6. Losing the US-spec bumpers…
I still can't get over how much better the 914 handles now that it’s had the suspension upgraded with Bilsteins and ‘turbo’ tie-rods fitted – and benefitted from a full suspension alignment. And now the 195/65 Dunlops are residing on six-inch rims, as opposed to the former 5.5Js, the car feels much more stable – the rims were seemingly too narrow to carry that size of tyre without giving a sense of the car moving around as the sidewalls flexed. Maybe it was my imagination, but if so I don’t really care as I’m enjoying the drive far more now.
But what about those bumpers? And those ugly US-spec side-marker lights, which sprouted like carbuncles on the front wings? They all had to go. I began by scouring the Internet for some replacement Euro-style bumpers, soon coming to the conclusion that steel originals were either battered or expensive – or both. Those who know me will be aware that originality isn’t that high on my list of requirements, so I started to look out for some glassfibre replicas – not only would they be cheaper but there would be a massive weight advantage. Those US bumpers weigh a huge amount – something like 100lbs in total, weight which is carried where you least want it: at the very extremities of the vehicle.
I could only find one company – in Germany – which advertised glassfibre bumpers, along with a wide range of other 914 panels for road and race use. They weren’t cheap, though, at around £350 each, plus carriage. But a chance conversation with Angus Watts at Greatworth Classics, himself a 914 enthusiast and expert, elicited the news that he had a pair of glassfibre bumpers going spare which I could buy. A deal was done and I dropped by to collect them while ‘up country’ on a photoshoot.
We’re not quite sure of their origins, but they’re pretty good mouldings and more ‘street weight’ than race-oriented. Even so, they weigh in at around 70lbs less than the originals! Angus agreed to paint them for me, using a textured paint to replicate the rubber moulding, and a semi-matt black for the rest. They looked great!
As the plan was to tackle the bumpers and the side-marker lights at the same time, the car was booked in with Ben Lewis’s ‘Evil Ben’s’ workshop just outside Truro, Cornwall. Ben is a longtime friend and carried out quite a bit of work on my old ‘El Chucho’ project, as well as other cars of mine, and is also currently midway through a ‘resto mod’ build on a 356A coupé.
Removing the original bumpers was fairly straightforward, but I had learned from posts on the 914world.com forum that it’s wise to have a helping hand when removing the rear bumper as it’s very heavy. I, of course, ignored the advice and nearly did myself lasting damage when the bumper eventually freed itself of the mounts and crashed to the floor. When I say ‘crashed’, I mean it – the rubber rear bumper, complete with its hidden steel reinforcement, weighs over 50lbs…
Once the front bumper is removed, it’s necessary to trim back a small lip that runs across the front of the car to allow the replacement bumper to fit snugly. You also need to plate over the holes left by the removal of the two collapsible mounts used with US-spec bumpers. You can either weld a plate over each of the holes or, as we did, make a pair of plates that can be bolted in place. If you don’t, then water will be able to enter the front luggage compartment.
At the rear, there’s no need to cover these same holes as there is nothing behind the lower part of the rear panel other than fresh air. In fact, you don’t need to make any changes at the rear to accommodate the new bumper.
There was one stumbling block: it seems the 914 had suffered a minor knock in the front, possibly when it was rear-ended some years ago (paperwork with the car includes receipts for work on the rear bodywork, and a respray). I suspect as it was hit from behind, it got shunted into the car in front. The result of this impact was the front valance and slam panel had been moved back half an inch, or so. It wasn’t enough to stand out, but there was clearly some panel distortion in evidence. Ben used a Porta-Power to realign panels and all was once more right with the world.
Before attempting to fit the new bumper mouldings, Ben gave the panels behind them a coat of black stone-chip to add some protection. When it came to offering up the bumpers, the front one now fitted pretty well, but the rear proved to be slightly distorted (as is so often the way with glassfibre mouldings) and getting it aligned proved to be a real head scratcher. However, after some perseverance, we finally got the bumper mounted as best we could – it’s not perfect but it’s probably better than the majority of cars out there.
And, in case you’re wondering, we dispensed with the original numberplate lights in favour of a small LED unit designed for custom motorcycles – it’s brighter, lighter and less obtrusive. As for the number plates, I ordered a set of stick-on plates from I Say, Ding Dong (yes, you did read that right…) whose service is second to none. I ordered them on a Monday evening and they arrived in the post on Wednesday. Not bad, eh?
Removing the side-marker lights had been high on my list of priorities since I bought the car almost a year ago (is it really that long?). They do nothing for the aesthetics and have always looked to me like an ill-conceived afterthought. Which I guess they were. Removal is straightforward but they leave holes in the wing panel for which there is no alternative but to weld in a patch and blend in. My biggest fear was being able to match the 15-year old paint, but that was no problem for Ben Lewis’s team.
However, although the side markers had been dispensed with, Ben wasn’t happy with the paintwork in general and ‘mopped’ the car to bring out the shine. That worked a treat except that there was something not quite right with the bonnet, so he decided to repaint that in its entirety.
I have to say, the end result far exceeded my expectations as the Nepal Orange paint simply glows in the sunlight. With the new bumpers, no side markers, the Fuchs wheels and lowered suspension, the 914 looks better than I’d dared to imagine. But there’s more to come, as the plan is to fit yet another set of wheels (watch this space) and Vintage Speed Taiwan is making me a custom silencer which should quieten things down a little. The Dansk is just a bit too loud for my taste, and not in a good way.