Stout, figuring it was either fuel or ignition, started to poke around the car. After a few minutes, his nose led him to some melted carpet behind the seats. The ignition module had overheated! My embarrassment increased unquantifiably as we waited — and waited — for a flatbed. Stout made a few calls and found a 993 ignition module at a Novato mechanic’s shop, then persuaded a friend of his at nearby Genoa Racing to drive it to us for an hour’s labor. We canceled the tow and, in less than 30 minutes, were back on the road. But I still suffer embarrassment thinking about it.
Back at the Excellence offices, I checked the new ignition module. It too was running very hot. After a little troubleshooting, I discovered the 3.6 had a defective ignition coil, which caused the module to overheat. Worse, the engine had only been running on half of its twin-ignition system! Once the coil was replaced, the ignition module stopped overheating and the engine felt noticeably stronger.
Like most home builders, I struggled to troubleshoot modern engine electronics. After a little research, I found Durametric Diagnostics, which has a system that allows you to plug a laptop into the engine’s diagnostic port. When I bought the software, there was no way to turn off half of the twin-plug ignition system. However, after a discussion with the company, a software upgrade was quickly developed where you can switch between them.
My take: Having diagnostic software is an indispensable tool for troubleshooting a computer-controlled car. Without it, you must resort to guesswork and parts swapping to make repairs, an expensive way to go when you’re working on a Porsche.
With Project 914 3.6 running great again, I entered the Sacramento Valley Region Porsche Club of America’s Concours ’d Elegance at Niello Porsche. While I’m more of a nuts-and-bolts guy than a concours guy, I was curious to see how the car would do against show cars.
As I parked in my designated spot, two people approached. One was the manager of the dealership, the other was in charge of the concours. They asked if I would be willing to move Project 914 3.6 inside the dealership, to a more prestigious location! I won first in class, but the honor of being invited to bring my 914 inside was far more rewarding than a trophy. As I left, I found an invitation on my seat to participate in the Niello Concours at Serrano, a by-invitation-only event. Project 914 3.6 took first in that show’s modified class, but the compliments received from fellow enthusiasts again beat the trophy.
Such feedback meant quite a bit to me, since critics have long called the 914 Porsche’s ugly duckling. My experience suggests you either love 914s or hate them. If you fall into the latter category, you might wonder if you could build a nice 911 for the same price. The answer is yes. The cost of buying the basic car will be higher, but the cost of most components — from engines and transmissions to trim and seals — will be nearly identical. In some cases, they may even be cheaper due to the stronger aftermarket support for 911s.
So why did I spend $45,000 on a 914 if I could have built a 3.6-liter 911 for similar money? For three reasons: 1) I prefer the handling of a mid-engine car; 2) a 914 is significantly lighter than a 911; 3) I see a lot of nicely restored 911s, but nicely restored 914s are rare. The thumbs-ups at stop signs and positive comments I receive when this car is on the road emphasize that last point. It’s unique, and special.
Every time I open the garage, I’m thrilled. The computer-controlled 3.6 yields modern-day convenience with strong performance, while my carefully chosen suspension, brake, and comfort upgrades make this the 914 I’ve wanted to build for 20 years. The success of this project has a lot to do with the help I received along the way. I have a lot of people to thank, but feel especially thankful to the members of 914world.com, to parts guru Jeff Clark at Sunset Imports, and to all those Excellence readers who patiently followed my build process — for a few more than ten articles.
To see the net cost of the build — which includes a price list of parts bought and sold — visit the next page.