Retro Road Test reviews by Motoring Research. We drive old cars on modern roads to discover just how some of the most popular classic cars stack up today.

Porsche 914 retro review: unloved sports car at 50

Porsche 914 review

The Porsche Boxster reinvigorated the company’s fortunes in 1996 and has gone on to be an unmitigated success. But, 27 years earlier, an entry-level Porsche with the same mid-engined template went on sale. To celebrate 50 years of the unloved sports car, we take a trip down memory in a 1974 Porsche 914.

The Porsche 914 was launched at the Frankfurt Motor Show in October 1969 and its flatly-styled roadster body, twin luggage compartments and removable targa roof panel were a world away from the curvy 911 coupe.

Born of a Volkswagen/Porsche joint project to serve the needs of both companies, the 914 was built by Karmann and fitted with a range of Volkswagen-derived air-cooled four-cylinder engines and Porsche-engineered six-cylinder units.

While seen by many as a failure, the baby Porsche was in production from 1969-1976 and was considered a sales success, with 118,962 examples of the two-seater made. Rare in the UK, over 80 percent of 914s ended up in America.

What are its rivals?

Retro Road Test: Porsche 914

The 914 was one of the first small sports cars to embrace the mid-engined idea. The little Porsche’s most notable competition was the Fiat X1/9 (pictured above) which shared the German car’s mid-engined layout and flat nose, but added a Triumph TR7-like wedge silhouette.

The Matra 530 pre-dated the Porsche and was another small two-seater which used the same configuration, while other competition included the front-engined, rear-wheel drive Fiat 124 Coupe/Spider as well as the Datsun 240Z and Opel GT. The MGC and Triumph TR6 meanwhile had the six-cylinder 914/6 in their sights.

What engine does it use?

Retro Road Test: Porsche 914

Are you sitting down? If not, take a pew: we could be here a while. During the 914’s short six-year life, there were a bewildering 10 engine options. Early four-cylinder 914/4s borrowed an 80bhp fuel-injected 1679cc flat-four engine from the unloved Volkswagen Type 4/411 saloon, while the ‘proper Porsche’ 914/6 used a carburettor-fed six-cylinder 110bhp unit from the 1969 model year 911T.

Poor sales saw the 914/6 discontinued for the 1973 model year, replaced by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit with a similar output. Two years later the 1.7 was replaced by a 1.8, and various tweaks to the four-cylinder units to comply with tough U.S. emission laws resulted in a range of units with much-reduced power.

What’s it like to drive?

Retro Road Test: Porsche 914

Most 914s weigh around 900kg, so expect adequate rather than blistering performance from a standard car. Early four-pot cars did the 0-60mph dash in around 13 seconds, while the six-cylinder 914/6 knocked three seconds off that. Performance isn’t at the top of the 914’s agenda, though. On a sunny day, with the roof stowed away in the boot, outrageous speed doesn’t matter when you’re bowling down leafy-lined country lanes.

When it was new, the 914 earned itself a reputation for being an arguably better-handling car than the contemporary 911 due to its mid-engined layout. Sit in the snug seat, grab the small steering wheel (all 914s were left-hand drive only) and revel in the little Porsche’s nimble control as you dart from corner to corner on relatively skinny 4.5/5.5-inch-wide 15-inch wheels.

Long footwells thanks to the car’s clever packaging mean short and long bodies shouldn’t have much trouble getting comfortable, and while the five-speed gearbox isn’t the most positive (sorted in 1973 with a side-shifting linkage), it just about does the job. Just inches away from your ears, the flat engine throbs behind you in a similar way to a Volkswagen Beetle’s.

Reliability and running costs

Retro Road Test: Porsche 914

Just like the Volkswagen Polo featured in a previous Retro Road Test, the 914 has long lived in the shadow of more illustrious and famous siblings. Even more less well-known than other entry-level 1970s and 1980s Porsches such as the 924 and 944, the 914’s popularity is increasing.

Forty-five years since its birth and as values rise, it is now being seen as a classic in the making and even a member of the ‘proper Porsche’ club. Lots more replacement panels and parts are now available and there are a healthy number of Porsche specialists who actually know what the car is.

Could I drive it every day?

