A clean Porsche 914/6 is getting to be a rare car. From 1969 to 1972 Porsche only produced around 3,300 of them, and actually it was Karmann that built a good deal of the car before Porsche fitted their 2.0-liter flat-six from the 1969 911T. The VW connection to the car, interestingly enough for the mass-producer, is why the 914/6 was such a low-volume seller.
During its development, the Chairman of VW died and the new boss changed the deal on Porsche. The cost of the development, which VW had paid for, was then passed onto Porsche, which drove up the cost of the 914. This meant the 914/6 was very closely priced to the entry 911T, which crippled the sales of the six-cylinder model and as such, they ended production of the 914/6 early in 1972, while the four-cylinder sold very well indeed, and soldiered on ’til 1976 with over 115,000 standard 914s produced. Finding an original 914/6 now is no easy task, especially since they tended to rust.
This silver 1970 Porsche 914/6 led a hard life, and is no preservation princess. The original owner used it as a club-level race car, and being run at the limit on track took a toll on the car. In fact, at some point the original motor experienced a major blow from a mis-shift and was ultimately replaced. After the swap the 914/6 continued to race until, one day, its owner decided it was time to move on. So, as it so often goes, the car sat parked and neglected for many years.
Enter the Kenyons. John and Matt are air-cooled Porsche fanatics, and this father and son duo have been sharing their love of the brand since Matt was in diapers. John has been a collector for years, buying and selling vintage sports cars quite often, and his interest in Porsche in particular has been long standing. Matt has some of his earliest memories playing around in his father’s 1973 Targa, which they still own today. For Matt, thanks to his dad, Porsches have been a way of life in a sense, and after Matt graduated from college, the pair started to look for a project they could take on together. The first set of searches saw them scanning far and wide across the country, and looking at plenty of worn-out 911s, 912s, and 914s.
Patrick Stevenson: So Matt, how did your get this stunning 914/6?
Matt Kenyon: Well it wasn’t easy, I can tell you that to begin with. We’d found a gentleman in Wyoming who liked to collect Porsches. When I say collect, I mean like down to the Hot Wheels level. Anyway he has a bunch of cars all gathering dust in a few of the buildings he owns, and I went up there to look at the lot that he had to find a good car for me and my dad to restore. This 914/6 was straight and completely rust free, but it needed a full restoration all the same, and after a few days of the usual back and forth, he agreed to sell us the car.
PS: Did either you or your dad have any experience restoring cars at this point?
MK: My dad has had lots of different cars over the years, and we’ve done some work to them of course, but neither of us had ever restored one completely back then. We definitely learned a lot in the process of this project. In fact this was the inspiration for our business, Makellos Classics, wherein we buy, sell, service, and restore air-cooled Porsches.
PS: Were you looking for a 914 at the time you came across this one?
MK: Actually no, we were looking for a 911. When I saw the 914/6 and heard the story of its former track life I knew we had to save it. We could not stand to let it continue rotting away after it had done its job so well. A lot of these 914s ended up getting destroyed over the years because they were relatively inexpensive cars that weren’t always worth saving from a financial perspective for a lot of people, so we were happy to breath new life into this once very loved amateur race car.
PS: What was the biggest hurdle in the course of the restoration?
MK: I guess it was just the time spent. Quality work takes serious labor hours, and we completely underestimated just how long the process would take to complete from the outset. Body and paint work was the most time consuming, and most painters had insurance and accident repair as their main lines of business, which often put restoration work last in line. The end result is well worth the time it took to do it right though.
PS: What is your favorite aspect of the 914/6 now that it’s finished?
MK: Well, I love Targas. My dad has a 1973 911 Targa that I used to play around in as a kid, and I loved being able to take the roof off and enjoy the San Diego sun. The 914/6 can obviously do that too, but what makes it really special to me is the mid-engine layout. Having the flat-six actually right behind you with the top off is intoxicating. The sound of the motor makes you want to keep shifting through the gears all day for the sake of it. I love it!
PS: Would you mind if I drive it?
This may sound cliche, but he tossed me the keys with the simple instructions to “have fun.” I did, and can report also that his 914/6 felt factory fresh, from the brand new interior to the vintage-style Vredestein tires. The dogleg-shift 901 transmission is very tight and shifted crisply and just as it was meant to, although I did end up going from 2nd to 5th a couple of times while getting used to the racing pattern! The clutch felt light and easy to use, and rowing through the gears with the classic sound of a carbureted flat-six roaring behind you is a joyful thing that one doesn’t tire of easily.
I chose to remove the targa top for the full wind-in-my-beard experience, and even with the top removed this car just felt tight. The stock suspension has been set lower, and it still soaks up the bumps, but in a firm sports car fashion more so than a wallowing sedan. It lets you know what’s there under your tires without upsetting the chassis in the process. Around the corners the 914/6 was very stable and composed. You can actually feel the weight of the engine and the neutral handling as it pivots around that mass. The manual steering rack was light yet precise, and the thin-rimmed steering wheel perfectly matched to the character of the car.
As my time in the 914/6 came to an end, I began thinking about how and why people would have chosen a 911T over this when both were new. The 914 was lighter and the handling was unquestionably better if not a bit less exciting (the prospect of spinning asswards into a ditch is exciting if nothing else). It really begs the question of how different Porsche might be as a company now if the 914/6 had been a blockbuster hit to really usurp some of the 911’s fame. I’m just grateful that people like John and Matt Kenyon are around to bring these cars back to life and allow others to share in what they have to offer. The 914/6 is a very special car in the history of the company, and this restoration was a great opportunity to understand what a factory fresh example would have been like back in 1970.