✪ In the late 1960s both Volkswagen and Porsche were looking for new models. Porsche was looking for a replacement for the entry-level four-cylinder 912 variant of the 911 that didn’t look like a 911, and Volkswagen sought a replacement sports coupe for the expensive-to-produce Type 34 Karmann Ghia. Volkswagen had an agreement with Porsche to handle development work. This dated back to Porsche‘s founding and VW had to give Porsche one last project to fulfill the contract. The 914 was that project and Porsche head of research and development Ferdinand Piëch was chosen to head it up.
The original idea was to sell the four-cylinder version as a Volkswagen and the more powerful six-cylinder version as a Porsche, however Porsche decided during development that having identical bodies sold as both Volkswagen and Porsche would dilute some of the status that the 911 model had brought to the Porsche name in the American market, so they convinced Volkswagen to allow both versions to be sold as Porsches in North America. In other markets the four-cylinder would be sold as a VW-Porsche.
The Karmann coachbuilder who had assembled the two Karmann Ghia models also assembled the 914. The front suspension was largely derived from the 911, but the body was something altogether different. The fastback design of the 911 was abandoned in favor of a modern-looking, Targa-top mid-engine design with pop-up headlights. The 80 HP, 1.7 liter VW flat-four engine from the Type 4 (like the Type 34 Karmann Ghia before it) was mated to the 911‘s “901” gearbox re-configured for a mid-engine design. Putting the engine amidships avoided having most of the mass of the engine as unsprung weight as in the 911 or even the Karmann Ghia. It also avoided one of the bugaboos of the 911 design; lifting off the throttle in a corner at close to the limit of adhesion in an earlier 911 caused a dramatic weight shift towards the front and snap oversteer, which made the rear of the car to break loose sending it into the guardrail, a roadside tree, or another car. A mid-engine design evens out the weight distribution and tames the handling. The car was a true conglomeration, as intended. The interior was sourced from both manufacturers’ parts bins, as was the suspension. It was also very affordable, for a Porsche; $3,500 in 1970 equals about 20 grand today. If you could buy ANY Porsche for $20,000 today people would be falling all over themselves to buy one.
The 80 HP Type 4 engine was no performance mill, and reaction to the car was mixed in the automotive press. Some criticized the oddball (for the time) styling, the rather balky shift linkage, slow 12-14 second 0-60 time and 110 MPH top speed, especially considering its light 2,000 lb. weight. Others, like Motor Trend, praised the design and handling, calling it “one of the best-handling machines any of us has ever driven.” They even named the 914 as their inaugural Import Car of the Year. The 1.8 liter upgrade that arrived in 1973 was scarcely better, only gaining 4 HP, 1 MPH in top speed and no better acceleration. When it first arrived in dealerships, and even in the decades after it ceased production, the 914 was dismissed by enthusiasts as just a glorified Volkswagen due to its mixed heritage, but its stature has increased recently mainly due to its rarity and unique styling. It’s also a very easy-to-maintain car, at least by Porsche standards.
Stricter emissions standards spelled the end for the 914. It was supposed to be replaced for the 1977 model year by the front-engine, water-cooled 924, but that car was still not ready when 914 production ended. In order to fill the entry-level spot the 912 was put back in production as the 912E, making the 914 one of the few cars that was replaced by the model it was intended to replace. The Japanese were also catching up in the low-priced sports car category with the Datsun Z cars and the soon-to-be released Toyota Supra, both of which out-performed even the 914/6 and the Mazda RX-7, which out-performed the 914 and was just shy of 914/6.
The 914/6 was the six-cylinder version of the 914, utilizing a de-tuned 110 HP ram-tuned, Weber-carbureted Porsche 2 liter flat-six from the 911T. This was not just a 914 with the 911‘s six shoehorned in, it also sat lower than the 914 due to the 911-type torsion bar front suspension, with standard rear coil springs. Stopping power was increased via Porsche disc brakes. The 2,100 lb. 914/6 was considerably faster than the 914, with a 0-60 time of 9.4 seconds and a 125 MPH top speed. However, it was no bargain since the price tag was not much less than the 911T with its 125 HP and 8.6 second 0-60 time and was considered a bit of a failure.
The 914/6 immediately went racing with the GT version, identified by its wide fender flares, with various engines ranging from a stock 911T engine modified with new cylinder heads, larger valves, aluminum cylinders barrels with chrome-plated bores, high-compression pistons with forged-steel rods borrowed from the 911S and a 2 spark plug per cylinder ignition system to a converted Carrera 6. The modified 911T engine was good for 207 HP. It won its GT class at the 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans, finishing behind only prototype racecars like the V-12 Ferrari 512S and Flat-12 Porsche 917K and finishing in front of several Porsche 911S entries. It also competed at the 24 Hours of Daytona, Targa Florio, the Monte Carlo Rally and the IMSA series.
The 914/6 was a short-lived limited-production model that was only produced between 1970 and 1972, with 3,360 cars being sold as opposed to nearly 119,000 914s. In 2020 a 914/6 GT was sold at auction for $995,000, the most valuable 914 ever.
The 916 was to be the ultimate street-legal 914 variant and planned to be released in 1972. Aerodynamic front and rear bumpers, a fixed steel roof instead of the 914’s Targa top, wider wheels and fender flares from the 914/6 GT distinguished this as a very special model that was powered by either the 140 HP 2.4 liter six from the 911S or the 207 HP 2.7 liter six from the Carrera, giving it much more power than the 914/6. Sadly the program was canceled after 11 prototypes were built. One US-spec 916 was built and fitted with air conditioning by the Brumos Porsche dealer, and now resides in the Automobile Atlanta 914 museum.
Two 914/8 prototypes were created in 1969, one colored orange and built at the behest of Porsche racing director Ferdinand Piëch to prove the concept. This had a 350 HP Type 908 flat-8 racing engine and quad headlamps. The second, a silver model, was road-registered and powered by a carbureted, de-tuned 908 flat-8 racing engine making 300 HP and was much closer to being a standard 914 other than the engine. This model was presented to Ferry Porsche for his 60th birthday.
Living in Germany in the mid-’70s and later in the mid-’80s I had the opportunity to see a few 914s and even a 914/6. They were interesting little cars, if a bit quirky…at least according to their owners. I even had a Corgi (made in England and similar to Matchbox or Hot Wheels, ) die-cast model 914 when I was a kid.✪