Stop me if you've heard this one before.
Two automakers that hail from the same country get together to build a new car. But it's not just any car – it's meant to be a true sports car. It is to be rear-wheel-drive, lightweight, powered by a boxer engine, and most of all, affordable and accessible to the masses. Building this car together would satisfy the needs of both automakers and cut down on costs.
If you think I'm talking about the Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ, you'd be wrong. Those cars have been written about pretty extensively lately (and rightfully so, because they're fantastic), but they've also made me think about a sports car joint venture from another era: the Porsche 914.
The trouble is, while the Toyobaru twins seem to be largely successful as far as reviews and sales go, the 914 was, well… not. Today it has gone down in history as an odd and unfortunate bastard child in the torrid, everlasting romance between Volkswagen and Porsche.
On paper at least, this should not have been the case. HowStuffWorks gives us a good run-down of the 914's stats. It was small, weighed a smidge over 2,000 pounds, and had its engine behind the cabin like a proper racecar. Other goodies included a fully independent suspension, a targa top, a five-speed manual transmission and fuel injection — a very impressive package for its time. It even had two trunks! How many trunks does your stupid car have?
Plus, with a price tag of about $3,500 when it was introduced in 1970, the 914 would be quite affordable (that's only about $20 grand in today's dollars). AND it had a Porsche badge! If such a car were made today, people would be stabbing each other's faces in the streets for the chance to buy one.
Alas, like in-car record players and the movie Prometheus, many things that seem like great ideas on paper don't work out so well in real life.
Here's how the 914 came to be, according to Classic Motorsports: In the late 60s, Porsche needed a replacement for the 911's low-rent four-cylinder cousin, the 912. At the same time, VW needed a replacement for the Karmann-Ghia that would ideally be more than just a fanciful-bodied Beetle. Perhaps over some hefeweizen and sauerkraut (these are the only things I know about Germany besides the fact that they blew up Pearl Harbor to avenge the death of the Kaiser), Ferry Porsche and VW executive Heinz Nordhoff hammered out an agreement where their respective companies would build the car together.
The car would be designed by Porsche and powered by a VW engine, and under their original plan, both manufacturers were to get a version of the car. But after Nordhoff died, a new executive mandated that the car be sold in Europe as the "VW-Porsche 914." In America, it was simply sold as a Porsche.
As one might expect from the car's size, weight, and mid-engine architecture, handling was pretty sharp. Acceleration was not. The problem was that the engine they went with was the air-cooled 1.7-liter, 80-horsepower flat four from the Volkswagen Type 4 sedan. This was in no way a performance engine, and it showed. Even in the 914's lightweight body, 0-to-60 mph came at a lofty 13 seconds, giving the driver plenty of time to wonder if his or her purchase was really good idea.
But perhaps the 914's biggest problem was one of perception. With all of its VW components, many enthusiasts refused to accept it as a "real Porsche." It also suffered from a poor shift linkage, somewhat awkward styling and cut-rate quality that reflected its low-cost, parts bin origins. The car was not well received by the motoring press at the time.
Porsche attempted to up the ante by selling a six-cylinder version called the 914/6. But that car's price tag put it within close reach of the superior 911, which made it an even bigger flop than its less-powerful sibling.
In the end, as Ate Up With Motor tells it, the 914 was put out to pasture for good in 1975, bested by more competent sports machines like the Datsun 240Z. The Vo-Po didn't fare too badly in auto racing, securing a win in its class at the 1970 24 Hours of LeMans. It was even successful enough to sell about 120,000 copies. Many can still be found on the roads today, driven with the top open by a quirky and attentive owner or doing battle with a Fox-body Mustang or a Dodge Neon in some Lemons race.
It's interesting to see how far Porsche has come since the days of the 914. The bargain sportster is a pretty far cry from the luxobarge Cayennes and Panameras we see today. The company would have a great deal more success at mid-engine convertibles when it unveiled the Boxster in the 1990s.
Since then, enthusiasts have been clamoring for a less-expensive, sub-Boxster sports car that could be a successor to the 914 - perhaps even built with VW's help. Now that the two companies are properly married and not just living in sin, who knows?
Photo Credit: Porsche, Matt Hardigree, Sv1ks