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Porsche 914

You can think of the mid-engined, two-seater 914 as the Rodney Dangerfield of the Porsche catalog. Like any interesting older car, the "Teener" has its fans and forums, yet it often gets no respect, no respect at all from Porsche faithful, or from auto enthusiasts in general.

It really deserves better than that.

I first saw a Porsche 914 in, of all places, the pages of Boys' Life magazine--specifically, the August 1971 issue. There was a race-prepared 914/6 on the cover, and a feature article illustrated with a number of beauty shots of a red 914--that's a scan of that particular page on the right--that I could still picture in my mind's eye decades later. Not long after that article appeared, I started seeing 914s in the wild.

Why did this car capture my imagination so? Well, I was a young boy, and young boys are naturally drawn to things that look cool and/or go fast. The 914 looked pretty cool, with more than a little of that car-of-the-future feeling going for it, and it also looked fast. It was also just about exactly the right size for a kid my age, had we been able to get driver's licenses.

I also had a fondness then for British roadsters like the TR-6 or MG. (Still do.) Though not as futuristic by any means, those British cars looked like they'd be a lot of fun to drive. They also often looked like they'd been slapped together in haste by disgruntled employees with epic hangovers, and they had a terrible reputation for unreliability.

One look at a real live 914 was all it took for me to conclude that the 914 had to be superior to what the British were offering. It appeared to have been assembled by fanatical German craftsmen who made sure to line everything up properly and torque everything down to specification. (In the 1970s, this was no small thing.) The pop-top roof promised the infinite joys of open-air motoring, and the engine gave off a cheerful German-engineered buzz that said you could have all of that fun with none of those annoying unscheduled roadside maintenance stops that Triumph owners had to put up with.

The truth of it wasn't quite so sunny. The 914 wasn't a bad car by any means, but it also wasn't a great car either, and it really didn't live up to the Porsche nameplate. Still, for all its flaws, I would submit that the 914 is a worthy subject of your attention, one that perhaps has gotten a bit of a bum rap from the critics

The 914 was a joint project of Porsche and Volkswagen introduced for the 1970 model year, replacing Porsche's entry-level 912 (a de-contented 911 with a 356's engine) and VW's one-notch-up-from-entry-level Type 34 Karmann-Ghia (styled by Car Lust's own Virgil Exner, Jr., and never marketed in North America). The development of the car started under a verbal agreement between Ferdinand Porsche and VW managing director Heinz Nordhoff. After Herr Nordhoff died in 1968, Porsche learned the hard way that verbal agreements are not worth the paper they're printed on--Nordhoff's successor threatened to abandon the project, pressuring Porsche into renegotiating the terms of the deal to VW's advantage.

Sahara beige The body shell was styled by Gugelot (a German industrial design firm which had also done the Kodak Carousel slide projector) with some later refinement by Butzi Porsche, the designer of the 911. The fully-independent suspension and five-speed transaxle were adapted from the 911. The car was to be sold in two versions, one with the air-cooled VW flat-4 engine from the Type 3, and one with the flat-6 out of the 911. Initially, Karmann fabricated the body shells, and either VW or Porsche finished out the assembly, depending on whether it was to be a 4- or 6-cylinder car. In Europe, the 4-cylinder was sold by VW dealers as a "Volkswagen-Porsche" and the 6-cylinder "914/6" at Porsche dealers; in North America, both versions wore the Porsche nameplate.

The powers that be deliberately decided to avoid making the car look too much like either a VW or a Porsche, and they certainly met that objective. The 914 doesn't look much like a late-60s VW, or anything at all like a 911. Some have criticized it as "stubby" or "boxy," but I rather like the looks of it (as you probably figured out six paragraphs ago). It was certainly no Loewy coupe, but it was clean, simple, crisp, and faintly futuristic. The interior was reasonably spacious for the size of the car, if perhaps a little Spartan.

...When i take her to the track she really shines... The handling was excellent. The 914 was agile, but with none of Porsche's "traditional" oversteer. This was because it had the 911's sophisticated suspension without the 911's rear-mounted engine and its associated moment-of-inertia issues. The 914/6 got a set of sway bars (later made standard on the four-cylinder) that only made a good thing better.

Straight-line performance was another matter. At 2,100 pounds, the 914 was surprisingly hefty for its small size, and the base model with the 1.7-liter Volkswagen engine had a mere 79 horsepower and 97 pounds of torque with which to overcome all that inertia. It took 14 seconds to accelerate to 60 mph, and turned the quarter mile in 19 seconds or so--roughly comparable to what you could get out of an Oldsmobile sedan with a slushbox. To put it diplomatically, that's not the performance one expects from a car with the name "Porsche" on it. The 6-cylinder had 110 ponies in the engine bay, and got to 60 mph in about 8.5 seconds, which is a little more like it.

