Before the #Boxster
made its first mid-engine road car almost 30 years earlier. But is the underrated #914
a good alternative to its modern successor – or a #VW
GIANT COMPARE BOXSTER VS. 914
Can a classic be too successful for its own good and put the company that made it in jeopardy? Take the #911
as a classic case. Over the decades Porsche has produced equally worthy sports cars and GTs – some to replace the #Porsche-911
– but it all usually ends in failure simply because ‘it’s not a 911’ or ‘it’s not a real Porsche’ in the eyes of enthusiasts. The #Porsche-914
and the Boxster were not intended as replacements for this classic icon but instead viable, cheaper alternatives – and they still are. Okay with almost 30 years between them, nobody will deny that the Boxster is the better car – but would a 914 suit you better?
WHICH ONE TO BUY?
ONLY ONE IS A REAL PORSCHE
Strictly two seats, engine mounted ahead of the rear axle in the best possible place for optimum handling and balance, plus a reasonable amount of luggage space in the nose and the tail. Could be either the 914 of 1970 or the current #Porsche-Boxster
, but there’s one big difference – production 914 never carried the Stuttgart badge between its headlights! It’s been a cause for contention ever since. Was it a #Volkswagen
, or was it a Porsche? In the USA it was the Porsche 914, marketed by the newly formed Porsche-Audi division. In Europe it was a #VW-Porsche-914/4
sold through another created joint venture, #VW-Porsche
That Porsche badge appeared nowhere on any production car anywhere. On cars sold in the USA the lettering ‘PORSCHE’ was fixed on the engine grille immediately behind the rear window, and the hubcaps of steel wheel cars were blank; in Europe the grille was unadorned, but both the hub caps and the steering wheel boss carried the VW motif. In England there was an extra complication: the four-cylinder car was marketed as the #Porsche-914S
Because it never initially relied upon proper Porsche power, the 914 was always stigmatised and it was a lesson the company failed to learn when it launched the sports car’s replacement, the #Porsche-924
. Porker power did arrive, albeit late in the day and its 911-like prices resulted in few sales. That said, the improved 2-litre VW variant but breathed on by Porsche of the early 1970s isn’t a bad all rounder and carried the hallowed SC badge, which was unique to the UK market.
The 1.7-litre version was boosted to 1800cc with fuel injection in #1974
. Most UK cars will be US imports, mainly from California, where the bulk of the originals were sold.
When launched, the Boxster (the name is derived from the word “boxer”, referring to the car’s horizontally-opposed engine configuration) made the likes of a #TVR
and Lotus redundant overnight. Here was a (relatively) affordable sports car that was part 911 (996) and some say had the feel and character of an old 911 combined with typical Porsche use-ability and reliability. Still in production after almost 20 years, successive updates have seen larger more powerful engines and better trim; it’s really a case of how much you have to spend. The second generation surfaced in #2005
) and the engine power was upped to match the newly launched Cayman. After another power hike in #2009
the third generation Boxster was introduced in #2012
Majoring on the original Boxster #Porsche-986
for this twin test, a choice of 2.5, 2.7 and 3.2-litre engines were offered yielding 201bhp-250bhp with a choice of manual or Porsche’s famed #Tiptronic
semi automatic transmissions. Sitting behind the wheel of any Boxster you could be forgiven in thinking that you’re in a #996
(911) as the interior is virtually identical!
WHAT’S THE BEST TO DRIVE?
PAUL DAVIES COMPARES THE TWO
So, how do these mid-engine sportsters four decades apart drive? I well remember the 914S press test car of #1970
. Despite the meagre 80bhp (72bhp on the US version strangled by emission regulations) of the VW engine, but perhaps because of the primarily 911 running gear, it was a ‘nice’ car, mainly because that engine location meant the level of grip, despite skinny tyres, exceeded the power potential. You could not imagine getting into trouble in a 914 – unlike the mid-engine Twin-Cam #Lotus #Europa
of the same period where power far exceeded grip!
At the time I remarked, “the handling is superior to any car I have ever driven but, for the price, the performance is disappointing”. Back then the 914S cost a whopping £2260, compared with just £1015 for that #Lotus-Europa
and £2502 for a #Jaguar
Further memories of the 914 revolve around a rather rubbery gear-change (most likely because of the length of the linkage) the hefty pressure on the brake and clutch pedals (non-servo brakes, cable clutch) and the need to keep swapping cogs to maintain good speed. Back then I remarked that, with the limited power available, a four-speed gearbox would have been as good as a five. Oh yes, the heating system was the somewhat vague, and often smelly, blown air type that was also used on the 911 of that period.
Finally, the 914 was only available in the UK in left hand-drive – although bodybuilder Crayford offered an expensive conversion and few were made – and, because of the almost bench seat layout, the handbrake was squashed between seat and door. But there was, briefly, a #Porsche-914/6
. Some 65,000 four-cylinder cars were manufactured against 3300 sixes, and few of these made it to the UK. With the 110bhp (911T) engine, the 914/6 was a darned-sight faster than the 914/4. Even better was the 210bhp #Porsche-911-Carrera-2.7RS
engine, Gantspeed, version I drove not too long ago. Which brings us to the Boxster.
Here we have a minimum of 204bhp (2.5-litre) to play with, and handling that surpasses almost anything else – apart from the later Porsche Cayman, which is – basically – a coupé version of the Boxster. Unlike the #Porsche-914/4
(or the 914/6) the Boxster is as quick and easy to drive on the road today at ‘real world’ prices. Like any modern Porsche, everything works just as it should.
