It’s been over a year now since I was sitting in the driver seat of Pete Stout’s 1973 Porsche 914, and yet the rumble of the 2.2-liter flat-six positioned directly behind me feels as effervescent in my mind today as it did in the moment.
“You can go faster,” Pete excitedly urged me with a sly grin as I felt my way through the corners on a winding mountain pass some 20-odd miles north of San Francisco, California. The crisp forest air lightly battered my hair as on and on I went, relishing the marvelous sensation of the 914’s center of gravity, which felt as though it was riding along in the right-rear pocket of my pants.
As I opened the throttle, allowing the maximum volume of air to pass through the velocity stacks and on into the flat-six, Pete turned his face upward through the open targa top to the tips of the redwoods and closed his eyes in reverie. “That’s the sound of Le Mans, 1970,” he shouts to the heavens from the passenger seat.
The sun had already descended beneath the horizon by the time we made our way back to Pete’s garage to store the car, and a certain sentimental memory was triggered. I was four or five, bouncing around on the rear bench seat of my uncle’s 1966 Mustang. The carbureted V8 shook the entire car, there was an aura of spent fuel in the dark air, and I remember the feeling of the textured vinyl covering the unsupportive and decades-old seats. If memory serves, my uncle had an aftermarket sound system in the car, but the soundtrack of the engine through a hot exhaust was all that we required on that particular evening. As these things go, I ended up buying a first-generation Mustang myself years later. It was my first project car and ultimately a life-changing experience.
Though Pete’s 914 – which has been in his family since the 1980s and in the Bay Area for even longer – left the factory in a much more refined state than a first-generation Mustang. With both the small tweaks Pete has made and the swapped flat-six gargling all that fuel and air, the closest thing I could place it to was a muscle car. In fact, it sort of is one. It just happens to be a 914 and thus is also capable of going ’round a corner in a manner very much unlike a muscle car.
It was a driving experience like no other, and one in particular that I’ll never forget. Pete’s 914 just so happened to be the first Porsche I had driven, and what a foray into the marque it was. I spent weeks afterward scouring the internet for 914s, and from time to time I still spend a moment to take a fleeting look. There was a dark green one I almost pulled the trigger on, and in retrospect I regret not doing so, as it seems the popularity and cost of the 914 is going the way of the 911: Up.High School
Everything about this particular Porsche, though, is either unique to or innately special to Pete. And yet, curiously, Pete never wanted this 914. At least when he was 15 he sure didn’t, but that’s when he started working on and – soon after – driving it.
If you want some insight on Pete’s background, you might want to take a pit stop here, where I took a deep dive with Pete into his role as editor of 000 Magazine. There, as I’ll reiterate here, I explained that Pete really wanted the family’s diesel A1 VW Rabbit at the time, as he had dreams of modifying it.
Not to mention, in the early 1990s the 914 was “deeply unstylish,” and Pete went on to explain that this one wasn’t in good shape, either. One of the doors had been kicked in when it was vandalized in Southern California while off to college with his older brother. A taillight was also broken, the paint was oxidized, and the clutch needed to be replaced.
But still, Pete ended up with what his father called a “dishonest Volkswagen” – finished in Bahia Red over black with narrow 15-inch Pedrini alloys – and was awarded ‘Hooptiest Car’ in his senior year of high school.
More important than all of this, Pete’s 914 was powered by a questionable flat-four of unknown displacement (probably 1,911cc) paired with a 5-speed manual transmission, which Porsche updated for the 1973 models with an improved side-shift mechanism. Going a bit deeper, Pete explains that the car bears serial number #193, making it one of the so-called ‘first 1,000′ 1973 914s – and had the vinyl A-pillars associated with those cars.
“About the only 1973 equipment I found on the car was the transmission and the front bumper guards. This car had 1972 doors with no crash beams, 1972 door windows, a 1972 top, rain tray, headlight switch…” Pete continues, “This is indicative of why ‘correct’ is a moving target, and not just with Porsche. Manufacturers use up what they have when possible.”
The car was Pete’s daily driver to El Cerrito High in the East Bay, positioned just north of Berkeley and Oakland. Being in high school, this meant that the car could only be improved using a high school budget, but Pete didn’t let this stop him.
While initially cool to the 914, he soon discovered what any car represents to a high-schooler: freedom. He went to work on making it his right away, and the obvious first job was lowering the car and ditching the skinny tires. Pete says, “Jim Breazeale at European Auto Salvage Yard [EASY] proved an invaluable help here on said high school budget. Many hours were spent scouring his warehouse for better parts than those on the car.”
