Porsche 914 Road Test
On the road, the Porsche 914 was initially both more and less than enthusiasts expected. In acceleration it was comparable to the antediluvian MGB, according to R&T, able to do 0-60 mph in about 14 seconds and the standing quarter-mile in a tick over 19 seconds at 70 mph. Car and Driver got somewhat better numbers: 11.3 seconds and 18.1 seconds at 75 mph. Top speed was quite good at 105-110 mph, though at nearly 2,100 pounds, the 914 wasn’t exactly light for its 96.4-inch wheelbase and an overall length two inches shorter than a VW Beetle’s. Weight distribution front/rear was a reasonably good 46/54 percent.
Just a few months after European sales began in February of 1970, the Porsche
914 wore only the Porsche name -- although critics questioned whether the
sports car's workmanship and design were worthy of such a badge.
Through the twisty bits, R&T reported that for a middie, the Porsche 914 didn’t have “great absolute cornering power -- at least not yet,” this despite inch-wider wheels fitted by the West Coast distributor. By contrast, transient behavior was judged “excellent. Initial response to steering input is utterly without delay. . . . And what happens when the driver lifts his foot off the throttle in a hard corner -- this is the trickiest thing about rear-heavy cars -- is simply a mild tuck-in of the front or, at the extreme, a smooth breakaway of the rear.”
C/D had a slightly different view: “It under-steers . . . a lot. While you are making the transition from straight to curve, there is no real problem unless you have to slow down abruptly. . . . Here the 914 has the same trailing-throttle oversteer characteristics [of] the 911E. . . . Lift your foot off the gas as you enter a hard bend and the tail tries to come around. An expert driver can use this to set up for a corner, but a novice will probably never try it twice.”
Bearing VW-Porsche badges (on steering wheel and tail), the Porsche 914 went on sale in Europe in February 1970. But when it reached U.S. dealers a month later, it wore only the Porsche name (in block letters on the engine cover), plus a Zuffenhausen crest on its steering wheel (but never on nose or road wheels). This badging was deliberate -- and about all that remained of the verbal agreement between Nordhoff and Ferry Porsche.
What had happened was this: Nordhoff had passed away in April 1968, and his successor, Kurt Lotz, had changed some terms of the deal. The results were three. First, a new company called VG (Vertriebsgesellchaft “Motors Inc.”), owned 50/50 by the partners, was formed to handle European sales and marketing for VW, Porsche, and Audi (the last by now part of VW), as well as the new Volks-Porsche. For the United States, Porsche and Audi would be combined as a division of Volkswagen of America and the new middie sold as a Porsche through the separate “Porsche + Audi” dealer network.
Second, Karmann (also a VW subsidiary by this time) was to build four-cylinder 914s on a “turnkey” basis for VG in Europe and Porsche/Audi in America. And third, Porsche could still buy 914 bodies but at a much higher price than originally agreed.
Initial U.S. advertising for the Porsche 914 emphasized the advantages of its mid-engine design -- lower center of gravity, better handling and braking, increased tire life -- as proven in competition Porsches. “If there’s one thing we’ve learned from racing,” said one ad, “it’s where to put the engine. . . . So if you’re thinking about a true two-seat sports car, think about this: When you don’t get a back seat, you should at least get an engine in its place.”
The Porsche 914 was criticized for its steep price, and the sports car was
dismissed by Car and Driver as "an altogether underwhelming car."
Yet neither press nor public were much impressed. A big reason was price. Though announced in Germany for the equivalent of $3,015, the Porsche 914 came to the States just five bucks short of $3,500. At that, it competed not against the MGB (to which it was clearly superior) but the Triumph TR6 (cruder but quite a bit faster), the Fiat 124 Spider (a prettier, full convertible) and -- most worrisome for Porsche -- the new Datsun 240Z from Japan, a conventional but modern closed GT bargain-priced at $175 less.
Against these rivals, the Porsche 914 seemed a so-so buy. Road & Track tested them all in June 1970 -- except the 240Z, then in a class of one and really better than the rest -- and the results were telling. Though the Porsche 914 was slowest off the line, it was marginally fastest all-out. It also equaled the Italian car and handily beat the two Brits in braking, and outdid all three in fuel economy. But its blocky styling was the most controversial of the group, and neither workmanship nor materials seemed worthy of the Porsche name -- or the price. On considering the latter, Car and Driver dismissed the Porsche 914 as “an altogether underwhelming car. It offers less performance and less comfort than its competitors and has tricky handling in the bargain. It does have a midship engine (be the first on your block!) and it would allow you to tell everybody that you drive a Porsche [but] you’ll have to make up your mind if it’s worth it.”
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