Story and photo by Bill Vance

1974 Porsche 914 2.0
1974 Porsche 914 2.0 Click image to enlarge

It is often noted that the Porsche Boxster has its engine ahead of the rear axle, like the Porsche 550 of the 1950s. Most production Porsches, like the Volkswagen Beetle from which they were derived, have had their engines behind the rear axle. This in spite of the fact that the very first 1948 prototype 356 Porsche sports car was mid-engined. Competition Porsche’s, however, had the engine between the driver and the rear axle.

A production mid-engine exception was the Porsche 914. It used the layout that had taken over open-wheeled racing, and was emerging in exotic road cars like the Ferrari Dino and the Lamborghini Miura.

The impetus for the 914 came in the late 1960s when Volkswagen was looking for an image building sports car. VW and Porsche struck a deal to co-operatively develop a car to achieve VW’s goal.

Porsche would do the major design work. Coachbuilder Karmann would provide VW with fully assembled cars, and also supply bodies to Porsche who would finish them in their version. Some of the mechanical components, such as the engine and brakes, came from Volkswagen. The 914 thus had to live out its seven model-year lifespan with the stigma of not quite being a “real” Porsche.

The 914 “VW-Porsche” as it was called in Europe, although it was a Porsche in North America, appeared at the 1969 Frankfurt auto show, and began reaching dealers in early 1970.

It was certainly a different looking Porsche. Rather than the swoopy aerodynamic lines of the 911, the unit construction, two-seater, 946 kg (2,085 lb) 914 had a square, slabsided look. Its Targa top resembled a basket handle, and the pop-up headlamps gave an odd frog-like appearance to the bland front end. A clever feature was a lift-off plastic top that could be stored under the deck lid, reducing trunk space very little.

Between the seats and the rear axle rested the 1.7 litre fuel-injected, air-cooled, flat, four-cylinder Volkswagen 411 sedan engine. Power went to the rear wheels through a five-speed transaxle, and it had the 411’s 4-wheel disc brakes, and a slightly modified version of its rack-and-pinion steering. The 914’s front suspension was the longitudinal torsion bar system from the 911, and rear coil springs were the first use of coils in a production Porsche.

Road & Track’s testers (4/70) were less than overwhelmed by the 914. While noting that the U.S.$3,695 price was moderate for a Porsche, they opined that “…in terms of what the 914 actually does for its driver and passenger, compared to other roadsters available today in the same price range, the price makes our little 85-hp 914 a questionable dollar value.”

What it offered in performance was a zero to 96 km/h (60 mph) time of 13.9 seconds, and a top speed of 175 km/h (109 mph). By comparison, the new Datsun 240Z (tested in the same issue) did zero to 96 (60) in only 8.7 seconds and a topped out at 196 (122), while carrying a $169 lower price.

Apart from pure speed, the testers characterized driving the 914 in town and on winding roads as “…rather busy, noisy and torqueless.” On the highway the high fifth gear gave “quiet and relaxed” driving. They noted that its over 25 mpg (U.S.) fuel economy gave the 914 a 650 kilometre (400-mile) driving range between fill-ups.

R & T found the expected Porsche performance in the six cylinder 914/6 version (7/70). Fitting the 2.0-litre overhead cam, air-cooled, 125-horsepower Porsche flat six reduced the zero to 60 (96) time to 8.7 seconds, and boosted the top speed to 198 km/h (123 mph).

Alas, the price was also boosted to $6,100, or within $500 of the 911T, a “real” Porsche, a price R & T felt was too close to the 911T. Although its performance was strong, the 914/6 found few buyers and was discontinued in 1972 after only 3,360 had been built.

The 914 received improvements along the way. For 1973 an enlarged 2.0-litre 411 engine was offered, and in 1974 the base four was increased in displacement to 1.8 litres. While the two-litre VW engine couldn’t equal the overhead cam’s performance, it gave a respectable zero to 96 (60) time of 10.3 seconds, and a top speed of 192 km/h (119 mph).

In spite of its mixed breeding, the 914 developed into a pretty good sports car. It was never, however, able to shake off its VW heritage.

The authoritative Karl Ludvigsen, in his definitive work, Porsche, Excellence Was Expected, assessed the VW-Porsche venture: “The new automotive marque that was created, VW-Porsche, had neither image nor tradition. At the same time it was both VW and Porsche and neither VW nor Porsche.” He concluded, however, that the 914 had given the engineers priceless, practical experience in mid-engined road cars, and that “…the ugly duckling (914) matured into one of the most appealing Porsches ever made.” True Porsche aficionados may still disagree.