Porsche 914 at 50

The 914’s small footprint and practical body with its pair of luggage areas can make it a everyday proposition. We know of one enthusiast who does just that and uses a later, more scruffy car (from a fleet of 10!) to bumble around in on a daily basis, keeping his concours condition car stored away.

The intense driving experience – given in part by that engine noise emanating from just behind your seat – steering wheel on the wrong side and sometimes recalcitrant gearbox might be too much for some. Unless the car has been seriously rust-proofed, we’d probably recommend occasional use only.

How much should I pay?

Retro Road Test: Porsche 914

As befits their more popular and desirable status, range-topping 2.0-litre 914s are more expensive than their 1.7 and 1.8-litre siblings. Project four-cylinder cars can start at around £4,000 for a non-runner, rising to £8,500 for one which needs some spucing up. Tidier cars can command tickets of around £12,000, while restored models can fetch £15,000-£25,000.

The six-cylinder 914/6 is a rare thing and you should be prepared to pay upwards of restored four-cylinder car prices – we’ve heard of genuine matching number cars going for anything from £40,000. Always buy on condition, rather than specification.

What should I look out for?

Retro Road Test: Porsche 914

As with all classic cars, rust is one of the major enemies of the 914. Check the labels for corrosion and damage, as well as misaligned doors which can point to more serious accident-related issues. Door handles can be fragile, too.

The battery tray can be a big 914 issue as rust can creep towards the rear suspension mountings and, along with corroded suspension turrets, can cause the car to collapse on its wheels. Check too for correct fit and alignment of the removable glassfibre targa roof panel – a non-sung fit can mean sagging sills.

Body seals can also go, especially on U.S. cars which have spent their lives in a hot climate. Replacement sets cost around £1,000. Similarly, sun-exposed dash tops can crack. Engines usually suffer few major problems, but where fitted, original fuel injection is much more preferable to carburettors.

With the earliest cars now 50 years old, fuel lines will need checking for leaks if they appear to not have been replaced in the past. Four-cylinder cars should have chassis numbers starting with ‘47’ (for Volkswagen Type 47), while genuine six-cylinder models will be known by their Porsche-derived ‘914’-led identifiers.

Should I buy one?

Retro Road Test: Porsche 914

If one of a wide range of 1970s motoring oddballs tickles your fancy or you want a rare piece of Porsche history, then yes. Bold colours, striking looks, a practical and roomy body, and rarity value – when was the last time you saw one? – make the 914 genuinely appealing.

Those largely reliable Volkswagen-engineered and Porsche engines mean parts can be easily sourced, with around 1,700 now available. An eager online network of 914 owners and forums will lend enthusiastic support should you have a problem.

Pub facts

Retro Road Test: Porsche 914

The Porsche 914 was badged ‘VW-Porsche’ in Europe and most other major markets thanks to its shared parentage, but only appeared with a Porsche badge in the U.S., removing all traces of the Volkswagen connection.

Eight Porsche 916 prototypes fitted with the engine from the 1973 911 Carrera RS were built for a suggested limited production run – before Porsche pulled the plug – while an even more powerful pair of near-300bhp eight-cylinder 914/8s were also made: a Blood Orange one for Ferdinand Piech and a silver car for ‘Ferdinand ‘Ferry’ Porsche.

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Toyota Prius Mk1 review: Retro Road Test

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Land Rover Discovery: Retro Road Test special

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BMW M3 CSL review: Retro Road Test

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Retro Road Test: SEAT Leon Cupra R

SEAT Leon Cupra R review: Retro Road Test

Retro Road Test: SEAT Leon Cupra R

It says a lot about how much the hot hatch segment has changed that the 2010 SEAT Leon Cupra R is considered ‘retro’ just four years after production ended. Sharing its engine with the Volkswagen Golf R and Audi S3, the Cupra R was one of the most powerful hot hatches money could buy back then. With depreciation bringing this model close to the £10,000 mark, should it be on your radar – or does it feel old-fashioned in 2017?

What are its rivals?

