By the late 1960s, both Volkswagen and Porsche were in need of new models; Porsche was looking for a replacement for their entry-level 912, and Volkswagen wanted a new range-topping sports coupe to replace the Karmann Ghia. At the time, the majority of Volkswagen's developmental work was handled by Porsche, part of a setup that dated back to Porsche's founding; Volkswagen needed to contract out one last project to Porsche to fulfill the contract, and decided to make this that project. Ferdinand Piëch, who was in charge of research and development at Porsche, was put in charge of the 914 project. Originally intending to sell the vehicle with a flat four-cylinder engine as a Volkswagen and with a flat six-cylinder engine as a Porsche, Porsche decided during development that having Volkswagen and Porsche models sharing the same body would be risky for business in the American market, and convinced Volkswagen to allow them to sell both versions as Porsches in North America.
On March 1, 1968, the first 914 prototype was presented. However, development became complicated after the death of Volkswagen's chairman, Heinz Nordhoff, on April 12, 1968. His successor, Kurt Lotz, was not connected with the Porsche dynasty and the verbal agreement between Volkswagen and Porsche fell apart.
In Lotz's opinion, Volkswagen had all rights to the model, and no incentive to share it with Porsche if they would not share in tooling expenses. With this decision, the price and marketing concept for the 914 had failed before series production had begun. As a result, the price of the chassis went up considerably, and the 914/6 ended up costing only a bit less than the 911T, Porsche's next lowest price car. The 914/6 sold quite poorly while the much less expensive 914-4 became Porsche's top seller during its model run, outselling the Porsche 911 by a wide margin with over 118,000 units sold worldwide.
Volkswagen versions originally featured an 80 hp (60 kW) fuel-injected 1.7 L flat-4 engine based on the Volkswagen air-cooled engine. Porsche's 914/6 variant featured a carbureted 110 hp (82 kW) 2.0 L flat-6 engine from the 1969 911T, placed amidships in front of a version of the 1969 911's "901" gearbox configured for a mid-engine car. Karmann manufactured the rolling chassis at their plant, completing Volkswagen production in-house or delivering versions to Porsche for their final assembly.
914/6 models used a similar suspension and brakes to the 911, giving superior handling and braking superiority over the 4-cylinder Volkswagen models along with higher power output. A Volkswagen-Porsche joint venture, Volkswagen of America, handled export to the U.S., where both versions were badged and sold as Porsches. The four-cylinder cars were sold as Volkswagen-Porsches at European Volkswagen dealerships.
Slow sales and rising costs prompted Porsche to discontinue the 914/6 variant in 1972 after producing 3,351 of them; its place in the lineup was filled by a variant powered by a new 95 hp (71 kW) 2.0 L, fuel-injected version of Volkswagen's Type 4 engine in 1973. For 1974, the 1.7 L engine was replaced by a 76 hp (57 kW) 1.8 L, and the new Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection system was added to American units to help with emissions control. 914 production ended in 1976. The 2.0 L flat-4 engine continued to be used in the 912E, which provided an entry-level model until the 924 was introduced.
The 914 was Motor Trend's Import Car of the Year for 1970. A 914/6 piloted by Frenchmen Claude Ballot-Lena and Guy Chasseuil won the GTS class and finished sixth overall at the 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Two prototype 914s, dubbed 914/8, were built during 1969. The orange 914/8 was the first constructed, at the instigation of Ferdinand Piëch (then head of the Racing Dept), to prove the concept. Powered by the full-blown, 310 hp (222 kW) 908 [flat-8] racing engine, it was based on a surplus 914 handbuilt development prototype bodyshell (chassis no. 914111), hence the many differences from the standard vehicle (e.g., the quad headlights). The second, silver, road-registered car, powered by a carburetted and detuned 908 race engine making 260 hp (194 kW) was then prepared as a gift to Ferry Porsche on his 60th birthday. Also based on a spare prototype shell (chassis no. 914006), it was much closer to the standard car in detail. By all accounts Ferry didn't like the car very much and it sits in the Porsche Museum. Neither car saw a racetrack except for the purposes of testing. The 914/8 was not considered for production as a regular model. Another factory prototype, a 914/6 (chassis no. 914114) surfaced in the US in 2001. Together with a surviving prototype Sportomatic 914/6 (chassis no. 914120), reputedly in Southern Germany, they form a unique and fascinating piece of Porsche history.
Planned for the 1972 model year, the Porsche 916 program was cancelled after eleven prototypes with aerodynamic front and rear bumpers and either the 2.4 engine from the 911S, or the 2.7 from the Carrera. They were also to have a fixed steel roof, wider wheels, double grilled engine lid, and flared fenders as styled from the 914-6 GT cars. Ventilated disc brakes were fitted to all four wheels, and also a "mid-engined" version of the then-new 915 transmission, giving a conventional shift pattern with 1 to 4 in an H and fifth out on a limb. One 916 was built to US specs and on delivery to the USA was fitted with air conditioning by the dealer (Brumos).