The car remained a daily driver for the next few years, which meant projects had to be done quickly – the 914 served as transportation not only to El Cerrito High, but jobs at Toys R Us and, later, Costco. In fact, Pete shared with a chuckle that he once went on a date in San Francisco with five-lug wheels on one side and four-lug wheels on the other; “she didn’t even notice!”
For college abuse, Pete purchased a K-platform Plymouth Reliant for the princely sum of one whole dollar, which made the 914 a second car – sort of. The truth was, he couldn’t afford to drive the 914 in college, but the Plymouth would eventually teach him what anyone who has purchased a daily driver to supplement their project car knows: Just having something else to get to work makes all the difference.
After college, the 914 remained a fun car for five years or so, but it resumed daily-driver duties for about a year after Pete married his wife Rebekah, who ended up in Pete’s first new car, a 2003 WRX.
Today, Rebekah handles important duties at 000: they call her ‘The Money’. Besides that brief period, the 914 has since been a pampered second-stringer. Thus, around 2008, Pete began what he thought would be a quick repaint, which ended up triggering a chain reaction that might feel familiar.
He says the “new paint made the trim look bad, new trim made the Fuchs look tired, refinished Fuchs made the calipers look bad, a brake rebuild and upgrade prompted a complete suspension rebuild.” And finally, this tight new suspension setup caused Pete to cast a second look toward the mid-mounted engine in his quest for a better driving experience on California’s splendid back roads. Particularly after Rebekah remarked that it still sounded like a tractor.Six Swap
Even before Pete went on this quest for more power, the 914 1.7-liter was a formidable foe. He thinks back to a night just over two decades ago, when 000 co-founder Alex Palevsky and a mutual friend of theirs came over from San Francisco for a tour of the East Bay’s best driving roads high over UC Berkeley. The roster included an E36 M3 and a 993 Turbo; then “glassy-eyed stuff,” Pete says of the latter’s 400-odd horsepower. He parked his 914 at the base of the mountain, “because it was a tractor,” ready to hitch a ride in one of his friends’ modern sports cars.
To Pete’s surprise they resisted: ‘No no, we want to follow you.’ And what an educational night it became.
All three were fair drivers, with many fast-paced miles under their belts but still in their early 20s. Although Pete had the advantage of knowing these particular roads, he was very (very, very) down on horsepower. A three-to-one advantage went to the E36, and a five-to-one advantage to the 993. And yet the lightweight mid-engined platform served to shock them all as it managed to keep pace all night. Each driver rotated, and each member of the trio came away with an appreciation for how much speed you could carry in the 914, and how much confidence the chassis inspired. A ‘70s car with 80 horsepower had no business being this fast.
Fast-forward to around a decade ago, when a new character enters our story: John Holleran. Pete had met John while digging around in the EASY lot during his high school years, and John, a student at Pinole Valley High School at the time, performed a six-swap on his own 914 after the hot-rodded four he had gave up the ghost. This made a big impression on young Pete back then, and therefore John was the one Pete called before signing the paperwork to have his own engine replaced with a built-up Type IV. “Am I crazy to spend five figures on a Volkswagen engine?” Pete asked. John ended up putting in a good word about the builder Pete was going with, so all seemed well.
Then, a call back the following day threw the best of monkey wrenches in Pete’s well-laid plan. John’s friendly voice on the other end of a second-gen iPhone said, “Have you called the guy yet? Because I have a bunch of parts I’ve been saving for a conversion that isn’t going to happen, and I hate eBay and I hate Craigslist…”
Pete would need to supply a set of carburetors, an air box, engine mounts, engine tins, a tachometer, an exhaust, and a number of other parts, but John had most of the big pieces. Namely, an unstressed engine case that was pulled from a stock 911T, a nice set of used Mahle pistons and cylinders he’d been holding onto, a new old stock oil tank, and more.
John ended up building and installing the 2.2-liter flat-six that’s in the car today, which he worked on during weekends and nights when time was available. Pete helped as he could, and wishes he could have been more involved. “It was really neat to be doing this with someone your age, who you’ve known since high school, and who came up in the same school district you did,” Pete says. “We were acquaintances then; we are friends now.”
The six made good use of the Mahle pistons and cylinders; the compression ratio was bumped up, work was performed on the cylinder heads, and Solex camshafts were utilized. Exhaust headers mean the air-cooled car has no heater in the cabin -something Pete hopes to get around to – but the sound out the Dansk sport muffler seems a nice trade if you ask me.
Further aiding in this fantastic sound is a set of Weber triple-throat carburetors from the classified ads on Pelican Parts. Hidden under the air cleaner you’ll find a crank-fire ignition system with a mix of older Electromotive components and newer bits from Clewett Engineering. It was all made to fit using a Rich Johnson 914-6 engine tin and mount set, and power is transferred to the rear wheels through a lightweight flywheel and a rebuilt 5-speed dogleg 901 manual transmission. How much power, you might ask?