That was in 1970. As the Disco Decade wore on, things got worse for the 914's performance. In 1972, the North American version received heavy 5 mph bumpers--while, at the same time, the newly-mandated first-generation smog controls began sucking horsepower out of the engine room. The base engine declined to 76 horsepower, though this was partially compensated for by making an optional 2.0-liter, 95-horsepower engine available.

German magazine ad The 914 also had the added problem of being something of an orphan product, not quite a "real" Porsche (some Porsche owners' clubs refused membership to 914 drivers!), but not really part of the VW family either. The early model years were also plagued by vapor lock in hot weather, and occasional engine fires.

In Germany, the "Volkswagen-Porsche" 4-cylinder model soon acquired the derisive nickname "Vo-Po." This was also the popular nickname of the East German Volkspolizei ("People's Police"), the Communist regime's uniformed "security" agency. As any halfway competent person in the marketing business would tell you, if your product ends up sharing a nickname with a totalitarian dictatorship's goon squad, something has probably gone wrong with your branding strategy.

The car's biggest problem, however, was its cost-benefit ratio. A base-model 914 started out rather pricey for something with such modest capabilities, and inflation only made it worse in later years. The 6-cylinder commanded a mind-bending 70% premium over the base model on its introduction, making it nearly as expensive as a 911 and more expensive than a Corvette. For the price of a 1970 914/6, you could get a fully-badassed queen-of-the-option-sheet 1970 Camaro with a screaming big-block V-8--and have about fifteen hundred pre-inflation dollars left over for sway bars and other modifications to improve handling. Meanwhile, down the street at that upstart Datsun's place, one could get a 240Z, which outperformed the 914/6 in every statistical category, for less than the price of a four-cylinder 914.

Med_gallery_3510_175_156674 It should not surprise you that the 914s didn't sell all that well at that price point. Less than 3,500 914/6s were built before the model was discontinued in 1972. The four-cylinder version did better than that, but it was still at a serious price disadvantage--and Porsche and VW really couldn't cut the price if they were to have any hope of not losing money on such a low-volume car. Porsche pulled the plug on the 914 after 1975, briefly reviving the 912 to take its place until the new 924 went into production.

Though a bit disappointing as both a sports car and a business proposition, the 914 wasn't a total disaster by any means--total sales of 118,000 units for a two-seater is nothing to sneeze at, and VW (at least) made a little money off it. Race-prepared 914s did well in IMSA and Group 4 events and won the GT class at Le Mans in 1970, and it's easy to turn one into a delightful little club racer or autocrosser. (It actually makes a pretty decent autocrosser in box-stock condition.) Parts are relatively easy to come by. If you're inclined to do something about the straight-line performance, there are proven recipes for hotting up the four-cylinder to as much as 170 HP, and the engine bay can be made to take a 911 or Carrerra engine, a VW turbodiesel, a Subaru WRX drivetrain, or a smallblock V-8. There's even an EV conversion kit.

I'm a lot older and wiser (well, older anyway) than I was in the summer of 1971 when I was drooling over that photo spread, but I still find myself drawn to the 914. It may have been a mite underpowered and more than a bit overpriced, but it's an interesting little car, and one that I still wouldn't mind having. Imagine summer ice cream runs through Mill Creek Park with the top off....

--Cookie the Dog's Owner

The August '71 Boys' Life magazine page scan was posted to the 914World.com forums by member "ejm." The lovely Sahara Beige car belongs to 914World.com member "Sahara Beige Steve." It's in gloriously original condition, with less than 23,000 miles on the clock, and I would submit to you that beige never looked so good. The orange car with racing graphics comes from BringATrailer.com. 914World.com member AvalonFal provided the German magazine ad. The very artistic night shot of the red 914/6 is by 914club.com member Quilmes.

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The Porsche 914 never really had much appeal to me for all the reasons you detail above, until I started this blog and heard contributor Mochi Mochi rhapsodize about his old 914.

Then, earlier this year, I happened to walk by an absolutely gorgeous bright yellow 914 for sale, and I fell in love with the shape, the details, and the car's overall presence. It's still not at the top of my list of cars to buy, but it's an extremely cool car.

Weird little car. The design always seemed "off" to me for some reason. Not slow looking nor fast looking. Not pleasing to the eye nor particularly ugly. Always kinda seemed to me like the back should be the front or something.

914s share the title of "least loved Porsche" by snob Porsche owners with the 924. At least the 924 has looks.
They were both good efforts back when Porsche cared about the lower priced market. Today, they're happy catering only to the wealthy.

There's an older gentleman around here that drives one of these, a bright canary-yellow that I only ever see around town when the weather is nice and sunny. The first time I saw it I missed the Porsche naming and badges and thought for sure it was some odd breed of Triumph or MG- the only Porsche convertibles I'd ever seen were newer carreras.

