The result of Porsche and VW’s collaboration was unorthodox, though that was, perhaps, inevitable given the midships layout. To lend Teutonic rigidity to the open, all-steel monocoque, a Targa-type rollbar (which some journalists dubbed the “basket handle”) was made part of the design; between this and the windshield header sat a removable fiberglass panel. The body was devoid of ornamentation, but the bumpers, designed to meet pending U.S. impact standards, were less than beautiful. They were normally finished in body color but looked better in extra-cost chrome.
The Porsche 914 featured pop-up headlamps to meet height regulations.
Because the nose was so low, pop-up headlamps were used to meet minimum-height regulations. The headlight design was a typical piece of Porschearbeit, with every contingency anticipated. For example, each unit had an electric motor and provision for manual operation in case of power loss. Both methods were designed so that either could easily break the thickest coat of ice the engineers could conjure in cold-weather tests. To prevent catching unwary fingers as the lamps closed, Porsche provided a safety panel that would give way before one’s digits did.
Reflecting economic constraints, the cockpit had all the essentials but little warmth. Instruments recalled those of the rear-engine Porsche 901 Series, with an upright binnacle presenting a large central tachometer flanked by a speedometer on the right and a fuel gauge and warning lights in a matching circle to the left. Heat/vent controls came from the Porsche 901; door and dash hardware were cribbed from VW.
The cockpit was roomy enough for the largest occupants, although the bucket seats were criticized for being too flat. Road & Track noted the hunkered-down seating position (the Porsche 914 stood four inches lower overall than a Porsche 911) but said “vision to the rear is the best of any mid-engine car (except roadsters) we’ve driven -- the blind spot made by the basket handle is so far forward that it can’t obstruct anything that needs seeing.”
One of the more unusual touches was a pull-up handbrake mounted outboard of the driver’s seat. Ordinarily, this would have made entry/exit difficult, but Porsche thoughtfully gave it a double-jointed handle that could be folded down, out of the way, once the ratchet engaged. It was a predictive feature: Later Corvettes and Porsche’s own 928 would have one too.
Car and Driver observed that “since the [914’s[ structure is concentrated in the flat, platform floor . . . the door sills are low and the tunnel is no higher than what is required to house the shift linkage and a few electrical wires [so] almost the entire width of the car becomes available for seating. The designers like to think that, if you drop a cushion between the seats, there is a place for a third person and they’ve included an extra set of seat belts for just that eventuality.”
However, only the driver’s seat had fore/aft adjustment (and generous at that), another cost-cutting measure. The passenger made do with a movable footrest anchored to the right kick panel by a plastic strap. C/D derisively described this as “a chunk of what feels like wood, shaped like a concrete brick, covered with mouse-fuzz grey carpet. . . . If you’re tall enough so that your feet will reach the front bulkhead, the strap can be unhooked and the block stored in one of the trunks. Or heaved over the side.”
Was that “trunks,” plural? Yes, like some other mid-engine designs, the Porsche 914 had two. Up front was a deep main hold with a horizontally stored spare tire; behind the engine was a wide but shallow compartment with its own forward-hinged lid and clips for carrying the roof panel. The engine was reached, if none too easily, through a narrow lift-up hatch just behind the rear window.
Production economics naturally dictated shared chassis components, so front suspension -- Mac-Pherson struts, lower A-arms and longitudinal torsion bars -- was lifted almost intact from the rear-engine line. Out back were 901-type geometry but new pieces: semi-trailing arms and coil springs, the latter a first for Porsche. So little body roll occurred that anti-roll bars were deemed unnecessary at first. But springing was very stiff, so ride quality was quite hard. As a result, early Porsche 914s developed squeaks and rattles literally unheard of in a 911 or 356. The lift-off roof was mostly to blame. It also generated a lot of wind noise. Steering was rack-and-pinion, brakes solid-rotor discs all-round. VW also provided the wheels, skinny four-lug 4.5 × 15 rims from the 411. Boge telescopic shocks were standard, but gas-pressurized Bilsteins were optional.
The Porsche 914's dual trunks offered ample space -- with a deep main hold in
front and a wide, shallow compartment in the rear.
The Porsche 914 engine was a 1679-cubic-centirneter (102.4-cubic-inch) fuel-injected overhead-valve flat four, unchanged from its 411 application, though it soon would be. The injection system, devised by Bosch under Bendix patents, allowed clearing U.S. emission limits without an air pump. Mild 8.2:1 compression yielded modest initial outputs of 85 SAE horsepower at 4,900 rpm and 103 pounds/feet of torque peaking at 2,800 rpm. The standard and only transaxle was the 901’s five-speed manual, complete with its awkward racing-style shift gate. Sportomatic was advertised as an option but apparently was never fitted.
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