CC Driving Review: 1973 Porsche 914 2.0 – A Great Drive; A Long Way From Home

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(first posted 5/9/2016)    The best part of CC is all the great fellow CC’ers I’ve had the pleasure to meet. And when one of them shows up at my doorstep in a beautiful Porsche 914 2.0, and offers to let me take it out for a brisk drive; well, that’s icing on the cake. And very delicious icing, at that.

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Victor Ceicys, a retired radiologist, hails from Cleveland, Ohio and is on a very long drive. He shipped his 914, which he bought back in 1978 or so, to Seattle, so that he and his wife could participate in the “Spring Thaw” vintage car rally in British Columbia. That was a blast, and he’s now headed down the coast to San Luis Obispo, CA., and then east to Colorado, to participate in the Silver Summit Rally, which starts May 20. He’s somewhere on the road now, but last Tuesday (May 3) Vic stopped by CC Central, to let me have a drive in the 914 and a leisurely lunch afterwards.

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I’m not going to do a complete history on the 914 here, as Robert Kim did that most excellently this past year. The 914 was initially sold in two versions: the 1.7 L VW (from the 411) powered 914 and the Porsche flat-six powered 914/6. But the 914/6 was too expensive, and sold in very modest numbers, unlike the quite successful 914. The 914/6 was discontinued in 1972, so for 1973, a more powerful 2.0 L VW Type IV engine essentially replaced it at the top of the line.

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The 914 was badged as a ‘VW-Porsche’ in Europe, and the two versions sold by the two respective dealer networks there. But in the US, it was decided to delete the VW name, as the connotation was just too downscale, even though the original premise of the 914 was to replace the VW Karmann-Ghia.

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In case your world revolves more around broughams than Porsches, the 914 has a mid engine, which means it’s tucked in right behind the passengers, and accessibility is a bit less than ideal. As a compact boxer four, it’s well suited to this location, and is the same place that the very first Porsche-badged car ever had its engine. It contributes to an exceptionally low center of gravity and ideal front-rear weight balance (45/55).

Victor’s engine has been updated and improved, with Euro-914 cylinder barrels and pistons (higher compression, I assume), a deeper oil sump, electronic ignition, and a complete going-over of the fuel injection system, with new injectors, pump, hoses, etc.. In anticipation of hot weather crossing the desert from Las Vegas to Colorado, it also has an auxiliary oil cooler with an electric fan. I noticed that, because it was still running when Vic shut of the 914 on his arrival.

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I’ve always been a fan of the 914 since it first came out, despite its somewhat controversial styling. Needless to say, it reflects its country of origin and its designers quite fully. Meaning, among other things, it’s also practical, as only a German sports car would be. It’s a bit like Swiss Army knife, with trunks in both the rear (here) and front. This rear one also is where the flat removable roof panel is stored.

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The front trunk is quite decent-sized, and Vic and his wife found two bags that fit perfectly. She decided to stay in Seattle with her daughter, so Vic is traveling solo for the time being.

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Underneath the front trunk area is the spare tire, along with spare cables and a few other select parts. The 914 has been perfectly reliable in its first 1700 miles of the trip.

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Another aspect of the 914’s practicality is its relatively roomy passenger compartment, which fit me very well. This is not like shoehorning oneself into a vintage Brit sports car, or some of svelte Italian ones. I didn’t even have to adjust the seat. And its ample width only contributes to that feeling of relative spaciousness.

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The instruments are housed in a large binnacle and very visible and legible, to say the the least. And the steering wheel is large, as was the custom back in the day. Visibility thought the tall and relatively upright windshield is superb. And the view to the rear is quite good too. The VW Bus of sports cars.

I got in and fired up the engine, and reminded myself of the Porsche five-speed gear shift pattern: first down-left, below reverse. Vic has installed an aftermarket gearchange gate, to reduce shift travel. I did find the gear shift to be the biggest weak spot in this car, an issue that was noted back in the day too. The linkage has to circumvent the engine on the way to the transmission out back, not nearly as direct a path as in the typical VW or Porsche. or of course any front engine car.

