A few things to know before stealing my 914

Norman Garrett

Dear Thief,

Welcome to my Porsche 914. I imagine that at this point (having found the door unlocked) your intention is to steal my car. Don’t be encouraged by this; the tumblers sheared off in 1978. I would have locked it up if I could, so don’t think you’re too clever or that I’m too lazy. However, now that you’re in the car, there are a few things you’re going to need to know. First, the battery is disconnected, so slide-hammering my ignition switch is not your first step. I leave the battery disconnected, not to foil hoodlums such as yourself, but because there is a mysterious current drain from the 40-year-old German wiring harness that I can’t locate and/or fix. So, connect the battery first. Good luck finding the engine cover release. Or the engine, for that matter.

Now, you can skip your slide hammer. The ignition switch’s tumblers are so worn that any flat-bladed screwdriver or pair of scissors will do. Don’t tell anyone.

Once you’ve figured that out and try to start the car, you’ll run into some trouble. The car is most likely in reverse gear, given that the parking brake cable froze up sometime during the Carter administration. Since there is not a clutch safety switch on the starting circuit, make sure to press the clutch down before you try to crank the engine. (I don’t want you running into my other car in the driveway.) This is doubly necessary because my starter is too weak to crank the clutch-transmission input shaft assembly with any success.

With the clutch pedal depressed, the engine should turn over fast enough to get things going. But first, you’ll need to press the gas pedal to the floor exactly four times. Not three. Not five. Four. The dual Webers don’t have chokes and you’ll be squirting fuel down the barrels with the accelerator pumps for the necessary priming regime. If you don’t do it right, the car won’t start before the battery gives up the ghost. Consider yourself forewarned.

Porsche 914 front three-quarter
Norman Garrett

If you’ve followed along so far, the engine should fire right up. Don’t be fooled—it will die in eight seconds when the priming fuel runs out. Repeat the gas pedal priming procedure, but only pump two times. Deviate from this routine at your own peril.

Now you have the engine running. Make sure the green oil light in the dash goes out. If it does not, you only have about 100 yards to drive before the engine locks up, so be attentive. If all goes well with the oil pressure, you may now attend to the gear shift lever. Some explanation follows.

This is a Porsche 914. It has a mid-engine layout. The transmission is in the far back of the car, and the shift linkage’s main component is a football-field-long steel rod formed loosely in the shape of your lower intestine. Manipulating the gear shift lever will deliver vague suggestions to this rod, which, in turn, will tickle small parts deep within the dark bowels of the transaxle case. It is akin to hitting a bag of gears with a stick, hopefully finding one that works.

Porsche 914 drivetrain
I’ll make sure the drivetrain is in the car, by the way. Norman Garrett

If you are successful in finding first gear (there is a shift pattern printed on the knob; they say German engineers don’t have a sense of humor), congratulations. You may launch the vehicle into motion.

Do not become emboldened by your progress, as you will quickly need to shift to another gear. Ouija boards are more communicative than the shift knob you will be trusting to aid your efforts. Depress the clutch as you would in any car, and pull the knob from its secure location out of first gear. Now you will become adrift in the zone known to early Porsche owners as “Neverland” and your quest will be to find second gear. Prepare yourself for a ten-second-or-so adventure. Do not go straight forward with the shift knob, as you will only find Reverse waiting there to mock you with a shriek of high-speed gear teeth machining themselves into round cylinders. Should you hear this noise, retreat immediately to the only easy spot to find in this transmission: neutral. This is a safe place, no real damage can occur here, but alas, no forward motion will happen either. From this harbor of peace, you can re-attempt to find second, but you may just want to go for any “port in a storm”, given that the traffic behind you is now cheering you on in your quest with vigorous horn-honks of support and encouragement. Most 914 owners at this point pull over to the side of the road and feign answering a cell phone call to a) avoid further humiliation; b) allow traffic to pass; and c) gather the courage for another first gear start. You may choose to do likewise.

