can only run on tracks )

    https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renault_Espace_F1

    And there’s many instances of longitudinal/transverse engines in the French manufacturers…
    Since for a given car model you could have a 956cm3 engine and a 1.8 liter turbo…. with intermediate 1.2l, 1.4l, 1.6l versions ( and that’s not counting diesel versions )

    Going O/T but still about French cars :
    I remember the day after I got my driving license, for whatever reasons my parents wanted me to fetch my grandmother from the train station… and I was to drive my father BX19GT(whatever… not sure it had a I or not) to perform that feat.

    To make sure my father took me early in the morning for a drive around the Charade Racetrack ( I let you google it… at that time it hadn’t been castrated and was still in it’s F1 glorious configuration and an open road )… Somewhere halfway in the straight between the pits and the Charade [golf] Curve…he said, quite calmly that I should check my speed… I was at 160Kmh and well the Curve was coming fast… but it didn’t seems so to my novice eyes.

    1. Having owned an 89 Espace Quadra, I must say I disagree with the “mostly underpowered” statement. It was surprisingly fast and adequately powered (and mine was adapted to run on LPG, which theoretically would bring the power figure down a bit). The fibreglass body meant that it was pretty light for a car that size, and the drag coefficient wasn’t so bad (pretty much in line with most modern minivans), so it had other things going that offset the perceived lack of power.

  13. When answering this question it’s probably worth looking at EVs; the different packaging needs have caused a lot of motor shuffling. How about the ford F150 lightning? the standard F150 is front engined, and the Lightning has dual motors, front and rear; arguably a similar status to the 2cv Sahara, but, considering the front motor is in a kinda different location too, I feel it counts. The Volvo XC40 falls in a similar category, as it has both Front engine IC and dual-motor EV variants.
    Also, I feel the 2020 Toyota Mirai counts; that went from Front motor, FWD to rear motor, RWD between generations, and, although the platform changed (not sure how much, as I can’t find what the first gen platform was) the TNGA: GA-L platform used for the 2nd gen is shared with the Toyota Crown and Lexus LC/LS, all of which are front engine, RWD.
    Also, doesn’t count due to it being a substantially different platform, but I feel I ought to bring up the Renault Twingo, which went from Front engine/FWD to rear engine/RWD between generations

  14. On a second read of this article I found some imprecisions re: the Renault 4.

    “the same drivetrain that powered the old 1947-1961 Renault 4CV went on to power the later Renault 4 from 1961 to 1994, just driving the opposite wheels at the opposite end of the car.”

    That drivetrain was only available in French-built base-model Quatrelles until 1986. Meanwhile in 1978 they had introduced the 1.1 C1E/688 engine (from the Cléon-Fonte family of engines) for top of the line GTL models, while the entry level TL got a smaller version of that engine a few years later to gradually replace the 845cc derived from the one in the 4CV in other markets. However, the C1E engine was an updated version of the Sierra engine, which was introduced in 1962 in another rear-engined car, the R8.

    Also, official production of the Renault 4 ended in 1992, not 1994; there’s rumours that production may have gone into early 93 – beyond the final 1000 “Bye-Bye”GTLs because they had left over parts at the Novo Mesto plant and there was still some demand (the last ones sold in Portugal were registered in 94, and we imported a very decent chunk of the ones built in the final 3-4 years).

  15. On the Renault 21, offering longitudinal and transverse engine layouts came with another quirk: different wheelbases. And, since the Estate/Wagon (break in good French), had a longer wheelbase, that means that the 21 range came with 4 different wheelbases: 2 for the sedan (and hatchback) and another 2 for the wagon! Why Make Things Simple When You Can Make Them Complicated, right?
    Well don’t get me started on different wheelbases depending on the side (yes, right vs.left): Renault also did that, on the R16, R4/6 and R5 (because of the rear torsion bar set up.) Sacre bleu !

  16. Well the engine location didn’t change but the layout did: MG ZT. Started out as the MG version of the Rover 75, with a FWD, transverse 2.5l V6 with around 190hp. They then made a variant with the 4.6l V8 from the Ford Mustang putting out 260 hp with RWD (so change from FWD to RWD) and longitudinal. Had to double check as it sounded bonkers at the time reading the reviews why they did it and suffice to say they were bankrupt in very short order.

  17. Both the Datsun 310 and the Toyota Tercel were originally engineered to also be rear-wheel drive, in case the newfangled FWD layout proved unsellable. The Tercel, of course, even getting a longitudinally mounted engine which allowed for the development of the 4WD version that make us all so very happy.

