THROUGH the courtesy of AFN Ltd. of Isleworth I was able to borrow a mid-engined VW-Porsche 914 for an enthralling weekend. As MOTOR SPORT has frequently emphasised; the mid-engined concept is bound to develop, because anyone who has handled a car with this weight distribution will not wish to accept any lower standards of road-holding. Road-clinging, coupled with a splendidly level and well-damped ride, are the outstanding attributes of the 934. Volkswagen were well placed to introduce a mid-engined car, having such a compact power pack which they are well accustomed to burying beneath the floor of their estate cars. With Porsche to mix-in the necessary suspension set-up and other requirements of fast motoring, something really notable could hardly fail to materialise.
Driving the 914 on dry roads I was quite unable to reach optimum break-away; you corner faster and faster, in unbelief that the little car will get round. But it always did, so that, once convinced, cruising speed became also the pace at which open bends and corners were negotiated. It is handling to competition-car standards. Here it is opportune to say that the red 934 I tried was on Michelin ZX tyres, which are popular wear on many fast cars these days. In view of what has been written about the shortcomings of central-engined cars, let me report right away that the VW-Porsche conception is free from them. The seat squabs are vertically upright without adjustment, but the seats are nevertheless amongst the most comfortable I have experienced. The sales literature tries to kid one that this is a three-seater, sitting abreast, and there is an “extra” in the form of a little pad to put in the well between the two main seats. This would accommodate a child but for all practical purposes this is a two-seater motorcar-and why not ? There is no undue noise, no heat transfer from the central power pack, perhaps because it is set so compactly low down in the car. As for driver vision, forward it is excellent, the thick screen pillars scarcely intruding; the non-dazzle rear-view mirror is rather cut off by the shallow screen, but I found I had an excellent rearwards view in the external mirror of this 1.h.d. car. AFN are experimenting with a Delodur heated rear window, which worked well. An occasional glance over the right shoulder and in the aforesaid mirror was all that was needed, and reversing wasn’t difficult, but the hooded rear window reflected the body colour, and the instruments acted as facial mirrors. The mid-engined layout as conceived by VW incurs no obvious snags and normal doors with VW-Porsche-type releases-cum-locks permit conventional entry.
The interior of the car is austere, in black trim, with knobs and a I.h. stalk as controls, but all is well contrived, except that the small steering wheel tends to blank the more interesting sector of the speedometer. There is also the luxury of two luggage boots, with a combined capacity of 16.1 cu. ft., one in the nose, one behind the “engine room”, although rather shallow luggage is advisable. On the road, as I have said, the outstanding enjoyment is that of an impeccable ride and astonishingly safe cornering powers, conferred by the weight distribution, low build, and a “wheel at each corner”. The suspension, torsion bar in front, coil-spring at the back, is so well damped that the wheels follow surface irregularities faithfully and hump-back bridges cause no discomfort. So unyielding is the springing that some mild rattle is conveyed to the obviously rigid body, but the clean undertray treats rough lanes with disdain. The central gear-lever controls a five-speed box but whereas it can be said that an Alfa Romeo has a rack) for every purpose, it is kindest to remark that the modern Porsche gear-change is an acquired taste. Once one of the best gear-changes in the World, initiates are now never really sure which cog they are in, or are going to select, and even neutral is a trifle vague. As to performance, I saw the speedometer register 100 on occasions but the VW 411 1.7-litre, electronic fuel-injection power unit, poking out only 80 b.h.p., does far less than justice to this remarkable car. Moreover, there is unlikely to be a r.h.d. version and as the high cost of the Karmann body, allied to Import duty, etc., has inflated the GB price to £2,261, sales are not likely to be exactly brisk in England. Even in Germany the prospect of the 914 being the poor sportsman’s Porsche, at around £1,500, has, I gather, tarnished. The VW engine peaks at about 4,900 r.p.m. but can be taken in short bursts towards the warning mark on the tachometer, at 5,660 r.p.m. However, this futuristic car in £3,475 914/6 form with Porsche flat six engine, must be a very exciting proposition indeed, a sort of land-bound light plane from the A to B average speed aspect, with the “dodgeability” of a good motorcycle (just over three turns of the steering wheel, lock-to-lock), and we hope later to do a full road-test in one. AFN Ltd. are concessionaires for both models—VW Motors do not sell the 914.
Whether you have it in four or six-cylinder guise, the VW-Porsche has some unusual features. The r,h. hand-brake, for instance, pulls on in the normal fashion but then drops to the floor. This is to give unimpeded exit to the driver. To release the brake the lever is again pulled up until resistance is felt, its button depressed, and the lever moved down. The need for a brake warning light, provided as -n segment: of the warning-light cluster, is even more essential with such a system than with less elaborate hand-brakes. Another peculiarity is that to comply with German requirements, the normally-concealed Hella headlamps become erect if the sidelamps are switched on. As there is growing use of dipped headlamps even in built-up areas this is no great disadvantage, but AFN talk of introducing a diode in the circuit for neater use of sidelamps in this country. Incidentally, the dipped beam is poor, but there are inbuilt Hella spotlamps. A further unique item is that the hard-top detaches and will go in the rear boot, so that the VW-Porsche is a true convertible, without the need for a flexible hood—it is, indeed, a sort of coupé de ville. An unintended peculiarity is that the turn-flashers reflect in the headlamp backs, nor was I enamoured of the turn-indicator warning lights on the facia winking in my line of vision. The passenger gets a door grab-handle and a felt-covered foot rest, the latter anchored with a short strap to prevent it intruding on the driver. As well as from a tool roll, a big screw-in tow-hook is provided.
The fuel tank in the front boot has a catchment well and is also fully vented to US and Canadian requirements. It takes its fuel slowly but when full gave a range of 328 miles before the warning light came on fixedly, after which there is about 1.7 gallons remaining, so the former VW attribute of infrequent refuelling has been achieved. A rough cheek of consumption showed approx. 26-1/2 m.p.g. of 4-star.
So much, then, for preliminary impressions of one of the great new cars of the 1970s. The VW-Porsche, officially, I believe, the Type 47, is a motor-car which the connoisseurs will soon be discussing with enthusiasm.—W. B.