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Go ahead, ask. Tyler Hauptman loves this question. Of all the possible Porsches to inspire his passion, why on earth is he so enthusiastic about the 914?
“The 914 has always been one of my favorite cars because of its mid-engine, air cooled, horizontally opposed motor,” Hauptman says with grin. “When you look at the history of Porsche, and all the cars that they’ve produced for racing, in particular—the 550 Spyder, the 904, 906, 907, 908, 910, 917—all the coolest Porsches are in that configuration. That’s why I love the 914.”
Co-developed with Volkswagen and originally intended as a replacement model for the four-cylinder Porsche 912 and VW Karmann Ghia, the 914 has spent much of its life as the much-maligned kid brother of its air-cooled older sibling, the 911. The Karmann-built body invited ridicule almost from the time it debuted and despite some respectable performance bonafides (especially by the hopped-up 914/6 models), for many years the 914 suffered insults that it was just a tarted-up Volkswagen. In recent years, however, rising prices for vintage 911s and 912s have prompted enthusiasts in search of an air-cooled experience to look with new eyes on the 914.
Hauptman, for his part, was flogging 914s on California’s rural canyon roads long before anyone else thought they were worth a moment’s thought. He bought his first one, a 1973 model, for $1200 two decades ago and proceeded to teach himself how to drive a stick shift on the roads of Malibu. From there, he found a quiet stretch of twisty road and set about learning the intricacies of vehicle dynamics.
“I just went through one corner, over and over again, until I got it right,” Hauptman recalls. “From there I learned heel-toeing, matching the revs, and how to treat the car mechanically.”
Any given weekend is still likely to find Hauptman pushing a 914 through the Malibu canyons. Now, though, the car is a little green 1974 model with big fender flares framing the rear wheels, a remnant of the car’s time as a Porsche Owners Club race car back in the 1980s. Hauptman stumbled across the car 2014, rough and haggard from its many track days, in Arizona. An engineer by trade, he has worked tirelessly to upgrade the car’s mechanics, even as he has kept it as raw and unrefined as ever—just as he prefers it.
“Everywhere I go, I bring the ruckus,” he says. “The car is loud, it’s obnoxious, it pops, it makes people startled and unsettled. But at the same time has a pretty lovely charm, being green and so low to the ground. Everybody loves the car.”
Once was the time when finding anyone who loved a Porsche 914 was a tall order. Times, however, have changed, and public opinion might finally be catching up with what Hauptman has known about these plucky little cars all along.