Sometimes I start to feel a pang in my heart that I bought a Porsche 914 project car in the middle of a global pandemic. But those little apprehensions melt away every time I see the little yellow car sitting around waiting for me to put in the time and effort to get it going again. I spend most of my days driving, researching and writing about cars and the constant debate over what I should or should own regularly brings me back to a mildly hot 914 with peculiar angles, mid-engined balance and a curb weight below 2,000 pounds, that sounds about right.
But as the world opens up again after lockdowns and restrictions, the work-life balance that made me confident enough to buy a stack of coins has shifted heavily towards work these days. Add to that serious parts supply issues that have caused significant delays to the project (in addition to my own newly hectic travel schedule) and the daunting to-do list seems ever-longer. Still, every ticked box on the 914 list gets us one step closer to a running Porsche, that is, if I can figure out how to put it all back together.
Parts problems are piling up
The pile of parts that came with this 914 roll included a lot of junk removed by the previous owner, but also a Volkswagen Type 4 engine and two different transaxles. And given the popularity of the air-cooled flat-four, getting the powertrain running again didn’t seem like a very difficult process. I knew, however, that the Porsche parts needed to breathe new life into a single side-shift gearbox could end up being a significant chunk of the overall budget. And yet, I never anticipated the difficulty of finding the necessary components to complete these two more expensive jobs.
Engine rebuilt after piston delays
I have chosen European Motorworks of Hawthorne, California, to rebuild the flat-four. Besides the convenient location, the owner George’s reputation and clear communication made the decision easier once I realized I wouldn’t have time to do the job myself. But George’s initial estimate of three to four weeks for a full rebuild turned into three to four months when pandemic shipping issues prevented him from getting his hands on the 96mm pistons needed for the build. of the 2055 cc engine. The job became more complex when he immediately identified the flat-four that came with the car as a VW bus engine, which had rusted so badly that a cylinder head cracked during disassembly. Also, the dipstick tube was in the wrong place for a 914. By the time George found the pistons, replaced the bus case with a 914 case, and finished building the engine, however, the transaxle process had taken a lot more of my recent mental focus.
Two transaxles in one
The 914 originally came with two transaxles depending on the model year – in 1971 mine would have left the factory with a Porsche 911 essentially upside down and hanging from the rear axle. But this arrangement led to as much distance as possible between the gear lever and the shift linkage, earning early cars the nickname “tail shift”. For 1973 and later, Porsche revised the linkage and created the 914 “side-shift” gearbox. My car came with one of each and I was hoping that California Motorsports of Lake Havasu City, Arizona, would be able to cobble together both into a single sideshift transaxle. But CMS also faced parts shortages, which helped me decide to keep the stock gear ratios rather than wait without a clear deadline to bump up low-end performance with sportier gearing.
When CMS disassembled the two transaxles, they found both in nearly unusable condition, having probably run on little to no oil to the point that both showed a ton of chips, scratches, and deeply etched gouges. Not good news, to say the least. I found myself curious to check the parts that came out of both gearboxes after the job was done – CMS sent everything back to a few boxes of bad parts, mostly bad parts, and some that could be salvaged. Other details included the two differentials, since I brought a WaveTrac torque bias differential for the rebuilt setup, and the news that the side shift rod in my parts stack had been welded together by a complete hobbyist and would cause probably further damage to my now nearly new transaxle if used. But finding a new shift rod surely wouldn’t be so difficult…
Cleaning and Rebuilding Dirty Weber Carbs
With the engine and transmission rebuilt and returned to the 914 shipping container, the two obvious big steps I had left before attempting to join the two (and finding out what other steps or parts I would need) included to try cleaning and rebuilding the Weber carburettors, as well as the rear suspension, brakes and hubs (easier to do with the rest of the drivetrain removed). The carbs, in particular, looked totally clogged and rusty (much like the engine they once sat on), so before I even decided if they could still be salvaged, I sprayed and smeared plenty of brake cleaner, throttle and carburetor everywhere and in their.
I still doubt they’ll work again, but at least I’ve cleaned the exterior enough to find stamping codes that clearly identify the exact model as Weber 44 twin throat carbs, info that should help possible reconstruction or replacement. They came with a Redline rebuild kit which I will try to use, although the likelihood of buying two new ones seems pretty high at the moment.
Suspension parts shared with the 911
European Motorworks and California Motorsports have had trouble finding parts—and they’re the pros. When I picked up the transaxles and components, I too started facing similar challenges, including the side shift rod I will need to replace the badly welded unit. George told me that finding new carbs, if needed, wouldn’t be too difficult (although they would add a good amount to the budget).
But everything about the 914 presented no difficulties. Suspension components such as springs, shock absorbers and bushings available from sites such as RockAuto, 914Rubberand pelican parts arrived quickly and easily. Some of the ease can be attributed to the fact that the 914 shares its torsion bar front suspension and steering setup with the contemporary 911. , helps the 914’s longer-than-911 wheelbase shine in corners) still hasn’t been delayed.
Then I’ll keep trying to find a replacement for the shift rod, while building up the courage to rebuild the carbs. The rear suspension and brakes should hopefully offer less drama, though I’ve read that the 914’s rear brake pads require a bit of finesse to install properly. At the very least, all the delays and parts supply issues mean the fall weather is fast approaching here in Southern California, so the prospect of driving an air-cooled classic without air conditioning seems a little less daunting if I may actually managing to get the car running anytime soon.
Sources: europeanmotorworks.com, californiamotorsports.net, rockauto.com, 914rubber.com and pelicanparts.com.