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That Time Porsche Thought It Was Okay To Use Wheels From The Cheapest Car On The Market

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I know the Porsche 914 is often derided–I think unfairly–by Porsche purists as being somehow unworthy of the elevated status that comes with having that Porsche badge adhesive’d onto the body. But part of the blame for this is on Porsche itself, who, via a combination of penny-pinching and insecurity, cast the 914 in suspect light from the get-go. There’s really no better place to see this than on the wheels used on the 914, which came from what was literally one of the cheapest cars you could buy at the time.

Personally, I kind of love that Porsche did that. The wheels are, in a purely rational sense, just fine for the job. But, what makes this all so fascinating to me is just how deliriously unacceptable this would be today, which is sort of the theme of this occasional series we’re starting here, called Phoning It In.

Phoning It In will be about the amazing ways that carmakers have half-assed any number of things. We’ll be looking at stunning examples of not-give-a-shittery through modern eyes, and just revelling in the knowledge that, at one time, these sorts of things were thought to be acceptable.

It’ll be fun. You’ll see. (And if you have any examples, email them to me at jason@autopian.com).

Anyway, to really appreciate today’s phone-in job, we need to give a brief primer on the Porsche 914 and why it existed.

The 914 came about because of an interesting intersection between two sorta-related companies, Volkswagen and Porsche. VW was, of course, a mass-market, affordable car maker, and Porsche was a builder of exclusive, premium sports cars. But the circles in the Venn diagram of the two companies had a small bit of overlap, where VW had its premium, top-of-the-line sports car offering, and where Porsche had its entry-level, base car.

For VW the car was the Type 3 Ghia, and for Porsche the car was the 912. The 912 was a 911 with the smaller four-cylinder engine carried over from the 356 instead of the newer flat-six on the full 911, making it Porsche’s cheapest car.

The VW Type 3 Ghia, also called the Type 34 Ghia, used the midrange Type 3 platform and flat-four engine, but with a unique and handsome body designed by Italian styling/coachbuilding company Ghia, similar to how the Type 1 Karmann Ghia was a Beetle with a prettier outfit.

Both of these cars were on their way out; since VW had a contract with Porsche from way back to handle some engineering work, it made sense for both companies to develop one car that covered both niches: a top of the line halo car for VW and a cheap way to get into something from Stuttgart’s most legendary sportscar maker.

The result of this joint effort was the Porsche 914. In Europe, there was some interesting, arguably more honest, branding of the car as a VW-Porsche 914, but here in America, it was just sold as a Porsche — no brand qualifiers at all.

The basic 914 was developed by Porsche but used plenty of VW components, including some switchgear and, significantly, the new Type 4 engine — though there was a potent and uncommon Porsche variant with the 911’s flat-six, too.

Okay, so, by 1969 the 914 was released, and, at least in America, it was badged and sold as a Porsche. Here’s where we get to the part that I find fascinating, and, when viewed from the perspective of modern Porsche, baffling.

These were the base wheels the car came with:

An early yellow Porsche 914 with Beetle steel wheels

They’re not so bad, right? They’re clean, simple…maybe a little strangely simple. And kind of familiar.

Why so familiar?

They were familiar because they were the exact same wheels and hubcaps that Volkswagen had been using on Beetles—really, almost all its cars—since 1968, when this particular four-lug steel wheel with hubcap design was introduced.

They weren’t exactly the same, though. If you look closely, you can see one notable difference:

Beetle hubcaps with no emblem on the Porsche 914

(photo: californiaclassix.com)

Yes, no VW logo! Because, of course, this is a Porsch-uhhhh, not some common, cheap-ass VW! And, as a result of that Porsche decided to give the 914 a fitting wheel: one from one of the absolute cheapest cars you could buy on the US market, just, you know, with less work put into it.

It’s not so much the basic wheel design that amazes me, it’s the choices Porsche made with the hubcap. Would it have killed them to put the Porsche badge on there? Stamp it in, at least? Do, you know, anything?

The aftermarket has been making such hubcaps for years and years, so we know there’s no technical reason that somehow a Porsche badge couldn’t be put on these:

Hubcap

It’s possible, via some black magic known as “sticking it on there,” so I’m pretty sure Porsche could have figured it out, and I bet it wouldn’t even have jacked up the price that much.

