For a variety of reasons, at times, a car's drivetrain needs to be modified. In most cases, this is a gargantuan undertaking, especially with cars that were originally front-wheel drive and front-engined. But if a race team is sponsored by a big corporate automaker and is told to use a Corolla for drifting, they'll make do. If a race series' rules prohibit all-wheel drive, then cars originally built with it are modified to fit the rulebook. And then, there are those guys with a dream to chase and massive piles of money and time to burn who throw a viper’s engine in the back of a Prius just for fun.
Changing the drivetrain layout of a car is about the most extreme modification one can make before removing all vestiges of what made the car what it was. The entire character, handling, and of course, power can be changed by changing the driven wheels. Because of the huge amount of effort and resources it takes to perform this kind of surgery to a car, very few vehicles have been modified like this, but those that have been are incredible.
Some are drag cars that just keep the original unibody but swap in a longitudinally mounted domestic V8. Others are more nuanced, either using a transmission tunnel that already existed in an all-wheel-drive car or putting an engine in the back with no front-to-back driveshaft at all. Here are examples of all the above.
19 Papadakis Racing tC
Over the years, Papadakis Racing has become the most winning drift team in the sport's entire history.
They originally had your standard set of front-engine, rear-drive Japanese sports cars as their drift machines: an S2000, a 350z, and even the most popular drift car, period, the 240SX.
But after winning with these cars, they were approached with an even greater challenge than winning a drift championship: winning a drift championship in what was at least originally a front-wheel-drive car. Long story short, the Scion tC seen above is the only rear-wheel-drive converted car to win the Formula Drift championship.
18 Twin-Engine Volvo Wagon
As rear-wheel-drive swaps go, there are generally two ways to do it: either you mount an engine and transaxle behind the driver or you cut a transmission tunnel into the car and run a driveshaft to the rear. This Volvo 850 technically did neither of those. The engine in front actually remains, and no driveshaft runs to the back. But there's an entire second engine where the rear seats would normally be. The car is nominally four-wheel drive, and both engines are turbocharged and supercharged—twin-charged, to be precise. Either engine can act independently, however, so the Volvo station wagon can perform smoky rear-drive burnouts.
17 Papadakis Racing Corolla iM
Just as crazy as a twin-engine dual twin-charged Volvo built in somebody's garage is a thousand-horsepower rear-drive nitrous-boosted brand-new Corolla. Papadakis Racing has gotten quite good at building professional-level drift monsters that can compete toe to toe with and defeat any other vehicle, even when those drift monsters are based on a front-drive hatchback.
While this car hasn't won any championships, it's won several pro-level drift events and placed second in the 2017 Formula Drift championship.
The car is an actual pre-production chassis that Papadakis Racing dissembled and built a trans tunnel into, among a myriad of other modifications.
16 Papadakis Racing Passat
The car in which that ridiculous mass of equal-length headers resides in is a current-generation VW Passat, once again modified by Papadakis Racing, this time to be driven by Tanner Foust. An LS provides the massive grunt required to throw the tail out at a 150 miles an hour and does this without turbo or supercharger. The massive 7.4-liter powerplant is good for 700 horses on its own but has a 200-shot nitrous kit, meaning 900 horsepower is used to catapult this now rear-drive Passat toward the next clipping point with a curtain of smoke in trail.
15 Papadakis Racing 2016 tC
Another Papadakis drift project is the final-generation Scion tC, a car driven by Fredric Aasbo in the 2016 season of Formula Drift.
Once again, like the Corolla iM before it, the car won several battles and even claimed two outright event victories but just barely managed to lose grip on first place in the points standings.
That resulted in it coming second in the championship overall. This car had yet another turbocharged and nitrous-boosted 2AR engine, making roughly a thousand horses on the nitrous. As is standard for the Papadakis Competition drift cars, a transmission tunnel was cut in and fabricated, while every part was stripped off the car.
14 3-Rotor Mini
Normally, R888 tires that massive on the front of a Mini Cooper would mean it's a front-wheel-drive drag car. Of course, that's not quite the case here. This is a three-rotor rear-wheel-drive swap currently under construction. An at least equal amount of high-end race rubber resides in the back and will hopefully be enough to keep the short wheelbase of the modern Mini pointed in the direction the driver wants. Rotary engines produce pretty much all their power extremely high in the rev range, so if the car remains naturally aspirated, it might not be that hard to drive, considering its massive power.
13 F20C EK Civic
Honda guys are known for normally not having much in the way of funds. That's why most of them are Honda guys—with a Civic, a CRX, or a Del Sol, one's money can go a long way in terms of having a blast, even when there isn't much money to spend. This guy, however, most certainly doesn't have that problem. The F20C is an expensive and finely tuned device just to start with, not even getting into the man-hours and costs of figuring out how to put one in a twenty-year-old Civic that was designed for a transversely mounted engine. But it was done.
12 2JZ Impreza
Cars that were originally four-wheel drive are normally easier to convert to rear drive than purely front-drive cars.
The F20C Civic rear drive swap may have been made easier if CR-V parts were used for the driveline, as the first generation of that truck is really a beefed-up EK Civic.
But in the case of this Impreza, the turbo 2JZ produces so much power, the stock driveline would have to be upgraded anyway, perhaps to the point where Toyota stuff would just be used instead. One way or the other, anything with those signature cam gears next to a hulking turbo is a serious car.
