After a weekend of driving my ’75 914 with a new 2.3 motor built by Fat Performance in Orange, CA, and my ’87 3.2 Targa Carrera on some of So. Cal’s best driving roads I thought I should compare the performance attributes of each car.
The Carrera is in 99% OEM form. It is religiously maintained by Marco and Tony Gerace at TLG Porsche Service in North Hollywood, CA. My search for the elusive black fuch rims (at a reasonable price) that would make the car completely OEM has not been successful. Soon they will be secured, and the only further addition I am contemplating is adding a Steve Wong performance chip to boost the HP and throttle response.
The Carrera is stone cold rock solid. I call it the Panzer because it feels like a tank when I drive it. It’s powerful and bullet proof. The motor has a consistent low toned rumble sound that only a Porsche air cooled motor can make. I bought it in 2007 with 70,000 original miles on the odometer. I had a top end job performed in 2009. I replaced the aftermarket exhaust that was on the car when I bought it with a stock system.
This is the only substantive work I’ve done to the car. A stock steering wheel was installed and the AC – such as it is – was brought back to life in 2015. The car is clean inside and out. The driver’s seat left bolster shows some wear. Otherwise the interior is tight. It now has 133,000 miles on the odometer and runs like new with each key turn. It is pure, air cooled bliss. I’m amazed each time I drive it because the thing is 29 years old. Think about that for a minute. I know of no other 29 year car that has a timeless design that still fits in today. A young guy, who clearly was born after my car left the factory, told me the other day it reminded him of a James Bond movie. The guy had the wrong car brand, but ok, I’ll take the compliment.
The car’s technical engineering remains stunning. If I want to attack a straight or curve on any road I press the accelerator and boom – immediate, sure response is delivered. More on the technical performance stuff below. Another guy walked up to me recently (on a different day) and out of the blue asked how much I wanted for it. I asked how much he was willing to pay. “Name your price” he said. I’d never sell but I asked Marco what it would go for. He said that due to my maintenance and records I can easily get more than double what I paid for it in ’07. It’s nice to know that the prices for these cars are sky high. But, again, I’m not selling. My 7 year old daughter will learn to drive it one day and hopefully, she’ll come to appreciate the engineering marvel that it is. I also hope she’ll blow the doors off of any dumb ass-water cooled boy who wouldn’t know a clutch pedal from his butt.
I love taking long freeway on-ramps in the Carrera. I put the power down, watch the tach do it’s dance, shift, more power, shift again, etc., and listen to the engine. For those few seconds I pretend I’m leaving the pits at Le Mans to join the fray at speed. That’s the DNA that flows through the Carrera’s veins. It wants to go fast and long. Nope. Never selling this thing.
The 914′s history is a bit more complex. I bought it in 1984 for $5,000.00 or thereabouts. It had the 2.0 fuel injected motor that put out a measly 90 hp or so. But I loved the way it looked and was fascinated by how it handled. I think it’s worthwhile here to tell you how I caught the Porsche bug. In 1982 I went to Riverside Int’l Raceway on a slow college class day. I’d never been to a live racing event and the only thing I knew about Porsches was from watching the IROC race on TV in 1974 with all the great drivers of the day driving identical, high performance 911 RSRs. What stuck out in my mind as I watched the afternoon practice at Riverside was seeing and hearing a handful of 935s or 934s flying full blast around the track. They behaved like Great White sharks on asphalt – they looked for and destroyed anything in their way. Right then and there I was a Porsche guy.
So I bought the 914 a year out of college just before I started law school. It was all I could afford, but even if I could afford a 911, I would have bought the 914. That said, I’ll be the first to tell you…Porsche screwed that car up. Structurally it was the perfect mid-engine performance car platform. It was light, agile and quick and embodied the engineering philosophy Porsche lives by to this day. It had more in common platform and handling wise with a 917 or 908, than a 911 ever did. It was a car that could have been great. But Porsche, in its infinite marketing wisdom, treated it like a chump. It should have received the same engine, suspension, transmission and brakes that were equal to the 911s. But no. If Picasso were a Porsche engineer he would wanted to paint on the 914’s canvas – not the 911’s.
Porsche made some stupid engineering and marketing decisions and 914 guys were wrongly accused of not being real Porsche guys. Eventually I grew tired of the 914’s lack of power and long story short, I bumped it to the end of my car line. I bought an “04 Boxster S after I bought the Carrera so I could have modern day top down power and performance. The 911′s spot in the garage was next to the 914. I stared at both each time I opened the garage and wondered how the 914 would perform with proper power. I day dreamed about driving it head to head against the vaunted Carrera. The two key components I added to the 914 were a 1980 Carrera front suspension and the 2.3 motor built by Greg Aronson at Fat Performance. 2.3 ccs worth of engine may not sound like much, but it’s a race tuned motor with more than enough pop. It makes 171 hp at 5,500 rpm – good, solid output for the light 914. I also put new Bilsteins up front, and installed new door, window and targa top seals. Marco and Tony also made some minor mechanical adjustments to the transmission and electrical system. With that the 914 was ready to go.