Model year changes
Over the six model years, Porsche made a number of changes to the 914. Some of these changes were cosmetic and others were in response to changing crash protection standards. From 1970 to 1974, the 914 was offered with chrome or painted bumpers. In early 1970, rear bumpers were produced with a straight crease on either side of the license plate indent. Between 1970 and 1972, both front and rear bumpers were smooth without bumper guards. In 1973, bumper guards were added to the front of the car. In 1974, guards were also added to the rear bumper. In 1975 and 1976, the chrome or painted bumpers were replaced with heavy, rubber-covered units.
The headlight surrounds were white from the first 914s to mid-production of 73 and subsequently black. Cars produced up to early 1972 had a fixed passenger seat and a removable passenger footrest. Later cars featured a movable passenger seat. Other interior differences included changing vinyl designs, gauge appearance, and air vent configurations in the dash.
State of the 914 fleet today
Estimates of the number of surviving 914s vary widely. Many 914s with serious but repairable damage were salvaged over the years because cost of a new chassis was relatively inexpensive compared to the cost and availability of repair parts. Many cars were cut up over the years with the purpose of saving other cars. The increasing scarcity of clean cars is driving up the value of the model. Probably the best estimate is from the different enthusiast organizations who are constantly gathering data, and one of them currently estimates the remaining numbers to be at approximately 42,000
While the 914 has been out of production for almost 35 years, many repair parts are still available. In large part, this is due to small companies which specialize in 914 parts and many enterprising enthusiasts who make small runs of parts to support the community. While a few parts are considered scarce and expensive (such as US-spec rear turn signal lenses (only available in the reproduction market) and D-Jetronic Manifold Pressure Sensors (only available in rebuilt)), most are available from a variety of mail-order sources while still others are tooled and manufactured. Due to its nimble handling and the relatively low purchase cost of a basic 914, the "poor man's" Porsche of the 1970s has become the poor man's weekend racing car on amateur racing circuits.
Some enthusiasts see the 914 as a blank canvas upon which to create their own automotive dreams. Owners have modified the original four cylinder motors to upwards of 170 hp (127 kW). Some owners instead choose to swap different engines into the 914's sizeable engine bay. These swaps include Volkswagen turbodiesels, 911 engines (following in the footsteps of the much sought after 914/6), Corvair air-cooled sixes, and the small-block Chevy V8. Recently, swaps of Subaru engines have gained popularity among the non-Porsche purists. The 914 has also become the foundation for an electric vehicle conversion kit.
Body modifications are another popular way to personalize a 914. Some of these are simple, such as bolting on fiberglass bumpers that aid the 914 into morphing into a look of the 916 prototype. Some modifications are more extensive, such as installing steel or fiberglass fender flares resembling the rare 914/6 GT. Some involve completely changing the appearance of the car, often to resemble some other mid-engine car, such as the Porsche 904 or the Ferrari Testarossa. And still others produce a style all their own such as the Mitcom Chalon, which marries the slant nose appearance of the Porsche 935 with flared fenders that maintain the distinctive 914 rear end. A fiberglass kit inspired by the Porsche 904, dubbed the 9014, was designed as a way to save a derelict 914 too expensive to repair by conventional methods. Increased 914 values over the years have made 914s more practical to restore.
In 1974, Porsche produced a number of special edition cars for the US market, equipped with unique color schemes and decals. It is estimated that about 1,000 of these units were produced, about 50% Bumblebee and 50% Creamsicle.
The Creamsicle: With a cream color exterior (paint code U2V9), these cars sported Phoenix red decals, rocker panels, bumpers, and Mahle wheels. This light ivory color scheme concept carried over from the 1973 911 Carrera RS series.
The Bumblebee: Featuring a black exterior (paint code L041), these cars sported Sunflower yellow (paint code L13K) negative Porsche decals, rocker panels, bumpers, Mahle wheels, and a specially designed front spoiler. Black body paint color was always an additional cost special option on standard 914 Porsche cars, but was included as a standard component on the black 914 LE cars. All but one photo of the 914 Porsche Can Am prototype cars are Bumblebee cars. The black-based 914 LE color scheme is unique to the 914 LE cars and has no precedent with the Can Am race cars or the 1973 911 Carrera RS series cars. The majority of 914 Limited Editions seem to be Bumblebees.
Additionally, all Limited Editions were equipped with front and rear anti sway bars, dual horns, foam covered steering wheel, driving lights, anodized rear roll bar chrome, and a center console with an oil temperature gauge, clock, and voltmeter.
Another scheme, the Grasshopper (Light Ivory (L80E) body / Green accent) was never formally offered as a Limited Edition, but derived from the variety of stripe colors the Porsche dealers offered at the time. Factory records verify that the color scheme was never produced.