Porsche 914: Non-In-Depth Drive
This post originally appeared on Substack.
I drive different cars, and some of them stay with me. The Porsche 914, for reasons I can’t quite understand, is one of those cars. And yes, I realize that in my previous post, I declared, “I don’t like writing car reviews.”
The 914 is the last regular Porsche model I had previously never driven. (Except for the 912)
It was a mid-engined, targa-top two-seater produced from 1969-1976, and a joint-venture between Porsche and Volkswagen. If you believed critics, it leaned too heavily on the Volkswagen side of things.
This isn’t the time or place to get into ‘who built what’ or ‘badge-engineered-this.’ For valid and also invalid reasons, the 914 has been considered uncool for my entire lifetime, and relatively worthless for the majority of it.
This car is a 1973 914 in Delphi Green, with the 1.7 liter flat four. The engine is loud and clattery, and the exhaust — there’s no nice way to put this — sounds like farts. It has no power brakes, no power steering, and an inexplicably heavy clutch.
The seats, which have a stunning modernist and minimal design, are actually very uncomfortable, and I could distinctly feel a horizontal support bar from the seat frame resting against the middle of my spine at all times.
<here comes the dramatic turn>
But this car charmed me. Maybe it’s the novelty — the 1.7 liter motor makes 79 horsepower, but feels like fewer — so you use the car differently than you would a conventional car. Likewise, during this extreme summer heat, you wouldn’t want to drive it in the middle of the day, so it’s more of an occasion to plan a drive around sunrise or sunset. The limitations make it more of an event.
Pretty much everything I’ve listed so far sounds negative, but there are lots of positives: the ergonomics are perfect for driving (aside from the seat, for me). You sit low on the floor, but with excellent visibility thanks to the super-low beltline. Shifts from the dogleg 5-speed gearbox (from the 901 family) are pleasant and predictable. The steering is tight and firm. It has the slender, ‘blade’-style turn signal stalk from the 924 (or rather, I suppose the 924 signal stalk comes from this).
The motor, which I criticized before, is clattery, raw, and loud. The controls feel like a 911, but you sit lower, and it takes bumps far better. It’s never floaty like a 356. It feels surprisingly wide, and it’s planted — not by way of having tons of grip, but simply from being lightweight (about 2090 lbs), and having a low center of gravity.
I held onto the 914 over a long weekend, and I found myself looking for excuses to take it out for a short drive and shoot a few more photos. The fact that it has a sub-adequate amount of power puts you into a different mindset, like it’s not even a real car. It is essentially a toy.
How can that be a good car? Or even a good second car? I’m not sure. These days, not a lot of car experiences offer the ability to surprise. This one did that.