Despite Porsche’s attempts to trace its entry roadster’s pedigree to one of its most significant racecars, the late ‘50s 718 Spyder, a car of humbler breeding might be the Boxster’s truer progenitor. That car is the mid-engine 914 of 1969-76.
Porsche and Volkswagen – then separate companies – jointly developed the 914 as an affordable sports car, which both would then sell. Porsche handled design and engineering and supplied chassis parts from the 911. The air-cooled, fuel-injected 1.7-liter boxer four-cylinder engine, installed between the passenger cabin and the rear trunk, came from Volkswagen’s 411 sedan and was paired with a five-speed manual transmission. Karmann, which built the Karmann-Ghia sporty model for VW, assembled the 914.
The collaboration enabled Porsche to offer the 1970 914 for $3,500 in the United States, much less than a 911. From the start, though, the 914 faced stiff competition from the similarly priced, but faster and much more powerful, Datsun 240Z. Still, most of the 119,000 914s built were sold in America, where it was Porsche’s best-selling model. Branding the 914 a Volkswagen-Porsche in Europe impeded continental sales.
The 914’s squared-off design could be polarizing. Road & Track called it “unpretty.” The cabin, though austere, earned praise for its spaciousness and the one-piece removable roof panel that could be carried in the trunk.
Motor Trend named the 914 its 1970 Import Car of the Year. Car and Driver coaxed zero-to-60 in 11.3 seconds from a 1970 model, on par with the MGB and Fiat 124 Spider. A more powerful 2-liter four-cylinder engine became optional in 1973, and a 1.8 replaced the standard 1.7 for 1974.
Long ignored, even snubbed, by some Porsche enthusiasts for its mixed Porsche and Volkswagen lineage, the 914 is a car on the rise. The Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance made the 914 one of its honored models in 2015, with a rare 916 prototype, one of 11 built and featuring the six-cylinder 911 S engine, among those displayed.
The 916, once owned by Porsche racer Peter Gregg, today belongs to George Hussey (along with the aforementioned Motor Trend road test car) whose AutoAtlanta business in Marietta, Ga. has been servicing, repairing and restoring 914s for nearly 40 years. The company also manufactures replacement parts for the 914, a model that Hussey said gets little support from Porsche. He is also the author of Tech Tips 700: A Complete Technical Guide to the VW-Porsche 914.
“The 914 is light, fun to drive and you feel very close to the road,” Hussey said.
The 1970 914/6, with a 110-horse boxer six, was still off the 240Z’s pace, and it cost $6,100. In true Porsche fashion, however, the 914/6 GT competition version established a stellar track career, winning the GT class and taking sixth overall in the 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans and also winning the first IMSA GT driving championship.
Alas, winning on Sunday sold few cars on Monday, and Porsche dropped the 914/6 after 1972, with just over 3,300 made. These can bring more than $70,000 today, but even the far more common four-cylinder 914 models are now sought after by Porsche collectors, Hussey said.
In 1974, Steve Kapush of Ossining, N.Y., bought a 914 but it was sold after he got married the next year. He rekindled the affair 15 years later, paying $5,000 for a 1974 model. Kapush notes that parts can be costly, though. Needing a fuel pump, he found a correct replacement, in its original box, on eBay for $1,000; a new pump costs less than half that. He instead had AutoAtlanta rebuild his car’s pump for about $120.
Hussey acknowledged that high parts prices make restoring a ragged four-cylinder 914 cost-prohibitive and instead advises seeking a well-preserved original, which typically sell for $19,000-$25,000, depending on year and condition, according to the Hagerty Price Guide.