Unsurprisingly – because of the 40-odd years between them – the Boxster does just about everything better than a 914. It’s more comfortable, quieter, and extremely well equipped, even more so if the model you find has a handful of the many options Porsche offers. It’s also a true convertible (not a clumsy Targa top) which has the added luxury of electric hood operation.
It should be easier to buy a Boxster than a 914 because there are so many more around. But care is needed, particularly because the cheapest may have been neglected and there’s always that recurring cracked block problem of the earlier Porsche water-cooled engines. Don’t fool yourself; running costs will be high if you want to keep the car in top order.
Snags like this apart, the Boxster is now a sports car bargain and you’ll love every minute. My advice is don’t necessarily go for a bigger engine or S models, the 2.5 and 2.7-litre cars offer oodles of performance, and smaller diameter wheels with (relatively) high profile tyres give a better all-round ride than 19in rims on ultra-low profiles. Also don’t dismiss Tiptronic because it’s automatic – Porsche was well ahead of the game with the latest transmissions, and this one is very slick with steering wheel buttons.
After Bjorn Waldegard’s wins on the Monte Carlo in both #1969
and 1970 in the 911S, the idea of a hat trick on the world’s most famous rally must have been appealing, and Porsche’s #Weissach
competitions department was convinced the mid-engine 914/6 was the one for the job.
Alas, the car was not easy to handle on snow and ice of the #1971
Monte. The best the big Swede, and his equally large co-driver Hans Thorszelius, could manage was third, behind a pair of (rear engine) Alpines. A few years ago Bjorn told me why he considered the rear-engined 911 a superior rally car: “The engineers at Porsche thought this was the ultimate car because it had near 50-50 per cent weight balance, front and rear.
“I believed them, until I drove it. They were wrong; it was impossible to drive, so nervous. With the 911 you knew when the back end was going in a nice slide and you could control it. The 914 was very unpredictable,” he said.
OWNING AND RUNNING
BOXING CLEVER? NOT QUITE…
According to Kevin Clark, registrar of the 914 at the Porsche Club GB (01608 652911; [email protected]
porscheclubgb. com), there’s around 175-200 cars in the UK, but not all are on the road. He admits it’s true that up until a few years ago, the general standard was at best average but this is quickly changing and there are now an increasing number of well kept examples.
Spares are in the main not a problem and he cites reproduction panels from Canadian company, Restoration Designs, as being very good indeed.
Prices for decent 914s start from £10,000 for a 1.7 version and between £12-16K for a 2.0, with the 1.8 somewhere in between, which is about half what a rare 914/6 would make if you can find one. It’s generally accepted that the 2-litre (SC) is the best all rounder, but as Kevin rightly points out due to their sheer rarity, it’s best to buy on condition rather than spec, be it a 1.7 or 1.8. On the other hand a truly top 914-6 can sell of well over £25,000 with ease, so 914 values are on the rise as a whole.
In contrast there’s no shortage of Boxsters around and they can be picked up very cheaply too, from £3000 or less. However, that may well prove to be a false economy as certain repairs – especially to the Tiptronic transmission – can almost exceed the value of some models.
It’s far better to buy the best you can and set a budget of around £6500-£9000 at least (depending upon model) for a good car. Support from specialists is very good which is just as well as the Boxster is hardly a DIY proposition even to diehard enthusiasts. It’s not simply because it’s a complex modern design but also the fact that the mid-mounted engine is well and truly tucked away out of sight.
The 914 is still popular in the US so tuning options are plentiful – including fitting small V8s or Scooby Do ( #Subaru
) engines! The front suspension is early 911 while Porsche brakes can also be fitted. Same again for the VW brakes, which can be substituted for 911 anchors. Even if you like your 914 stock, fitting the later Porsche transaxle from a 930 improves the gearbox no end. There’s no shortage of tuning and custom bits for the Boxster.
“The real appeal of the Boxster to classic fans is the fact they feel a bit like an old school 911!”
AND THE WINNER IS…
You tell us! The 914, despite its faults when new, was a bold, brave attempt to make a 911 alternative that some say is the more purist in terms of design plus boasts better handing. What scuppered the car when contemporary was its price that was too near the 911 to entice buyers. Today they make an interesting and cheaper substitute although, according to experts we spoke to, most are in a shabby state. The Boxster was the nail in the coffin for many traditional specialist makes, such as TVR, because it offered affordable Porsche ownership that two decades on is even more appealing as a used car/modern classic buy. Given the fact that they drive pretty much like older 911s used to feel what more can you ask for?
Boxster looks best hood down. A hard top is available but pricey.
911-like cabin is part of the Boxster’s charm.
Access is bad but performance isn’t – even ‘slow’ 2.5 model!
As modern classics go, the Boxster is one of the best and fi ne value.
Square looks have aged well and the 914 looks pretty good to us.
If anything, the cabin was better designed than a 911. Most LHD.
VW 412 power meant the 914 was sluggish for a serious sportster.
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
Experts on 914s are thin on the ground yet in Essex two were just miles from each other! PR Services (www.prs356. com) ‘dumped’ the car because there was no money in looking after them. Mike and Paul Smith reckon the biggest problem are owners who won’t shell out for preventative maintenance and as a result end up with bills of £2500 just to prep the car for the MoT plus a service, adding that about 80 per cent of cars out there are pretty ropey. Sad because Paul is a big fan of the 914. Dave Dennett of DSD Motorwerks (07002 911356) broadly agrees and says it’s the cost of shipping etc which really bumps up prices to 911 levels and apart from the 914/6 (of which DSD is making a racing replica for a Belgium enthusiast), their values don’t encourage owners to spend serious money. But given the choice, Dave says he’d always take a 914 over a similar value Boxster because of its exceptional handling that surpassed a 911.