Porsche 914 front three-quarter
Norman Garrett

If you press onward without taking a break, you may re-enter first. This is how the car mocks you for your lack of skill, but sometimes it is the only path forward. Once you are ready to again try for second, I can offer some advice. One trick that works is to declutch the transmission, pull the lever from the first-gear position, enter into the aforementioned neutral zone, and then rapidly wig-wag the shift knob side-to-side along a lateral axis. If you move the knob quickly enough, the transmission will be out-smarted and cannot anticipate your next move. It is at this time that you should re-attempt to enter second, and most likely you will do so. Surprise is your best weapon against this transmission.

The move to third should be straightforward, as it’s the only easily-accessible gear in the set. You should now be out of my neighborhood and on the main four-lane road. Third gear will be good for 45 mph, so I would advise you just staying there. Trying to get to fourth gear will only frustrate you and your nearby drivers (see: first-to-second shift).

You don’t need to check for gasoline in the car. It will be full, even though the fuel gauge reads zero. The odometer reads “0”, not because it was reset when I filled the tank, but because it is just broken. Ignore it. If it is night, and it most likely will be, you will need to turn on the lights. I’ll leave it to you to find the switch since I’ve helped a lot so far. Suffice to say that once you get them active, you will find that the seven inch sealed beams from 1971 will only illuminate sufficient roadway for travel below 45 mph. Since you are still in third , this shouldn’t be a problem. Oh, and the lights only work on high beam, so ignore the flashing lights and vulgar gestures from opposing traffic.

Porsche 914 front three-quarter
Norman Garrett

By now you’ve certainly noticed the smell. That is the aroma of Mobil 1 oil being boiled off of long sections of horizontal exhaust pipes, which were cleverly encased by the factory with a second shroud of oil-holding chambers. They filled with oil during my last drive and you are now operating a small thermal refinery that is making light short-chained vaporous hydrocarbons from what was once $8-a-quart oil. They are being conveniently routed to the cabin through carefully formed channels in the heating system, plus the rust holes in the floor provided by Mother Nature herself over the past few decades.

You’ll feel less dizzy if you open a window. But mind that driver’s window does not work, so you’ll have to lean over and roll down the passenger window half-way. I say half-way in a manner that will become apparent once you try to get the window to go all the way down, which it will refuse to do. Instead, simply open the driver’s door slightly and drive along, as I do. Once the oil vapors are exhumed from the cabin, you should start to feel a little better. There is a rag behind the driver’s seat that you can use to wipe the oil film off of the inside of the windshield.

Knowing which road you’re probably on by now, you will be hitting stop lights. Try as hard as you can to not bring the 914 to a stop. The brake system is ideal for this situation, being known more as “scrubbers” than “brakes”. Since you can’t effectively stop the car, use this to your advantage and don’t try. Remember: You certainly don’t want to have to go back into first.

If you have made it within sight of to the highway entrance, don’t get any ideas. The front right wheel is severely bent and the vibration at velocities above 50 mph will crack the windshield and cause the doors to open by themselves. So stay on the surface streets, stoplights notwithstanding.

It may be at this point that you consider abandoning the car to avoid further calamity. There is an Exxon station right before the freeway entrance. The last guy who stole my 914 used this very spot and it was rather convenient for all concerned parties. I suggest you ditch the car there and scope out a nice, reliable Camry to heist.

Norman Garrett was the Concept Engineer for the original Miata back in his days at Mazda’s Southern California Design Studio. He currently teaches automotive engineering classes at UNC-C’s Motorsports Engineering Department in Charlotte, North Carolina and curates his small collection of dysfunctional automobiles and motorcycles.

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    Hahaha had a Chevy 3 on the tree with extremely loose linkage with lots of sloppy elbows and rusted parts. I was often discribed as, “waving my magic wand to find the right gear … With only about a 10 percent chance of actually finding the appropriate gear with many dead ends and various missed but extremely important gears.

    67 Chevy II. Three on the tree. Could not find the part on the steering column. I installed a shift kit in the floor but upside down! Pretty tricky to drive but I’d like to see someone try to steal it! First was third and so on…

    Funny stuff.. I had a 63 Vw van. The shift rods were over seven feet long. After rebuilding the mess it was still an act of contrition to drive that thing . Esp w 2 dirt bikes and gear up to saddleback park. These things had reduction gears jn the rear hubs which helped provide ground clearance .
    They also provided drag along with the aerodynamics of a brick. The worst joke was the 1500 engine rated at an optimistic 51 horsepower. A 0 to 60 time slower than a 1/4 mile time which could be measured in eons. I sear it could hit 70 going downhill full of motorcycles with a tailwind . But I never tried as the brakes were designed for. 1400 lb car not 4500 lbs of metal being manhandled to stay jn a lane by a deranged freak led dead tired fifteenth place motocross racer.

