VW-Porsche 914

The mid-engined VW-Porsche 914 was never popular - but it did lead to the Boxster, says David Wilkins
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Indy Lifestyle Online

It seemed like a good idea at the time. That seems to be the best explanation for the birth of the VW-Porsche 914, one the most interesting but least loved post-war German cars.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. That seems to be the best explanation for the birth of the VW-Porsche 914, one the most interesting but least loved post-war German cars.

In the mid-Sixties, Volkswagen and Porsche identified an overlapping requirement for a new model. Porsche's 911 was a success but the demise of the older 356 had left a gap at the bottom of its range that the 912, a budget version of the 911 fitted with a four cylinder engine, could not fill. Meanwhile, VW needed a successor to the Karmann Ghia models, then its only vaguely sporty cars.

VW and Porsche also had another motive for developing the 914. Both companies had built their reputations on rear-engined cars but this layout was increasingly seen as outdated. The 914 allowed them to experiment with a mid-engined configuration, which would give the car less tail-heavy handling.

The 914 was given crisp, modern styling by Heinrich Klein, although it is fair to say that its design has not aged as well as that of the 911. There was a Targa-style removable roof panel and a lot of effort went into ensuring high standards of crash safety. Road testers found it to be a competent machine.

In Europe, however, it seems that the confusing VW-Porsche branding produced expectations that were bound to be disappointed. How could the 914 be as cheap and practical as a VW - yet as sporty and desirable as a Porsche? The answer was that it could not. Perhaps aware of the danger, Porsche's press chief reportedly begged journalists at the 1969 launch not to describe the 914 as a "Volksporsche" ("People's Porsche"). Unfortunately, the name was just too good and it stuck.

Another problem was that while VW's and Porsche's requirements overlapped, they did not entirely coincide. In an attempt to satisfy both companies' needs, the 914 was produced in two versions, which were substantially different under the skin.

The cheaper 914/4 was built by Karmann in Osnabrück and fitted with a four cylinder engine from VW's 411E. Body shells for the more expensive 914/6 also started life at Karmann but were then sent to Porsche's works at Zuffenhausen for final assembly. The 914/6 got a proper Porsche engine - the two-litre boxer six from the early 911 models - and other upgraded parts. European pricing was steep. The 914/4 cost DM12,000 (£4,150) in Germany, much more than the last VW Karmann Ghia 1,600s. The 914/6 cost about DM19,000, almost as much as the 911, and production of this top version ended in 1972 after only a few thousand had been made.

In the end, it was the US market that saved the 914, accounting for a large share of the 120,000 sold, a performance that may reflect the policy of advertising the car there as a Porsche, avoiding the confusing branding used in Europe.

The last 914s were built in 1975. VW lost interest in mid-engined cars until it showed the Concept C convertible at this year's Geneva show. Porsche replaced the 914 with the 924, a front-engined car with a rear-mounted "transaxle" gearbox. The rear-engined 911 survived longer than anyone expected and the traditional set-up was retained when an all-new version was introduced a few years ago.

But the spirit of the 914/6 lives on. In 1996, Porsche again slotted a new model into its range below the 911. Like the 914/6, it was a two-seater with a mid-mounted boxer six. Unlike the 914/6, the new car, the Boxster, was an instant hit - not least because it looked like a Porsche and was badged accordingly. Buyers know that Porsche and VW have close, long-standing links but they still expect a Porsche to be a Porsche, not a Volkswagen. That was the lesson of the 914.

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