11 3000GT 351W swap
Of all the cars that deserve a rear-wheel-drive swap, the lower-end models of the Mitsubishi 3000GT/Dodge Stealth lineup are near the top of the list. Their flowing yet aggressive bodywork hints at Ferrari-killing performance, but the transversely mounted asthmatic V6 powering the front wheels will struggle to keep pace with a Fiero. This isn't helped by the heavy weight of the beautiful and often gadget-filled cars. But one way to make a big heavy car fast is to drop an engine in it that's also big and heavy, using that size and heaviness to produce enough grunt to move the Earth if need be. The old school 351 Windsor was stroked to 414 cubic inches for even more power.
10 LS-Swapped Drag Golf
Seeing a longitudinally mounted LS motor in an MK1 Gold should be enough to make anyone crank a double take. But this car isn't just an LS swap that shouldn't have been possible; it was also an LS swap done on a limited budget and with limited experience.
A young dude managed to put this car together as he went to school by slowly building it over the years into what you see here.
It's a car that somehow managed to stick out even at SEMA and drew the entire internet's immediate attention as well as the attention of several very influential people in the international car scene.
9 NASCAR-edition Camry
This Camry looks somewhat plain, albeit more flashy than others like it. But it's exactly what you'd want with a car called a "NASCAR edition:" a 680-horsepower NASCAR-spec V8 built by Toyota's race team snuck under the hood, connected solely to the rear wheels through a tried and true T56 transmission. This is a full-on SEMA build, but it does work. It runs, drives, and cuts donuts like anything with "NASCAR" in the title should. The transmission is manual, and the car's roll cage is a four-point, just to keep things safe.
8 Mid-Engine Del Sol
If you just picture the idea of a mid-engined Del Sol, it just makes so much sense—almost as much sense as it makes when the picture above is shown. There would even be room for a small trunk like it is with the Fiero or the MR2.
The engine is even period correct—a B16. But of course, this one's a B16 turbo because that's what makes Hondas fast.
The engineering behind this swap looks so well done, so well squared away. Because the swap would add negligible weight and the front could be converted into a frunk, it's hard to find a downside to making a Del Sol handle like a Lotus.
7 Hellcat-powered Prius
There isn't a car much more beloved in the eyes of tree huggers than the bland teardrop that's the Toyota Prius. So, of course, one showed up to SEMA with a Hellcat swap making more horsepower than three Priuses put together and enough tire in the back to facilitate launching the dang thing like a rocket down the quarter mile. The eagle, the flag, and the painted-on exhaust are just adding to the 'Muricanness' of the vehicle, olive drab included. The entire car was built as an insult to Prius owners, but it comes across less like a fun joke and more like a childish insult.
6 F1 Espace
This is a minivan with a Formula One car's engine. The Espace F1 is exactly as advertised, with a Renault race-winning F1 engine producing roughly eight hundred horsepower put behind the four bucket seats.
Extreme power and a mid-engine layout make this likely the most extreme factory minivan ever conceived.
Seeing this sucker tear around a racetrack is an incredible experience in and of itself, especially with the screaming howl of a small displacement and extremely high-revving professional open-wheel racing engine belting out of a winged and wide-bodied minivan. It's for more than taking the kids to school.
5 Drift ST202 Celica
Those DSM fans wouldn't get the draw of drifting either, which is what this Celica was modified for. While much of the bodywork that isn't custom is from an ST205 or the last generation of the epic Celica GT4, this car started as a far more basic front-wheel-drive Celica.
The GT4 scored many a victory in the World Rally Championship, with the very wing and roof scoop on this car—but also had a four-wheel-drive system.
This vehicle went from straight front-wheel drive directly to being converted into a rear-wheel-drive drift machine.
4 “Gobalt” SS LS-swapped Cobalt SS
The Cobalt SS is a pretty solid package for what it is, as long as one opts for the turbo version. It has a decent weight and good power and is cheap to buy and maintain. Plus, once its grip is secured, it's actually rather fast. But come on... it's a front-wheel-drive economy car with a turbo engine. It's not bad, but it's not that special. What's special is an LS engine dropped in the front powering the rear wheels good for double the power of the stock car, with a widebody to hold the tires necessary to keep the thing under some semblance of control.
3 Time Attack CRX
The CRX is an awesome car. It's extremely lightweight, incredibly practical, and very agile, super cheap, and it even gets 40-50 mpg. So, it makes for the perfect autocross car and daily. But obviously, that's nowhere near extreme enough to win a full-on time attack, and obviously, people wanted to turn a CRX into a serious time-attack car. To do that, one requires an F20C swap and a rear-wheel-drive conversion. And of course, it'll also need a truly massive aero kit to keep the short wheelbase hatchback from swapping ends at an inopportune time. Time attack is one of the most extreme sports a car can be built for, and this CRX is that extreme.
2 Integra with caddy engine
This looks like an Integra with a well-designed and excellently installed widebody. And it is that. But it's also an Integra powered by a Cadillac Eldorado's 500-cubic-inch beast of an iron block V8.
That's 8.2 liters of domestic torque, amplified by two turbochargers and sent marching directly to the rear wheels.
The engine is mounted right behind the rear seats, and the rear hatch doubles as the engine lid. This is a serious piece of kit, with dramatically widened rear wheels and tires to support all the power that literage would deliver—easily one of the coolest Integras ever built.
1 EF civic
Making a lightweight and low-cost Honda hatchback into a rear-wheel-drive high-performance race car appears to actually be a pretty good idea as long as you have the prodigious fabrication skills to get the job done. The car above is an example of this used for drag racing, where the power-to-weight ratio of a gutted Honda with the added launch grip of rear-wheel drive can be very useful. In all, rear-wheel-drive swaps are always possible but so hard to pull off because of the time and expense involved that few ever do it. But when they do, it's spectacular.