Alongside the closely-related Audi S3, Volkswagen Golf R and Volkswagen Scirocco R, the Leon Cupra R was sold at the same time as the Ford Focus ST and Honda Civic Type R (FN2) – all of which can be bought for similar money today. When this Cupra R was new in 2011, it cost £27,520 including options (£25,995 before), which made it somewhat a bargain alongside the near-£32,000 Golf R.

Which engines does it use?

Under the bonnet is the VW Group’s 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, producing 265hp. That’s 25hp more than the regular Cupra, thanks to an ECU remap, a higher pressure fuel pump, a new intercooler and a revised exhaust system. Turbo pressure was increased, too – resulting in a 0-62mph time of 6.2 seconds. Top speed is limited to 155mph.

What’s it like to drive?

What’s it like to drive?

All that power goes through the front wheels – a brave move when the Golf R had resorted to four-wheel drive, and most front-drive rivals had a reputation for being extremely frisky under acceleration. While, naturally, the Cupra R is happy to light up its front tyres if you’re ham-fisted with the throttle, it’s no Mk1 Focus RS.

There’s no old-school limited-slip diff, but instead an electronic system that uses the ABS to apply the brakes to spinning wheels and reduce understeer. It works well: while understeer could still be an issue on-track, onBuckinghamshire B-roads we didn’t find ourselves wishing we were in the four-wheel-drive Golf.

Body-roll is well contained – despite the slab-sided MPV-esque looks – and even in the age of 300hp-plus hot hatches, it still feels very quick. Power delivery is linear, with oodles of torque available from around 2,500rpm.

Reliability and running costs

The Cupra R is too new for any big reliability issues to come to light, but it should be a fairly safe bet. Make sure you get an insurance quote before parting with any money, and don’t expect much more than 30mpg in day-to-day use. SEAT servicing should be reasonable, but obviously it’ll cost more to maintain than a regular 1.2 TSI.

Could I drive it every day?

Could I drive it every day?

Yes, of course you could. There are all the creature comforts you’d expect from a modern hot hatch (including luxurious quilted leather seats), while later models from mid-2011 got a (now a bit dated) infotainment system, Bluetooth connectivity and bi-xenon headlights as standard. It’s a practical car, with plenty of room in the back and a generously-sized boot. Kids might tire of the hard ride, though.

How much should I pay?

This is the sort of car that might be driven hard and neglected, so it’s worth paying more for a good example. We reckon a budget of around £13,000 will get you a very tidy one.

What should I look out for?

What should I look out for?

Look out for signs that it has been driven hard. This isn’t an obvious track car, but some owners may have taken their Cupra R on track days. Check the condition of the tyres (and make sure they’re a good brand) and look closely at the alloys as they’re fairly easy to kerb. Also, make sure it’s been serviced regularly.

Should I buy one?

Not everyone will be taken by the people-carrier looks, but the Leon Cupra R represents excellent value for money alongside the more expensive Golf GTI. It’s rarer, too, and we think it looks rather special in the Chrono Yellow seen here. It’ll make you grin almost as much as the latest hot hatches, but for a third of the price.

Pub fact

Pub fact

Although SEAT continues to stick with front-wheel drive for the Leon Cupra, it did briefly produce a 4×4 version of the Mk1 Leon. It was sold between 2000 and 2002, but in left-hand-drive markets only. Power came from VW’s 2.8-litre VR6 engine producing ‘more than 200hp’.

Ford Lotus Cortina TV star reunited with owner 40 years on

We reunite Ford Lotus Cortina TV star with its owner after 40 years

Ford Lotus Cortina TV star reunited with owner 40 years onSome people remember names, others never forget a face. A select few of us even recall our online passwords. Rob Jones, however, has an uncanny memory for car number plates. Hey, we all need a party trick.

Rob knows the registration marks of every car he’s ever owned, from the MG Midget he bought after passing his test to the SEAT Leon Cupra he drives today. And one of those remembered registrations – FGF 113C – led to an emotional reunion with the car he owned 40 years ago.

Like many great love stories, our tale begins on a sofa in front of the telly. The show was ‘Car SOS’, and presenters Fuzz Townshend and Tim Shaw were battling to restore a Mk1 Ford Cortina GT from little more than a bare shell.

