It might not be one of the Top Ten Most Shit Upon Cars, but if we expand that number by a few dozen or so I am sure that the poor Porsche 914 would make the list.
Lambasted by many so-called “Porschephiles,” its identity was clouded from the beginning. The fact that it was sold as a “VW-Porsche” in Europe only solidifies this confusion and gives you a hint of its troubled lineage. Ostensibly meant to replace both the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia AND the Porsche 912 (a 911 with a four cylinder engine, at first from the Porsche 356, then the VW Type 4), it was sold only as a Porsche in the United States. In these years before Cayennes and Panameras were considered normal, the idea of anything other than a rear engine coupe being branded by Stuttgart’s maker of sports machines was seen as a true travesty.
[Editor’s note: We at The Autopian think the Porsche 914 is perfect the way it is, but let’s see what Porsche could have done to please many of the early design critics. -DT].
This is a bit of shame, because in many ways the 914 is an outstanding design. It’s a paragon of space efficiency with sizable trunks front and rear combined with mid-engined handling.
This targa-topped car was not going to leak like a sieve as a contemporary British car might. In everything from build quality to the overengineered pop-up headlights, it put cars like the Fiat X 1/9 to shame. The Boxster and current 718 honestly owe much of their design layout to this Karmann-built forebearer. Like most cars on the Shit List, there’s plenty to love.
As much as I want to completely counter the haters, admittedly the 914 ain’t perfect. The VW Type 4 powerplant wasn’t particularly powerful even for the time, though it’s not like the direct competitors were drastically quicker (other than the vehicle that more or less put nails in the coffin of affordable British and Italian sports cars- the 240Z).
The biggest issue with the 914 really seems to be the styling, which was never universally praised and often disliked. Admittedly much of the public was never going to warm to a ‘Porsche’ that looked nothing like a 911, but it’s worse than that. There’s too many odd details that set your teeth on edge; even if it were considered a VW, it lacked the charm or cohesiveness of the Karmann Ghia. This was also from an era where many manufacturers (like Lotus) had yet to come to grips with styling a mid-engined car, and it shows.
What about an alternate reality where we can solve these issues? Correct the wrongs of half a century ago? Let’s take a look.
In retrospect, let’s say that Porsche just continued to make the 912; they’d put a VW 411 motor in back of the 911 and sell that as an entry level car. This seems like a sound idea since it’s something that Porsche actually did with the one-year-only 912E when the 914 was dumped in 1975 and the replacement car wasn’t ready yet (the 924, another Shit List car but one that is arguably more deserving of the status). I’ve never seen ones like below without the Fuchs ‘cookie cutter’ wheels:
In addition, the chunky bumpers and giant light clusters really did no favors to the last of the Karmann Ghias that VW kept selling through the early seventies, another case of modern fittings really dating a car.
The 914 could have been the replacement for this now long-in-the-tooth coupe, albeit now called something like the ‘Karmann GT’. It could no longer be a ‘Ghia’ since by that time the styling house responsible for the original design was a subsidiary of Ford.
Now that we’ve solved the naming issue, what about the styling? There were a number of show cars created that rebodied the 914. Guigiaro’s Tapiro looked exactly like what you would expect from him; an Esprit-like angular wedge that unfortunately appeared far too Italian exotic to ever be a German car.
The 914 Murene added a fastback and, from many angles, looked a bit more awkward than the original:
But why throw the existing car out? What if we just did some tweaking to the original car’s design? Surprisingly, a few relatively small changes seem to transform it tremendously.
One of the most objectionable elements of the 914 is that it’s one of the few cars I can think of with front tail fins, which I guess are now “front fins”? They stick out of the fenders and are finished off with turn signals that make them appear a bit like bunny ears. In addition, the 914 had wraparound taillights that incorporated side markers, but the lights up front did not, necessitating stuck-on round lamps that looked a bit like something you’d pay a dermatologist to cut from your face.
Next, this is the first (and hopefully last) Porsche with a vinyl roof like on a Chevy; the black material is stuck onto the side pillar to unsuccessfully try to hide it.
You can see on cars with the vinyl removed like below, it looks no better; the incongruent looking targa bar really stands out and appears to be something a giant hand could use to lift the vehicle. The rear deck also seems to be aircraft-carrier big from most angles.
Let’s bust out Photoshop and see what could be done differently on our now-Volkswagen coupe, the Karmann GT.
First, we will trim off the ‘bunny ears’ and smooth out the top of the nose. On the lower fascia, we’ll add turn signals to sort of match the wraparound taillights in back for a cohesive look (they’d include the side markers, of course). I know that the 5MPH bumper regulations would eventually require a black rubber replacement in the all-important US market. We’ll also modify the nose a bit more with a chrome bumper and ‘nostrils’ that are a bit of an abstract continuation of the ones on the Karmann Ghia predecessor.
