914-6: Transformer

The anabolic race car

July 2, 2013
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Franklin Wong’s 914-6 has been hibernating in a storage unit in the disused Kapalama Military Reservation in Honolulu for many years, but it still looks ready for track action. The racing numbers and decals, the huge flared fenders over wide Hoosier race tires and the aggressive aerodynamic bodywork speak clearly to the car’s racing history.

That history is certainly worth reviewing. When Porsche began delivering 914s to the U.S in 1970, the cars immediately caught the attention of the racing fraternity, as the 914 was a proper mid-engined car, with all the positive dynamic attributes typical of that layout.

Thus, no sooner had 914s begun arriving Stateside than six 914-6s were allocated for racing in SCCA C-production events; two for the Eastern tracks, two for the Midwest, and two for the West Coast. The West Coast cars were obtained by Porsche pioneer-dealer Johnny Von Neumann, and they joined the team of Richie Ginther, to be driven by Alan Johnson and Elliot Forbes-Robinson.

There’s a story that says Ginther was first sent for evaluation the car which debuted the 914-6 model at the New York Auto Show. After some preliminary setup work, Ginther drove the car at Willow Springs Raceway, where it took two seconds off the time set by his team’s 911 race car. When he came back into the pits, Ginther apparently remarked that it was the closest thing to a Formula 1 car he had ever sat in. (That particular car now seems to have disappeared in the mists of time.)

The Willow Springs shakedown was a very promising start to the season, and with too little time for thorough preparation, the two Ginther cars were entered at Holtville, near San Diego, where Johnson’s car suffered a holed piston after being unceremoniously punted off the course while leading the race. But things quickly improved when Johnson won at Riverside Raceway shortly thereafter, then again in Phoenix, Arizona. In a second car, EFR won at Utah, Sears Point, and Portland.

Porsche’s 914-6s appeared suited to the class in which they competed, and Johnson went on to acquit himself well throughout that debut season. In fact, the whole national Porsche team effort ended up doing extremely well during the year, the six cars accumulating 11 club victories among them, with a regional championship for Johnson.

But all concerned had become aware of the 914-6’s serious Achilles heel on the long tracks. The SCCA regulations held the car to its 2.0-liter displacement, and although considerable engine tweaking was performed, it did not close the horsepower gap between it and the fast Datsun 240Zs. This was borne out at the runoffs, which were held at a real horsepower track—Road Atlanta in Georgia—resulting in a fourth place for Forbes-Robinson and a fifth for Johnson.

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