Despite its troubled past with an identity crisis, the 914 is finally getting the respect it deserves from the vintage sports car community, especially fellow Porsche people. Perhaps it’s because hindsight is 20/20 as they say, or perhaps its because a new generation of sports car owners are discovering this mid-engined classic and realizing how drastically overlooked it’s been.
As with most vintage sports cars of this era, the Porsche 914 is a very basic machine in most respects. In many respects, moreso than its contemporaries. There is no wood trim inside, polished aluminum, or excessively pleated leather seats; only basketweave vinyl and black plastic. When you open the light, low, and wide doors with their unique simi-circular handles, you really do sit DOWN in the car. Your legs strech out in front of you to the bottom-hinged pedals and the backs of your legs are only a few inches from the floor, which is only a few inches from the road. Your body sits comfortably in the firm, but very supportive and surprisingly comfortable seats, which are merely some foam, covered in black vinyl over a fiberglass shell. Three large VDO gauges face you purposely from behind the skinny yet distinctive Porsche 4-spoke steering wheel. Porsche purists will recognize that unlike it’s predecessors, the ignition is on the right side of the steering collumn. The Volkswagen parts-bin was used heavily in the production of the 914, but that’s not to say that this vehicle feels “cheap” by any means. All controlls are well-made and perfectly suited to this machine as a true driver’s car that spares extravagances. A twist of the key one stop to the right engages electrics and the fuel pump starts to tick from the front of the car. Three pumps of the throttle primes the Weber 40 IDF carbs and with a moderate turning of the starter, the air-cooled flat-four comes to life. It’s loud, smells of oil and gasoline, vibrates, and spits black soot out of the exhaust pipe. This car is a bit brutish. It’s not trying to win friends with it’s charm, but it will definately show you a good time if you know how to handle it. The 5-speed manual transmission is straight out of the early 911 and maintains the unique doglegged 1st gear shift pattern. The mid-engine placement makes for a somewhat elaborate shift linkage that can certainly be challenging to anyone used to a Honda Civic or a VW Golf. Once it’s understood however, the shifts can be made very quickly despite the long throws. The VW Type-4 powerplant is no Porsche flat-6, but its certainly well suited to this very light weight car. It has more than adequate torque, and effortlessly pulls evenly from a stoplight, right up to 5500 RPMs. Passing other cars in 5th gear is a breeze on a two lane road. The steering mechanisim and torsion bar front suspension is straight from a 911 and thanks to that, and the 914′s near perfect weight ballance, this car handles not too unlike a Lotus Seven. If pushed hard into a turn, there is a tendency to oversteer, but nothing a good driver can’t easily catch – or for that matter, be thoroughly ammused by. Back country roads are not the only situation in which this car is perfectly in its element. It cruises wonderfully and smoothly at 80mph on an interstate and has no troubles in stop and go city traffic. With its two trunks and comfortable seating, it’s perfect for a weekend trip to the track. When the weather gets cold out, the fiberglass hard top easily clamps on, and the heater from the car’s exhaust heat exchangers keeps things very warm inside. This particular example has been an ongoing project car with my father and I for nearly a decade. It’s always improving slightly, and never ceases to be great fun. While it may have been badged the “Poor man’s Porsche” back in its day, the 914 is in actuallity every bit as worth of attention as its relative the 911 and dare I say, in some respects better.