The Porsche 914 has spent almost its entire existence trying to shake the accusation that it’s not a ‘real’ Stuttgart-born member of Dr. Ferry’s family. While the car’s genesis might have begun under the more pedestrian auspices of Volkswagen, the decision to jointly develop the car with Porsche as part of a plan to replace both the four-cylinder Porsche 912 as well as the Karmann-Ghia made a lot of corporate synergy sense. Porsche had the chassis smarts and Volkswagen had the engine ready to go, and while the initial result was somewhat uninspiring, the 914 would be continually refined during its brief time on Earth until it offered a legitimately fun performance persona.
These days, Porsche 914 roadsters remain the most affordable path to classic Porsche ownership outside of the 924/944. They also offer serious potential for fun with the right mods, and the right attitude, in place. Whether you’re looking for a novel spot to stuff that boxer motor sitting in the corner of your spot, or are instead seeking a relatively inexpensive window into the world of classic motorsports, the Porsche 914 is an uncommon choice you won’t regret making.
From The Factory
Remember that Volkswagen engine we mentioned earlier? With a meager 1.7 liters of displacement pushing out roughly 80 horsepower and just over 100 lb-ft of torque, it was the single biggest reason why the 914 got such a bad rap from Porschephiles when it debuted as a 1970 model. Perhaps if VW had been able to provide a motor that knocked the socks off of budget-conscious Euro sports car buyers the model would have had a cheerier intro to the world, but the fact of the matter was the 1.7 was underwhelming in almost every category, as denoted by its 13 second slog to 60-mph.
Still, with a curb weight of just over 2,000 lbs, 46/54 front-rear weight-balance, and a mid-engine design, the Porsche 914 was a platform with potential – and Porsche wasn’t about to give up on the basis of a lackluster reception for the VW-powered model. The quick solution was for Porsche to ignore the car’s original four-cylinder mission statement and at the end of 1970 outfit the vehicle with a 2.0-liter flat-six, an engine borrowed from the 911 T that sliced five seconds from the sprint to 60 thanks to its 110 horsepower.
While the 914-6 was quick, it was also substantially more expensive than the 914-4, which lead to less than 3,400 sales in the two years of its existence. Flummoxed, Porsche would try to salvage the 914-4 with the option of a larger, 2.0-liter four-cylinder in 1973, a sportier mill that would last until the car was killed in 1976. With a 94 mm bore and 71 mm stroke, and a head that featured deeper-breathing exhaust and inlet valves, it generated a respectable 95 horsepower. The base motor was also enlarged to 1.8 liters in 1974 (and gifted with fuel injection), but power fell off compared to the 1.7 due to emissions regulations, and it would be scrapped entirely by 1976 when an EPA-hobbled version of the 2.0-liter motor took over across the board. If you feel like that’s a confusing level of engine availability in a very short period of time, you’re not wrong.
On the suspension front, a torsion bar setup rode ahead of the driver, with the rear featuring an independent semi-trailing arm design. Not all cars were sold with front and rear swaybars, but four-wheel disc brakes were standard for the American market. It’s also worth mentioning that every roadster featured manual steering and a dog-leg five-speed manual gearbox as standard equipment, because while Porsche advertised that an automatic transmission would be forthcoming for the 914, it never actually arrived in showrooms.
From The Aftermarket
“Something I recommend for all four-cylinder Porsche 914 owners is to upgrade to the 100 pound six-cylinder springs,’ says Chris Foley, owner of east coast 914 performance shop Tangerine Racing. “Then, if the car didn’t have anti-sway bars, it’s time to install those.”
He stresses that not everyone who comes to his shop with is necessarily looking for more power, and that improving handling is often the priority – but Foley also says that his shop manufactures the bolt-on part that he feels makes the biggest difference in terms of bang-for-the-buck for a 914-4. “Nothing else other than a complete exhaust system works well on these cars as a bolt on,” he explains. “The performance header that we offer is a 10 percent improvement across the board in terms of four-cylinder engine output, although six-cylinder cars don’t see as much of an improvement due to their more efficient exhaust design.”
Chris explains that 200 horsepower, or more than double what it came with from the factory, is roughly what you’re looking at as the top end of a streetable, naturally-aspirated build, and that turbocharged setups are uncommon in the 914 world.
“Once you’re past bolt-ons, you’ll want to swap in a hotter camshaft, but that requires a full teardown, because it’s located in the center of the engine,” he says “At that point, some of our customers are looking at doing supporting modifications like a stroker crank and building power through a combination of bore and stroke.”
From Left Field
Unsurprisingly, a fair number of Porsche 914 owners seeking more power turn to another company also known for building boxer engines: Subaru. In fact, Renegade Hybrids makes a popular kit that allows for the installation of any number of EJ-series four-cylinder Subby motors, including the EJ22 (between 130 and 142 horsepower), the EJ20 (227 turbocharged horses), and even the EJ25T from the STI (300 horsepower). Kennedy Engineered Products also support EJ swaps.
Well before the advent of Subaru-powered 914s, however, it was six-cylinder Porsche swaps and small block Chevy V8s that were the alternative power plants of choice for the mid-engine marvel. Chris Foley remarks that the rising cost of any six-cylinder 911 engine has largely slowed the flow of these motors into 914 shells, but SBC swaps and LS swaps (which Renegade and Kennedy each make kits for) continue to be popular. The V8 models face a number of challenges – most specifically, plumbing the air-cooled car for radiator plumbing – but in the right hands can be incredible thrill rides.
Looking for more information on how to scratch your 914 itch? There’s no better one-stop-shop for info on this pint-size roadster than 914 World, although both the Rennlist 914 forum and the Pelican Parts 914 tech resource section are also well worth visiting. For real-world support, in addition to Tangerine Racing you can also get help from shops like the engine builders at Aircooled Technology and Paragon Products.