Guy doesn't look particularly bothered that his 914 (not sure if it's a 4 or 6 cylinder) isn't particularly fast or well-loved by the Porsche cognoscenti. After all, it's warm and sunny outside, the top's down, and he's cruising in one of the most interesting and certainly unique-looking convertibles in this whole town. For those two or three times a year that I see him, I envy that guy his choice in cars.

The 914, the 908, and the 917 are the three best Porsches ever designed. There I said it. This is a fact, and completely true. I respectfully state to anyone who has a different opinion, you're wrong and your opinion doesn't count.

But seriously, the 914 is a piece of brilliant design work. Formally the car distinguishes itself from just about every car ever made. It's a design that never, ever, looked dated. From the beginning it carved out unique design territory, and with time has continued to look better and better.

911s and all the cars that are based on them are drawn from the same conservative perspective. Yes they look lovely, and so do the 924, 944, and 928, which also pen from their own connected vision. The 914 by comparison is a unique point of inspiration, a wild card, a maverick.

Odd? So you say it looks odd, or funny, or even ugly? Yes, you're right, but what you are not seeing is that the 914's oddness, awkwardness, and quirkiness are the very things that make it so incredibly beautiful. It steps outside of common aesthetic concepts and ideals, and enters new territory. The 914 is a bohemian - it is the avant-gard.

The 914 is a car whose aesthetic foundation and form are based on fun and function. Is it the ideal car, or the ideal sports car? no. But it is a fascinating car which is what makes it such a great car. Better than being a traditionally beautiful car, it is a car that challenges the status quo of what beauty is and how cars or at least porsches are supposed to be made. It puts to question all cars on the road, and the standards by which we evaluate or desire them. Interesting beauty is so much better than expected beauty.

As with anything that resides in the avant-gard it's not to everyone's taste. The avant-gard always exists at the edges of the bell curve - not in the center - not in the mainstream. A level of sophistication is required to appreciate the non-obvious or the radical. I really wish more car manufacturers would take the risks that porsche took with the 914 and be as bold and inventive. There is so much bland pablum out there on the roads.

Still not convinced? Just drive one some time. These cars are so much fun! And really, put everything else aside for a moment, drop all the things that car owner ship has come to be associated with: status, power, luxury, achievement; put all of these things on hold, and remember that the core of what driving cars should really be about is fun. In this respect the 914 is one of the best cars ever made! it is fun to drive, and fun to look at.

I recall the build quality of my buddies mint condition green 2.0 liter 915 being to nearly late 70's Benz like. The doors shut like a vault.

They handle well. More reliable than a similar handling Fiat X/19, with just as much/if not more (and more positive) character.

I agree with the fun remarks. My little Sprint Turbo is not the fastest car on the planet and does not pull the G's like a similar year Renault GTA... but I have seldom been behind the wheel of a car that puts such a smile on my face.

Mochi is right.... it will always be unique and I can say it does not seem to be aging.

I'd prefer and X1/9...

I can still remember the "spring, summer, winter fall" commercials they did for these when I was little. They are among my very earliest TV memories.

I'm sure every little kid wanted a 914 - its a natural for Boys' Life.

That is a funny looking car...

I had a green 2.0 liter 914, gotten used and in need of repairs. The handling was exceptional for the era even before tweaking, and by the time I had done the engine (yes, I broke the California air regulations, thank you) and thrown on a nice set of tires it made for an awesome ride going through the twisty mountain roads of southern California with the top off and the stereo blaring.

The only issues I ever had with the car was replacing the clutch (you had to drop the engine to do it), the price of insurance, and the price of repairs. Even though my Porsche club didn't think the 914 was a Porsche, the insurance and parts companies sure did.

I'd rebuild one of these again, while I wouldn't do the same to a similar era 911 and I did both.

But I don't think I'd ever want to drive one of these in a place where there's actual winter. The heater was anemic.

I grew up with a next door neighbor who had two 914s, and spent many a Saturday afternoon as free labor helping him work on them. In 1982, the dream was realized and the 1970 yellow 914/6 became my first car. A long list of flaws, problems and downsides could have never offset how much fun that car was to drive and, as an added bonus, what a complete chick magnet it was. :)

I would still put that car up against the 924, 944 and (gag) 928 in the looks department.

I had a 4 cylinder 1975 version of the 914 for about 4 years. It was a fun little car to drive around it, the "computer" that controlled to FI had severe grounding issues and was the hardest part to fix, I was unable to get it to pass emission inspection and wound up trading it in for a new VW beetle.

thanks for reminding me that I need to crawl under our '73 914 this morning and replace the starter motor.

Been in wife's family for over 30 years. Fun hobby car.

