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Model Guide: 914 — The VW-Porsche

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Article by Ed Mayo
Photos courtesy Porsche

So you want to buy a 914. As with any other Porsche model you'll need to first decide where you want to enter the market: at the "parts car" level, the "pristine original" level, or somewhere in between. I have never forgotten a statement made by Chuck Stoddard back in the 1980s: "All Porsches cost the same." You can buy in at the bottom of the market and spend the money to bring it to the top, or just spend more initially and buy in at the top. Either way, you'll spend the roughly the same amount of money.

The price range of four-cylinder 914s in running condition is expansive — we’ve found some examples priced as low as $5,000 and others upwards of $30,000 — but beware the low-hanging fruit. The much rarer 914-6 starts above $20,000, and the nicest examples have been known to trade hands around the $100,000 mark. Once you’ve settled on what you’re willing to spend, it’s time to explore the different variations of the 914 throughout its six-year production run.

Above: Cutaway of a 1970 Porsche 914-6.

The 914 was first shown at the Frankfurt Auto show in September 1969. a joint project between Porsche and Volkswagen. Porsche would get its budget sports car in the 914-4, which utilized many VW parts to reduce development and production costs, while VW would sell the 914-4 as a range-topping two-seater. Porsche would also build a six-cylinder 914, the 914-6, to offer a model between the four-cylinder model and the entry-level 911, the 2.2-liter 911T. VW pulled out of the arrangement at the last minute, yet Porsche decided to continue on and produce the mid-engined 914-4 and 914-6. Cars started to appear here in the states in January 1970. In spite of its overall simplicity, the 914 had a couple features that were considered cutting edge at the time: electronic fuel injection in a world dominated by carburetors, and a mid-engined layout.

Initially, there were two engine choices, a 1.7-liter flat four rated at 80 horsepower and a 2.0-liter flat six from the 911T that made 125 hp. The ’70 and ’71 cars did not have an adjustable passenger seat — rather the passenger-side footwell had a movable footrest. The 914-4’s standard trim included painted bumpers and roll bar, and 4.5-inch wide steel wheels wrapped in 155-millimeter wide tires. Customers who checked the option list for chrome bumpers, a vinyl-covered roll bar, and 165-mm tires on 5.5-inch alloy wheels got a car with an arguably stronger personality. One of the biggest criticisms of the early cars was the vague shift feel caused by the shifter’s linkage having to make a couple 90° turns before entering the rear of the gearbox.

Above: 1970 Porsche 914-4 with optional chrome bumpers and viny-covered roll bar panels.

The early cars used VW cable-style window lift mechanisms, which weren't very smooth in action, while the wipers were operated by a dash-mounted switch. The handbrake had a unique breakaway handle to clear your leg when entering or exiting the car, and it was a little tricky to release due to the way you had to apply pressure to the handle.

The 914-6 trimmed and painted bodies were shipped from the Karmann plant to Porsche to be assembled on the line along with 911s. Thus it was truly a Porsche-built car. Unfortunately the sixes suffered the same battery rust problems as the fours, and the same somewhat flimsy interiors. However, most of the cosmetic items that were optional on the fours was standard on the sixes, such as vinyl-covered pillars and chrome bumpers. 

The 914-6 had the proper left-hand ignition switch instead of the column-mounted VW part of the 914-4. The six did have the proper Porsche high-low-beam turn signal switch, albeit with a different wiring harness plug, making that switch very rare now — though 911 switches can be made to work.

The six did have different transmission ratios for second and fifth gears, better suited to the flat-six’s power band.

Above: 1970 Porsche 914-4 cutaway.

For 1971, there were some minor but welcome changes. New 5.5-inch wide cast-aluminum wheels made by Pedrini were now offered, and front and rear anti-roll bars were also an option. The passenger-side sun visor now came with a mirror.