1960 60-hp Porsche Tractor
1960 60-hp Porsche Tractor. Click image to enlarge

Story and photo by Bill Vance

The Porsche company of Germany is world renowned for its high performance two-seater coupes, roadsters and SUVs. Its sports cars date back to a modest start in the small village of Gmund, Austria in 1948. They came from the fertile mind of Ferdinand Porsche, a brilliant engineer, also the father of the famous Volkswagen Beetle and Auto Union Grand Prix racers. His son Ferdinand (Ferry) made a significant contribution to the Porsche car.

But Porsche’s creativity reached beyond the economy sedans, fast sports cars and Grand Prix racers for which he is well known; he also had an interest in tractors. In this he was not alone in the automotive world. Henry Ford was fascinated with the idea of producing an affordable tractor that would be the agricultural equivalent of his ubiquitous Model T car. The Fordson and the later N-Series Ford tractors filled this role admirably.

And some tractor makers have had an interest in cars. Ferruccio Lamborghini of Italy, a builder of exotic sports cars that compete with Ferraris, started out as a tractor builder in 1949. The J. I. Case Co., of Racine, Wisconsin, builder of tractors and other farm equipment produced cars from 1910 to 1927. And Willard Velie, the grandson of mould-board plow pioneer John Deere, built the well regarded Velie car from 1909 to 1928 in Moline, Illinois.

Implement manufacturer International Harvester made light cars in the early part of the twentieth century, and in 1961 returned to passenger vehicles with he Scout sport utility vehicle, followed by the Travelall station wagon.

Porsche’s interest in tractors was probably sparked during the First World War when he designed a hybrid electro-mechanical “wagon train” consisting of several wagons with hub-mounted electric motors. These motors received their power through a cable from a separate gasoline engine-driven generator mounted on one of the wagons. One of its advantages was that each wagon could be uncoupled and driven across a bridge that would not support the weight of the entire train. It was used successfully by the Austrian army.

In the 1930s Porsche again became interested in tractors, this time as a “people’s tractor” inspired by the Volkswagen people’s car idea and the same thinking that had inspired Henry Ford. A Porsche prototype tractor was completed by 1938, but work largely halted during the Second World War.

Activity resumed after the war, and by 1949 the tractor had been completely redesigned and was ready for production. This was taken on by a company called Allgaier who produced the Porsche tractor in 17 to 44 horsepower versions until 1957, when it was assumed by a company called Mannesmann. Under Mannesmann, the Porsche tractor evolved into four models based on engine sizes with the overhead valve modular design diesel engine as a base.

The heart of this concept was that a piston, cylinder, cylinder head, valve mechanism and connecting rod unit was engineered as stand-alone component. More powerful engines could be produced by simply adding more of these common units, or “building blocks,” in a line on a longer crankcase and crankshaft, and fitting a stronger transmission.

The Allgaier models were the one-cylinder 14-horsepower Junior, the two-cylinder 25-horsepower Standard, the three-cylinder 35-horsepower Super and the four-cylinder 50-horsepower Master. The diesel engine’s characteristic strong low-speed torque was a very useful asset in a farm tractor.

The engines were air cooled, thus eliminating a radiator, and the finned cylinders and cylinder heads were cooled by a gear-driven blower, removing the risk of broken drive belts. Because each cylinder unit was independent and could be removed from the crankcase separately, ease of maintenance was enhanced. The modular design of the Porsche tractor resulted in 87 per cent of the parts being common to all models.

Power was fed through a single or double plate friction clutch and all except the Junior also had a fluid coupling that reduced shock loadings on the drive-train. There was both a hand throttle and a foot accelerator. All models had hydraulic hitches and power take-offs, and the track could be adjusted to seven different widths. Rear wheels could be individually braked.

Allgaier built approximately 25,000 Porsche tractors until 1957. Then Mannesmann took over and produced them until 1964 when the company was bought by Renault and tractor production ceased. Allgaier-built tractors are identified by their orange colour, while those from Mannesmann are red with cream coloured wheels.

Porsche tractors were different in appearance from others because the air cooled engine did not require a radiator grille. In fact, the smooth nose followed the same theme as the Volkswagen and Porsche car, although on a taller scale.

Porsche tractors established a reputation as good quality, sturdy, reliable farm machines. But as they were priced above competitive products they were never high sellers. They were exported to the United Kingdom and a few have reached Canada.

It’s another demonstration of the versatility of an outstanding and versatile engineer, which Ferdinand Porsche certainly was. Although his greatest fame would come from cars, he also made a contribution to agricultural life. After 115,596 of the four-cylinder 914s had been built, production was discontinued in the winter of 1975-76.

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