In the mid-1960s, Porsche and Volkswagen had opposing problems. While the former wanted to expand but was constrained by the exclusive nature of products, the latter needed to inject a bit of glamour into its line-up – and hence its image. A marriage was the perfect solution, and at the September 1969 Frankfurt motor show, two versions of the Karmann-built 914 appeared, one with a 1.7-litre engine and the other with a 2.0-litre unit.
If you’ve always hankered after a Porsche, but don’t want to follow the crowd, this could be the car for you. Thanks to being built with left-hand drive only (apart from just a dozen Crayford conversions), many potential buyers are put off the idea of tracking down a 914. Despite the Porsche badge, running one today can actually be quite affordable, with reasonable servicing prices and cheap classic insurance policies helping to keep the cost down for enthusiasts.
It doesn’t help that the 914 has such a low profile. It’s a rare beast; this may have supposedly been a sportscar for the masses, but it was still expensive. When new in 1969, it was £1,000 more than an MGB. However, this is one of Porsche’s rare attempts at a production car with the engine in the middle, and as a result, the 914 is endowed with fabulous handling. However, the 1.7-litre cars aren’t at all quick, but at least the bigger-engined versions are. What all 914s do offer though, is reliability in spades, but perhaps the clincher is the fact that when you take it out, nobody will know what it is.
Which one to buy?
The 914 is a doddle to drive quickly, largely because it has much more grip than the chassis needs – especially if there’s just a 1.7-litre engine fitted. Sat in the middle of the car, this air-cooled four-pot could take the 914 to 107mph with its modest 80bhp, so if you’re a speed demon you won’t get your kicks here.
However, the 1.8 and 2.0-litre cars feel much more lively and are even better to pilot; with beautifully fluid handling and excellent stopping power thanks to disc brakes all round, you can really exploit the power that’s on offer. Despite offering relatively little power, the 914 tips the scales at under a ton, so not only is it quicker than you’d think but it’s fabulously agile too. The only fly in the ointment is the gearchange; while the 914 is fitted with the same gearbox as the 911, the smaller car’s tortuous linkage doesn’t make swapping cogs an experience to savour. However, upgrades are possible and you can adapt to it, so all is not lost.
The problem you’ll always have is finding the right car; just 100 examples of the 914 were officially imported into the UK. Some of those haven’t survived, but lots more have been brought in from Europe and the US and there are now reckoned to be something like 350 examples in the UK.
Unsurprisingly it’s the 1.7-litre cars that are the most affordable, while the 2.0-litre cars fetch the most – the 1.8-litre examples sit somewhere in the middle. Just to confuse things there were two versions of the 2.0-litre engine; a flat-four and a flat-six (see model history). The 914/6 is extremely rare, but if you can find one it’s the 914 to have.
Performance and specs
Porsche 914/4 2.0
Engine 1971cc, 4-cylinder
Power 100bhp @ 5000rpm
Torque 116lb ft @ 3500rpm)
Top speed 118mph
Gearbox Five-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
• Rust is the major problem, with the battery tray usually the first place to go. Once corrosion takes a hold here, the whole engine bay can corrode quickly. If left, the rear suspension mountings will rot through and the car collapses around its wheels. Parts prices for new body panels, and restoration costs can be very high, so buying a solid car to start with is sensible choice.
• Check the sill steps, door bottoms plus both front and rear boot floors, as rot is common here. The same is true of the boot floor as the rear light seals can leak; the floorpans behind the seats also need checking for holes.
• Remove the targa top and try to open and close the doors; if the bodyshell has been weakened you may not be able to close the doors or refit the roof panel.
• The engines are generally reliable, although valves can drop. Potentially more serious is perished rubber fuel pipes in the engine bay; if these split the car can quickly become toast. Check to see how flexible they are; there’s a good chance they’ll be hard and brittle, and there will probably be signs of the rubber cracking.
• The Bosch fuel injection system is reliable, but it can go wrong and when it does it’s usually costly to fix. That’s why some owners convert to carbs; various set-ups have been tried, but none of them work as well as a decently set up fuel injection system, which is why you’re better off keeping things standard and getting an expert to sort it out properly.
• Slotting a six-pot engine into a four-pot car spices things up, but is rarely cost-effective. That’s why you’re better looking for a 914/6 – although they’re not easy to track down, which is the reason why most such conversions have taken place.
• Seized rear brake callipers are common, but replacements are readily available. Brake upgrade kits are also not uncommon.
• Pre-1973 cars were fitted with a tortuous linkage that spoils the driving experience – especially once it’s worn. A common trick is to upgrade the linkage, which is easy to do.
• Spares are generally not difficult to source; many new interior parts from seat covers to dashboard trim are being reproduced by specialists, although original parts are always the most desirable option.
1969: The 914 goes on sale in Europe. Cheapest is the 914/4, with a fuel-injected 1.7-litre VW 411 powerplant; available alongside is the 914/6, with a 2.0-litre flat-six Porsche engine.
1970: The 914 arrives in the UK, but at £2261 for the 914/4 and £3475 for the 914/6, there aren’t many takers.
1971: A right-hand drive conversion is now available from Crayford, but at £550, it’s too costly for most.
1972: The 914/6 is replaced by the 914S/SC/2.0, fitted with an enlarged and strengthened VW 411/412 2.0-litre engine.
1973: The 1.7-litre powerplant in the 914/4 is taken up to 1.8 litres. Power remains unchanged at 80bhp while the B-pillar (or sail panel in Porsche parlance) is now trimmed in vinyl.
1975: The final 914 is built in September, when the model is replaced by Porsche’s new collaboration with VW/Audi, the 924.
Clubs and websites
• www.porscheclubgb.com - UK-based Porsche owners club
• www.914world.com - International club and forum, dedicated to the 914
• www.914club.com - Huge forum and international community of Porsche 914 owners
• www.porscheownersclub.org.uk - Free to join UK Porsche club
• www.tipec.net - The Independent Porsche Enthusiasts Club
Summary and prices
Porsche 914s were for many years an extremely cheap and fun way into Porsche ownership. Today, it’s the 924 and 944 that offers bargain thrills. Project cars start at around £5000, although you’ll need to spend around £8000 for a decent runner. Top four cylinder models come in at around £15,000-£20,000.
Six cylinder models are significantly rarer, and values are also considerably higher. Projects start at around £10,000, although you will require at least £15,000 for a decent runner. Top cars range from around £25,000 to £40,000 for one of the best.
Words: Richard Dredge