24 June 2016

The Porsche 914, in short supply but not yet treasured

Porsche built some 119,000 of its mid-engine 914 models in 1970-76. Yet, for a model produced in abundance, they are surprisingly rare on the market.

The 914s were inexpensive to begin with, and they became steadily less expensive as they aged, hovering outside the mainstream of Porsche 911 enthusiasm. Still, despite the inevitable toll that being cheap takes on care and maintenance, diminishing supply hardly accounts for the 914s rarity, both four-cylinder and six, in the collector car market.

Maybe it has something to do with how much fun they are to drive or how easy they are to own and maintain.

Regardless, the auction market doesn’t see many Porsche 914s. In spite of their relative scarcity, 914/6 models appear in disproportionate numbers to their production. Since the beginning of 2015 we’ve seen just four 914s, a stark contrast with the five Carrera GTs, cross auction blocks in the same period. That’s how rare a 914 at auction is.

A measure of the 914’s unusual place in the pantheon of collector cars is that there was one in RM’s auction of the Bruce Weiner microcar collection in 2013. Is a 914 (a 1976 2.0 in this case) a microcar? Not by any measure. However, it’s an indicator of its appeal that it could be shoehorned into the Weiner collection’s definition of small, intriguing and innovative cars. Its price, $25,875, also represented a high point in four-cylinder 914 values.

Nevertheless, it is possible to go wrong. Bonhams sold a ’70 914 at Scottsdale, Ariz., in January of this year for $16,500. It wasn’t very good. A repaint left overspray in the wheel wells and on the suspension, and the vinyl covering on the roof panel was cracked; the original interior, however, was sound and just lightly worn.

Two months later it turned up to a much less appreciative and smaller audience at Motostalgia’s auction at Amelia Island, Fla., where it sold for a deserved $9,900. Just seven miles had been added to its odometer – and nothing to its seller’s ownership experience except the lesson that you can, in fact, lose money.

The hot 914/6 models rarely appear at auction, or anywhere else for that matter. Their owners seem to be comfortably satisfied with the cars’ rarity and performance – and the trendsetting nature of their layout and powertrain.

Auctions America set a modest recent benchmark for 914/6s at Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in April with a restored-better-than-new 1972 2.0 liter example at a price of $70,400. It was impossible to argue with its presentation or the freshness of its restoration. It also was impossible to argue with the result, a sound transaction for both buyer and seller.

In sharp contrast, Mecum offered a 914 upgraded to 2.2-liter six-cylinder power with 40mm Weber carburetors, Recaro seats, fender flares, Momo steering wheel and five-lug Fuchs alloy wheels at Houston in April. The trouble was that it wasn’t what it wanted to be – a 914/6. The bidders quit at $39,000, a telling contrast not only between real and make-believe 914/6s, but also the perils of spending vast amounts of money to make a 914 into a 914/6.

The 914 is, despite its Volkswagen origins and Karmann build location, a landmark in Porsche history. It foreshadows the immensely popular, affordable and fun-to-drive Boxster and Cayman by close to half a century. A good four-cylinder 914 is, far and away, the most satisfying, modestly priced Porsche available. It is a true Porsche, developed under Ferdinand Piëch’s project leadership, and a milestone of the marque’s evolution.

Those are attributes not to be taken lightly, especially at $10,000 to $15,000.

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