1972 brought some more subtle changes. The rear valence was shortened to vent exhaust heat and prevent snow build-up when driving through deep snow. The passenger seat became adjustable and seatbelts changed to the retractable style. The wiper switch was moved to the steering column, and the interior upholstery changed to a basket weave pattern. Chrome bumpers were still an option.

The few ROW 914-6s made in ’72 (about 200 by most estimates) came with the column-mounted VW ignition switches instead of the left-side dash-mounted switches of 1970-71. Porsche ended the 914-6 in 1972 due to lackluster sales 

One of the factors that helped kill the six was the ’69 911T-based 2.0-liter engine, which was part of the original plan to separate it from the base 2.2-liter 911T. The plan would have worked better if Heinz Nordhoff, CEO of VW, hadn't died in 1968 without explaining to the staff the terms of the “handshake” agreement between VW and Porsche regarding the 914. He and his old friend Ferry Porsche had agreed on the price of the 914-6 bodies that would be supplied to Porsche for final assembly, but when Kurt Lotz took Nordhoff's place and knew nothing of the deal, VW charged more for the trimmed-out 914-6 bodies than Porsche had built into its model structure. This meant the 914-6 MSRP was a bit close for comfort to the 911T — and the rest is history.

Above: Euro 1973 Porsche 914-4 2.0. The 2.0-liter engine introduced in 1973, along with other updates, is widely credited with bringing Porsche-like performance to the four-cylinder 914.

1973 was a big turning point for the 914. A 96-hp 2.0-liter engine was introduced, the shift linkage was vastly improved with the “side shifter” transmission linkage, and new 5.5-inch wide forged Fuchs alloy wheels were now offered alongside Mahle cast aluminum wheels of the same size. Standard-trim bumpers were changed from body color to a matt-black finish. Chrome bumpers were still available with the appearance group option. Front rubber bumper guards were now required by the Department of Transportation. A new, bent handbrake lever replaced the old handle, making it much easier to operate. The VW window lift mechanism was replaced by a much smoother 911-type “scissors”-style system, along with black-plastic window winder handles. An optional center console became available, which displayed voltage and oil temperature gauges and a clock. Heavy beams were added inside the doorframes for better passenger protection. Both the 1.7 and 2.0 US engines had lowered compression ratio for the US market. For further proof that the 1973 car was a good one, it eventually proved to be the highest sales volume year.

For 1974 a 1.8-liter engine replaced the 1.7 and had a new type of electronic fuel injection called AFC (air flow control), or 'L' Jetronic. This same basic injection was used on 911s in the late-’80s. Unfortunately, due to emissions regulations, the 1.8 made just 76 hp, less than the smaller engine it replaced. The standard steel wheels were changed to 5.5-inch wide VW units. Rubber bumper guards now adorned the rear and the headlight surrounds were changed from white to black plastic. US cars got the infamous ignition seat-belt interlock buzzer. This was also the year of the limited edition series, for which Porsche implemented cosmetic flourishes to try and boost falling sales. A black car would have yellow accents on the Mahle wheels, the bumpers, the rocker panels, and a yellow negative “PORSCHE” script along the door bottoms. There were also green and orange variations on cars painted white.

1975 really marked the beginning of the end for the 914. Sales kept falling, the exchange rate kept getting worse (making cars more expensive in the US), VW was switching to water-cooled engines (it supplied the air-cooled flat fours), US emissions rules now forced air pumps and more restrictive exhaust systems onto the already detuned engines, and finally big, ugly crash bumpers were necessary to meet crash standards. The bumpers weighed more as well, further reducing performance. In California, catalytic converters were now required.

Above: 1975 Porsche 914, complete with larger, crash-resistant bumpers introduced that year.

By 1976 the 914 was only sold in the US, and the 1.8-liter engine was dropped since VW no longer made it. As a final act of cheapening the car, the “2.0” badge on the rear became a decal instead of the former plastic emblem.

