Car talk: Pancake day - Flat out

Everyone loves a flat engine, here's 6 of the best.

Pancake day, The time of year when everybody suddenly remembers that pancakes are a thing. People around the country will be trying to cook the perfect pancake before giving up and grabbing a few ready made ones from the nearest supermarket. As its pancake day, we thought we would celebrate all things flat with a list of flat engine cars.

For those of you who don't know, a flat or boxer engine is an engine design that sees the cylinders horizontally opposed. Whereas most engines make use of upright or V angled cylinders, the cylinders in the flat engine are completely horizontal. There are a few key advantages to using a flat engine over a traditional format, the most important of which is their low centre of mass which significantly helps with the handling aspect of a car.

Now, you've probably heard the term flat/boxer thrown around and used interchangeably but there is actually a technical difference between the two variants. In a traditional flat engine, each pair of pistons share a crankpin but with a  boxer engine, each piston has its own crankpin. For arguments sake though, they are both flat so who cares?

1. The Porsche 911

Porsche 911 flat engine

Perhaps the most well known manufacturer to use flat engines is Porsche. The German company have been using the flat engine setup for about as long as they've been making cars and the Porsche 911 is no exception. Every iteration of the 911 since its debut in 1963 has used a rear mounted flat 6 engine as its powerplant. The 911 was originally air cooled but switched to liquid cooling in 1998.

The 911 has been successful both on the road and on the race track with countless wins to its name and a near 60 year production run. The car has a reputation as being a pure drivers car thanks to it's light weight and brilliant handling, helped of course by the low centre mass associated with the flat 6.

2. The Beetle

Beetle flat engine

The predecessor of the 911 was the Porsche 356, which shares many similarities with the Volkswagen Beetle that Porsche also had a hand in designing. The Beetle, like the 356, used a simple flat 4 at the rear of the car. The engine varied in size over the years but never strayed from its origins, sticking with the trusty old lump until it ceased production 21 million cars later in 2003. The design was so good and so simple that its not uncommon to see an old beetle on the roads today.

3. Subaru Impreza

Rally jump FLAT ENGINE


In the summer time, if you listen carefully, you can just about hear the sound of 1000's of Subaru's heading to Japfest.  And what a sound it is, the boxer engines low rumble is synonymous with the Japanese car and the culture surrounding it. There have been 5 generations of the Subaru Impreza since 1992, with a 6th on the way. 

The Impreza doesn't just sound good it was a monster in the motorsport scene, especially when it came to rallying. The 4 cylinder, turbocharged boxer engine and a brilliant all wheel drive system propelled the Subaru to three World rally constructors titles and a drivers championship under rallying legend Colin McRae with further drivers championships under Richard Burns and Petter Solberg.

4. BRZ/GT86


The Subaru BRZ and Toyota GT86 are almost identical, sharing most of their components thanks to a joint production effort from Toyota and Subaru. Aside from the bumpers and badges these cars are exactly the same visually with only a minor observed difference in their driving characteristics.

They are lightweight sports cars using a naturally aspirated version of the Impreza's boxer engine to produce around 200hp to the back wheels. There's no hiding the fact that these cars are aimed directly at driving enthusiasts who seem to have welcomed them into their world with open arms with an endless amount of modified examples on the scene (and lots of rocket bunny kits!)

The cars have also taken home a whole host of awards including Top gears car of the year, Autocars best drivers car and Drives best performance car under $60,000

5. The Chevrolet Corvair.


The next car on our list comes from Chevrolet, The Chevrolet Corvair was a rear engine compact sports coupe that was produced from 1960 through to 1969 in America and was the predessor for the iconic Camaro. The car was powered by a flat 6 engine that ranged from 2.3 to 2.7 litres. The engine was initially offered as a naturally aspired unit but a turbocharged option was available when the second generation arrived in 1965.

Despite its initial success (it was Motor trends car of the year in 1960) it suffered from heavy competition and a ton of bad press. The Corvair began to develop a reputation for wild handling and spinning out which was blamed on its axel design and rear weight bias that the average American simply wasn't used to. The design of the rear axel essentially caused the camber of the wheels to change resulting in a loss of grip - The heavy engine at the rear of course made this traction loss all the more dangerous.

The release of the book 'Unsafe at any speed' tarnished the publics perception of the car enough that sales took a hit and the phenomenal success of the Mustang soon swayed most performance minded Americans away from the Corvair. The second generation saw vast improvements but by then it was too late to save the cars reputation and efforts were put into developing the upcoming Chevrolet Camaro with the Corvair ending production for good in 1969.

6. Ferrari Testarossa


Here we have it, the coolest car on the list and perhaps any list, the Ferrari Testarossa. This iconic car debuted in 1984 to a positive reception from critics and consumers and was Ferraris flagship model at the time of its launch. It's awesome wedge shape, striking lines and glorious 12 cylinder scream are the ultimate automotive expression of the 1980s with the car appearing in Miami Vice, Outrun and boasting many a famous name in its owners club.

The Ferrari was powered by a 4.9 litre, naturally aspirated flat 12 that made near on 400 horsepower that could propel the car to 60mph in just over 5 seconds and onto a top speed of around 180mph. With the arrival of the updated 512TR in 1991, the engine received an overhaul to make 428hp. The final Ferrari to use the flat 12 setup was the 512M which featured a mid mounted, 440hp version of the flat engine with uprated internals (but no pop up lights!). 

Now, go and enjoy your pancakes.

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