Made in DagenhamFord Lotus Cortina TV star reunited with owner 40 years on

Seeking inspiration, the team visited Ford’s heritage workshop in Dagenham. Their mission: to drive the GT’s big brother – the legendary Lotus Cortina. Rob nearly fell off his sofa. This immaculate white-and-green classic, hailed by Tim as “a sensation of the era”, wore the same number plate as a Lotus Cortina he’d bought in 1976.

“It had to be the same car,” explains Rob, “but I searched through my old photos to be sure.” The Polaroid print he found proved it beyond doubt. There was Rob, in glorious faded sepia, wearing a pair of turned-up flares and leaning on a Lotus Cortina, registration: FGF 113C.

The Ford heritage workshop is usually off-limits to the public, so Rob contacted Motoring Research – having seen our gallery feature on the Dagenham collection. A few excited emails later, Rob had a date in Dagenham. Even better, it was on his birthday.

From road to racetrackFord Lotus Cortina TV star reunited with owner 40 years on

Before our heart-warming ‘boy meets car’ moment, a few words on the Lotus Cortina. This skunkworks special was launched in 1963 and is arguably the first fast Ford. It packs a 106hp 1.6-litre Lotus engine and close-ratio Ford gearbox, clothed in lightweight alloy panels.

Tipping the scales at just 826kg, the Lotus Cortina reached 60mph in 9.9 seconds, plus a top speed of 108mph. It was an instant hit on the racetrack, with Jim Clark winning the British Saloon Car title in 1964, then Alan Mann Racing clinching the European title in 1965.

A total of 3,301 Mk1 Lotus Cortinas were built before the squarer Mk2 arrived in 1967. By this point, well-publicised reliability problems and the launch of the Escort Twin Cam meant the Cortina’s star was fading. But it has gone supernova since, with prices for concours examples stretching well into six figures.

Show some appreciationFord Lotus Cortina TV star reunited with owner 40 years on

Rob negotiated a rather better deal. “I paid £370 for my Cortina,” he laughs, “then sold it for £500 eight months later. I didn’t own it long as I kept having problems with the starter motor. The ring gears would slip or jam – I ended up replacing them about once a month.”

There are no such issues when, four decades on, Rob twists the key of his old car. The twin-cam engine bursts raucously into life, its throaty bark reverberating off the walls of Ford’s workshop – a huge warehouse that used to be a truck factory. Rob’s smile says it all.

“This brings it all back,” he beams. “I was a Lotus fanatic, but I couldn’t afford an Elan – so this was my dream car at the time. It’s been lowered a couple of inches since I owned it, but otherwise nothing much has changed.”

For the custodians of Ford’s heritage fleet, Rob’s visit provides a valuable chance to fill in the blanks about this Cortina’s history. “We don’t know much about the car before it came to us,” they admit.

A Christmas crashFord Lotus Cortina TV star reunited with owner 40 years on

One story in particular raises a few eyebrows. “Yeah, I crashed it,” admits Rob. “I’d just finished my Christmas shopping. I pulled out of a pub car park in Newbury [sober, he adds] and got sideswiped by an Austin 1100. It ploughed into the nearside wing and I ended up paying a £25 fine as it was his right of way.”

On the rain-drenched roads of Dagenham, Rob is being extra-careful: “I didn’t want to push it in the wet. I’m very conscious the car is worth a few quid more than when I owned it.”

It’s clear Rob loves being back behind the skinny wooden wheel, though. “It’s just lovely. I remember that twin-cam sound – and the smell. But the steering is so heavy compared to a modern car. You need muscles like Arnold Schwarzenegger to do a three-point turn.”

A great motoring memoryFord Lotus Cortina TV star reunited with owner 40 years on

Rob has owned many cars over the past 40 years, including several self-built Ginetta sports cars, but the Cortina is the one he wishes he’d kept. “Just being back behind the wheel felt special. I’d have another, definitely. I just need to discover one in a barn.”

Seeing Rob reunited with his Lotus Cortina reaffirmed our belief that cars are more than mere transport. They bookend periods in our lives, our memories of past journeys and destinations inexorably linked to the vehicles we travelled in.

For Rob, driving the car he owned in 1976 is the closest he’ll get to time travel. And unlike his flares, the Lotus Cortina hasn’t aged a day.