Buyer’s Tips

Since the 914 was the entry level car, it suffered from less than wonderful care by owners who couldn’t afford to maintain them and fix repairs properly. As a consequence, there are relatively few well-preserved examples. One can’t doubt the benefits of EFI, yet it was a challenge learning to deal with it. Therefore the EFI system was one of the first parts to be thrown away and replaced with a carburetor setup that in most cases didn't work as well. But owners and mechanics felt they were simpler to understand and maintain, so finding a 914 equipped with its original EFI is difficult. Clutch cable tubes are another weak point, usually a result of deferred replacement of a worn clutch disc that requires too much effort to disengage. The clutch tube is welded at both the rear bulkhead and to the tunnel near the shifter. Once the tube breaks loose, you won't get full disengagement.

Many NLA (No Longer Available) parts from Porsche are now being supplied by the aftermarket, such as various EFI parts including wiring harnesses, which get brittle from years of engine heat and form intermittent bad connections. 914 2.0 cylinder heads are getting scarce, but there are some good Porsche machine shops that can recondition them. Generally most engine rebuild parts seem to be plentiful with the possible exception of new oil coolers. 

The most detrimental defect to look for in a 914 is rust. The worst cases of rust are usually caused by a relatively simple design flaw: the battery location. Mounted on a tray in the engine compartment, batteries would leak acid and start to corrode the tray. A rusted battery box can indicate deeper problems, as well. Left long enough, the corrosive substance can eat its way through the battery tray and the metal around it — forming what is known as the “Hell hole” — and allow battery acid to drip onto the boxed sheet metal where the right-rear suspension is mounted to the chassis. This takes major work to repair. The rocker panels on both sides of the 914 are also prone to rust, but unless there’s rust visible on the outside, they’ll need to be cut out to find out for sure.

It's too bad gel-type batteries weren't required for these cars, as there would be a lot more of them left today. If you purchase a 914 with a liquid-filled lead-acid battery, we recommend upgrading to the gel-type to avoid corrosive spillage. Finding a 914 without rust is a tall order, but fortunately the aftermarket has recreated most of the necessary sheet metal to repair the common rust-prone sections. New battery boxes are available as well, so look to see if the tray is welded or bolted in; if bolted, it has definitely been replaced.

Ultimately one of the 914's best attributes has also led to the scarcity of original examples. Soon it was discovered that the little mid-engined sports car was a fantastic autocross machine but for its under-powered flat four. It seemed that virtually every 914 was stripped, modified, hot-rodded — often with flat sixes from 911s — and then fitted with fat wheels and tires and widened bodywork. 914s were now beating up on their more expensive brethren on a regular basis. Still, for every hot-rodded, engine-swapped, or wide-bodied 914, there’s one less in original condition.

Which model to get? Practically speaking, the best one you can afford. My personal choice, however, is the 1973 2.0-liter model, followed by the 2.0 models from ’74 to ’76. I'm not a fan of the big bumpers on the last two model years, but they can be backdated to the smaller, earlier bumpers if desired. Next on my list would be any 1.7 model, followed by the 1.8 from ’74 and ’75. In the end, much of my decision would depend on condition and originality. Many of the fours were converted to sixes, and this is where you need to tread very carefully. If you aren't an expert on flat-six conversions, it’s best to get some help from someone who is. There are so many ways to butcher this conversion if it isn’t properly done. For example, some of the front engine mount conversions seem to transmit a lot of noise into the interior, making long drives very annoying. And of course, a converted four is not worth as much as a genuine six, all other aspects being equal.

My advice is to try to find a car with little or no rust and a color you can live with, because repainting a 914 properly should involve a complete disassembly. On top of that, a proper color change requires a lot of work since both trunks and the engine bay are painted body color, so a color change on these cars will be more involved than a 911 for instance.

If you choose your 914 wisely and a pre-purchase inspection by a qualified technician checks out, you should enjoy many years and miles with little fuss. Keep Chuck Stoddard’s wisdom in mind as well: All Porsches cost the same in the end, so consider buying in nearer the top of the market.

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