914 and 914-6 | Which is the better Porsche to buy?

Photography by Tim and Tom Suddard

[Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the November 2018 issue of Classic Motorsports.]

Have you looked at Porsche 914 prices lately? They’ve been ticking upward, and the 911-powered 914-6 is leading the charge. The model, much maligned and largely forgotten for decades, is now coming into its own.

But is the six-cylinder car really worth the price premium over the standard-issue, four-cylinder 914? And is either car a good alternative to a tried-and-true MG, Triumph or Alfa Romeo?

We found examples of both mid-engine Porsches in Marietta, Georgia, at Automobile Atlanta, an all-in-one dealership, shop and parts supplier that’s been a haven for these cars for 40 years. Company owner George Hussey has made it his life’s mission to know, love and support these Porsche orphans. He presented us with two cars for our comparison test: a perfectly restored 914 and a very low-mileage 914-6.

 

A Match Made in Purgatory

Even with X-ray vision, the 914 and 914-6 look surprisingly similar: wide cockpit, lift-off top and two trunks.

Even with X-ray vision, the 914 and 914-6 look surprisingly similar: wide cockpit, lift-off top and two trunks.

The 914 model line sprang from a convoluted marriage of manufacturers that only got more dysfunctional as time passed. It was basically a shared project between Porsche and Volkswagen. In fact, in Europe these cars were sold as VW-Porsches.

The plan was reasonable enough. Porsche would flex its performance chops to design a sports car body, and Volkswagen would tap its greater resources to produce it. Each company would sell its own badged version of this new creation, giving Volkswagen a halo car and Porsche a replacement for its lower-priced 912. VW planned to power the car with its flat-four Type 4 engine. Porsche, meanwhile, would drop in its iconic flat-six.

And then Volkswagen’s chairman, Heinz Nordhoff, passed away, revealing a slight issue: This whole deal was sealed with a handshake, not any formal contract. Mayhem ensued.

With Nordhoff gone, Volkswagen didn’t want to sell a sports car after all–at least, not in the United States. Without VW sharing the costs, Porsche was left holding the bag on a limited-production machine based on a unique chassis. To make matters worse, VW charged Porsche more than expected for the bodies.

The situation looked grim. Would Porsche buyers want a sports car associated with the Volkswagen name? And with the 911T costing only slightly more, why wouldn’t they just buy the “real thing”?

The 914 arrived to mixed reviews. Testers of the day praised the four-wheel-disc brakes and the long legs provided by the five-speed gearbox. Handling and driver comfort, they agreed, were spot-on for the class, too. At the same time, they pooh-poohed the rather anemic, sub-100-horsepower VW engine that didn’t want to rev past 5000 rpm. And then there was the car’s appearance.

Love or hate the styling, it was eminently practical. Karmann had designed a simple, Targa-topped body that offered the safety of a roll bar and the convenience of two trunks–one at each end of the car. The 914 rivaled its contemporaries in storage space, and the rear cargo hold perfectly stowed the lightweight, fiberglass hardtop. Meanwhile, the layout placed the engine’s heat and noise behind the car’s occupants. It was engineering genius.

But this otherwise fantastic sports car had a true Achilles’ heel: the shifting. Porsche engineers took the same dogleg five-speed transmission from the 911 and flipped it around for the 914. Then they designed some very long, not always precise gear linkage. Try to autocross one of these cars or row the gears through some twisties, and you’ll realize why the 914 spent so many years steeped in controversy.

Road & Track compared the 914 against the MGB, Fiat Spider and Triumph TR6 in its June 1970 issue, and only one of the test drivers found the Porsche’s gearbox acceptable. The article summarized the car as “futuristic but unresolved,” noting that it finished near either first or last in every category judged.

The 914 ran through the 1976 model year, with some 118,000 units delivered worldwide. It outsold the 911, making it far more popular than it was prestigious.

Our Test Cars

Our two test cars--the white 914 and the green 914-6--were both very close to stock specs.

Our two test cars--the white 914 and the green 914-6--were both very close to stock specs.

The 1971 Porsche 914 we tested is totally stock, from its fuel-injected, 1.7-liter engine to its suspension. However, it does have an interesting history: Motor Trend magazine lettered up this car and gave it away as part of a promotion.

The winner, who lived in Atlanta, put some 300,000 miles on the car before it suffered a mechanical failure. That’s when it was left to sit in a basement garage. The owner was an Automobile Atlanta customer, and George was able to purchase the car a decade or so ago after the owner passed.

What he uncovered was a very sound, very original 914. It hadn’t been maintained sympathetically, but once the underside was cleaned of red Georgia clay, George found that the car was rust-free. Aside from a few parking lot dents and a need for some mechanical work, it was in great shape.

George decided to completely restore the car to its original state, complete with Motor Trend graphics. It’s now part of his 914 collection, which includes the some of the world’s rarest variants.

Our 914-6 test car is a survivor. With only 5100 original miles on the odometer, this Zambezi Green example with tan interior basically replicates what a brand-new 914-6 felt, smelled and drove like back in 1970. A customer of Automobile Atlanta, Clint Hubbard, recently found it in New Jersey. George has been through the car, mainly just to clean up some details. It was shown at the Pinehurst Concours in the preservation class.

Behind the Wheel

None

These Porsches offer a driving experience unlike almost any other sports car, including the brand’s own 911. It starts before you even slide inside, as the doors open incredibly wide. The seats are placed practically on the pavement, and they offer adjustment for both rake and aft. It’s a welcoming, comfortable cockpit, with enough room for someone more than 6 feet tall.