With the factory air box removed for tuning, the six produced 169.9whp at RPM Engineering in Santa Rosa, or more than double what the old 1.7-liter could do at the crank. Pete, who was hoping for 160-170hp at the crank, as much as a stock 2.2-liter 911E might make, was thrilled, though he says the engine lost 20hp with the air box back in place and only gained 12 of it back when the air filter was removed. The air box (seen above cast aside in the grass to expose those glorious carburetors) has since been updated with a GT3 Cup-style intake, but Pete isn’t sure what the final horsepower number is and doesn’t seem all that concerned: “It’s driveable, with great midrange torque for such a small engine – and that’s a lot more important than peak power numbers.”
The added power came at the cost of around 100-120 extra pounds compared to the Type IV, which Pete was initially leery about; “I liked the philosophical aspect of the lighter engine,” he says. However, in driving the car, you can tell that all of that weight is added exactly where you want it.Bits & Pieces
Weighing an estimated 2,150lbs, the car feels amazingly balanced as you feather the throttle around a corner. It feels good on hard braking and wide open on a straight, too, but the most amazing sensation in this car is hitting an apex at speed. You can imagine that this is made even better by the fantastic sound that follows as the Webers go to work, and every moment of the driving experience is special.
This is thanks to a few major things that Pete has done over the years, paired with hundreds of finite adjustments. Take Pete’s lug nuts for an example of the latter, which are factory aluminum pieces from a 911 that were re-anodized in gray after their tops were cut off and the resulting edges chamfered.
The five-lug suspension is a mix of early 911 and 914-6 gear, which Pete found in the Richmond Classified Flea Market in 1992, and drove out to Modesto to get. This setup was accompanied by Bilstein HDs when I drove it, but Pete says he’s going to switch back to Koni Specials (AKA reds). Apparently they feel even better, so I might need to go for another drive to make sure Pete isn’t making things up.
Five-lug ‘Deep Six’ Fuchs were poached from EASY, also during high school, and have since been refinished by Harvey Weidman to resemble the unfinished look seen on some of Porsche’s customer race cars in the late ‘60s. The 15×6-inch wheels wear 185/60R15 Avon CR6ZZ rubber, popular among vintage racers and incredibly confidence-inspiring during spirited backroad driving.
Braking is provided by a set of period Brembo aluminum front calipers paired with ventilated early-911 rotors and stock aluminum hubs. These calipers were polished before being clear-anodized and rebuilt by Eric Shea at PMB Performance, while the stock ATE rear set were cadmium-plated in silver.The Aura
This incremental approach was applied to the exterior as well, which while appearing stock at quick glance sports 30-odd modifications. The most obvious are the earlier and more attractive guard-less bumpers, Hella H4 headlights with black surrounds, Euro taillights and turn signal lenses, and the lack of US-market side markers.
The antenna has been removed along with the Porsche lettering on the engine grille, while a Euro ‘914 VW Porsche’ badge has been added at the rear. A fiberglass rear valance serves to save weight and delete the stock single-exit exhaust. There’s an LE-style front air dam, and a couple dozen other little items that make this car Pete’s.
Pete shared that back in the ‘90s when the car became his, he wanted to find a 916 body kit. “Everyone was trying to make their 914 look unlike a 914,” he explains, further expanding that he’s thankful now that he couldn’t afford to do that at the time. Instead, Pete “caught a vision” of the car mostly stock, low, and with the right wheel/tire setup. I’d say this has been executed to a T, and then some.
Touching on that unique 914 style, Pete is glad that the car is finally valued for what it is: “Super spare, super simple; alternative thinking and design – things that I’ve come to realize were in line with the mid-century movement.”
Mildly side-tracked but curiously on-topic, Pete continued by talking Eichler houses: “A new design movement might be popular early on – or not – but it often fades, especially [when] groundbreaking… If, after 20 or 30 years of deep undesirability it comes back, it’s often here to stay.” In a nutshell, this describes the cycle of the 914, and Eichlers, perfectly.
“A lot of mid-century houses, including the one we moved into a few years ago, were built to bring good design to the masses,” says Pete. “The same is true of the 914, and it was very advanced for its day… in a lot of ways. What’s funny is that something that wasn’t particularly special, or at least wasn’t considered as such back then can change over time – or at least the way we approach it can change. This car wasn’t a special model, and doesn’t have a special VIN. And yet it keeps reminding me that you don’t need that to have a lot of fun out on the road. If anything, it reminds me that stuff can actually get in the way of having a lot of fun out on the road.”