    My first two cars were buses, I actually got one of them up to 82 mph, literally downhill with a tailwind. It was oversteering so severely (complicated by that delightful deadband in the steering response) that I’m amazed to this day that I didn’t wrap it into a ball off the road. Nevermore, quoth the raven. But it did get me to the parachute centers more reliably and almost as quickly as hitchhiking did.

    Thanks for bring back memories of my 914 days. Mine was also a rusty bucket but had a paint job that hid how bad it was. It was one thing after another with that car. I had a few German cars back then but that 914 was the last straw. Never again will I ever own a German car.

    My friend has a mid 1970s bus. He always threatens to attach a 4 ft by 8 ft piece of plywood to the front to improve aerodynamics.

    I had a 69 El Camino SS that the shift linkage was installed backwards as well drove people nuts trying to figure out how to drive that car only did it while it was that way when I got it and it took me a long time to learn to drive it

    My 68 Volvo 144 had a carburetor leakagr problem. But only once in a while. It would catch on fire just a” little”. My easy fix was a piece of rain gutter under the carburetors. Oh I forgot it was an automatic and the shift linkage would come off occasionally. I would know this because I would see Sparks shooting up a back of the car dragging the linkage. I took electrical tape fixed the linkage with it and said o ne day I’ll find the right plastic clip never did it lasted for years. I would have still had the car but I forgot to put antifreeze in it and it blew out the soft plug. Time for car heaven. It took me awhile I had to stop every mile to put water in it. Still miss the car. ( it had air conditioning rare for a 68 Volvo)

    First car, 1948 Chevrolet Fleetmaster, 3-on-the-tree vacuumatic transmission, it hissed while shifting between gears!

    I have a Stanley Steam car and one of my fellow steam car friends always said the best anti theft device would be a complete set of operating instructions.

    Try a 1957 Nash Rambler ” Delivery Wagon ” , they never mounted the shift lever , they just threw it in the car with the steering column !

    My brother had one of these but it never ran, thank goodness. I on the other hand had a 79 MGB convertable. Talk about some grease on the pages in that Haynes manual!

    Hi, I had a beater ’69 MGB convertible, loved the car, but I probably spent more time working on it than actually driving!

    It is like you stole *my* 914. All your comments are so true! I used to park it intentionally on a hill facing down-ward so I could “coast start” it if it failed to start. Cannot tell you how many alternators it went through. Ah, and the high-pitched grind if you accidently went into reverse. And the lights getting stuck up or down, and you are right about only the high beams working. Used to quickly flash them when getting the car inspected so the guy wouldn’t notice I didn’t have low-beams. And the electrical and the unexplainable leak that would drain the car. Mine had a kill switch, but if I used it too often it would kill the battery.

    Oh how I loved that car!… til the day it died (rusted out in New England).

    Thanks for sharing. Brought back great memories of my first love.

    Had a 914 that my wife and i really loved, by this time in my life i had tenure with air cooled vw. Having wrenched through most of the same exact snafu as you are dealing with. ( pretty sure it is some sort of birth defect) it started and ran like a real car. Until it got warmed up to non operational temp. At witch time it would sputter and die and we pushed it off the street to cool down. I did just about everything trying to find the problem. Fuel pump a couple gas tanks new fuel lines from tank to engine, and many other things.i had already painted the car , complete new interior vinyl roof emblems and chrome on chrome wheels . For a grand total of a million mf dollars maybe more . Out of frustration and rage i sold the car to the neighbor kid for i think $900 . That little genius pulls up the very next weekend saying he would have stopped by sooner to tell me the good news but he spent the week on the 101 with the top off ( about a thousand miles) he was just as happy as can be with his new car. Turns out the plastic fuel injection lines hd hairline cracks from age and worked perfect when the motor was cold but when it got hot the plastic would swell and thats why my eye twitches when i get frustrated now . 15 years later and he still honks and waves everytime he sees me in the driveway.