I recruited my friend and colleague Luis to help me with the driving comparison. Luis was the perfect choice for three reasons. First, he owned a 1.8 914 back in high school. When I told him several months back that I was about to start my 2.3 motor project he gave me a nostalgic smile. Second, Luis is a bona fide car guy by profession. He was a master BMW and Mercedes Benz technician at local LA dealerships. He has worked on, and driven, every high performance car these manufacturers have to offer. He now testifies in Court as an expert witness for BMW on vehicle mechanical systems and how they are designed to perform. Third, Luis has a need for speed. In a recent case he worked on with me I told him I needed an oil consumption test performed on a 2013 M5. He told me that one of the things he did for his test was to load the engine and drive it at 160 mph on the I5 freeway. “You did what?!” I asked. Luis also rides a Suzuki performance bike. I call him the “bullet” because he disappears on the horizon when he sees a road where he can turn it loose. So, yes – I had the perfect guy for the comparison drive.
The test course – Santa Barbara wine country. Zaca Station Road (ZSR) in Los Olivos to be exact. Why there? Because it is one of the prettiest, long two lane road So. Cal has to offer. More importantly, once you drive past the first two wineries ZSR has the necessary twists, turns, curves, and straights to test all a car has to offer in terms of motor, transmission, suspension, handling and brakes. The trick is to get there early on a weekend morning before the wine tasting crowds begin filling the road.
We left my house on a beautiful Saturday morning with Luis driving the 914. I drove the Carrera. It is a perfect driver’s car. For everything Porsche did wrong with the stock 914-4, it did everything right with the 911. The motor, suspension, transmission, and brakes are all excellent. It’s firm, solid, and efficient. Leave the flair to the Italians. Italian cars are like strippers. You can spend a short time with them and have fun, but you don’t want them hanging around long term.
We pass the Fess Parker winery on ZSR and open up the motors on each car. I lead in the 911. It is crazy good. Accelerate into a corner at 70, downshift to 3rd and the motor is talking to you like only a Porsche motor can do. I dab the brakes. That’s all that’s needed to quickly reel in the speed to let the suspension manage the corner. This, in and of itself, is amazing. Another friend/colleague of ours has a race modified 2011 3 series coupe that puts out 400+ BHP. It is a scary fast car with high performance Brembo brakes that must be sweet. But equally remarkable is the fact that circa 1987 OEM brakes immediately command the 911 to slow down.
And the Carrera’s suspension. What can be said? It glues the car to the road the entire time. It secures the car to the road no matter what speed it’s moving. The combination of suspension and brakes give me the confidence a driver needs through each and every corner, even if I am carrying a little too much speed. I haven’t even mentioned the G-50 transmission yet. It’s a work of art. Accelerate out of a corner in 3rd gear with the motor generating its race DNA noise as the tach blasts up to the 5,500 range and throw the stick into 4th. Boom – I’m hurtling down the road again at 90 mph as lazy ass cows lay in the grass watching us whiz by. This goes on and on for 12 wonderful miles of pristine roadway – accelerate, downshift, brake, negotiate a curve, throw that transmission at the next gear and re-accelerate. My own private Idaho. I’m at peace as the unrelenting motor moves me quickly down the road. The cows see me grin. They must be thinking: Porsche – There is no substitute.
As this is going on the cows also see my 914 within range of my rear bumper. Luis is able to keep up with me despite my not holding back on the 217 hp the 3.2 motor has to offer. We finally roll to a stop at the Palmer Rd. intersection. It’s time to swap cars. Luis gets out of the 914 with a grin on his face. “It’s sweet” is what I hear him say. The older owner of the home we’ve parked in front of comes out. He happens to be a car guy too. “Nice car” he says looking at the 914. He says nothing about the Carrera. We take some quick pics of the cars in the beautiful winery setting and I get behind the 914 wheel.
This is my real first opportunity to drive it with the power I’ve always wanted since the new Fat motor was installed in late December 2015. You 911 guys are not going to want to hear this, but a 914 with a proper motor and suspension is a damn race car. It’s simple and raw. It makes me feel like the pilot of a P-51 Mustang looking for some Messerschmitt ass to kick. Its tach is right in front of you. That’s all a driver needs. I have the Appearance Group package with a volt meter and a re-styled oil temperature gauge done by North Hollywood speedo. I had Greg install an oil cooler to make sure the motor stays cool. The seat is basic, and the front windshield is big, wide and flat. I think this adds to the race car feel. I smile when I get behind the wheel and the smiles don’t stop. Are there more modern jets that would kick a P-51′s ass. Of course there are. But the 914 makes you feel like you are responsible for everything. Moms don’t get behind the wheel of a 914 like they do when driving a modern water cooled 911 to the grocery store (what an engineering waste). There are no gadgets or gizmos there to save you if you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s light, hungry and ready to mix it up.
