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(note: this profile appeared in the Oct. 2005 issue. Photos courtesy Porsche NA)
As the sixties progressed, a strengthening Mark and escalating prices presented a Porsche with a dilemma: Did it want to abandon the "affordable" sports car market due to cost pressures, or should it develop a new model to pick up the enthusiast the now expensive 911/912 left behind? The problem was, of course, that affordable translated into large production runs in order to achieve economies of scale. Porsche had neither the capacity nor the desire to produce that many cars. So, to make a long story short, they teamed up with Volkswagen, who was looking for a replacement for its aging Kharmann-Ghia. Together they developed the 914, and each got their wish. Sort of. In Europe this creation was sold as a "VW-Porsche". In North America, it replaced the 912 and was marketed as a Porsche, presumably because they thought we were too dumb to know the difference.
The car itself was novel and technically impressive for its modest price. Mid-engine, fully independent suspension and 4-wheel disc brakes were, for the time, exotic car features. A lift-off targa roof gave passengers a convertible feel while maintaining chassis rigidity.
Almost immediately, though, troubles and criticism mounted. The motor, a 1.7L flat four lifted out of VWs "premium" 412 sedan, offered anemic performance. It was uncomfortable. The gearshift was vague. Handling was not up to expectations. And finally, no one seemed to like the way it looked. Heck, even Road & Track, a Porsche apologist if there ever was one, was lukewarm at best over the thing.
Overall, it sold reasonably well but it never won the hearts of Porsche enthusiasts, or even enthusiasts in general for that matter. Improvements were made over the years but not at the pace you would expect from Porsche, probably because in reality they were the junior partner. VW was more concerned with improving profits, not the car.
Porsche was acutely aware of all of this and tried to address these shortcomings from the beginning. The most obvious fix was shoehorning in the 2.0L six from the 1969 911T. It transformed the car, but also made it almost as expensive as the cheapest 911, and more than a Jag E-type. Because of this, demand and production were quite low for the three years it was available. It is a prize today -- expect to pay 15k+ for a good one, much more for a pristine example. Many lesser 914s have been gutted and re-created as 914/6 models, so make sure you know what you're doing when shopping around.
In `73 a new performance version was introduced to replace the 914/6 -- the 914 2.0. Again, the 4-cylinder engine was from VW but this time it made enough power to bring performance to an acceptable level. Handling benefited from softer springs and anti-roll bars front and rear. A 1.8 liter four replaced the 1.7 as the base motor in 1974, but it offered no performance gain and has the somewhat more troublesome Bosch L-jetronic fuel injection system.
Emissions controls, unfavorable exchange rates, and some newly arrived competition from Japan in the affordable sports car market began to take their toll. By `76, the 1.8 was gone and horsepower was down to 81 on the 2.0. It would be the 914's last hurrah.
So, what should you look for? First and foremost, get one without rust. That probably means you'll be looking down south or out west, but a surprising number of rust belt cars are in good shape, too -- perhaps because many were used only as summer toys. Pay close attention to the battery area, as corrosion prompted by leaked battery acid in this area is rather common. Make especially certain that the suspension to chassis mounting points around here have not been compromised.
Cosmetically, the unique trim and body pieces are becoming harder to find and are quite expensive, so if you're looking at a car that is not complete in this area you may want to double check your budget.
Mechanics are important, too. Economy Porsche or not, it's still a Porsche and any shop that knows what they’re doing doesn't come cheap. Common maladies: vapor lock was a problem in hot climates until Porsche moved the fuel pump from near the heat exchanger to a cooler position up front, carbs on the 914/6, and of course, the dreaded head studs. Do not buy anything that needs major body or mechanical work. In very short order, you can easily sink thousands into one of these -- and you'll never get it back. It's why you see so many low-priced 914s for sale.
The Market Today
Over the years, the 914 has slowly gained greater acceptance in Porsche circles. Maybe grudging acceptance is a better term. In any event, 4-cylinder 914s are still very affordable. Good 1.7 liter and 1.8 liter cars can be readily found under $5,000 (really). The `73-'74 2.0s are more, ranging from $5,000-$7,500 for decent examples. The `75-'76 2.0s are slightly less and may be the deal of all. As we mentioned earlier, the 914/6 is far costlier than the 4-cylinder cars, but they have a strong following and always seem to have buyers. Update 2014: prices are rising, check current values here.
Apparently today's auction conditions don't lend
themselves well to 914's as only 6.5% of all 914s on the market within the
last 3 months have been at auction. By far, most are available in
classifieds, with eBay a distant second. Low transaction prices are probably
the reason for this -- sellers can't afford to incur the costs associated
with physical auctions. As a share of the total 1946-79 collector car
market, 914s are found in fair supply. All three channels are under .5%, a
far cry from the Camaro in the last issue which registered 2.5%, 3.25% and
4% respectively, in the eBay, classified and auction channels. Still, these
numbers do indicate that there are enough out there that you should be able
to readily locate one right for you. And since they're not in much demand,
you'll be able to bargain pretty hard for one.
(C) Copyright 2005 VMR International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.