Darryl's 1974 Porsche 914
Last Updated on February 12, 2014
The Porsche 914 - You are probably thinking, given the price of new parts is the same as a 911, why in the hell would anybody restore a 914 Porsche? The so called, "Poor man's Porsche" with its boxy shape and pop-off top had me even before I could drive, building 1/25th scale models of them at age 14 back in 1973. Now those same vintage Revell model kits come up on eBay occasionally for bidding, usually getting about $50 for kits that originally cost $4.95!
The 914's story is full of irony, the best selling Porsche automobile of all time and keeping the company afloat during a time when new, strict US emissions standards were killing the reliability and sales of the 911. The 914 is the bastard child of the Porsche automotive family and curiously omitted from Porsche automobile marketing propaganda except for the occasional 914-6. As a member of the generation of new drivers from the mid-1970's, and a die-hard Volkswagen enthusiast, I always thought of the mid-engine 914 as the ultimate air-cooled Volkswagen, combining the fully evolved, pre-emission control Volkswagen type-4 pancake 4-cylinder engine with race proven drivetrain and suspension components of the ultimate Porsche, the 911. I remember stopping and checking out every 914 I encountered while I was a starving student and in those struggling years getting my career off the ground. It was like a kind of unfinished business I filed away until my finances would allow it.
In the summer of 2009, and over 15 years since I restored it and the only time ever, I entered my 914 in a car show. The show was the 2009 Pacific NW Region of the Porsche Club of America's annual summer show & shine and my 914 won 1st place! It just goes to show how even the purists have a soft spot for the 914.
In 1992 I found my project car in running condition for $2,100 but with so much body flex the passenger door would touch the B-pillar on hard cornering. Prices for OEM parts, while the same price as 911 parts were not as expensive as they are now so I slowly started acquiring all NOS trim and weatherstripping bits and pieces for the restoration as rapidly as our family budget would allow. Local junkyards also had lots of derelict 914s and treated them like Volkswagens so I could pull my own parts at classic, now long gone Seattle area junkyards like Bry's in West Seattle, Fitz' in Woodinville and Campbell Nelson in Edmonds. This car's factory color was "Marathon Blue Metallic" (paint code L-96-M) that had been repainted black by a previous owner. Like most 20+ year old cars in the Pacific Northwest this car had some extreme rust in the rocker panels and under the battery but it had never been wrecked. Unfortunately the extent of the rust didn't really reveal itself until I removed the outer rocker panel covers and had the car media blasted, only then it was evident it should have been condemned. Do the prudent thing and haul it to the junkyard? Not me, no, since they're critical to the structural integrity of the car (there's no roof) I had the inner and outer rocker panels (the uni-body channels under both doors shown in red in the diagram below) professionally replaced by a competent bodyshop with a frame bench using new sheetmetal pressings from Automobile Atlanta on both sides ($$$ KA-CHING $$$) and then further reinforced. This was during a time in my software engineering career where "outsourcing my hobby" and watching somebody else do the fun work was as much time as I could afford, but I made it a goal that someday, I would be doing the welding and fabrication on my restorations projects and kept my nose to the grindstone until that day.
While it was at the bodyshop, I also had the sheet metal under the battery and right rear suspension console (commonly referred to as "the 914 hell hole") replaced with new panels to fix all traces of rust due to battery acid corrosion and rain water pooling. It is now better than new and very rigid in tight cornering. After media blasting and bringing all the surfaces back up from bare metal, I chose Mazda Miata Blaze Red for the new color, using the Sikens acrylic polyurethane enamel paint system, which has held-up wonderfully since it was painted in 1993. Later I added the targa bar vinyl trim and the "PORSCHE" racing stripe as was a factory option on the 1974 version. The advent of eBay has made many new 914 parts and accessories available to me, like the complete 8 volume set of factory manuals, slightly used, at 20% of the price of new. I also had the brake rotors machined to accept the 911 style 5-bolt 15" Fuchs alloy wheels like the factory 6-cylinder powered 914-6 had back in 1970. I'm running some sticky, low-profile 205/60 Bridgestone Potenza S-03 Pole Position radials which significantly lower the ground clearance of the car to about 4 inches. I have a set of 14" Fuchs wheels that I plan to polish and refinish for the car at some point to lower it even further. I upgraded to a 911, 19mm master cylinder and stainless steel brake hoses to improve brake system pedal response. The Spartan racecar style interior includes a MOMO steering wheel, additional VDO gauges in the console and Blaupunkt in-dash CD player.
I wanted the car to be a long-term dependable driver so I decided to buy a 1.8 liter powered 914 rather than the 2.0 because of the cost savings to keep it on the road and I guess since I've been running this engine since 1993, all trouble-free years since the rebuild, I achieved that goal. I also wanted to build the perfect city cruiser, not a racer. If I wanted to go fast, I'd get the white-knuckles and shakes with with 911s! Personally, I think rebuilding fuel-injected 914 2-liter engines is a total waste of money for a marginal increase in performance in city type driving because you really don't see the extra horsepower kick in until you get to about 50 MPH. At the time of my engine rebuild, a set of rebuilt 2.0 liter heads with their exotic sodium-filled exhaust valve stems cost as much as the entire engine rebuild on the 1.8 and they have become more expensive as time goes on!!! This is due to the fact the 1.8 is the same engine as used in all those VW vans of that era and the parts are very plentiful. The 2.0 liter, 4-cylinder engine is a special Porsche one-off that is nearly impossible to find parts, especially for the fuel injection system, and if found they are insanely priced.
