This is the twelfth in a series by Howard LaPlante on his early experiences with cars.
The broken windows in the 914 turned into a real problem. It happened when the weather was cold and the door was closed and made no difference if the door was slammed or closed gently. The window would literally explode – but not every time. Worse yet, Porsche denied that it was their fault! They claimed that either the door was being slammed too hard or that the dealership had adjusted the door incorrectly! Some 914 owners had several windows replaced before Porsche, and I am sure the window manufactures, found and corrected the problem. It was especially hard on owners that depended on the car as daily transport. Imagine the temperatures in Minnesota in the winter! But my 914-6 sat in the garage and did not have a problem.
But summer did come and the 914-6 came out of the garage and was driven, and oh how much fun it was to drive! It still rates as one of the most entertaining Porsches that I have owned. There were, however, a few downsides. For me, it was one of the ugliest Porsche’s ever! In addition, they suffered from poor quality control! It was, after all, originally built to be a VW/Porsche and was sold as such in Europe. The cheapness showed! Right down to the fact that the passenger seat did not adjust and there was a carpeted block in the foot well for shorter people! The poor quality was noticeable, especially if one had owned a “regular” Porsche prior to owning the 914-6.
That said, it had performance and handling! It was after all a mid engine car – AS WAS THE FIRST PORSCHE!
As most of us know the first Porsche was mid engine, but the decision was made to go to a rear engine to allow room for two jump seats. It was thought that the jump seats would make the car attractive to more buyers. Correctly I believe, BUT for performance and handling mid engine is the way to go! Porsche knew this from the first. Note that the very early true race cars were mid engine! Starting with the 550, which had it’s premier at the Paris salon in early October 1953. The 550 possibly did more to establish Porsche as a company to be reckoned with than any other model. At the 40th Targa Florio in 1956, running against such cars as 3.5 Monza Ferrari and a 300S Maserati, cars with as much as twice the power, Porsche 550-A was the winner! This came to be normal outcome, Porsche might not be the fastest, but they finished!
The next model of the mid-engine race cars was the type 645, sometimes referred to as the “Micky Mouse”. It was the car in which Von Trips went over the lip of the banked race tack at Avus in September 1956. Fortunately he was thrown clear and survived the horrendous crash. The next year the new improved car was the 718, sound familiar?
Porsche continued the mid engine race cars with the 904. Many would stay one of the best looking of all race cars. I would agree. then in succession came the 906, the 908, and then the race car that gave notice to the world that Porsche was a company to be reckoned with, the 917!
In 1968 the CSI (Commission Sportive Internationale) the governing body for racing announced that in 1969 a manufacturer must have produced 25 identical cars of a maximum displacement of no more than 5 L in order to compete in racing. On 20 April 1969 Porsche stunned the racing world by inviting CSI officials to Stuttgart to view 25 complete 917 race cars! (They had been built in only 10 months.) The officials were invited to drive one of the cars, they declined.
The 917 was a remarkable car. The frame only weighed 93 pounds! It was pressurized with gas to detect leaks of the welded frame. The engine was a design tour de force. An air-cooled 12-cylinder of 4.5 liters producing over 520 HP! (However, at the end of it’s reign it would be producing over 1500 HP and was banned from racing, or rather I should say it was regulated out of racing.)
The 917 L ( langheck or long tail) “mid engine” race car proved to be an amazing car. In testing at Le Mans it recorded a speed of 224.4 MPH, the highest speed ever recorded at Le Mans. There was, however, a major problem with the car that almost caused it to be discontinued.
Note to readers, yes I know I have gotten away from my memories of my cars; however I wanted to say a bit about mid engine Porsche cars. Especially in light of the new 911 RSK that will be run at Daytona this January being a “MID-ENGINE“ car!