The dash follows Porsche’s usual setup: large, functional VDO gauges that are well placed. The steering wheel–usually featuring a black plastic rim, but wrapped in leather in the Appearance Group cars–lacks the vintage charm of some contemporaries, but it’s the right size and in the right place. The 914’s driving position is low and stretched out, yet surprisingly comfortable.

The two powerplants each come to life with a unique personality. The fuel-injected 914 starts instantly and quickly falls into the typical tick of a loosely built, air-cooled engine. The 914-6, thanks to its downdraft carburetors, spits and starts uneasily, finally smoothing out once warm. The clutch is cable actuated, with no fluid assist of any kind, and feels light and direct. Pedal placement is spot-on.

Once underway, both cars are lithe and easy to drive–just as they were when new. Thanks to their rearward weight bias, the steering feels nimble.

The air-cooled Type 4 engine is not a rev-happy powerplant, and the relatively primitive Bosch D-Jetronic injection can be tricky to appease longterm. The 914-6 solves both issues, though, so it’s quick to rev and a little easier to maintain.

The 914’s dogleg gearbox–with first gear down and to the left–feels awkward at first, but George Hussey notes that most owners quickly get used to it. Reverse can be a bit too easy to engage coming from third gear. The 914-6 shifts a little more easily than the 914 but is still not perfect–depending on your point of view, call it charming, quirky or defective.

No matter which powerplant is in use, the cockpit remains cool and quiet–just some tick-ticking from the engine filtering in from behind. The chassis is willing and able to change direction, and the brakes deliver stellar performance. Compared to nearly everything else from the class of 1970, the 914 and 914-6 feel more modern by almost any yardstick.

Drawing Some Conclusions

Parting thought: Both the 914 and 914-6 deliver the classic air-cooled experience in a fetching Porsche-badged package.

Parting thought: Both the 914 and 914-6 deliver the classic air-cooled experience in a fetching Porsche-badged package.

The Porsche 914 has always been a controversial car. You either love the styling or just can’t figure it out. It’s either the perfect convertible or a compromise. The interior is either too stark compared to the cars from Italy and Britain, or it’s the height of Teutonic practicality.

And there are the drivelines. The Type 4 engine doesn’t sing like an Alfa twin-cam, but its parts are readily available. The 914-6 packs the right performance, but it carries a price premium.

Then there’s the gearbox: Does it add character or annoyance?

We’ve spent lots of time with 914s through the years and have come to value the positives over the negatives. For the money, we place the 914 ahead of the 914-6. Sure, extra power is nice, but it comes with additional weight–which, as George notes, is more likely to come around on you. The fuel injection, while primitive by today’s standards, behaves better than carbs.

By most measures, the 914 is nearly as much car for a third of the price. Plus, it’s on par with the offerings of its day. If it’s any consolation, soon it will cost more than its contemporaries, too, and with good reason.

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Comments
Toebra
Toebra Dork
3/18/19 6:48 p.m.

George has some VERY nice 914s.  A 2.0 914-4 would have been a better comparison.

learjett2
learjett2
3/25/19 9:27 p.m.

Having taken delivery of the 35th 914-4 imported from the Basking Ridge dealer and driving it cross country shortly thereafter,two problems quickly surfaced. Somewhere near Cleveland the starter solinoid jammed up, resulting in dicey push starts and tire iron banging on the starter. The really interesting excitement came in desert smelling gas keeping an eye in the rearview mirror pushed ontoSaltlakeCityUtah. Stopped at the Porsche dealer,he had never seen one of course,but he repaired in record time the fuel line that had been peppered with battery acid. Opened her up  on the Nevada no limit (100mph) roadway wary of the cattle crossing the road. Made it to the new job and proceeded to trade it for a '69 911E targa wishing I had bought it for the trip and kept it.dcl

 

BimmerMaven
BimmerMaven Reader
6/8/23 3:40 p.m.

I've always been drawn to mid-engine cars.  With the Pantera our of reach, I built a mid-engine V8 Corvair while in college.  The description of the 914 shifter sounds like the Vair...  

20 years later, i looked at 914s vs Mk1 MR2s.   ended up with an 87 MR2...very happy with it.   The 914 had very little aftermarket support and was too pricey even then.   And the MR2 shifter is great

Now I have rounded up parts for a 20-valve 4AGE swap and a 1MZE swap.   hope to start next year with the 20-valve, followed by a second car with the V6.

johnorm
johnorm New Reader
6/8/23 4:28 p.m.

The choice is simple, if you have the money ($100k plus) buy a 914/6, they are a fantastic car with great upside in the classic car market. However, for that money you are solidly into 911 territory especially a SC or Carrera model. IMHO, most people would probably perfer a clean '80's 911 over a 914/6.

That said, for Joe Average, the 914/4 ($15k plus) is the model you want, especially a 2.0L chrome bumper 1973-74 with the appearance group. These 914/4's are an amazing value. If you find it lacking in power then you can easily address that issue with 96mm pistons/barrels, an upgraded camshaft and maybe twin Webers or an upgraded FI system. That will put you in the same power range as the 914/6 but with better low end torque. I have two 914/4's under restoration now, both will be on the road in early 2024. The real competitor for the 914/4, in the Porsche world, is a 924 or 944 which are great value as well.

I'm thinking of keeping one of my 914 and acquire a nice 924S or 944. Both cars, in good to excellent condition, will cost me less than half of a ratty original 914/6.

porschenut
porschenut HalfDork
6/9/23 9:09 a.m.

I would be hard pressed to put another car ahead of a 914 for teaching you how to corner smoothly on the track.  Put a set of non sticky tires on and one will quickly see how  to change directions smoothly, or maybe learn how not to soil themselves while spinning out.  But for the street the MK1 MR2 is way more fun.  It has a motor that pulls to redline and AC.

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