Long for the feel of a perfectly-balanced sportscar, but can’t afford that Ferarri you want? Relax, there are plenty of opportunities for you to get that exotic car look and feel without breaking your budget. This article is Part 1 of a series that looks at affordable mid-engine sports cars, including why you want one, how to find the one that’s right for you, how to keep it on the road, how to turn it into the supercar you’ve always wanted, and how to enjoy it in safe, sanctioned race events.
First, what defines a ‘mid-engine’ car, and why is it good? The commonly accepted usage of the term mid-engine means the bulk of the drivetrain – engine, transmission and driveshafts – is physically located in-between the front and rear wheels of the car. Contrast that to a typical front-engine car, where much of the engine is located in front of the front wheels, or even to the venerable Porsche 911, where the engine and transaxle are mostly behind the rear wheels.
The advantages of keeping the weight of the drivetrain between the wheels show up in the balance and responsiveness of the vehicle. According to engineers at Ferarri, the “optimal” distribution of weight in a sports car (front-to-rear balance) is somewhere around 45/55 — 45% of the drive weight carried on the front wheels, and 50% on the rear. That kind of balance is extremely hard to achieve if the heaviest components – engine and transmission – are located on top of the front wheels. To convince yourself of the difference in responsiveness, you can try a little experiment. Grab a 10-lb weight (bowling ball?) to your chest and walk along an S-shaped path. Yes, you’re carrying extra weight, but it does not affect your sense of balance. Now walk that path holding the weight out as far as you can to one side or the other. You’ll find you have to compensate greatly for the extra weight as you change direction along the path.
Future articles in this series will look at affordable mid-engine cars and how to modify them to approach exotic car status.