It was August; the sun was out; birds were singing and the cold drinks were flowing – but I wasn’t taking part in any of that.
Indeed, I was actually inside, in the air-conditioned palace of Porsche: the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart, Germany. Loaded with all things Porsche – from race cars to future concepts – I was actually looking at a display of one of the more misunderstood Porsches of its day: the 914. Being 2019, it marked the 50th anniversary of the model that debuted in 1969 as part of a partnership with Volkswagen and Porsche.
The backstory here is a relatively long one, but put simply: VW needed a sports car to replace the aging Karmann Ghia, and Porsche needed an affordable sports car they could sell in America. So the 914 was born, and with it, the first mass-produced mid-engined Porsche and precursor to the Boxster and Cayman of today. Porsches had hitherto all been rear-engined (even though the venerable 356 started out as a mid-engined concept) so this was a big change for Porsche, and, if we’re honest, a pretty important part of the brand’s history.
And I was about to drove one, quite literally off the front step of the Porsche museum, on to Otto-Dür-Strasse in front and into the countryside of Germany’s Baden-Würrtemburg region. What a day it was going to be.
You see, Porsche keeps a number of classic models on-hand in good nick to be driven for special events, and since we were attending the launch of the latest “T” versions of the Boxster and Cayman, well, they felt the time was right.
It takes some getting used to at first, though, the 914 and it starts with the seatbelts. They’re not your typical pretensioner type, so you have to adjust what seems like a simple buckle in order to do so, only it didn’t quite turn out that way. Then, once belted in, you realize that as a tall person, headroom is a little snug and since the wheel doesn’t adjust, you can’t really slouch down to give yourself more.
What you can do, however, is easily remove the targa top (VW/Porsche felt it would need such a top in order to sell in the US), stow it neatly in the trunk (the rear trunk; there’s one up front, too) and be on your way, forehead above the windscreen and all.
When you think about it, though, that’s the way you kinda want it. You want the full effect of the wind streaming through your hair as you grab the ultra-skinny wheel and gearlever, and proceed to put the 914 through its paces on the spidery roads of the region.
There’s no power assist in the steering or brakes, but there is a synchro on the dogleg 4-speed box so at least you get that. Still took me awhile to carry off a perfect 1-2 upshift, though as it all too often ended up being 1-4 but once you get the hang of it, it’s a joy to slot; all snickety-snickety and classic. As are the flip-up headlights, which I activated probably once every five minutes because dammit if it isn’t one of the coolest things to come from cars of the era.
The slightly squishy sidewalls and you can feel flexing as you round the bend. The old-school analogue dials. The proper howl of an air-cooled flat-4 behind you. These are a few of my favorite things that a classic car brings, and given the chance, I would do it all over again on these same roads, in this same car.