"This is a pure driver's car."
Long before the 718 Boxster and Cayman hit the scene, Porsche had smaller, more affordable sports car offerings in its range. In the '80s and '90s, they were the 924, 944, and 968 ranges. Before that, however, the German firm worked with now-parent company Volkswagen to create the 914.
While lesser models were powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, a handful left the factory with six-cylinder engines. These models, known as the 914/6 GT and 914/6 R models, were designed from the outset to be racing cars. Now, they're exceedingly rare and command big money when they come up for auction.
Renowned car enthusiast Jay Leno recently featured the former on his YouTube channel and was impressed by this little German sports car. Joined by none other than race car driver Randy Pobst, Leno pores over the various eccentricities of a Porsche he describes as "one of the least understood [and most under-appreciated] cars that you could possibly buy."
The GT model, despite its advanced age, is still a hoot to drive, explained Pobst. The legendary wheelman notes he recently had the opportunity to experience it on the track, and it didn't disappoint.
"This car, through the Corkscrew ... it's amazingly good." So good, in fact, that Pobst had no problem keeping up with (and beating) a far more powerful GT2 RS around the famed circuit. "That's a 700 horsepower car," quipped the seasoned driver. For years, the 914 was never on the radar of Porsche enthusiasts and was often shunned in favor of more desirable 911 models.
"But this one is the 914/6 GT, which is a very different car [compared to lesser 914 models]. Factory-built as a race car, and this is the very first customer car built." Just 16 examples were ever made. Both agree that the quirky roadster is a precursor to the Boxster and was designed to be more affordable - that's why the base model came equipped with a VW-sourced powerplant.
The pair discuss whether this lack of initial popularity may have to do with the styling. Instead of mirroring the 911's iconic profile, Porsche came up with something rather unique - it didn't look like other entry-level sports cars of the time, either. But that's what gives the 914 its charm. "I have a theory," said Pobst. "It's angular. Sports cars, especially in the sixties and early seventies always had a pointy nose."
Leno notes it also doesn't have the sensual, flowing lines of cars like the Jaguar XKE or the Austin Healey. "It was ahead of its time," adds Leno. "People weren't ready for the shock of a new [design]." But in true German fashion, form follows function. Pobst knowingly points out that the shape was likely dictated by the mid-engined layout.
It's interesting to note that compact mid-engined vehicles that followed the 914 (think first-gen MR2, Fiat X1/9) retained the blunt, squared-off styling.
What sets the 914/6 apart from lesser models is its six-cylinder engine. there's 220 hp under the hood of this German rarity. "This was a full-on race engine in this model. It's the same one that was in the Porsche 906," remarked Pobst. By modern standards, it's not particularly powerful, but it didn't need to be thanks to a featherweight mass of 1,940 lbs.
This pays dividends on the road, where the four-wheel disc brakes and five-speed manual transmission come into play. Capable of revving up to 8,000 rpm, Leno grabs the 914/6 by the scruff of its neck and hits the canyon roads. Accompanied by a glorious wail, the little Porsche flies through corners with verve.
Pobst takes the wheel and gives Leno a thrilling ride. "This is a pure driver's car. No ABS, no power steering, no nannies. It is all you. I'm driving and that's what I want," he notes. As Porsche plans to introduce an all-electric Boxster in the coming years, we hope the company can capture some of the magic seen here.