1976 Porsche 914/6

The Plaques

“1970 914/6” – “In the late 1960s, the long-standing relationship between Porsche and Volkswagen leads to the design of the VW-Porsche 914 – a sporty yet affordable car. In addition to the four-cylinder version for VW, a six-cylinder version of this handy mid-engine car is built for Porsche. One of two cars equipped with an eight-cylinder racing engine is presented to Ferry Porsche on his 60th birthday.” “Special fact – in Germany, the 914 was classified as a VW-Porsche, whereas in the USA, it was marketed as a pure Porsche.” “Mid-Engine” – “The 356 “No.1” Roadster already had its engine, the greatest weight, placed in front of the rear axle. The driving dynamics of the mid-engine sports car have excelled in motorsport – from the 550 Spyder to the 919 Hybrid. In 1969, the VW-Porsche 914 became Germany’s first series-produced mid-engine sports car. It was followed in 1996 by the Boxster and the 911 GT1 super sports car. The 718-models Boxster and Cayman were launched in 2016, continuing to follow this concept in series production.”

The Rest of the Story

The plaques that the Porsche Museum put up are…extremely optimistic, to say the least. The truth behind the 914 is that it was one of verbal agreements, deals falling sideways, and setting up a unique relationship with Volkswagen – one where Porsche always loses, no matter what. With the launch of the 911 in 1964 – along with its much higher price point than its predecessor, the 356, Porsche decided it needed a car that would serve as an entry level model – one that would be the bread and butter, so to speak. To this end, they simply took the 911 bodywork and put an updated version of the 356’s Type 616 flat four motor, while deleting some standard options from the 911, and calling this car the 912. The 912 sold very well in the first few years – well enough to secure the 911’s place in the market. However, for various reasons, Porsche couldn’t continue production of the 912 – and it needed to be replaced. This new car was also supposed to sell in higher volumes than the 912 – numbers that the small Porsche simply couldn’t do by themselves. They also wanted it to be cheaper, as well – something that, if their own advertising is to be believed, it was to be a car young people could afford. At this time, Volkswagen was also happening to look for a replacement for their Karmann Ghia coupé – but they didn’t have any experience building sporty cars; the Karmann Ghia certainly looked the part, sure, but that was after all just a bodyshell over the Type 1 Beetle platform. Plus, due to a contract that they signed with Porsche (which they did because of their very strange and complicated relationship), Porsche was in charge of research and development for a certain number of projects – given that VW had one last project to contract out, they decided this would be it.
914, rear. Porsche Museum, Stuttgart, Germany.
So, Ferry Porsche and Heinz Nordhoff, the heads of Porsche and VW respectively, made a deal that went as follows: Porsche would design this new car, Karmann would make the tubs and assemble the 914-4s (Which were powered by the new 1.7L air-cooled VW flat four that they used in the Type 4 sedan) and send some tubs over to Porsche so they could put their 2.0L flat six in to create the 914-6. In Europe, the car was to be sold as a Volkswagen, while Porsche managed to get Nordhoff to agree that all cars sent to the US (which Porsche saw as a very key market, knowing that it could be risky to have the body have two names) to be sold as Porsches. This sounds like a great deal, right? It was, until Nordhoff died in 1968. Given that key details of the agreement, such as the naming conventions and the cost splitting were made verbally, Nordhoff’s successor, Kurt Lotz (who had no connection to Porsche) had a different opinion on the car. In his view, Volkswagen had full rights to the car, and had zero reason to share it with Porsche – unless they’d pitch in with tooling expenses. Furthermore, he didn’t let Porsche have full marketing rights – in Europe, it was to be sold as a Volkswagen-Porsche, while for the United States, it was sold as the Porsche 914 – exclusively though the newly created Audi+Porsche division’s dealerships. Furthermore, he managed to charge Porsche so much that the end cost of the 914-6 was just a few hundred less than a 911; as a result, only a little over 3,000 copies were sold, prompting Porsche to discontinue the 914-6 in 1972.
Image Credit to Jalopnik.
When the 914-4 was launched in July of 1970, it received quite bad press – what otherwise was a great car with great handling, excellent comfort, and lots of storage space was ruined with the VW 1.7L motor – which made just 79hp – and the shift linkage to the 901 5-speed manual – the same one used in the 911, just flipped for its new mid-engine placement – which was described as simply horrible. This combination led to a 0-60 time in the 13 second range, which even in its day was an atrocity – especially for a car with the Porsche badge and a $3,500 asking price (This is about $20,000 in today’s money.) In contrast, the 914-6 with the 2.0L flat six mated to the same transmission got very good reviews for everything but the price, which led to its early death. Over time, though, the 914 got better. The biggest changes were in 1972, when the 914-6 was killed off – and when the 914-4 got a new optional 2.0L flat four, designed by Porsche, along with a new transmission. They increased the bore from 90mm to 94mm, and the stroke from 66mm to 71mm. The head was given bigger valves, the crank modified, and new steel connecting rods were added. This upped power to 95hp in the US and 100 in Europe – which, with the new smooth shifting transmission, allowed the car to run sub 10 second 0-60 times. Reviewers were ecstatic. In 1974, the price rose to $5,000 due to inflation – and the base car was given a new 1.8L engine with Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection. It also got some rear bumper guards. However, in 1975, things became ugly again. The 914 was subjected to new federal impact bumpers – which weighed 49lbs each – and worst of all, new federal emissions control devices, which brought power down to 88hp for the 2.0L. The 1.8L was dropped. 1976 was the last year of production for the car, allowing Porsche to launch the 924, which, as you guessed it, was another collaboration with VW. That’s a tale for another time, though.

Lasting Impact and the 914 Today

The biggest crime of all of this, though, was that the 914 set up a “second class” of Porsches due to its bastard heritage and lower price point – 914 owners are just wannabe 911 owners, right? You’d have to an idiot to buy a 914-6 given that it’s only a bit cheaper than a real 911, and the folks who buy a 914-4 are just too poor to afford a “proper” Porsche. This class system has persisted ever since with the 924, 944, 968, and more recently, the Boxster and Caymen (Only an idiot would buy a Cayenne or Macan). The second biggest crime was setting up a partnership with Volkswagen to build second and third class Porsches who’s only purpose seems to be to erode the emblem of Stuttgart – while making VW money – a parasitic relationship that continues to this very day. Today, however, the car has enjoyed somewhat of a comeback – some take on Dodge Neons and Miatas in Autocross, and LeMons, while others get lovingly restored and daily driven, allowing their owners to have a bit of aircooled Porsche at a fraction of the cost of an aircooled 911. Others get their engines swapped out for anything from a Chevy V8 to a Subaru flat four to a Porsche aircooled flat six. However, they’re still aircooled Porsches, so that means that prices are still going to be high – check your local Craigslist to see what I mean.

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