  18. One off (that has been enthusiast replicated) is the MK2 golf, originally fwd/awd then they decided power from one motor wasn’t enough so they just shoved another in back and sent it.

  19. Regarding the renault 18 and 21 maybe the 4X4 version was the reason for the longitudial engine in the 21. I also think that you might have mixed up the cars, 18 was called sportwagon in US and the 21 was called Eagle Medallion, atleast according to wikipedia.

    Fun fact, my dad uesed to own all the 4X4 Renault 18’s in Sweden. All Two. He later sold them and now they have been sold back to continental europe.

  20. So this is related, because this is so much about Renault.
    Colin Chapman used the drivetrain out of the longitudinal FWD 16 in the back of a Lotus Europa for series 1 and 2 to be a MR car.

    Here’s something that might count too: The mid engine Europa chassis is a front engine, RWD Elan spun 180 degrees.

  21. The Solo Shuttle Trailer kind of meets the parameters except it’s not a car.
    It’s a trailer. Nevermind I guess the “engine” is always in the front, it’s everything else that gets switched around. But the power from the “engine” changes from bottom to top so maybe…. straws, straws, handfuls of straws!
    Nevermind.

  22. I know the FIAT 126p was rear-engined and air-cooled as it was built on the classic FIAT 500 platform, but there was one FSM prototype that had the same drivetrain mounted in the front – the 126NP in 1978 – this article by the Rezerwa Polish 126p club has a good description of it:

    https://rezerwa126p-pl.translate.goog/?page_id=22800&_x_tr_sch=http&_x_tr_sl=pl&_x_tr_tl=en&_x_tr_hl=en&_x_tr_pto=sc

    It was literally the same drivetrain, just moved to the front, so the car still kindof has the usual 126 vibe, but with a slightly odd face and lengthened front end! They built around 12 prototypes but never produced it as they started working on the Beskid instead (which also never went into production, but check out the FSM Beskid if you’ve never heard of it, it’s a very cool little car!) 🙂

    1. Thanks for sharing this, both prototypes are pretty cool. The original Beskid with the asymmetrical grille is just amazing. And it feels like Renault designers may have glanced at it when developing the Twingo; the W60 prototype, created in 86 by Marcello Gandini, definitely has some striking similarities, despite the futuristic fascia. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he was inspired by the Beskid (espcially considering they were still making prototypes around the time Gandini designed the W60).

  23. The 2000-2013 or so Ford Transit (that the US did not get) was available in both front wheel drive and rear wheel drive configurations of the same model. I don’t know if the engine switched orientations tho.

  24. The various pre-RX-7 Mazda rotaries and their piston counterparts might qualify. The early rotary cars were all based on longitudinal front engined cars, and the rotaries are small enough that they might end up front-mid like the RX-7s. It’s not a complete location swap, but it is a change in the location classification.

  25. It’s possibly a myth, but there’s a story that the Skoda 120 was originally designed to be front engined, but during development Skoda were told to continue using a rear engine layout.

    Looking at the design compared to the earlier Skodas it’s certainly plausible

  26. The regular Renault 5, not the crazy mid engined one, also switched engine placement: From a longitudinal with the gear box in front, to a transverse engine. Does that count?

    The Triumph 1500, one of the many beatufil Michelotti sedans, also switched from FWD to RWD, so they turned the engine 90 degrees. That must also count for moving the engine.

  27. The BMW-developed Rover 75 used various transverse-mounted Rover-designed I4s and V6s driving the front wheels,
    but its sportier brother, the MG ZT, used a Ford Modular V8 driving the rear wheels, and it was all jammed under the same floorpan.

    1. There were Ford V8 engined Rover 75s and MG ZTs. The Rover badged cars are def the sleepers and, frankly, the V8 versions of these models are the only of the breed currently worth more than about two grand.
      There was at least one AWD V8 Rover 75 estate produced. I’ve seen one that had the Ford V8 sold off and a KV6 fitted. The AWD kit is all Landrover Freelander.
      I suspect they were designed with this in mind, having seen underneath it. As with all things Rover, the wonderful AROnline website has a properly documented history of this.

  28. Where does the Jinker Flapping Wing fit into this? Technically speaking your legs are the engine (a machine with moving parts that converts power into motion). You take off by running from behind it like a glider. You fly it by jumping up and down close to the nose of the aircraft. Same engine rear to front in seconds. Only one model as far as I know.
    I know it doesn’t fit the car parameters but why limit yourself to ground travel.
    Mercedes, back me up please.

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