1974 VW Porsche 914 Model Year Review:
So far in this series
of articles, we’ve been reveling the success of the 914. However, 1974
marked a turning point. In the last issue, we took a look at the 1973 production
year that was the “high water” mark for the 914. After 1973, sales
dropped off each year until the end of the production run. The lack of sales
can be attributed to many factors - safety and emissions laws, rising prices,
other choices, unenthusiastic press reviews, and lack of a new look to get buyers
into the showroom.
But, rather than talking doom & gloom, let’s take a look at the 1974 914 to see what was new from Porsche. Probably the biggest news for ‘74 was the introduction of the 914 Limited Edition. How limited was it? Well, that’s a good question with a few different answers. But, more about that later. For ‘74, Porsche again offered the pallet of 14 different exterior colors as had been available in 1973. For the sake of safety and crashworthiness, energy absorbing bumper cones were added to the rear bumpers to complement those added to the front in 1973. On the interior, “Oatmeal” became the added new carpet color, joining Brown, Tan, and Grey. Talk about your ways to add excitement to a five year old car!
Power for the 1974 914 came in two forms, the 2.0 liter engine which was basically unchanged from ‘73, and the new 1.8 liter powerplant that cranked out an honest 76 HP in all 50 States. The fuel delivery system was changed from MPC to AFC on the 1.8. The 1.7 liter engine was history. The 76 HP 1.8 fit in between the power ratings for the California (72 HP) and 49 State (80 HP) 1.7 variants that had been available in 1973 914s. Unfortunately, the loss of 4 HP was not viewed as a step up for the new 1.8 liter engine which would carry on until the end of production in the 1976 model year.
So, while there wasn’t much new to get excited about in the way of performance, how about a marketing plan to jazz up the exterior appearance as a way to attract attention? Enter the Limited Edition.
When you hear the phrase “914 Limited Edition”, what picture does it conjure up in your mind? For some, it may be a Bumble Bee and for others a Creamsicle. Still others may envision a 914 in clown make-up. Keep in mind, I like the 914 in all its forms and colors, but what were they thinking in Stuttgart? Can you imagine what the meeting must have been like when the Limited Edition color schemes were unveiled? Gott in Himmel!?!?!?
What made the Limited Edition different from its less colorful brothers and sisters? There was a choice of two body colors - White, or Black. If you chose a White LE, you had a choice of having the bumpers, valances, rocker panels, and wheel centers painted either green or orange. Sorry, you couldn’t mix & match - only one contrasting color allowed per car. If you chose a black LE 914, the aforementioned bolt-ons were painted yellow. Probably the nicest piece of the package was the front spoiler/air dam that replaced the stock front valance below the bumper. It’s a very nice addition to any 914 for both appearance and function. A negative Porsche stripe from wheel well to wheel well rounded out the “Look at me” exterior package. Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic might be an apt analogy. Here the 914 was in the fifth year of it’s production run with no major power or styling changes on tap. Keep in mind that Porsche wasn’t a company that liked to change its car’s looks too frequently, nor was VW. And neither had a record of dropping a mainstream model after just a short production run. However, it was a rapidly changing automotive world with the recent introduction of Japanese sports cars and the added burden of safety and emission standards for existing models. The handwriting was on the wall for the 914.
Before we leave the topic of the Limited Edition, a single slightly less adorned version was commissioned by the factory and dubbed the “100,000th 914”. It would be interesting to learn where that particular “one off” ended up going. As a Euro version VW Porsche 914, it had no side marker lights, no bumper cones, and no negative Porsche side stripes. It was distinguished only by its LE paint. A picture of that car from our photo archive is shown on the next page and the previous page. Exact production numbers for the LE are sketchy and as a “cosmetic” option it could be easily replicated outside the factory.
The 914 had started out as a fresh and exciting new idea, but after five years (just like with house guests who overstay their welcome) the charm was beginning to fade. For the model year, a total of 21,370 914s were built. This registered the 914’s first year to year production drop off with a decline of 6,290 units from the 1973 model year production. In spite of its lack of innovation in areas other than color scheme, the 1974 914 was a quite nice sports car. The downside was that it lacked continued development that would keep it on the cutting edge of its market segment. In spite of that, the ‘74 914 can still hold its own when compared to the entire 1970-76 production run.
Unfortunately for all sports cars, the mid-1970s was a period of decline. Bumper safety requirements added weight to all cars, emission control devices strangled already anemic power in the 2 liter and smaller engines produced for the 914 as well as those used by other European manufacturers. Triumph and MG took severe hits by the new requirements. The MG became a caricature of its former self as heavy bumpers were added and the ride height was raised to bring the new bumpers to the mandated distance above the road. A similar fate awaited the 914 as we’ll see as this series continues.