I loved my 1972 1.8 ltr 914. Whatever short comings of the engine, the suspension and transmission were excellent. What a fun car to drive! After spending most of my adult life with "grown up" cars I now drive a Boxster. Great car but I still miss my 914. (BTW the next wiseacre who says to me "it's really only a Volkswagon" can lock forward to my fist in their face.)

I was lucky enough to have a a 1970 914/6 that I bought used from a friend in 1973. It was yellow with the black top. It had six Weber carburetors and was a screamer. The noise of the engine was right behind your head and when you got above 4,000 rpm, it would just sound amazing. The handling was like nothing I ever drove before or since. (Although my current Mini Cooper S is a terrific car as well). The 914 had a great overall design. I loved the removable hardtop. And the two trunks. And the interior was spacious. It had its downsides. Mainly the cost of maintenance and repairs. A tune up of those 6 carburetors back then cost $200 at an independent shop. The 6 cylinder was a difficult car to use as an everyday driver from a cost standpoint. I really couldn't keep it up, and finally sold it. But I feel lucky that I was able to own one for at least awhile.

In many ways its design features were way ahead of the 911.

I went to college in a 1971/4, also yellow with a black roof and brown interior. Man what a car. Agile as a cat, it cornered like no other car I have ever owned. Those were the days of CB radio and with a flexible antennae mounted on the back where the engine access panel popped up "The Yellow Bee" never saw a double nickel in all those trips from Pittsburgh to Granville, Ohio. Loved that car and so did the girls. So sad when it had to go after graduation but the memories are still vivid 30 years later.

My father had a 1970 914/6, and he and a friend of his installed a 911S engine. Later, we installed a close ratio transmission. The car was very quick and very fast. My 1967 442 (400cid, 350hp, 4.10 gear, 4 speed) was a match to about 90mph, but after that, the better geared Porsche was gone. I remember looking into overdrive units and dreaming of staying up with Dad into triple digit speeds, but it's probably better that that never happened. That Oldsmobile essentially had no brakes or handling. But boy did that little yellow "VW" stick and stop--great memories.

A friend of mine bought a '74 with a bad engine from a used car lot in the early 80's and replaced it with a smallblock Chevy using a Kennedy adapter and a modified Rabbit radiator.

I've ridden in, and driven, some spectacular cars in my time but as far as absolutely unmitigated white knuckle terror, that little squatty 914 still holds first place. He sold it after he got married and had children and began collecting Cushman scooters.

I never decided which of his decisions was crazier.

Still, "Karmann fabricated?" Does anyone else remember the comment "Karmann *invented* rust, the Italians only make it under license?"

The first time I saw the 914 was in the glitchy videogame "Need For Speed - Porsche Unleashed". When I unlocked it (not sure if it was the 4cyl or 6cyl), my natural reaction was "What is that? Is that a Porsche?!"

At first I despised the car because it was slow and I was getting my butt kicked. Later on I realized that I could tune the car for better performance, so it was a flub in my part. Oh well.

today I know a little more about these cars and am quite fond of them. I wouldn't mind owning one today. I've only saw like 3 of them so far in my homeland, none for sale.

I can see getting excited about a 914/6, but not a regular 914. They really handled more or less exactly like a well set up VW (My first ride was a 1969 Bug) in which your butt was next to the macadam. In Germany they were sold as VW's, I think.

I was planning to get one of those, and then the X-1/9 came out. It handled magically. No power, but who cares when you can out Gymkhana a Corvette on a tight course?

Oh and mine was reliable. Perhaps the only one. lol.

The 914 was my first 'real' car (hand-me-downs from grandparents were gratefully accepted as transportation, but, ...). After my 914 taught me to drive it saved my life. The integral roll bar that was above my head (vs. the ones I see today that work great if you're under 5'4") kept me from getting short real fast when I rolled it. It was a well balanced car that was very responsive and handled well. A good car for the price.

At one time I had a '73 914 that I tricked out with a 2.0 liter turbo (including alcohol injection for added boost), fender flairs and a set of 911 'tarantula' wheels (hence the flairs). It turned an under-performing wannabe into a a rip-snortin' monster on the twisty-windies that would do 0-60 in under 5.5 seconds (with the boost knob set to '11').

The worst thing I ever did was sell it...particularly in light of the fact that the new owner didn't realize what a monster it was and within two weeks drove it off the road and into a grove of trees, destroying it. (Apparently he didn't really understand the concept of off-camber turns unloading the suspension at speed.) It was a damn shame what he did to that fine piece of machinery.

One of the very best autocross cars ever! I won the '78 SCCA C-Stock national championship with mine and had I been running in A-Stock with the 911's would have placed second!

Shows how bad the Fiat X1/9 could have looked if Bertone weren't involved. Although better the Boxter shares the same "which end is the front?" problem

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