1. Buying the car blind. How not to buy a 914
My main area of interest is the world of classic Porsches – cars which don’t come with every mod-con, which do occasionally break down, aren’t necessarily the quickest things on four wheels and yet leave you feeling all snugly inside after a long journey. It was obvious that nothing was going to change the character of the 2014 981 Cayman which I owned so the decision was made to sell it, and the hunt was on for a suitable replacement. But what?
Classic Porsche values have continued to rise, meaning that a pre-’74 911 was out of the question, and even early impact bumper cars were out of reach. Various people suggested things like 924 Turbos, 944s or 968s, but they didn’t float my boat, I’m afraid. But what about a 914? My very first Porsche was a blue 914/6 (see below), purchased for a shade over £5000 in Paris and driven all over the place for several years before being sold in 2003. I loved that car but it was in need of restoration, which I couldn’t afford to have done. But it left its mark on my affections. Of course, these days 914/6s are almost as expensive to buy as some 911s, and hence out of my budget. But the four-cylinder ‘teener’ is still relatively affordable, even if the values are starting to climb at last.
I say ‘at last’ because for many years the 914 was the red-headed stepchild, misunderstood and undervalued, with perfectly usable examples being available for not much over £5000 – maybe less if you were lucky. Now they’re on the way up, with averagely-good examples fetching £15,000, and top-end examples nudging £30K or more. 2019 being the 50th anniversary year has certainly helped give them a boost. But where to find one? The obvious place to look is the USA where 914s are still plentiful and, if the stories are to be believed, they’re all rust-free. Which, of course, they’re not!
The 914 has a reputation for rust which, sadly, is wholly justified. The Targa-style lift-out roof panel leaks, the rear window leaks, the floors rust, the rear quarter panels rust, the boot floor rusts… Well, you get the idea. But worst of all is the ‘hell hole’. That’s the area below the battery tray where a mix of rain and battery acid gathers, silently munching its way through the metalwork directly above the right-side suspension pick-up point. Repairing this damage is expensive and bad rot here has lead to the premature demise of many a 914. Finding a car without rust is not easy, and getting harder by the year. However, at least there is more awareness of the problem these days, and more people who are prepared to sort out problems rather than scrapping an otherwise good car.
Anyway, back to the plot… The inevitable eBay searches showed one possible car, a late 2.0-litre in green in North Carolina, which looked very good indeed, with fantastic history and loads of photos showing every minute detail. At around $24,000 it was more than I’d hope to pay, but I kept it in mind. Next up was www.914world.com, the premier website for all things 914-related. And there she was: a 1975 1.8 in Nepal Orange, with a freshly-built 2056cc engine on Webers. Plenty of detailed photos and a price tag of $19,000 or offers. Located in South Carolina (I didn’t even know where North or South Carolina were until these two cars showed up!), it was worth investigating as it looked good in the several photos accompanying the advert.
I fired off an e-mail or two, got quick replies from Don the owner (above), who also went out of his way to supply me with some extra photos taken at my request. We agreed a price, I sent a deposit and set the shipping in motion. The useful thing was that the car was located in Charleston, South Carolina, and it so happened that Kingstown Shipping could ship the car in a container out of…Charleston, South Carolina! That saved nearly £400-worth of transport fees compared to if I had bought the car from North Carolina. Among the photos Don sent me was one of a pile of paperwork relating to past work carried out. On the top sheet was a name and address of a previous owner, whom I managed to track down on the ’net fairly easily as he had an unusual surname and his wife is a sculptor with her own website.
An exchange of e-mails elicited more photographs and some more history, including that it was purchased new at Scala-O’Brien Porsche Audi in Chicago, Illinois, on 7th July 1975, and delivered to its first owner on 16th July. Apparently, it was resprayed in its original colour a number of years ago by a leading specialist, who also treated any surface rust in the hell hole area. The last owner had the engine rebuilt using a forged counterweighted crank, AA H-beam rods with ARP bolts, aluminium-finned cylinders and JE forged pistons. A WebCam camshaft and lifters, and dual Webers promised to give the 914 ‘go’ to match my old 914/6 with its original 110bhp factory 2.0-litre six. I managed to track down the engine builder, too, finding out a little more about the car and its condition. I planned to convert it to five-lug, so I could run Fuchs wheels and maybe one day it’ll get wide GT arches, but it’s too early to say. Sorry Cayman owners, the 981 really was a fabulous car, but it seems I prefer my mid-engined Porsches a little older…