You can see that the front end is almost like the original Ghia turned upside down:
In back, there’s a reason that mid-engined cars add “sail panels”; you need to visually connect the roof to the rear deck to prevent the whole thing from looking like a pickup truck (or breadvan in the case of the Lotus Europa). We’ll gently slope the sides down with a shape that complements the nose. The obtuse pillars can be softened by some glazing; we can add a window that sits off of the steel “roll hoop: (needed to support the targa top and actually act as protection for passengers if the shiny side ends up on the bottom). The window would visually fill the space and also add a subtle nod to the old Ghia.
Alternatively, we could cover the roll bar in louver-vents I’ve shown. In both cases, there would be slots or vents for engine air intakes which are lacking on the original car. If such air scoops were offered by JC Whitney for the 914 they’d claim it would add 20 horsepower. The top of the B pillar interfacing with the roof panel could use a bit more resolution but you get the idea.
That’s it. I’m rather shocked at the transformation; even with the wheels from the VW Group’s cheapest car, the whole thing takes on a more exotic sports car look while still keeping a Teutonic character.
Another change on the inside. With the flat interior floor, German designers decided to put this padded lump between the seats that I am assuming they figured zee kinder wouldn’t mind sitting on. As a GenXer, I was unfortunately one of those kinder; and we DID mind, thank you. The parents of one of my friends had a 914 and NONE of us wanted to sit on that fucking thing.
The 914 is only a few inches narrower than the Matra Bagheera which famously featured three real seats across (by the way, look at those window cranks!!).
Come on Volkswagen, if it’s meant to be a seat, make it a seat like in the image below right. Below on the right is the Karmann GT interior with the three-wide seating (but otherwise unchanged except for the Type 4 steering wheel). Oh, and the gear lever is pushed a bit to the left. Sure, a bit of a tight squeeze but beats riding on the trunk lid:
Porsche family member Ferdinard Piech apparently was lead on the 914 project. He had 13 kids, who I am assuming he was trying to constantly punish.
Would this otherwise unaltered car now be seen as a relative attractive and worthy successor to a lovely-looking-but-not-too-sporting Volkswagen instead of viewed as a rather awkward looking pretender with a Porsche badge?
I’d venture to say that it would at least get it off of the Shit List, where it really never belonged.
Our Daydreaming Designer Imagines Corvette Sedan And Wagon In 1978 – The Autopian
That Time Porsche Thought It Was Okay To Use Wheels From The Cheapest Car On The Market – The Autopian
A Daydreaming Designer Imagines An AMC Sports Car Based On The Look Of The Pacer – The Autopian
The Porsche 914’s Pop-Up Headlights Had A Grisly Secret – The Autopian
A Daydreaming Designer Looks At How Rebadging Might Have Saved Some Automotive Failures – The Autopian
Always thought it was a ugly, low-effort design. Your tweaks really up the game. It’s at least tolerable.
I’m sorry but the rear sail panels with glass just don’t work for me at all. I owned my 76 914 for decades and found the looks just fine, including the black sail panels that went with the black roof. A lot of people thought the black rubber bumpers were horrible but I thought adding that bit of length to the design worked….
On a practical not, being able to take the roof off and tuck it in the rear trunk was a terrific design and with the windows up made for a great open air driving experience. Mine had A/C, so if it was hot and muggy I could close it up in a moment and drive in cool quiet comfort.
The design is fine, just as it was built IMHO.
The vinyl roof always seemed out of place to me, I guess it was intended to make the pillar disappear, but it seems to have the opposite effect and call attention to it
Same thing happens a lot of times when automakers try to cheat the glasshouse by tacking shiny black plastic onto the pillars, all I see is a hunk of black plastic, whereas body colored sheet metal would just blend into the body
This restyling of the 914 has been addressed… In the late Eighties- early Nineties…
That kicks butt!
get your dirty little hands off my 914. It’s just perfect the way it is. Jerk…
The front and rear no longer match the middle now. I’d ditch the targa top (sorry, not sorry, targa fans) and give it an appealing angle.
The world needs more open top cars! My fleet is proudly 75% convertible.
I think the 914 suffers the same way that the Ferrari 308 GT4 suffered. They put a more wedge and angled design automobile in a lineup that previously and subsequently was identified as curvy.
Yeah. It was initially an “ugly Porsche” to me, but the funky angular styling has grown on me a lot over the years. It’s a lovable weirdo!
We had a 914 from 1975 to 2021.
Not sure that there’s really any room or reason for improvement with the design. An interesting thought exercise, and some nice details, but I think they had it right to begin with.
That being said, you definitely had the smallest kid sitting on top of the center storage box…
I wish we could post pictures, cause I photochopped my ideal 914 years ago, when I used to work on air cooled’s and, no offense, but it was much better resolved. mostly shaved/modernized it and added some aero. I also did the flying buttresses, but used the shape of the sail panel as the inspo for the side intakes and it really was quite a looker for an hour of my drunk ass time
gluttonforpiech- Bear in mind that this is not a ‘restomod’- I am looking at what they might have done differently if this were launched as a VW in 1969, so the ideas of aero and ‘modernization’ would not be factors. As a restomod I’d certainly do things differently.
Also, never throw out your drunk-assed sketches; you never know when you might want them again.