The models that open the door to the world of Porsche

In1969 the Porsche 914/4 was Porsche’s introduction to the range – today that honour sits with the 718 T. Fifty years on, what do the two have in common?

8w ago

The Porsche 718 Cayman T is all kinds of things, but it’s certainly no successor to the Porsche 914/4. For starters, it’s a coupé while its ancestor was a Targa. Even their silhouettes are quite different. With all the love there is for the brand, for tradition, for everything that’s just emerging – anyone with a keen pair of eyes can see at first glance that this is an impossible comparison.

But just because you look, doesn’t mean you actually see the essential features. To do that, you need a little more. More than 30 years of love for classic cars, for example – the way Olaf Johannes Häner feels about them. This engineer is always a man of emotion, despite the tendency towards rationality that comes with his job. He’s built up a tiny oasis for himself in a workshop in the Steinfurt district of Germany – a 1960s petrol station idyll where he keeps his small collection of classic cars: Volkswagen models first and foremost, but his heart belongs to Porsche in particular.

Olaf Häner

Olaf Häner

One of his favourite cars, unsurprisingly, is his green Porsche 914/4: the model that unites both worlds. Designed at Porsche, using Volkswagen funding, powered by an engine from Wolfsburg and built at Karmann in Osnabrück, it hails from near to Häner’s home in Paderborn, where he lives with his wife and two sons – both of whom share their father’s enthusiasm for classic cars.

Today, however, we find Häner alone in his little empire as we bring along a guest – the Porsche 718 Cayman T. It’s blue temptation on grey concrete, 220 kW (300 PS; 718 Cayman T: Fuel consumption combined 8.7 – 8.1 l/100 km, CO2 emissions combined 200 – 185 g/km) instead of the 100 offered by the 914/4 2.0. At first, Olaf simply glances at it, but even just a quick look tells this true Porsche 914 fan more than just the colour and design of the car. “If I were to buy a new Porsche today, this is exactly what I’d buy. It’s purist, it has a manual transmission and it’s mid-engined – all things that really captivate me. As far as I’m concerned, the shape is a real hit. Everything’s just perfect, every line is ideal,” he says. No sooner are the words out of his mouth than he’s sat himself behind the wheel.

“If I were to buy a new Porsche today, this is exactly what I’d buy. It’s purist, it has a manual transmission and it’s mid-engined – all things that really captivate me. As far as I’m concerned, the shape is a real hit. Everything’s just perfect, every line is ideal.”

Olaf Häner

It’s like the 718 T was made for him, even though there’s not much in the interior of this car to impress a purist of his ilk. There are loops in the doors to replace the usual handles – but that’s about it. The car generally comes with electric sports seats. The infotainment and navigation systems in the car aren’t as simple as Häner was expecting, and they’re nothing like those available in his 914. That said, the 718 T is supplied as new with a large central storage compartment in the centre console instead of the Porsche Communication Management module. Customers who would rather have the entertainment system can order it at no extra cost.

As Porsche fans will know, the ‘T’ traditionally stands for ‘Touring’ in Porsche models and is synonymous with truly pure driving pleasure – something the 718 T offers in abundance. In general, the car comes equipped with sports suspension that is lowered by 20 millimetres, including adaptive dampers, the SportChrono package with Sport and Sport Plus modes and active transmission mounts. The Torque Vectoring System with mechanical limited slip differential, which distributes the power optimally between the two driven wheels, also comes as part of the T’s standard range of products, as does the extremely responsive steering, which allows this mid-engined athlete to corner precisely, no matter how spirited the drive.

The conditions are ideal for converting the performance of the boxer engine into lateral dynamics. The 300 PS from the two-litre, four-cylinder turbo (with particulate filter) can easily cope with the 15 kilograms of extra weight – compared to the basic Cayman – due to all of this technical equipment installed for driving pleasure by the development team. According to the data sheet, the 1,380-kg 718 T can sprint from a standing start to 100 km/h in 5.1 seconds thanks to its power-to-weight ratio of 4.5 kg per PS. There’s really no turbo lag to speak of. The 380 Newton metres of torque is available almost without delay as the turbocharger delivers a superb response.

