While waiting for my used rocker panel covers to return from sandblasting, I’ve been digging into Porsche 914 history. Aside from the general quest to convert a classic car from gas to electric, there are reasons I was drawn to the 914. First off, it was an overlooked underdog in its day, never getting the respect it deserved. It has been called the Rodney Dangerfield of sports cars. Because the 914 was produced in partnership with Volkswagen, it was regarded as a bastard child – the runt of the Porsche litter that didn’t merit the same esteem as the rest of the fleet. As such, they can be had for much less than other classic Porsche cars, and they perk right up with a little love and attention. Click on the image above and tell me this 914 vintage-style commercial doesn’t just make you giddy with nostalgia.
Porsche and Volkwagen’s involvement dates back to the founding of VW, when Porsche was contracted by the German government in 1937 to design a “peoples’ car,” the volks-wagen. This began a long relationship that gave Porsche responsibility for most of Volkswagen’s developmental work. That contract was to conclude in the early ’70’s with the production of the 914. Porsche saw this as a way to boost their sales by entering the mid-level sports car market, while Volkswagen was looking for a new flagship to anticipate the discontinuation of the Karmann Ghia. Unfortunately, when VW CEO Heinz Nordoff died in 1968, the manufacturing, marketing and sales of the 914 were thrown into contention, resulting in mismanagement, cost overruns, and the early demise of the 6-cylinder version of the car. Despite bad press and poor initial reviews of the 4-cylinder model, it struggled forward and eventually gained a modest but devoted following. The design of the 914 is fairly basic, with obvious similarities to the Karmann Ghia and Beetle, with most spare parts easy to find even today. Click the image above to read a complete history of the Porsche 914 from Classic Motorsports magazine, and click here for the Wiki entry.
Despite its fitful birth, the 914 got favorable marks from the racing community, where both 4 and 6-cylinders models challenged the reputation of Triumph and Datsun, garnering several SCCA and IMSA trophies in the early ’70s, including a Daytona win in ’71. Many features contributed to its racing success, including the rigid body, all-independent Porsche suspension, excellent handling and comfort, all-wheel disc brakes, and 5 speed transmission. The 914 was also used as a practice car for the Targa Florio, an endurance race on the public roads of Sicily, where drivers tore through narrow streets of small villages at frightening speeds, and each lap was 43 miles. The above clip from 1970 shows British driver Brian Redman practicing the course in a 914, as he narrowly misses horse carts, buses, trucks and pedestrians. I’m sure the Targa Florio was a grave hazard to Sicilian villagers during the weeks leading up to the race.