    Well with all the accolades for the fabulist 914 I could add a second sorta air cooled wonder in GM Chevy leader Ed Cole’s Corvair! Again with a five foot shift rod and 100K on the old spinner, finding first or second, reverse or maybe third out of four … would try the patience of Jobe. Try down shifting! But what the hay it’s fun to drive or push……

    I bought a 1978 Datsun 280Z from a gentleman said it wouldn’t run whenever pop the hood crank it over it would fire dye fire die look it then take manifold saw it was leaking on the fuel lines between the rail and injectors hooked onto it with the truck towed at home about 4 hours later I drove it by the guy’s house I think I paid $200 for it in 1988

    L O L Someone stole mine. 914 in Long Beach in 1987. A total, “I’m sure I parked here” situation out side the girlfriend apartment at 5:30 AM. I really liked that car. perfect South Baycgo cart, but you have to duck to see the stop light change if you are over six ft.. The heater and defrost were let’s say very well suited for Southern California.

    Now that’s how you deal with imbeciles who likely consider stealing their so-called “job” or “ career” hell, he might as well have hijacked a tow truck as well!

    Why are you working? You could write a best seller, and retire. You have a gift with an ink pen! Enjoyed your story, and would have read everything you wrote, if there’d been more. Keep it up, and us entertained!

    Great story, very hilarious, loved it!! Thanks for the entertainment!!!! —- Reminds me of my rusted $1,000 ’69 MGB deathtrap convertible I had in my Coast Guard days back in the ’80s. It looked great, someone did an excellent job of hiding the massive amounts of bondo under the shiny (Lemon) Yellow paint! But there was an electrical short somewhere and the battery would constantly die and need a jump. Those awful Lucas electronics, forget it, I don’t think any of the gauges worked. The seats sagged, you were basically sitting just about on the floor. But I looked good in that car, and some of the Sea Bee Cadets thought I was Tom Cruise. (Top Gun had recently come out in theatres). Then one day on the Hawaii H-1 Highway the poorly welded leaf spring snapped causing the drive shaft to fall out front end first. How that didn’t catapult the car end over end I’ll never know, but thankfully it merely dragged along the pavement until the worn out brakes could stop it. I was soon due for a transfer but had no offers on the thing. I then let a friend sell the car for me. About a month later at my new station I get a letter informing me the new owner is suing me. Something had gone wrong with the paperwork or they had discovered more problems that had not been disclosed. (I have no idea what my friend had told them). Of the $400 selling price I had to return $250 in “damages”. …. And so it goes. …. This was but only one of several old junker stories I’ve experienced over the years. I have always loved older jalopies, but I have the unfortunate gift that, if there is only one lemon to be had out there, I will be sure to find and buy it.

    There used to be a trade/business called “Automotive Electrician” they all had a sign outside there place of business that said “Lucas Service” they always seemed to be busy.
    Once car manufactures(and motorcycles) stopped putting Lucas electrical components in the vehicles all these businesses disappeared. It’s as if that profession never existed…..funny that.

    Did you know that, once the Prince of Darkness stopped making car and bike systems, they went to a whole new venture?

    Fly-By-Wire systems for Airbus Industries. True story.

    if you listen to an american car after parking in your garage, those sounds you hear is the sound of it actually rusting apart.MG are great fun cars and so rediculousely simple, very easy to fix provided they were set up rite to begin with…love em

    Many years ago I had a old 1961 Studebaker Lark with “3 in the tree”. Broke the rear view mirror trying to speed shift into second. Not much excitement from the flat head six!
    Had to replace two valves, fairly easy with a flat head. Took a several days to find the replacements. Had about two inches of snow in the cylinders by then. Started right up when put together!
    Don’t make then like that any more!

    I used to remove the whole steering wheel from my ‘74 Spitfire I had in college, but upon reading your note to would-be thieves, a similar disclosure taped to the driver side door would have probably been sufficient! Thanks for sharing — I’m sure there are thousands out there who can relate 🙂

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