Inside the cabin there are many details that remain from Pete’s high school days. For example, he admits that he’d prefer clean door panels, which he cut for speakers, but also says “the parts that were there back then” are becoming more important to him over time.
There are little scratches on some of the trim, scratches likely made by Pete, a friend of Pete’s, or maybe even his older brother who used the car before him. Each of these imperfections contains a story, and while the car might be improved by erasing them, you’d actually lose something in the process. Through and through this is Pete’s car, and like everything else he’s updated the interior where he sees fit rather than as an exercise of perfectionism.
The dashboard was replaced with a nicer used one, and EASY came through once again with a used carpet set. Seats from GTS Classics feature heating elements (but have since been replaced with period Scheel seats), an early Prototipo-style steering wheel has been installed, and the center console has been removed altogether. Pete says the Weltmeister short-shift kit was “purchased used from EASY in high school and installed in a Costco parking lot on my lunch break. Still there, still works. A lot of people give the 901 a hard time, but this one shifted beautifully once I’d gone through it – and it got better when Holleran was finished with the conversion. It’s no GT4 shifter, but I’ve never missed a shift, never had an issue with it.”Revelations
It’s a focused build that has been honed over the decades, and it feels that way behind the wheel. Asking Pete about the purpose behind the project as a whole, he replies, “While the car has been on track, has been autocrossed, and has been rallied, the purpose of the rebuild was none of the above; it’s just meant to be something fun to drive on the backroads of California.”
And what a fantastic job Pete has done in that regard. The chassis inspires such profound confidence and allows you to push it so much closer to the limit than possible in other cars.
Since driving Pete’s 914, I took out a pair of vintage 911s for some contrast. They were both incredibly compelling cars in their own right, but they were more of a battle to wrangle around. The feedback was fantastic, and I felt very close to the road in both. Naturally, the unsettling feeling of the rear engine would dissipate over time, but – like the trio of young drivers experienced in their M3, Turbo, and this very car two decades ago – the 914 was a revelation. If I had to pick between a period 911 and a 914 on experience alone, it’d have to be the latter. The 914 just does precisely what you want, exactly when you want it. Right away it felt like an old shoe in the best of ways.
For additional contrast, the same can nearly be said of Pete’s 991.2 after driving it, but not quite. It’s all relative, and in newer 911 you do feel like you’re part of the car, at least compared to, say, an F82 M4. But in the 991, especially when driving it immediately after the 914, there was just a disappointing lack of feedback. The car felt strangely heavy despite being plenty powerful, the steering was oddly light, and the ceramic-composite brakes served to chuck us all toward the windshield due to my unrefined right foot. Sure, the 991 stops on a dime, it’s crisp, and it’s even fairly practical. But naturally, in modernizing the 911, its rawness has been lost.
Yes, the drive in the 991 was great, but the sensations were not entirely memorable. On the other hand, I won’t soon forget the sensation of feeling out the heavy brake pedal, the weighty steering, bumpy ride, and magical center of gravity in Pete’s 914. Looking over the silver-dot VDO gauges as I ate up the miles, high on the sound of that sensational six. It doesn’t get better.
Speaking of gauges, Pete had no use for a certain VDO clock that I noticed sitting on his workbench during a separate visit. He saw me coveting it in his garage and, presumably on a whim, said I could have it. I refused; he insisted. As did my better half. As Sara and I took the clock from his hands there was something fleeting that danced behind Pete’s smile. I was taking a piece of the story with me, a clock gifted to Pete out of a mentor’s garage years ago. “Some gifts are meant to stay in motion – just don’t let it change what you write.”
That VDO clock now resides on my desk, adapted to run off AC power, ticking away as I work each day, tracking me through the hours. And oft-times when I glance at it, I’ll consequently find myself briefly lost in thought. When will Porsche build a proper toy from the ground up again? Will any car in the future be able to strike me in the same way that Pete’s 914 did? Will I have the pleasure of finding myself behind the wheel again? Will I get my own? Only time will tell.
“Been thinking about your story, and if there’s one thing I’d love to convey to your readers – especially younger ones – it’s that you don’t need a car that’s ‘special’ or ‘cool’ or ‘valuable’ in the eyes of others or ‘the market.’ It’s about how far a sports car – any sports car – can take you if you’re willing to persevere. My 914 was a $3,000 used car 30-40 years ago, and the butt of plenty of jokes. Today its obvious parallel is a decent early Boxster for $5,000-$8,000. The liability with the 914 was structural rust, and still is, where it’s mechanical with a 986.
But look where that $3,000 used car eventually took a punk kid, 30 years later. Where might an old 986 take someone?
— Pete StoutGallery