Porsche 914 History

Don’t cry for the Porsche 914. Though chided during its five-year life as an ersatz Porsche, it has lately been recognized as an interesting car that just happens to be the cheapest modern Porsche one can buy. And that’s ironic, for few would have predicted any enthusiasm for the Porsche 914 when it was abandoned in 1975 like the star-crossed child it was.

Porsche 914
The Porsche 914 debuted with a low price point to attract buyers.
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Hopes were high when the Porsche 914 was unveiled at the Frankfurt Automobile Show in September 1969. It was very much a back-to-basics car -- a return to Porsche’s roots, much as the 356 Speedster had been some 15 years before. Of course, the 914 was quite different because of the way it came about and particularly because of its mid-engine configuration (though Porsche was hardly a stranger to “middies” by then). Yet like the Speedster, the 914 was a more affordable Volkswagen-based sports car, conceived to bring the pride and pleasures of Porsche ownership to a much wider audience in the face of steadily escalating prices for the 911 and 912.

Porsche 912 was the car the Porsche 914 replaced, and with good reason. As the late Dean Batchelor explained: “The least expensive 912 cost more than $5,000 by 1969 and could top $6,000 if all the available options were ordered. This seems like a tremendous bargain today...but there were problems related to the reduced horsepower in a car that looked faster than it was and had a reputation for performance that many 912 drivers seemed to feel obligated to maintain...[They] had to push [their cars] harder yet couldn’t begin to achieve the performance of a 911. And, if [they] tried it often enough, the engine suffered abuse that drastically shortened its life."

“Also, too many mechanics, and some owners, thought the 912 engine was ‘just another Volkswagen’ and this muddled thinking could prove fatal...It was a Porsche design through and through, and needed good care and maintenance by a qualified Porsche mechanic or a knowledgeable owner.”

Aware of this situation, Porsche had begun planning in 1966 for a new four-cylinder model to sell for less than the 912. The need to keep price to a reasonable level, coupled with production constraints at Zuffenhausen (owing to strong 911 sales), made it inevitable “that Porsche should seek a partner in the building of such a car,” as Karl Ludvigsen recorded. A mid-engine design was almost as inevitable because it would “put Porsche in the position of being able to draw direct marketing parallels between the successes of its mid-engined racing cars...and the attributes of [its] production cars.”

Porsche 914
The Porsche 914's cockpit was roomy and elegant.

Perhaps no less important, mid-engine design was beginning to look like the wave of the future for production sports cars. All the buff magazines said so, and Lotus unveiled a roadgoing middie in 1966, the Renault-powered Europa. But though others would follow -- Fiat’s X1/9 in the Seventies, Toyota’s MR2 and Pontiac’s Fiero in the Eighties, plus assorted Italian exotics -- the mid-engine layout is still far from universal.

The reasons are well known. Though perfect for the track, the mid-engine layout is less desirable in a road car. Putting the drivetrain right behind the occupants puts noise, vibration, and heat that much closer, requiring more heroic insulation than in a front- or rear-engine design. Few production middies have succeeded in overcoming these problems, not to mention limited over-the-shoulder vision, difficult service access, and challenging shift quality, all of which tend to be compromised too. Further, a midships package is more difficult and expensive to engineer and build than a conventional one. While it eliminates the need for a driveshaft, it mandates a costly independent rear suspension and convoluted shift linkage.

But none of this seemed very important in the mid-Sixties. Midships cars were dominating the tracks, and the more adventuresome automakers expected their competition auras to work sales wonders for showroom models. Porsche was no exception, but the Porsche 914 wasn’t destined to bring buyers beating down the doors.

Porsche 914
The Porsche 914's middle-engine configuration allowed for dual trunks.

Check out the complete story of Porsche cars, including these fabulous models:

Porsche 356
Porsche 911
Porsche 914
Porsche 924, 944, 968
Porsche 928 Porsche 959
Porsche Boxster Porsche Cayenne Porsche Cayman

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