There’s something about the obviousness of the borrowing and the incredibly brazen half-assed attempt to hide it by eliminating the stamped logo. It’s somehow worse without the logo, as it feels even more generic, like someone shot them with that advanced ray they use for insurance ads to de-identify a car.

In the 914’s first year, 1969, the car cost $3,595 for the base model. A 1969 Beetle only cost $1,799. Literally half the cost of the car, and they came with visually the same wheels. Maybe no one cared back then? I can find effectively no period-era criticisms directly about this, but today, even for an entry-level Porsche, this would be absolutely impossible to imagine.

Just think if the base model Boxster came with the same wheels used by the Mitsubishi Mirage, but it was okay because Porsche had them leave the Mitsubishi logo off when they ordered them. See? It’s fine!

Nobody would be okay with that today.

Porsche later used VW’s sportier steel wheels from 1974 to 1976, and these were still ones used on cheap Beetles, but they did look a bit slicker:Yes, those are still Beetle wheels on the later Porsche 914

 

Of course, there were many, many other wheel options for 914s, so if you wanted to spend a little extra and be a big shot, you could have a Porsche without four very obvious parts from the world’s most famous economy car.

If I had a 914, I would absolutely want the generificated-Beetle hubcap wheels. Because it’s an artifact of a time that will absolutely never come again, and this kind of forgotten half-assery needs to be cherished.

 

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48 Responses

  1. You could do one of these on the interior door latches of the Citroën Dyane. It was supposed to be an upmarket 2CV, so it had more black plastic on the inside of the doors, but to open the doors you had to put your fingers into a rough cut-out in that plastic and find a steel rod, connected to the door latches. They were all pointing downward, so you could never see what was going on in there. Really felt nasty.

    Oh and the Dyane also had a mild facelift, by mounting the door handles upside down at some time! So that’s actually 2 phone-ins on one car!
    It also had a clever way of forcing some of the air from the air cooling fan into the carburetor, a sort of mild compressor, so it had a few more horsepower than the stock 2CV.

    There’s always a lot of not thought through laissez-faire solutions on old Citroëns. On my DS, two of the most fun are the rubber plugged hole in the rain gutter below the windscreen to acces spark plug number four (so you hit the windscreen with your spanner almost every time), and the fact that the high pressure expansion hose (of course it has no tank..) ends right above the right front disc brake. So if you were in the mountains and it cooked over, you were blessed with also suddenly having a lot less braking…

  2. Not exactly phoning it in category but one of the first things I noticed on my 2006 Lotus Elise was a huge rear view mirror that upon examination showed a GM part number on the back. I’m sure it was a cost savings move for little Lotus. Sure enough a smaller aftermarket mirror was available with the boast that it saved about 80 grams over the OE mirror.

  3. They did the same thing with the 944 (and I would expect the 924). My Dad had an ’84 944, and he scavenged parts from his dead VW Scirocco for the Porsche. The engine and drivetrain were different (because the VW was front-wheel-drive) but a lot of other parts came from the communal parts bin.

    1. Nothing that stands out visually like wheels but when I bought a trailer hitch for my Macan, it’s literally a hitch for an SQ5/Macan. Wheel bolt pattern on the Macan is unlike any other Porsche wheel…cuz it’s VW/Audi.

      I love 914s. Especially vintage race car 914s.

  4. Definately something they would not do today, the Cayenne shopper looking for a rugged SUV that can handle driving over the dead leaves in their driveway would notice the cheap wheels right away and run away like it was a house on House Hunters without granite countertops

  5. I always figured nobody cared because thats just how things were back then. Take the Chevy Rally Wheel for example. Basic steel wheel with a hubcap and beauty ring, available on damn near every model they had all the way up to the Corvette.

  6. I always thought that there’s GOTTA be some connection between the two. I didn’t know SHIT about the 914/6 or the comparable VW. But the wheels… totally worked.

    Its kind of like…
    WE as humans accept these two cars with familiar wheels… because we believe these two cars are MORE than JUST “familiar” with each other.