We take off on the second run with me leading in the 914. The 2.3 is alive. True, it doesn’t have as much power as the Carrera’s 3.2 motor , but you don’t need tons of power on these roads. What’s needed is great acceleration and response and the 2.3 delivers this in spades. It’s engine notes are higher than the Carrera’s going through the same curves and turns. It demands attention and respect. You need this because the brakes and 901 transmission are not as good as the 911′s. We hurtle back to the start of winery road. The 2.3 motor is aggressive and fun. It wails and wants more. The cows still see a grin on my face as we whiz back in the other direction. They haven’t moved an inch. It must be nice to eat, lay around, and not have any responsibilities. Whatever. We stop at Firestone Winery to compare notes. Luis and I assess the systems of each car (motor, transmission, suspension, brakes, tires) and grade each on a scale of 1 – 10, 10 being the highest.
We start with the 914. I tell Luis to give me the good, bad and ugly. “Don’t hold back” I say. He gives the motor a 9. He said it feels and sounds like a race car, with good acceleration out of corners. He says it’s responsive and feels solid. I agree with his assessment. The transmission: he gives it a 6. He rightly says that the throws are not crisp and sharp. I agree and we both discuss how this hurts quick performance when downshifting into 3rd going diving into a curve, and upshifting out of 3rd into 4th as the acceleration begins again. He suggests getting a short-throw kit.
He gives the 914′s suspension an 8. He said the car is balanced perfectly with the mid-engine set up, but it has a light feel in quick corners. I tell him the car has a Carrera front suspension. He acknowledges this but says that wider tires in front and back would cure the lightness feel. Thanks again, Porsche, for not allowing a wider tire set up for non-flared 914s. Despite this we agree that 914s give you that undeniable go-cart feel but the lightness can be trouble if you don’t properly manage the corner in/out speed. Luis gives the brakes a 9. Surprisingly, I agreed. The brakes absolutely did their job managing quick decelerations into the corners. We also agreed that the tires with big sidewalls flex through corners. This contributes to the front end lightness feel.
We pretend to listen to the wine host, or whatever he’s called, as he continues pouring the different samples of reds. Next we discuss the 911. Although he’s been a car guy all his life, Luis has never driven an air cooled 911, or any 911 for that matter. His was very impressed. This is a huge compliment since he’s driven every M car and SLR big money can buy. He gave the motor a 10. He said it had outstanding response and excellent power through all the power ranges. I agreed. He gave the transmission a 10 saying it was solid, sure, crazy precise and user friendly. I agreed. He gave the suspension a 10, saying only that it was “on point – nothing to add.” I agreed. He gave the brakes a 10 saying they were extremely responsive. I agreed. He gave the _______ tires a 10 too.
The last thing we did was assign a “fun quotient” rating to each car. The moment of truth …we each gave the 914 a 10. We agreed it was edgy and raw. We felt like race car drivers – exactly the way Porsche wants us to feel when we drive their cars. We both could not stop smiling when discussing the 914. Luis gave the 911 an 8 for its fun quotient. All he kept saying is “the 911 is almost too perfect. When you’re behind the wheel you immediately know you are in high level sports car. But it doesn’t have the edge of the 914.” I give the 911 a 9 fun quotient. Imagine that. Giving the step-sister 914 with a proper motor and suspension set up the fun quotient edge over the Carrera. Keep in mind, though, we are not talking about around town driving. We are talking about putting these cars on open roads and driving them like we stole something as Porsche intended them to be driven.
The moral to the story? If you don’t have an air cooled 911 and you can afford one, get one. If it’s in good shape you’ll never regret buying it from a driving standpoint. It will make you smile if you go out and drive it like it’s supposed to be driven. Also, don’t hate on 914s. They need proper motors, but once one is installed they will make you feel like a kid. Drive one and have fun. Mine has cost me approximately $20k to put the new motor in and do all the necessary things to make the fit and finish nice. It still needs a little more work, but I can say it has been worth every penny. Plus, 914-4 values are on rise. A nice 914 turns more heads than a nice Carrera. Why? Because we hardly see them anymore. My final comment – when I dream of Porsche’s at night, I dream of taking that corner on Angeles Crest at speed in the 914 and powering up its short straights and maneuvering into position for the next corner. Remember that step-sister Cinderella turned out to be a catch. The 914 is Porsche’s Cinderella.