The power is delivered by a crisply tuned manual six-speed transmission, which is fitted as standard. The shortened gear lever fits perfectly in the hand. The 718 T is of course instantly recognisable thanks to its corresponding lettering. The performance version of the Cayman 718 also features high-gloss, titanium grey, 20-inch Carrera S alloy wheels, agate grey exterior mirrors and a sports exhaust system with black chrome-plated, high-gloss twin tailpipes located centrally.

If this sounds good on paper, wait until you actually drive it. Take your Cayman from the North Cape to Gibraltar? Any time! And you’ll love it … The fact that this car can do everything better than the Porsche 914/4 is a trivial point – it would be strange if no progress had been made in more than 50 years. But even if Häner does develop a soft spot for the new 718 (“Well, you could leave it here if you like. There’s still a bit of room left in the workshop.”), it wouldn’t give him enough of a reason to get rid of his “Volks-Porsche”.

It has been shortened to ‘VoPo’ in the newspapers since the car was launched. Back then, Huschke von Hanstein begged journalists to call it that. The car had nothing to do with the People’s Police of East Germany, or Volkspolizei, which shared the same nickname. But despite his requests, the term ended up escaping into the wild: just another miscoloured element in an unsightly mosaic. This fun little car, which Heinrich Nordhoff and Ferry Porsche shook hands on and developed entirely using funds from Volkswagen, became something of a bone of contention. Volkswagen tzar Nordhoff died. His successor, Kurt Lotz, didn’t want to know anything about dodgy dealings, so he applied the thumbscrews: if we’re paying for everything, we want to sell it as our car.

A long period of back and forth was followed by the founding of Volkswagen-Porsche-Vertriebsgesellschaft. In Germany, the 914 had to be sold as a VW-Porsche. Only the 914/6 and the 916 were given the Porsche logo. For Porsche, though, this was a good deal because they could suddenly benefit from the many new Audi dealerships set up by Volkswagen-Audi-NSU in the USA. So, from this point onwards, the 914 stood next to newly launched Audi models – and it was a Porsche. The VW was dropped but this is one of the reasons people on the Porsche scene in Germany are so mistrusting of the 914/4, even though the company itself recognised the 914 as a genuine Porsche.

Olaf Häner could never understand this debate. It was always clear to him – sooner or later, he’d own a Porsche 914. What’s more, he acquired this one personally in California. He simply combined a family holiday with his search for one of these cars. The first owner wanted to part with his 914, which had only been repainted once. His daughters had learned to drive in it, but now this little green car was just left standing around. That was back in 2009: since then, the 914 has been part of Häner’s fleet. The bumpers were originally black but the new owner has had them chrome-plated – destroying one in the process. So he bought a new one, paying an arm and a leg for it, and now he’s happy with his little Targa.

The 100 PS is plenty for the 914, which was built in 1974 and weighs just 970 kg. It reaches 100 km/h in about 10.5 seconds, and it can do almost 200 km/h (“well, a bit more actually”). And Häner doesn’t really care that the engine was also used in the rather less popular “Nasenbär”, the Volkswagen 411/412, and the Volkswagen bus. He loves the top-down driving, the crisp steering, the low ride height and the really enormous boot. So his way forward is clear: “Swap it? No way. But I wouldn’t mind a 718 T as well. That’d be nice.”

718 Cayman T: fuel consumption combined: 8.7 – 8.1 l/100 km; CO2 emissions combined: 200 – 185 g/km

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Comments (1)

  • Lovely story Mark, I'd love me the most basic Cayman in that colour, and that 914 is a lovely comparison to show that even the most affordable Porsche is worthy of attention.

      1 month ago