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When Dr Ferdinand Piech’s Porsche 917 first turned a wheel in anger, the world of sports car racing was never quite the same. Circuits like Spa, Sebring, Daytona, the Nurburgring and of course, Le Mans, cemented the all-conquering 917 as as one of the greatest Porsche racing cars ever.
When the 917 was prepped for competition in the “no holds barred” Can-AM series, or Canadian American Sports Car Championship, there was nothing else in the field which could touch it. With Mark Donohue at the helm or Roger Penske’s 1,200hp all wheel drive 917-30, he just drove away from everyone, dominating the 1973 season.
It was that domination which led to creation of the car you see here, the Porsche 914 LE. Built as a special edition to commemorate their victorious 1973 Can Am season, Porsche built only 1,000 of these for the Canadian and American markets.
Now, the Porsche 914 gets a bit of stick a lot of the time. Some claim it isn’t a true Porsche, as the flat four spec cars were originally designed to be a Volkswagen sports car. However, when Porsche saw the risk of trying to sell the same bodied car under two brand names, it was decided to simply sell both flat four and flat six engineered cars as a Porsche. It However the 914 still has genuine Porsche DNA underneath.
Under the bonnet, or boot in this case, sits the solid Volkswagen Type 4 2.0L fuel injected air cooled flat four engine producing 100hp. Mated to the flat four was a five speed manual gearbox sending drive to the rear wheels.
Performance? Lets say its spirited. Weighing in at 995kg, the 914 2.0 could reach the national New Zealand speed limit of 100km/h in 12 seconds and achieve a top whack of 190km/h. Not fast, but then you remember the 914 was more about driving joy, than face bending speed. One could even argue the 914 was Porsche’s hark back to its iconic bare essentials sports cars of the fifties like the 550 Spyder, and 356 Speedster.
So, the LE then? Well Porsche tried to call it the 914 Can Am, for obvious reasons, but Porsche found the SCCA, or Sports Car Club of America, asking far too much for the German car maker to use the Can Am name on their car. So, Porsche relented, deciding instead to simply call it, the 914 Limited Edition.
The LE’s were avaiable in two different colours schemes, Yellow and Black, or White and Orange. The two LE variants quickly got nicknamed the Bumblebees and the Creamsicles. Use your imagination to discern which is which.
In order to distance the LE from the regular 914, Porsche threw a lot of stylistic kit at it. The Appearance Group Option was popular, which saw the LE sport fog lamps and center console with clock and additional gauges. The LE package also consisted of alloy wheels, a spoiler below the front bumper and front and rear anti-roll bars. Also the Porsche side decals looked pretty cool.
This example is one of only 274 LE’s left on the road, and the only one in the southern hemisphere. It is well known in New Zealand Porsche circles and is in stunning concourse condition. Naturally this writer was dead keen to get his hands on the keys.
Hop inside and you sit low down, with your bum almost level with the road surface. Its no secret this is a classic Porsche sports car. Ahead of you glares the classic white on black Porsche rev counter which red lines at 6,000rpm, though I didn’t intend of revving it out that hard.
Its also easy to see the work than went into making this 914 LE a concourse winning car. Every switch and dial is just as Porsche would have built it, and to be honest, it looks like it just left the factory.
Turn the key, and that Volkswagen derived air cooled engine chugs into life. That classic air-cooled chug is so iconic and instantly recognizable. Blip the throttle and that chug becomes a growl. Select first gear, which being a left hand drive car, always takes some getting used to at first, and you move away.
As it was a sunny spring day in Northern Cantebury, the removable targa top was tucked snugly away in the boot. Out onto the great wide open, the 914 offers plenty of enthusiastic pulling power. What also surprised me was how supple the ride was. I was expecting something as hard as nails, but fortunately, this wasn’t the case.
Shifting through the five-speed box is a doddle. Porsche always been driver focused, and there is nothing about the 914 which provides a distraction, leaving you focused on enjoying the drive.
Being a mid engined car, all the weight is within the wheel base, so in the corners, it tracks really well and true. You are also able to carry it through the twisties with considerable pace and you are cornering pretty flat. Nowhere in the same league as Mark Donohue, but quick enough for a near 50 year old car.
The Porsche 914 deserves more recognition. It is a shame many refer to this as the runt of Porsche’s litter. The reality couldn’t be more different. If you are after a spirited sports car classic with pedigree, adequate performance, and back to basics approach to driving enjoyment, you could do alot worse than a 914 LE.
By Ben Selby