The current 1.8 engine is relatively stock, rebuilt using all new Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection components, with the one exception of adding a stock-grind aftermarket cam and hydraulic lifters manufactured by Web Cam to alleviate the need to adjust the valves every 6000 miles. The engine and transmission have been rebuilt to factory tolerances and it runs, shifts and drives like new. A couple modifications that have greatly improved the performance of the starter is a high cold-cranking amp gel cell battery (mounted on its side in the stock location) and a starter circuit bypass relay that minimizes the distance the electricity has to travel from the battery to the starter to start the car. A great benefit of the gel cell battery is the fact there is no battery acid to spill out to again damage the rear suspension console that I had replaced.
My most recent enhancements to the car were made in the summer of 2005. I replaced the flimsy reproduction fiberglass front spoiler and rear apron I had been making due with, with factory originals. I found some really nice original steel ones which I straightened, welded-up the cracks, blasted and painted after coating them with Wurth Stone Guard. I also replaced the 4-pipe Monza muffler with a single outlet Bursch extractor system which utilized the stock muffler opening on the rear apron. Now all the black ground-level panels on the 914 are steel and have matching finishes. I rather like how it turned out and the additional power I get with the new exhaust system, especially in the 4000 an above RPM range, it is really noticeable. I had been running smaller rear bumperettes on the front bumper for years until I found a NOS set of the correct, longer front ones on eBay for a reasonable price. The bumperettes on the front are about 30mm longer than the back ones.
Like most 40-year-old cars it requires constant tweaking to keep it purring, that's why it's a hobby and not just transportation. All the interior sheetmetal, front and rear trunks, engine compartment and interior have been detailed and painted to match the exterior color so the red color looks like a factory paint job.
The original factory appearance group console instruments have been upgraded with modern VDO Cockpit style gauges. New gauges with numerical readings include an oil temperature gauge, oil pressure, alternator output voltage and clock. I have the working original gauges safely stored away in the event I would ever want to revert back to stock but I would have a hard time adjusting to the loss of the oil pressure gauge.
One of the things I really like about my 914 is the hard fiberglass targa top which stows in the trunk. I used to own a 911SC Targa with a soft, folding targa top and I always worried about somebody using a knife to cut through the padded vinyl top to break into the car. Not so much that they broke into the car but that I had to replace the expensive upholstered top! I've always thought the way the 914 top stowed in the trunk and still allowed for luggage space was a marvel of German engineering genius!
I'm the first to admit, the mass-produced Karmann-built body doesn't have anywhere near the fit and finish of a Zuffenhausen hand-built 911, regardless it is an absolute thrill to drive with the top off on warm summer days at a brisk speed on country roads with twisty, tight curves.
Porsche purists scoff at its Volkswagen lineage but one thing is for certain, it has Porsche blood, sharing subsystems, such as the transmission, front suspension and numerous parts with the 911. Like breeding the race horse with the mule to create the ultimate sports car for the common people, hence the dubious nickname given to it by the Germans, "VoPo" for "Volks-Porsche" (not to be confused with "Volks-Police" as in those infamous trigger happy East German border guards)!!! Can you see the same mid-engine drive train layout of 914 of the 1970's in the Boxster of the 1990's? Porsche has had a long standing tradition of mid-engined roadsters as far back as the 1950's, remember the 550 Spyder (the car that "the Rebel" James Dean died in)?
Porsche also has a long standing mid-engine motorsports heritage, here is the 1970 24-hour Le Mans winning and mid-engined 917 parked next to a stock 1970 914-6. A race version of the 914-6 was the Le Mans GT class winner in 1970 (1970 Le Mans Race Results), even beating the 911's in the GT class!!! There was even a "victory poster" (see below) featuring the 914-6 as the Le Mans winner! Volkswagen + Porsche + Audi worked really hard in the early 70's to sell the image of the Volkswagen / Porsche 914 as being as valid of Porsche as the ones costing $100K plus. I can't help but think that the 914-6 winning the GT under 2000cc class at the 1970 Le Mans was a source of great embarrassment for Porsche's Zuffenhausen engineers to have a 911S beat by a car with a smaller engine!
As a kid, the mystic of the Porsche as a racing machine was enhanced by advertisements like the one below, a 2-page spread showing the 1974 product line for varying budgets. To my 15-year-old mind, this was confirmation in writing that the 914 was a legitimate member of the Porsche racing stable! Now I look back and laugh at my own "wonder years" when a $6500 mass-production car was so much more than just a fleeting Madison Avenue image. I'm banking on the nostalgia factor someday making the value of my 914 rise as most hard-core Porsche owners I've shown the car comment that they once owned a 914 and regret ever letting go of it. For many, including myself, the 914 was the beginning of a life-long love affair with Porsches.
Here are my favorite Porsche related links:
914 World Technical Bulletin Board
A collection of vintage Porsche 914 magazine advertisements
An interesting collection of vintage 914-6 racing photos by Armando Serrano
The Official Porsche USA Home Page
Pelican Parts Porsche 914 Technical Web Site (this site is amazing)
The Pelican Parts Technical Bulletin Board
The 914Club.com Technical Bulletin Board
Automobile Atlanta - Home of Dr. 914, George Hussey