  7. This is on a level with the Aston Martin keyfobs that if you took off the outer cover, were Volvo keyfobs, during Ford’s ownership of both. I also had a neighbor that had a Cadillac Escalade, and the rear bumper cover got torn and you could see the Chevy Tahoe labelling underneath. Badge engineering is its own universe of phoning it in, but it seems like the little things like turn signals often are where car companies think they can get away with it with parts bin sharing, but they really can’t. Steering wheels are the worst, it’s right there in front of you, and Aston also used the same airbag steering wheel on its six figure Virage in the early 1990s that could be found on a Mustang, Taurus, or Mercury Capri. You couldn’t fail to notice this if you’d been in one of the lesser cars; maybe Ford beancounters figured the prospective purchaser of an Aston would never rent a car with the same steering wheel as the exotic they were trying to sell them. But there is a long tradition, take a look at the taillights on a Ferrari 275 GTB, now worth millions and in its day worth ten times what the Fiat was that they were also found on. But it’s probably one of the few parts on it that the average person might be able to afford, or point proudly to on his little econobox as being shared with the great marque.

    Side note re the Uma Thurman lookalike sitting weirdly in the passenger seat in one pic: I think we need an article with examples of “models posing in unlikely positions with cars.” Often as car people we’re thinking “you’ll scratch / dent that!” but I also wonder what the photographers / media design people had in mind, and how they thought it made the car more attractive rather than raising the “why on earth would you sit in or on a car like that?” questions.

  8. I like the base look. It was called a VolksPorsche in Europe anyway.

    Why upgrade.?..Reminds me of the Dino 246 which was badged as a Dino, NOT a Ferrari. Yet most of them today have retrofitted Ferrari badges.

    Sad.

  9. Not sure it counts as half assed, more a clever design touch when making a variation of a cheap car.
    The Ford SportKa and StreetKa had a front bumper that covered part of the standard Ka headlamp giving a more aggressive shape.

  10. Dear Jason.
    Having read your articles for more than a decade (which is equal to 137 internet years) I am so glad to see this site up and running.
    The last half of this decade has been the most unstable period in my personal life, deaths, divorce, restructured work life, all just happening without me having a say. As an adult, I am aware that “that’s life”, but sometimes, what pulls you through is to spend some time dwelling on the more stable things in life, and your writing falls into this category.
    I do not have to agree or disagree with your findings to make them well worth a read, but one thing that I am so far really happy to see, is the lack of what I consider to be structured Elon bashing.

    This leads me to one question that you may not be willing or perhaps legally allowed to talk about:
    Is there a quota for negative Elon articles on the old Gawker sites?
    One wink for no, two for yes.

  11. As a kid, Porche’s use of these hubcaps confused me. I mean, really badly. To the point that I drew the (incorrect?) conclusion that this model was actually a VW. I blame most of my adult psychological dysfunctions on Porche’s decision.

  12. Wow, somehow I’ve never clued in where those 914 wheels came from, but I did always like the Beetle rims on the 914! Simple yes, but I think they look pretty smart on the car! I am really surprised I never picked up on their origins…

    You could do another series as well on small, but super simple but clever engineering as well…?

    One of my favorite examples of that is the FIAT 126p and FIAT 500 – they, of course, have rear-mounted, air-cooled 2-cylinder engines. Air-cooled means that air heated by the exhaust is used to heat the interior cabin (just like your beloved Beetles!). The clever thing to me, is that there are two bolts on the engine that secure the cooling fan assembly to the engine crankcase. Those two bolts are hollow….a hole passes through their entire length. Most people would think…..why? And, sometimes, mechanics who didn’t know better would replace them with normal non-hollow bolts of the same thread without thinking….but this is a bad idea, because these two simple, clever hollow bolts are a very important safety system! 🙂

    If a cylinder head gasket blew, carbon monoxide could get into the car through the heating system, incapacitating the occupants and potentially causing a fatal accident – on the cylinder barrels, there was a groove that led from near the gasket seat to and THROUGH these bolts. If you heard exhaust noise coming from through the bolts, or could feel exhaust coming out of them, you knew a headgasket was gone and you should fix it immediately to prevent potential carbon monoxide poisoning!

    So….they were like tiny emergency safety exhaust pipes! 🙂

    1. Can confirm. My dad had a beetle with the 3spd semi auto, that pulled this exact trick on the regular. Also, the exhaust would fall off every 10 miles or so, which caused much swearing and burned fingers for pops. Good times.

  13. Fifty years ago — sheesh — the high performance “racing” wheels for my 1969 Jaguar XK-E (4.2 fixed head) were steel disk wheels that looked like they belonged on a Chevy pick-up. They were knock-offs, however. Wires for show, steelies for go.