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I forgot to ask whether the exhaust is stock or not, but it emits a lovely little throaty/hoarse growl, in the way that only a boxer four can, and does. These are the handsome original optional Fuchs alloy wheels, and yes, they are skinny: 15 x 4.5″  (Update: these are actually 5.5″ wide wheels).  Originally they were shod with VW Beetle-sized 165 – 15 tires. Why did VW and Porsche have such a fixation on narrow rims and skinny tires for so long? Victor has shod his with 205/65s, which is as big as one can go and still fit on the skinny rims. The Porsche 914/6 did have slightly wider 15 x 5.5″ wheels.

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We headed out the neighborhood, and up over Crest Drive and out Loraine Highway, which is my preferred route for test drives, as the road is quiet and combines numerous curvy, hilly section with some nice long straights too. The 914’s boxer was put to work, and it did it very willingly. Unlike the peaky 2.0 liter Porsche six in the 914/6, the VW engine has a fat torque band and makes its peak power at about 5,000 rpm. That means good grunt from down low, like a genuine VW, but with some real push to it. I’m not sure exactly how many horses Vic’s is making; the Euro version was rated at 100 PS; the US-compliant version at 91 net hp. It was more than enough to get the fun factor in the green zone on our route.

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The 914 is a great driver. The steering, which is direct from the 911 along with the whole front suspension, is of course unassisted and highly precise. The absolutely unfiltered feel of all-mechanical steering is just simply unbeatable, and in a light (2,029 lbs) mid engine car like the 914, it’s even light at low speed too.

Having been a VW driver since my earliest days, the 914 is really the peak VW air-cooled experience, regardless of whether it’s considered a Porsche or VW; It’s largely a moot point, as they’ve been interbred since day one, and now are of course fully united again.  And none other than Ferdinand Piech was in charge of the 914’s development.

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Vic was very generous, allowing me to push the 914 fairly hard on the way back, after I’d familiarized myself with it. It took us up to 80 or so on one of the longer straights, and I got to experience its rock-solid neutral cornering attitude through the esses. It takes a set and keeps it, as the G-forces build.

I had a ball. Driving any car for the first time is fun, but this was a real treat. Vic’s 914 is in great shape, with the suspension having been fully re-done, and everything else is top-notch in his 914. So this was a brisk drive forty-some years back in time, not a delicate little jaunt in a precious antique. The 914 still feels fresh and solid.

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As I got out, I couldn’t help notice the tasty little door handles again. My final thoughts on the 914: this is a vintage sports car that I could really live with. It’s roomy enough, solid, reliable, practical, and a great driver. No wonder I always felt an affinity to them. I do like sportiness combined with practicality; my ethnicity can not be denied.

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Stephanie set out a spread for lunch, and we ended up talking for hours. Vic has a fascinating history, as his family is from Lithuania, and they spent a bit of time in Graz, Austria, after fleeing during WWII. They couldn’t get to the US at the time, so the emigrated to Australia, where Vic was born. Eventually they found their way to the US in 1955.

Vic wanted to see Crater Lake, so I helped him pick a route and found a place with a motel nearby there. Around 3:30 or so, he fired up the 914 and headed off. I haven’t heard from him since, but I’m sure he’s having a great time, probably working his way down Hw1 on the coast of California.

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Happy trails! And thanks for a very memorable drive.

Update: Victor just sent me some detailed information about his 914:

Let me give you some updated info of my 73 fourteen. My car is a
relatively unique Midwestern 914. I bought it from an Air Force
mechanic/technician, stationed at a now likely closed Northern Michigan
Air Force base in 1979. His name is/was Ron Roland who happened to be
obsessed with 356’s, having acquired by 1979 at least, if memory serves
me well, 30 or so 356’s from the earliest ones through to the C and SC
series. Ron also showed me his America Roadster. He had several 911’s
and two 914’s, one a 914 6 which he was keeping and the 914 2.0 that he
sold to me.

