The long road towards a cult object: Porsche 914 celebrates anniversary

At the 47th AvD Oldtimer Grand Prix, Porsche Classic is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 914 that debuted in 1969 as the first German production mid-engine sportscar. Initially, life for the two-seater that was developed in collaboration with Volkswagen wasn’t easy, especially with Porsche purists. They missed the classic contour of the 911 and could not be convinced with details such as the two boots at the front and rear either. The fact that the 914 has long become a coveted classic is owed, not least, to Porsche’s communication. A contemporary witness who is able to provide a first-hand account of those days was a guest at Porsche Classic this weekend: Georg Ledert worked at Porsche from 1969 to 1999 as Head of Advertising. Together with Dieter Landenberger, Head of Heritage Volkswagen Group, who was invited to the Nürburgring as well, he shared some memories of the efforts made back then.

The debut of the 914 also marked the beginning of Ledert’s career at Porsche. As a young employee of an advertising agency he had switched to Volkswagen-Porsche where the market launch of the 914 was in the process of preparation. Ledert was at the table from the first briefing on. “Together with VW’s advertising agency Doyle Dane Bernbach we thought about how to go about the communication campaign and said right from the beginning that we’d have to separate the 914 and 911 from each other,” he recalls. “So there were two totally separate advertising concepts. In terms of visuals and text, the 914 was featured in a completely different way. For instance, we placed an ad with the slogan ‘The VW Porsche costs 12,000 marks and as a coupé a few more flicks of the wrist’. This was the first time that the price of a Porsche was mentioned in advertising. Previously, that had never been discussed.”

This alone shows that the clientele addressed for the new sportscar was a totally different one than that of the 911. “We didn’t want to persuade 911 drivers to switch to the 914 but to sell it to an all-new target group.” The four-cylinder version was very favourably priced for a sportscar but there were some other important arguments as well: new, different, safer – those were typical statements. The two boots and the mid-engine concept made the new Porsche intriguing. “Something like this had never existed before. The 914 was a totally new concept,” says Ledert, who derived yet another argument from the car’s design: its development from racing. “All Porsche racing cars had a mid-engine,” he says. “That concept also made these cars safer and easier to drive than a 911. We didn’t write that but of course it was in the back of our minds.” Based on these considerations, it was possible to identify the target group. “It was far below the level of the 911 customers. It was men between the age of 20 and 40. The 911 drivers were a slightly older and wealthier clientele for whom the campaign was designed in a much more elitist and classical style. For the 914, we stated the main argument right in the headline. For example: ‘Why the Porsche 914 has no engine either at the front or at the rear’ – and below that we showed a very small picture of the car’s silhouette in black with the engine in red.” The 914 was always shown ‘live’ – instead of shooting studio pictures Porsche showed the drivers while they were out fishing, active in sports or loading the two boots. When the racing version of the 914/6 was subsequently successful in motorsport as well, the advertising experts immediately picked up on that too: “We instantly made that a topic on posters and in our advertising.” A picture from those days shows a 100-hp 914 parked alongside a CanAm Porsche with the slogan: ‘The new VW Porsche. Now the difference is only 750 horsepower’. When sales broke the 100,000 mark at the end of 1972 that was promptly highlighted in advertising too and the 914 promoted as the top-selling sportscar worldwide. This alone shows that the 914 had long overcome the initial scepticism and turned into a winner, quite literally. Today, the former ‘underdog’ is an icon of styling and a coveted classic.

In Volkswagen’s history, the 914 plays an important part as well. “The car had somewhat been born out of necessity because both Porsche and Volkswagen urgently needed a new model,” relates Dieter Landenberger. “VW had been relying on the Beetle and the Volkswagen Transporter that, with their air-cooled engines, were regarded as obsolete and Porsche needed a new model below the 911 that was already on the market for seven years at that time.” Consequently, Ferry Porsche and Heinrich Nordhoff agreed that Porsche would develop the 914 as a joint project. However, Nordhoff unexpectedly died and his successor, Kurt Lotz, wanted to launch the sportscar exclusively as a VW – even fitted with a proprietary six-cylinder Volkswagen engine. It took lengthy negotiations to find a compromise: the 914 was launched in Germany as a VW-Porsche and optionally available with a VW four-cylinder and a Porsche six-cylinder engine. Selling for about 12,000 marks, especially the four-cylinder version was very favourably priced and with 118,000 units sold became a top seller. By contrast, the six-cylinder version cost only 2,000 marks less than the 911T so that ultimately only 2,000 units of it were produced.

© AvD

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