The 2-liter is really the car to have, as it transforms the 914 from an also-ran into a car capable of out-running a TR6
By the late 1960s, it was apparent the 912 was no longer the answer to Porsche's need for a lower-cost, higher-volume model. High production costs and currency issues had forced the 912 far above 356 price levels and at not enough of a discount versus the 911.
A model developed jointly with Volkswagen seemed to provide the answer, as VW was looking to replace the Karmann Ghia with a basic sports car that would utilize the powerplant of the wretched VW 411. Ferry Porsche and Heinz Nordhoff, the titan who built VW into a postwar success story, cut a sweetheart deal whereby Karmann would supply bodies to Porsche at a discount for the Porsche-badged 914/6 and would also supply bodies to VW for the identical four-cylinder VW-powered 914/4.
The Yogi Berra-ism "An oral agreement isn't worth the paper it's printed on," could almost have been coined in reference to the 914. When Nordhoff died of heart failure in 1968, none of the details of the deal with Porsche were in writing. His successor Kurt Lötz took a dim view of his late predecessor's side deals with Porsche, and the sweetheart deal for bodies evaporated.
Because of this development, the 914/6 became a commercially non-viable proposition. Sharing the same 110-hp flat-6 as the contemporary 911T, it was less than $1,000 cheaper than the T and few saw the value in the less practical, strict two-seater with odd styling. A little more than 3,300 were built before the 914/6 was terminated with prejudice. In Europe, only the 6-cylinder cars were badged as Porsches. The 4-cylinders were called VW-Porsches. In the U.S., all 914s were sold as Porsches.
Doesn't look like a Porsche, by design
The 914's blocky styling, with a front and rear end reminiscent of each other (not unlike Pininfarina's odd Peugette show car of 1976), could best be described as "appliance-like." Not unreasonable, since Gugelot, the design firm charged with penning the 914, was best known as an appliance designer. At least the designers complied with a mandate that the car not resemble either a VW or a Porsche. But in all fairness, as Road & Track noted in its initial road test of the car, it's difficult to design a mid-engine car that strikes the right compromise between rear visibility and style. Clearly, Gugelot opted for the former.
Initial cars had 1.7-liter 80-hp VW engines with Bosch D-Jetronic fuel injection and the 901-style 5-speed transmission with the dogleg first down and to the left of the "H." Contemporary testers described the performance as leisurely; 0-60 came up in about 13.9 seconds, but the handling and braking were as brilliant as they should have been-front suspension and brakes were straight out of the 911T, and the rear semi-trailing arm and coil-spring suspension was an original Porsche design.
The 2-liter is the 914 you want to own
In 1974, a 76-hp, 1.8-liter became the standard motor, with a 95-hp 2.0-liter VW Type-IV motor as the optional upgrade. Porsche marketers wanted to call the 2-liter the "914S" but were stopped by management after one or two ads. The 2-liter is really the car to have, as it transforms the 914 from an also-ran to a car capable of out-running a TR6 or an Alfa Spider and one that will keep pace with a BMW 2002tii.
The aforementioned styling does grow on one in a Bauhaus minimalist sort of way. 914s always look better when fitted with the appearance package consisting of chrome bumpers, fog lights, a vinyl covered targa bar, and a console with extra gauges. Four-spoke Fuchs alloys were an option as well and were the best-looking factory 914 wheel. Popular aftermarket wheels from Empi and Riviera looked very good too, as replacements for plain steel wheels. The latter are still available from Mid America Motorworks (www.mamotorworks.com), along with Fuchs replicas for around $550 a set.
Chrome bumpers were struck from the appearance group in 1975 when impact bumpers were mandated. As with the 911, Porsche did a decent job here. Although large, rubber, and blocky, they were shaped well enough to integrate with the design. The 1975-76 914 is only slightly less desirable than the earlier cars.
Think tangerine, yellow, or viper green
More so than 911s, 914s were often ordered in striking period colors like Tangerine, Viper Green and numerous yellows. Most of these suit the 914 quite well. Even with the appearance group, interiors were stark, but this wasn't necessarily a bad thing. In this respect, the 914 has been likened to the Speedster with its minimalist VDO gauges and sport seats. However, the materials and the build quality were nowhere near the same. Door handles and much of the switchgear were early '70s VW, and nearly everything was covered in a waffle-pattern vinyl in either black, tan, or brown. The proper materials can be expensive if you have to do seats and door panels.
In addition to looking cool, the well-bolstered seats are comfortable; however, in keeping with the minimalist nature of the car, the passenger seat on pre-1972 cars is not adjustable and most of the adjustable footrests the cars came with have long since vanished. Nevertheless, the 914 is a reasonably comfortable car and the two large trunks front and rear make it a much more practical proposition than later middies like the Toyota MR2 Spider. Even with the rigid lift-off roof stored in the rear trunk, there is plenty of storage space.
Like nearly anything else from the era, 914s rust in especially nasty places. The insides of both trunks are fair game, as are the rockers. The latter is not especially bad, as the flat black rockers are non-structural, inexpensive, and easy to replace. Not so the battery box area. Battery acid can corrode the box and the suspension mounting points beneath it. Serious rust here should be a deal-breaker for anything but a really cheap 914/6.
Mechanically, the cars are reasonably robust and have all of the typical air-cooled simplicity. A bad transaxle means an expensive rebuild, as this is a 911 part. Engines, on the other hand, can be rebuilt in the $1,800-$2,200 range. Don't expect 911 longevity, however. About 100,000 miles seems to be the lifespan.
More problematic is the early electronic injection. Finding mechanics who can diagnose and repair early Bosch D-Jetronic and L-Jetronic systems is getting more and more difficult in this era of engine management systems that spit out OBD codes to guide the technician. You can replace the system with Webers, but people I trust say that the cars run better with the original injection intact. My experience with an injected 912E bears this out-it runs sweetly and its cold start performance is exemplary. Additionally, in places like the People's Republic of Oregon, post-1974 914s still have to pass smog tests. They won't get a smog certification if equipped with Webers, I guarantee it.
From a collectibility standpoint, the 914 finally seems to be having its day. The "it's not a real Porsche" snobbery appears to have faded and people are recognizing the cars as inexpensive and hip proto-Boxsters. Nice 2-liter, appearance-group cars can exceed $10,000. Cars you'd want to own start at around $6,000. SCM's resident Porsche guru Jim Schrager has remarked that the 914 market reminds him of the 356 market 25-30 years ago. If that's the case, then now is surely the time to buy the best no-rust, 2-liter you can find in great colors. Might I suggest Tangerine and tan?