What’s so special about the Porsche 914?

Porsche 914 ad from the late 1960's.

When it was abandoned in 1975 few people would have ever thought that someday the Porsche 914 would be one of the most collectible, highly sought after of Porsche models. For collector’s and car restoration enthusiasts it’s one of the most economical ways to own a Porsche sports car and, with its popular mid-engine configuration that is nearly perfect for the track, the 914 has overcome the low sales and enthusiasm that caused its downfall to become a highly sought after classic.

When the 914 was unveiled by Porsche in 1969 they were going through some big changes and the 914 was part of them. Porsche, seeing a slump in sales because of price, wanted to make a sports car that was more affordable than the 911 and the 912, both of which were becoming increasingly expensive to produce. The 914 was their answer. Like the 356 Speedster had been 15 years earlier, the 914 was meant to be a more economically priced sports car that would open the Porsche brand up to a larger market.

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The 914 was replacing the 912, a Porsche model that, while popular, was becoming more and more expensive to produce and was suffering from an identity crisis as well.  Mechanics of the day had a bad habit of considering the 912 ‘just another Volkswagen’ and not giving the engine the care and maintenance that it vitally needed, leading to various engine problems.  Also, the 912 was not as fast as it looked, forcing many owners to push the car past its limits and shorten its life considerably. Maintenance of the car was also expensive and the 914 was hoped to cure that problem so that new owners could spend more time on the road and less in the shop.

That’s why they began planning the Porsche in 1966. The reason that they decided to make it a mid-engine sports car was simple; their ‘middies’ were tearing it up at the track.  Porsche looked at this as a way to sell the brand and indeed it was a viable marketing strategy that had been used successfully before.  If Porsche could convince owners that the cars they were purchasing had the same DNA as the Porsches they saw on the racing circuit they knew they would have a winner.

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Another reason that Porsche went with the mid-engine design was basically that it was a growing trend.  The Lotus Europa was hailed as a trend setter in 1966 and mid-engine cars were the darlings of the press.  Indeed, the mid-engine design was used a number of time afterwards in production cars.  In the 1970’s there was the Fiat X1/9 and Toyota had their MR2 in the 1980’s.  Italian luxury automakers also have had a keen interest in mid-engine configurations but, frankly, it’s still far from universally loved.

The problems that doomed the 914, although well understood today, were just being discovered back then. As well as it could handle a racing track a mid-engine configuration is just not well-suited for daily driving.  The reason is that, with the drive train directly behind the driver, the engine noise was much higher than normal and at times deafening.  Adding to the problem for the driver because of the closer drive train was heavy and constant vibration.  One last problem was engine heat which had to be solved by increasing the surrounding insulation to epic proportions to protect the driver but still could make the car uncomfortably hot on long drives.

Those were the problems that, unfortunately, Porsche was unable to overcome and doomed the 914 from the start. The model sold poorly during its 5 year run. Today however the 914 offers an automobile that is extremely interesting, relatively easy to restore and economical enough that a great number of people can purchase one.  As a restoration project it’s not overwhelming and the results can be spectacular. These traits that have turned this 1960’s Porsche frog into today’s Prince Charming of mid-engine sports cars.

If you’re keen on hearing more from the expert on the Porsche 914 or any other Porsche models the famous ‘Dr. 914’, George Hussey, is always on call down at Automobile Atlanta in Marietta, Georgia.  If you have a question about the 914, the 912, the fabulous 956 or any other Porsche sports car George is the man with the answer.  Visit George, his wife Mia and the rest of his staff online for all of your Porsche needs including Porsche Cayenne parts.

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