How did this humble car, which normally costs $5,000, sell for $1 million?

The underloved Porsche 914 could be the next big thing.
Photo of a Prosche 914 1.7 (1970-73) model. (Photo courtesy:
Photo of a Prosche 914 1.7 (1970-73) model. (Photo courtesy:

Million-dollar Ferraris and Jaguars are frequent occurrences. Every major auction worth its salt has at least a few of them.

But a million-dollar Porsche 914—the awkward targa-top stepchild that Porsche and Volkswagen made together in the 1970s—would give even the crustiest collector a heart attack. A sum like that just wouldn’t make sense: With a 1.7- to 2.0-liter engine and no more than 125 horsepower under the most exceptional conditions, the 914 has long been derided by the Porsche elite as a lawnmower surrounded by a metal shell. It’s just not supposed to be worth anything—fun to drive for an hour maybe but entry-level at best.

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Auction prices have typically reflected that sentiment, keeping even decently kept, running examples of them to the low four-digits online and prices of $3,000 to $5,000 in many private transactions—if the owner doesn’t just give the car away. Even at the most ritzy sales like Gooding & Co. and Bonhams, with the most powerful engine variants and the lowest miles on the odometer, 914 prices tend to hover between $40,000 and $70,000.

But now, all bets are off. A yellow 1970 Porsche 914 GT/6 sold earlier this month in Scottsdale, Ariz., for $995,000. Although a similar yellow 914 sold for more than a million dollars in a private transaction last year, this was the best public auction result ever achieved for the diminutive two-seater.

“This is by any analysis a high watermark for the Porsche 914," said Eric Weiner, who reported the sale in Hagerty’s end-of-auction brief. “It has the potential to drive up interest in motorsport-accomplished examples in general."

The History of the Model

The humble 914 came onto the scene at the 1969 auto show in Frankfurt; production ran from 1970 to 1976. The car was conceived as a joint project between Porsche and VW to replace the 912 and the Karmann Ghia and, simultaneously, provide a fresh new high-production-volume, four-cylinder alternative to the powerful 911. It presented a win-win scenario for both manufacturers: Porsche could use VW economies of scale to manufacture it, while VW would get new ideas from the Porsche engineering brain trust.

It came with multiple variants including a 1.7-, 1.8-, or 2.0-liter four- or six-cylinder engine, none of which were fast enough to get the car to 60 miles per hour in anything faster than 13 seconds. You can spot them easily by their thin, low bodies, pop-up headlights, and removable roofs. (They are 7 inches shorter and 4 inches lower than a 911.) The cockpit looks like it’s almost exactly in the middle between the flat front and rear decks.

That configuration proved to make the 914 a well-balanced and relatively spacious roadster. Combined with a decent fuel-injection system, five-speed transaxle shifting, effective brakes, and all-independent suspension, in fact, the 914 could be considered similar to how the Dino was to Ferrari lovers—the inexpensive and underpowered but lovable sibling to the main event. It was so good it exceeded sales expectations, achieving more than 119,000 sold worldwide by the time production ended in 1976.

The Singularity of the Car

The Scottsdale car, however, is extraordinary, as you might expect from its high-flying price tag. A few factors make it worth the coin. For starters, rarity. This 914 was one of just 16 similar “GT" factory examples built for customers in 1970, a group used for endurance racing and rally competitions across Europe and the U.S.

Plus, it was a race car, which means it included crazy performance upgrades and racing specs unheard of for a 914, like steel fender flares (all the better to fit wider Fuchs alloy wheels); fiberglass deck lids; rocker panels and bumpers; anti-roll bars; and vented brakes. It sports Plexiglas rear and side windows; an extra front oil cooler; a long-range fuel tank; big-valve cylinder heads; dual ignition; and a competition interior. And it bears a flat-six engine configuration—enough to achieve 210 horsepower on a car that weighs next to nothing (less than 2,200 pounds).

All the upgrades paid off, and that’s where the true allure of this endurance champ unicorn comes in.

“This car’s value is less about its 914-ness and more about its history, which is superb," Rob Sass, the editor of the Porsche Club of America’s internal magazine, wrote in a post-sale recount.

The 914/6 GT won its GT class and finished seventh overall at the 1971 24 Hours of Daytona endurance race, the most prestigious of its kind in the U.S. It finished fourth in its class at the 12 Hours of Sebring that same year—and won the 1971 6 Hours of Saint Croix to boot. Its first owner, Jacques Duval, a French Canadian driver who excelled in racing Porsche 904s and 906s, used it to bolster his own racing record, and in return, the car attained legendary status as well. It’s the most decorated racing 914 ever run.

The Consequences for the Market

Here’s the hard truth, though: Don’t expect that orange 914 your dad gave you in high school to magically become worth a million dollars now, too. Or even $100,000. One stratospheric sale does not a market make.

“ ‘Collectible’ is a very subjective term," says Tim Coon, the sales manager for Road Scholars, a restoration shop in Durham, N.C. He spoke on a panel about collecting vintage Porsches during the Scottsdale auctions. “Something is collectible for one reason: You like the car."

The current values for 914s average $32,000 for excellent condition, or $8,200 for fair condition, according to Hagerty data. An excellent 1973 914 2.0 sold for $58,420 in Scottsdale earlier this month; many good examples sell for around $10,000 on Bring a Trailer.

But the line showing valuation growth of the model over the past five years is promising—it looks like a tsunami wave. Since September last year, “No. 3" values of 914s (those in good condition but neither perfect nor pristine) have increased by more than 14%. The No. 2 condition value of the 914 is up more than 69% over the past three years, to $41,000, says Hagerty’s Jonathan Klinger.

“While the 914/6 GT sold by Gooding is unlike most 914s, the sale price could renew collectors’ interest in the production road cars such as the four- and six-cylinder 914s," Klinger says.

Weiner agreed: “These big headline results can only mean good things for the mid-engine machine going forward."

The object lesson here? Now that 911 values have flattened, buyers have apparently started looking elsewhere—even possibly to overlooked little racers like the 914. As the guys down at the track would say, it’s “teener" time.

First Published Date: 04 Feb 2020, 14:44 PM IST

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