In April of 1969, Volkswagen and Porsche announced that with a holding stock capital of 5 million deutsche marks, they established VW-Porsche-Vertriebsgesellschaft mbh, otherwise known as the VW-Porsche Sales Company. Then, at the Frankfurt Auto Show in September, they debuted a pair of VW-Porsche 914s.
The 914’s story began four years earlier, when Volkswagen realized it had to come up with the replacement for the Type 34 “Karmann-Ghia”, while Porsche felt the same way about its entry-level four-cylinder 912 coupé. In the spring of 1966, Volkswagen CEO Heinrich Nordhoff and Ferry Porsche came to a verbal agreement about a rear-engined car developed by Porsche, which was to use Volkswagen flat-four and Porsche flat-six engines; but in a chassis built by Karmann. The problem was that after Nordhoff died in 1968, Volkswagen’s new CEO Kurt Lotz demanded to have exclusive sales rights to the car in the name of tooling costs, regardless of the fact that it was being engineered by Ferry Porsche’s crew. Yet, a few heated conversations later, Volkswagen and Porsche managed to agree once again to market the 914 together, badged as the VW-Porsche and sold through a joint network that would save costs at both ends.
In 1969 the Karmann-built and assembled VW-Porsche 914 came with Volkswagen’s 79-horsepower 1.7-liter fuel-injected flat-four, as well as a removable glass fiber-reinforced plastic roof, pop-up headlights, four wheel nuts, and chrome-plated bumpers for the first three production years. By ’73, Volkswagen threw in its 99-horsepower 2.0-liter engine, as well as anti-roll bars and a tighter gearbox. From 1974, the base 1.7 was replaced by the 1.8 version, which produced 84 horsepower in Europe, or 75 in the United States.
Launched parallel, the still Karmann-built, but Porsche-assembled 914/6s featured the brand’s 109-horsepower Type 901 flat-six. However, due to the logistics and royalties involved, these Porsche-enhanced models became so expensive that while four-cylinder 914s accounted for a whopping 115,631 sales until 1976, production of the 914/6s ended in 1972 after just 3338 units. The irony is that most 914s ended up in the U.S., where they were sold as Porsches, without the VW-prefix.
The 914/6s’ low production nature guaranteed they would become collector cars... but not before they could go racing.
The Porsche 914/6 GTs were developed at the Targa Florio, then homologated for Group 4 GT racing and rallying. Featuring 911 and 901 bits where it mattered, the GTs generally preferred circuits over rally stages. At the Nürburgring in 1973, Herbert Linge also used one as his ONS track safety vehicle, saving lives flat-out with his pioneering team. At the 1973 Canadian Grand Prix, a yellow 914 also became Formula 1’s first official safety car.
On the other side of the pond, Brumos won the very first IMSA GT Championship with one of the eleven original 914/6 GTs built by the Porsche factory.
Interestingly, right at the start, Porsche also built a pair of eight-cylinder 914 prototypes. Using spares, the first “914/S” chassis was 917 project leader Ferdinand Piëch’s idea, who ordered a 350-horsepower Type 908 flat-eight to be jammed into the rear of the tiny targa. This heavily modified proof-of-concept was followed by another eight-cylinder, this time powered by a detuned 908 engine. With roughly 300-horsepower, this mule was much closer in design to a production 914/6, and was gifted to Ferry Porsche on his 60th birthday.
Rumor has it that when it came to his unique Porsches, the 914/8 wasn’t Ferry’s favorite.
Fifty years ago, the 914 started out as a volume-selling budget alternative to a 911 on Porsche’s end, and a worthy successor to the shamelessly slow Karmann Ghia on Volkswagen’s side. Today, these targas may be more tempting than ever, as carmakers can’t make affordable roadsters weighing under 2200 pounds any more. That’s especially true of Porsche, whose 2422-pound, windshield-lacking 981 Bergspyder is considered such an achievement in lightweight engineering the company must keep it a one-off.
Since 2010, the number of 914s offered at live public auction has increased eight times, with the average price increasing from $14,737 to $33,942. The median Hagerty Price Guide value for the collector-friendly 914/6 model in #2 (Excellent) condition has increased from $32,100 to $82,000 since September of 2006. Senior valuation analyst John Wiley notes: "In 2018, Hagerty noticed that, for the first time, more insurance policy quotes came from age brackets younger than the Baby Boomers, and the trend has continued into 2019, with roughly 52 percent of quotes coming from Gen-Xers and Millennials. The 914 bucks this trend, interestingly, with the older age bracket represented by Boomers and Pre-Boomers accounting for 61 percent of quotes handled by Hagerty."
A few upgrades—namely machined engine parts and modern suspension components—can dial up a seemingly sluggish 914’s pace. What’s the rush, though? Keep up your momentum, enjoy how close you sit to the ground with the open sky above, and when not driving, get hooked on sauerkraut. It’s good for you.