914 was introduced to the public as a 1970 model at the Frankfurt Auto
Show in the Fall of 1969. To say it was like nothing else is an understatement.
Yes, there were other mid-engined sports cars at the time, but none offered
what the 914 did for such a low price of admission. Let’s take a
look at that first model year and see what caused all the commotion.
For its initial model year, the 914 came in two flavors - mild and spicy.
The “mild” was the 914-4 with a four cylinder 1.7 liter engine
cranking out 80 HP, MPC fuel injection, and a choice of 11 exterior colors.
Painted bumpers were standard and chrome was an option. Other options
included a vinyl covering for the Targa style roll bar, dual horns, fog
lights, a leather covered steering wheel, and pile carpet. Only the driver’s
seat was adjustable fore and aft and the passenger seat was built into
the backpad that finished the interior firewall. An adjustable box used
as a footrest was strapped to the passenger side floor. Although production
figures are subject to debate, most agree that a total of 13,312 1970
914-4 cars were produced and sold worldwide.
In the USA, the 914-4 was marketed as a Porsche while in the rest of the
world it was sold as a 914 VW-Porsche . The VW heritage, in Europe for
example, was shown by including the VW logo on the chrome hubcaps and
steering wheel center pad. A “914 VW-Porsche” emblem was added
to the rear below the lip of the rear trunk lid.
Those craving a bit more zip and having a larger expendable income opted
for the “spicy” version - the 914-6. The “Six”
was powered by a carburetted six cylinder 2.0 liter rated at 110 HP. Major
differences, in addition to the engine used on the 911T, included standard
chrome bumpers and vinyl covered roof sail panels, five bolt 911 steel
wheels with the option of Mahle or Fuchs five bolt alloy wheels, and leather
upholstery. The interior was more like the 911 in instrumentation. The
adjustable driver’s seat and fixed passenger seat were like those
in the four cylinder cars. A total of 2,668 examples were built for the
1970 model year.
So, how did the world perceive this new mid-engined marvel? Was it The
“Peoples Sports Car” much as the VW Beetle had been designed
to be the “People’s Car”? Was it the “Affordable
Porsche”? Just what was it? To fully appreciate the unique qualities
of that first 914, it’s probably best to look at the other affordable
sports cars of the era. The Japanese hadn’t made much of a dent
in the US sports car market by 1970. The main competition came from MG,
Fiat, and Triumph in the price class, although the Datsun 1600 and 2000
roadsters were gaining attention in the two seat convertible new car market.
Today, you’d be hard pressed to find a new sports car carrying any
of those brand names in the US. Datsun, of course, reverted to its homeland
name of Nissan and still offers the 350Z convertible. Triumph is long
gone, MG is made in China, and Fiat has tried multiple returns to the
US market - all without success. Only Porsche remains and carries on the
two seat open sportster tradition with its Boxster.
But we’re talking about that long ago time when Hippies roamed the
Earth and Baby Boomers were eager to define their place in space by the
cars they drove. The Porsche 914 was the right car at the right time.
Never mind that the design inspiration for the 914 came from a proposal
offered to BMW by Gugelot Design. Gugelot had made studies using foam
cored fiberglass construction for body panels that was both lightweight
and durable. Porsche saw one of their proposals in scale model form and
massaged the smooth and simple body design as a basis for the 914 - a
VW and Porsche joint venture. The fact that the 914 was a collaboration
by the two automobile companies did nothing to raise the stature of the
finished product. Detractors said it was a VW, not a REAL Porsche, because
of the VW parts content. Apparently they never noticed the VW content
in almost all Porsche cars built to that time as well as beyond the 914
production years. Fear and loathing was greatest in the USA where Porsche
Clubs refused entry to 914 owners due to the cars mixed heritage.
In spite of that, the 914 was a hit with the masses. Advertising was geared
toward the younger generation and the 914 was presented as the “entry
level” Porsche. Magazine reviews at the time were generally favorable
with only a few distracting comments about the car’s unique styling.
All agreed, however, that the 914 was a superb handling car and well priced
for the market. In fact, Motor Trend Magazine chose the 914 as it’s
Car of the Year in June, 1970. They referred to it as, “...the first
modern sports car for the masses”. At $3,600, the 914-4 was a bargain.
It handled, accelerated, and stopped well beyond the expectations of the
Motor Trend panel of judges. They stated, “...ride, handling, gearbox,
and quality are all Porsche, value per dollar is all VW”. In choosing
the 914 as Car of the Year, they lumped the 914-4 and 914-6 into one and
considered both models variations on the same theme.
The Motor Trend article detailing
the selection process gave information about how the 914 was introduced
to America. Prior to the 914, Porsches had been marketed through a Volkswagen
of America network of established VW-Porsche dealerships. In October,
1969, the switch was made to have VW stand alone as a dealer network and
Porsche-Audi become the new dealer funnel for Porsche. VW had earlier
bought controlling interest in Audi and felt it would be a good upscale
sedan match for Porsche. VW of America was still the Mother Ship, but
Porsche moved up a notch on the image scale by being linked with Audi
rather than VW in showrooms.
In January of 1970, the 914s hit the US shore in very limited numbers.
Each following moth, more arrived to fill previous orders from buyers
anxious for a 914 sight unseen. The 914-6 models arrived in March after
almost six months of hype and media tease. Imagine the excitement in a
Porsche dealership, where prior to the 914’s arrival the least expensive
Porsche had been a $6,500 911. Suddenly, there’s a $3,600 914 on
the floor. Buyer waiting lists were backed up three months. Options were
few, so if a buyer wasn’t too picky on exterior color, it was possible
to buy off the showroom floor and avoid the 90 day wait for a special
order. By June, the 1970 model year production was all sold. About 50%
of all Porsches sold in those days were sold in California - good old
relatively rust free California. That would prove to be good for 914 owners
in generations to come.
In the glovebox of every 1970 914 was a dandy owners manual - much more
useful than what we find in modern cars. In addition to informing the
owner about all the buttons and levers on the dash, it contained a section
that was, in fact, a mini-shop manual that could be referred to when changing
spark plugs, adjusting clutch free play, changing or adjusting headlights,
and more. Was this a great car, or what?!?!? And it came with its own
sparkplug wrench, a double ended screwdriver, and a double ended open
end wrench in the standard tool kit. It’s like it was just begging
to be worked on by its owner
Dealership brochures for the 914-4 and 914-6 played up the familial bond
with the Porsche 917 that won 24 Hours at LeMans. Much was made of the
914’s mid-engined configuration and how Porsche had successfully
used it in race cars going back to the 550 Spyder in the 1950s. For some
reason, they forgot to mention that the very first Porsche, built in the
1940s, was also mid-engined.. They did, however, point out that the 914
was the first mid-engined Porsche NOT designed exclusively for the race
track. That concept stuck with new owners about 10 minutes and then it
was, “Where can I get wider wheels and stickier tires?”.
Ads in magazines quoted Dr. Ferry Porsche as saying, “I wanted to
design a car young people could afford.” About a decade and a half
later, I had the opportunity to thank him in person. Almost 40 years later,
the 914 is still a car that young people can afford and many of the young
people who bought them new still own them.
As they like
to say in Stuttgart: “Porsche 914, There Is Still No Substitute”