  14. Is Jason old enough to remember when painted wheels with hub caps were a standard on “sporty cars”. With the step up being the classic chrome reversed wheels with baby moons……. Makes sense to me for the 914…. Me thunks better looking than the styled steel wheels of later years….

    The whole car has shared parts. I don’t recall the wheels being the biggest issue die hard Porsche fans had with the 914. But even the 4 cyl 914 was not inexpensive in the day….

  15. Having had a chance to drive a well maintained and sorted 914, I think I’m on the side of, it just doesn’t matter. These are a fun ride, no matter what the badge. They were pretty unfairly maligned, but now, alas, most are rotted out and it’s hard to find a good original unit to prove it.

    You have to keep in mind, Porsche was targeting the Aston/Ferrari etc. sports/GT world with the 911. The 914 was a shot at attainable sports cars like MG and Triumph. In that regard, it was a potent competitor.

    Besides, don’t start off your new venture slagging dog dish steelies!!! Just don’t.

  16. I’ve recently been looking for a cheaper but not rotted out 914. I think it’s an awesome candidate to electrify. There’s plenty of room for batteries, and no pretense for ‘storage space’ or back seats that any of the so called utility would be lost. It’d simply be a small roadster that hauls ass.

  17. Hey Torch, there’s a weird glitch in the article about the Suzuki Kei van/truck that was badged as both a Chevy and a Ford. Whenever I click on the article, I am automatically logged out and am unable to comment; strangely, it seems this is only happening on that specific article. If you could find a fix for that, that would be fantastic.

      1. This happens when you want to comment on an article and haven’t been logged in yet. After log-on, the page where you clicked ‘Reply’ is going to be the cached version, saved before you were logged in.
        If you force-reload the page after log-in, you will be able to comment.

  18. I’m all for mixing and matching parts from cheaper cars into more expensive ones. Does the part work well for its intended function? Then use it! Part of my gripe with the current new car offerings is nearly everything is oversized, overweight, and feature-laden to force upsell components on any prospective buyers, and very few parts are interchangeable between cars, with someone needing to make repairs often forced to get them through the dealership at grossly inflated prices.

    I’d have loved to have been in existence back in the era of the Beetle, Ghia, 912, and 914. There was so much potential for hot rodding by mixing and matching parts. A Karmann Ghia with a 911 engine and an added turbocharger sure would have been fun! Or perhaps a DIY 914/6 by swapping in a Porsche 6-cylinder engine. And for the time, the three all had exceptionally low drag coefficients compared to anything else on the market, and their drag coefficient values still hold up well to some of today’s offerings(and when you consider frontal area, are more slippery than most of today’s offerings, and coupled with low mass, make more energy-efficient platforms on the whole). It is not without reason that all three models were sought after 20-30+ years ago for electric vehicle conversions. Unfortunately today, those three cars are getting far too rare and expensive to butcher up.

    At least VW Beetles are still available at a relatively affordable cost. A friend and I are contemplating the possibility of custom-designing/building a streamliner on a VW Beetle pan. Those cars did enough things right and had such a varied aftermarket that you can build all kinds of functional and strange creations off of them. Modern cars that allow that kind of customization are next to non-existant, outside of the kit car market.

      1. I love your work. Your Jason Drives segments on Jalopnik were the highlight of my experience there. Check your email. I sent you info about a custom electric jalopy tricycle-car thing that I built and use as a daily that gets the equivalent of about 4,000 mpg(I get 130 miles per kWh on a good day), and I think it would be up your alley considering all the strange shit you’ve driven. It also does donuts, tops out around 50 mph using the electric motor, and I can turn the motor off completely and still reach 35 mph on flat ground pedaling it. Best of all, it’s a complete death trap of a machine. She’s got over 60k miles on her so far and has saved me lots of money.

  19. Love the new site!

    This is getting deep in the weeds, but technically there is another difference between the Beetle and 914 wheels. The 4.5 inch wide standard Beetle wheels have an offset of +34mm while the 914 has +41mm. The ET41 offset wheels would go on to be used for the Super Beetle. So to be completely pedantic, the Super Beetle has Porsche wheels, haha.

    Only know this after many hours of searching for wider wheels that will properly fit my 71 VW Fastback. Still trying to find a decent set of the mythical 5.5Jx15 ET40 Porsche 914 stock steelies that don’t cost an arm and a leg!

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