1970s / German / Personal car / Porsche / Road test

The latest addition: 1974 Porsche 914 1.8

As some readers will recall, the silver ’74 Porsche 914 my father and I had been continuously restoring since 1999 was wrecked. After much consideration, my dad and I decided that repairing the car at this point wasn’t going to happen and the search began for another 914. Earlier this March, a very nice Marathon Blue 1974 914 1.8 appeared on eBay and later that week we were the proud new owners.

The original owner, according to the original owner’s manual, was a Ms. Ursula Nelson of Hyannis Massachusetts. She purchased the car from Hyannis Porsche + Audi on February 26th, 1974 with 10 miles on the odometer. On April 23rd of that year, she had it brought in for the scheduled “600 Mile Service” with 1,060 miles and finally stopped having Porsche+Audi service the car after that. Undoubtedly due to their notoriously high prices. At some point, the car was sold to an owner in Vermont, and then to another owner in New Hampshire in 1993. He recently passed away, and the car was then put up on eBay by his family. Always garaged, never driven in foul weather, and expertly maintained by Porsche specialist Blair Talbot Motors in NH, the ‘new’ blue 914 was even better than we had expected.

The best way to describe this example is “original” – very original. From the fully intact tool kit, to the vintage Michelin ZX spare tire mounted on a VW rim, and even the functioning Sapphire radio and VDO clock. The car is powered by its original 1.8 L fuel injected “Type 4” engine, though curiously, it sports a 2.0 badge added by a previous owner. The car only has 55,000 fully documented miles on it, and every detail including its spotless interior and engine bay as well as gleaming trim and perfect panel gaps will attest to that.

It’s equipped with the “Appearance Group” options which include center console with gauges, and leatherette wrapped steering wheel. Unlike our silver 914, which was built in September of 1973, the blue car has later style instrumentation without the silver button over the gauge needles – one of many slight detail changes during the model run of the 914. This car is also equipped with optional intermittent wipers (though this function doesn’t seem to work any longer) and also fog lights from the factory, passenger side rear-view mirror, and Bendix Sapphire XIX radio. Interestingly no 914 ever left the factory with a radio as they were all dealer installed but nearly every North American model had one put in before it made it to the showroom floor. A variety of examples were available, including Becker and Blaupunkt units, though the rather cheap Sapphire was most common.

What is not original however, are the wider Continental tires mounted black accented Fuchs wheels and a short-shift kit.(Eventually the wheels will be stripped and fully polished again.) Old-style Michelins are available through Coker Tires for originality’s sake, though for a real driver’s car the more modern rubber is preferable. It’s rare to find an unmolested 914, and driving this car is a real insight into what one would have experienced in 1974.

The 1.8 L engine is not exactly what one might call ‘sporty’ – and rightfully so considering it was intended for the VW 411 and Bus. That’s not to say it’s a total slug though. It’s got ample torque and in spite of it’s mere 73 horsepower, the power-plant can still briskly carry the 2300 lb. car. This was also one of the earliest engines to use Bosch’s L-Jetronic electronic fuel injection system, which, while rather primitive by today’s standards, is really quite good when properly maintained. The 1.8 liter L-Jet engined car is naturally not as powerful as its 2.1 liter Weber carbed stable-mate. Although like all 914s, its well suited to long distance high-speed through-way runs as I more than aware of on the 630 mile drive back from New Hampshire at an average 70 mph. The engine never got hot, the heater worked brilliantly, and the old sealed beam headlights were actually pretty good.

The front of the car rides a little on the high side due to US bumper and headlight height regulations, though this is fairly easily changed by adjusting the position of the torsion bars in the 911-sourced suspension. (Note the front of the silver 914, which has had the front torsion bars turned by a few splines to lower and stiffen it.) The short shift kit, as the name would suggest, allows for shorter throws of the gear selector, though it also makes the shifter lower and a little out of reach. The gear selection is quite precise though in spite of the rather complicated mechanism required to reach the transmission at the rear of the car. As with all 914s, the steering is sharp and quick without a hint of play and if fitted with the original 165 SR 15 tires, would be even quicker. Perhaps a little too quick if you’re not used to it. That being said, the current 205 / 55 R15 tires are about as wide as you can fit on a 914 without wider fenders and they perform more than adequately.

In the future, we intend to fit the car with chrome bumpers and some NPR flat-top pistons to make the engine displacement 2 liters, as well as the aforementioned suspension settings. Perhaps what the car needs most of all is the Porsche crest that 914s never came with. Of course, be sure to check back here at RWP for future updates on this, as well as all of our cars.
The 914, while often under-appreciated compared to the iconic 911, is just as true of a Porsche as the first 356 of 1948. A modest economical Volkswagen engine placed in the middle, a lightweight yet solid chassis, superlative handling, and a little radical looking.

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