Spannerhead Dot

Flat Engines and Rectangles

September 26, 2011 by Matt

Porsche 914 Profile Side View

The Porsche 914 was a 20-minute fling for me. It intrigued me, but ultimately, it remained more interesting in concept than in reality, brought down by a combination of attributes.

Unlike many Porsche-philes, I never really got hung up on the whole “Porsche-ness” of the car. A joint venture between Porsche and VW, the car was offered with a variety of VW- and Porsche-built flat fours and sixes, but the vast majority of the cars imported to the US were fitted with the VW-sourced boxer fours. As a result, in the eyes of Porsche purists, the car was something of a mongrel, and has always been looked down upon by owners and enthusiasts of “whole Porsches” like the 356, 911, 944 and 928. That never bothered me, though; I was more concerned with the engine’s numbers than its pedigree, and on those grounds the sub-100 hp, entry-level yet common VW powerplant was adequate at best.

The car’s dynamics, on the other hand, were far more than adequate; they were excellent. Chalk up its handling prowess to an ankle-level center of gravity, mid-engine weight distribution and characteristic Porsche chassis-tuning excellence. The car’s natural habitat always seemed to tend toward the slower, tighter stuff rather than mixing it up with high-caliber exotics on long stretches of the Autobahn. And I was fine with that.

Porsche 914 Interior Inside Cockpit Dash Dashboard

So a debit for engine output, and a credit for agility and responsiveness. We were at parity—until we got to the styling. My initial reaction to it could have been summed up in two words: “That’s it?” Considering the industry-wide styling excesses of the car’s model run, ’69-’76, the shape was admirably simple and unadorned, but the designers committed the fatal error of under-styling the car, depriving it of necessary surface tension and details that would accentuate the shape. Two problem areas in particular stand out: The featureless fascia, relieved only by the two turn signal “fins,” and the vinyl-covered B-pillars and roof which look completely tacked onto the slab sides. Who knows; perhaps the designers were banking on a longer model run and deliberately created a “base shape,” as they had with the 911, upon which later details and elements would be added. The difference between the two cars, of course, is that the 911 shape is intrinsically shapely and attractive; the same can’t be said about the 914. It was, to say the least, an unfortunate miscalculation by the designers, if indeed that was their thought process.

Overall, many of the decisions that went into the 914 project could be summed up using that same descriptor: Unfortunate miscalculations. A mid-engined Porsche should have been an unqualified success, a no-brainer, but it turned into a missed opportunity, and I can’t really say I’m a fan.

Filed under: Aesthetics, Porsche

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