In the Midwest at that time 914’s were notorious rust buckets due to the salt.

Ron had acquired my 914 from a family in
Northern Michigan who had never driven this car in the winter saving it
from the ravages of salt. Ron didn’t have much interest or respect for
914’s except for the 6 that he had in his now likely priceless
collection, if it still exists.

I had been looking for an outstanding clean solid 914 and learned of his through an Autoweek ad
and drove up to see it and was truly impressed, despite it being
Zambessi Green. After some negotiations I then bought the car that you
drove. As I said, it was repainted Guards Red as you saw it in 1983, in
the Stoddard Porsche body shop. The body shop manager, Sheldon
Lowenthal, was very meticulous and what you saw was his shop’s handy
work 33 yrs later. (Sheldon BTW owned a restored single cylinder 1903
Cadillac that I saw but unfortunately never experienced as a driver or
passenger). This 914 previously and in my possession has never been
driven in winter and has always avoided exposure to salt and by in large
even rain except in the last few years.

Regarding the exhaust
system, I personally replaced the heat exchangers with stainless steel
SSI exchangers and also did a clutch replacement in 1982. I finally
replaced the ancient stock Dansk muffler about a year or so ago when
rust holes finally appeared. So the exhaust is essentially stock except
for the SSI exchangers.

In early 914’s the electric fuel pump was poorly positioned next to the passenger side heat exchanger with
subsequent guaranteed heat soak issues. There had been articles in
Porsche Panorama in the 1970’s about how to relocate the fuel pump
forward by the fuel tank, and I did that transfer at the time of the
Heat exchanger replacement and never experienced fuel pump heat soak

The shifter gate is a J W Engineering product for both
911’s and 914. If you don’t try to force it and let the spring action
take you to the desired gear slot,it is great and a vast improvement
over the original very sloppy gating which I have kept in case any
future owner might foolishly want to restore to original condition.
With the original gating, the up shift to second was always a risk of
engaging reverse, a perverse and poorly designed original gating. Hope
and pray to avoid reverse on the way to second. When you drove the
fourteen, though you weren’t impressed, the gating is actually light
years improved over the original.

Regarding the engine, you drove essentially the European injected 2.0. The 1973 49 state US type
1.7 compression ratio was 8.2:1 with 76 HP and the 73 Calif 1.7 had a CR
of 7.3:1 with 69HP
Compression ratio of the 1973 2.0 for all 50
states, including Calif was 7.6:1 with 91 HP at 4900 rpm and 105 lb.
ft. At 3500 rpm. The Euro cast iron barrels and Aluminum Pistons
restored the CR to 8.0:1 yielding 100HP. 3500-4000rpm is the sweet spot
for this eurotype engine

The euro barrels and pistons were installed about 1987, and improved Autocross performance. This car was
always quicker than the 914-6’s and early 911’s of the same era during
Low down torque/ grunt was more useful than higher end power from the Porsche six cylinder engine.

Regarding the wheels, the 1.7 came with stock 4.5 J x 15 steel wheels and 5.5J x
15 steel or aluminum wheels optional. The Aluminum wheels were cast
Pedirini or forged Fuchs wheels.

The 2.0 came with 5.5 J x 15 wheels Steel or Aluminum. In actuality the US 1973 2.0 usually was
packaged with the appearance group instrument cluster/console, Fuchs
wheels, and sway bars like you drove. You drove on 5.5 J x 15 wheels.

If my memory is correct the 914-6 had a peculiar size of wheel: forged
Fuchs 6.0 x 14 which is an especially difficult size to fit with tires
now. Check this out to see if my memory is still reasonable.

Because of autocrossing I installed Koni adjustable front strut inserts and
rear shocks set for intermediate setting for this trip, primarily for
comfort but still adequate for the rallies.


Related reading:

CC 1973-1974 Porsche 914 2.0 – Entry Level Porsche 1.0  by Robert Kim