Porsche 914 Specials
Several other specials were based on the Porsche 914. Among them: a trio of GTs by Louis Heuliez in France, a study by Albrecht Goertz of BMW 507/Datsun 240Z fame, one by Frua, and the sensational gullwing Tapiro show car from master stylist Giorgio Giugiaro.
The rare Porsche 914/8 featured a larger engine and minor refinements.
But the development that came closest to production was the factory’s own 916, a swoopy 914 evolution powered by a 2.4-liter 190-horsepower 911 engine. As Porsche’s ultimate mid-engine road car, it would likely have sold at $15,000-$16,000, directly competitive with the Ferrari Dino 246GT. And with a curb weight of almost exactly a ton, its performance would have been more than competitive. Porsche claimed a 0-60 time of “less than seven seconds,” and there was reason to believe that figure was conservative.
In appearance, the Porsche 916 differed considerably from the Porsche 914, sporting flared fenders and body-color bumpers front and rear, plus a fixed roof for extra structural strength required with the muscular engine. Inside were leather trim, 914/6 instruments, even a radio. The suspension employed heavy-duty Bilstein gas/oil shocks, stiffer anti-roll bars, 911S vented brakes, and 185/70R15 Michelin XVR tires on S-type alloy wheels. There was also a five-speed gearbox with the more conventional new gate arrangement Porsche was then giving its rear-engine models.
Sadly, the Porsche 916 was nipped in the bud just after the first press pictures were distributed. Only 20 were built (all prototypes); one escaped to America and Brumos Porsche in Jacksonville, Florida.
The 916’s premature death was attributable to price. The factory had grave doubts about sales at $15,000, especially since the 914 had been roundly criticized as overpriced. In retrospect, Porsche was probably wise to cancel the 916, but it’s a shame that a few more weren’t built.
And what of the 914? Surely it was hurt by being more “Vee-Dub” than Porsche. Had it been Zuffenhausen’s own, with a Porsche engine and looks to match, more people would likely have paid the admission price. One is compelled to recall that Ferry Porsche wisely insisted that the Porsche 911 look something like a 356. Granted, a mid-engine car has different requirements, but at least this one could have had more of a Porsche face. Then, too, four-cylinder U.S. Porsche 914s were supposed to have all the performance and quality implied by the Porsche name, and they didn’t. One can’t help thinking they would have sold better as Volkswagens. Yet VW, then suffering financial hard times, couldn’t justify spending much on development of a niche car with modest sales potential.
With all this, the Porsche 914’s dumpy styling was simply the final letdown. Car and Driver said the Porsche 914 had “all the fluidity of line of an Erector set”; Sports Car Graphic termed it “a pleasant eyesore.” Road & Track suggested that maybe American eyes just weren’t accustomed to mid-engine sports cars. Yet just a year later, R&T noted the unchanged 1972 styling and called that “a disappointment. . . . We were hoping for at least a mild reworking of the uncharming front end.”
The basic design of the Porsch 914 stayed relatively unchanged throughout its life.
But let’s not forget that for all its faults, the Porsche 914 paved the way for another Porsche/VW venture that would prove far more successful in both commercial and automotive terms. It was, of course, the Porsche 924, which would lead to the even better 944 and 968.
It’s fitting that the Porsche 914 has something of a fan club now. A big reason for that is undoubtedly low asking prices, enabling thousands of folks to fulfill their dream of Porsche ownership without needing an enormous pile of cash. Of course, that may not always be true, and it doesn’t make the cars more virtuous. But it does suggest that Porsche 914s are likely to be pursued and preserved well past the millenium -- no bad fate for any car, even a “not-quite” Porsche.
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