Rally-ready Porsche 914 with a 2.4-litre flat-six

Rally-ready Porsche 914 with a 2.4-litre flat-six

With a 356 Speedster, a 912 rally car and now a 914 to his name, former McLaren Formula One Team Manager, Alastair Caldwell, could be viewed as a man with a love of four-cylinder Porsches. As we discover, however, a 2.4-litre six-cylinder boxer powers his Targa-topped two-seater…


Words Johnny Tipler

Photography Dan Sherwood


RALLYING WITH REGULARITY

This is a tale close to my heart. Back in 2011, I drove a 914 — it looked a lot like the car on these pages — when participating in La Carrera Panamericana, a two-thousand-mile jaunt up the spine of Mexico.


Rally-ready Porsche 914 with a 2.4-litre flat-six

On mountain stages, the mid-engined roadster was uncatchable, handling like an overgrown go-kart and passing a few American V8s in the process. Like our subject car, my Panamericana Porsche had been converted from an unsuspecting 1.7-litre Volkswagen-powered 914 into a near-perfect replica of a factory 914/6, except whilst the car on these pages runs a 2.4-litre 911-sourced flat-six, my 914 racer received a two-litre Volkswagen flat-four. It had plenty of torque, though, and was a very handy piece of kit on those swooping Mexican constant-radius curves. It was, however, a sitting target for heavy metal big bangers on long desert straights. Regularities? I don’t think so.

Fast-forward to 2024. This delectable orange segment belongs to one-time McLaren Formula One Team Manager, Alastair Caldwell, and emerged last autumn from a comprehensive restoration and transformation at independent air-cooled Porsche specialist, Greatworth Classics, based near Banbury in Oxfordshire. Company founder, Angus Watt, bought the car in North Hollywood, California, in 2016, as he recounts. “I acquired this 914, along with six others, during a trip to the West Coast. I drove the car to the shipping yard and handed it over, along with its keys and title. It was a bit like dropping off a rental car.”


Rally-ready Porsche 914 with a 2.4-litre flat-six

He goes on to describe this stunning 914’s earlier condition. “The Porsche started life as a 1.7-litre 914, but when I first set eyes on it, looked worse for wear due to a previous owner rubbing most of the paint off. Thankfully, corrosion was superficial. Thinking back, the car was really solid, a very good base for a restoration. In fact, we sat on this 914 for quite a while, waiting for the right project came along.” A Greatworth Classics client eventually expressed interest in sourcing such a project car. Game on.

This particular customer was a huge fan of the factory 914/6 GT race car, a rarefied version of the Targatopped two-seater and built exclusively for motorsport. Just thirty-four units were manufactured. The eager Greatworth Classics client wanted Angus and his team to create a showroom-quality version of what might have qualified as a Touring derivative of the GT, should Porsche have decided to develop such a car.

“We sat down together and began to consider the race car features Porsche customers might have wanted for a touring car,” Angus explains. “We also took into account all the equipment we thought best left at the racetrack. We decided to accommodate the handbrake being located in between the seats, the left-hand ignition switch, the Porsche switchgear, racing seats and safety harnesses, the dash layout and the fabulous S/T steering wheel. Of course, top of the list was a six-cylinder engine, followed closely by big wheel arches. This, we surmised, was how a road car version of the 914/6 GT would probably been configured, and this is, as you can see, is what we agreed to build.”


Rally-ready Porsche 914 with a 2.4-litre flat-six

Following media blasting, the shell proved to be in very good condition. Carried out in-house at Greatworth Classics, the work wasn’t limited to installation of the steel arches, creation of a new cockpit floor, a front oil cooler conversion, lengthened engine air intake, extended fuel filler (through the bonnet) and fabrication of a twin-tailpipe exhaust based on a stock system. The engine is a 2.4-litre fuel-injected boxer making use of Weber carburettors, a GT-specification oil system and stainless steel manifolds, assisting with the production of 160bhp. The gearbox is a five-speed Type 901 transaxle, bolstered by a Quaife ATB limited-slip differential and a Helix sport clutch. The running gear has been upgraded to include 911 S front suspension components, as well as brake calipers and an anti-roll bar from the same model. Koni shock absorbers take care of damping. The RSR-style fifteen-inch Fuchs (seven inches of width at the front, eight at the rear) are fitted with Pirelli P3000 tyres. There’s a collapsible space-saver spare, plus an original 914/6 jack.


CHANGE OF PLAN

“Every part has been refurbished or replaced,” Angus continues. “We agreed a three-year timeline for the project, but by the end of the second year, the pandemic hit. Lockdowns followed soon after. Like many people during this time, our customer’s priorities suddenly changed. He hit the reset button and asked me to find a buyer for the car.”

Enter Alastair, erstwhile McLaren man during the Emerson Fittipaldi and James Hunt championshipwinning mid-1970s. Regular readers will be familiar with Alastair’s well-travelled 356 Speedster (featured in last month’s issue of Classic Porsche). We’re now getting jiggy with his 914. Yes, it was he who took on the project. “Alastair saw the 914 while when we were restoring his 912 rally car,” explains Angus. “The colour drew him in — it looks very much like McLaren’s original orange race car livery. He agreed we were building a really pretty Porsche and I asked him if he’d like to buy it. Effectively, he became the owner of a work in progress taking the form of a painted rolling shell. We were in the process of preparing the 2.4-litre flat-six, which was originally installed in a 1972 911 E, but had since enjoyed life propelling another modified 914.”


Rally-ready Porsche 914 with a 2.4-litre flat-six

The roadster previously powered by this engine had been a motorsport mule, but when the historic rallying and racing scene really took off, participants were obligated to convert their cars to period specification, per homologation regulations. A 2.4-litre flat-six in a 914 was well wide of the mark.

If you want to obtain a Historic Technical Passport (HTP) for a classic Porsche, you have to ensure the car makes use of the correct (original) engine capacity. Moreover, the car must make use of the specific equipment homologated in period. Owners racing and rallying classic cars throughout the 1990s and into the noughties were able to get away with doing more or less whatever they wanted. In view of changes to the racing rulebook, however, the 2.4-litre 911 engine was taken out of the 914 it was powering.


FRUITY BACKSTORY

“When Alastair took over ownership of the orange 914, I outlined specification of the engine and told him why the unit was removed from service,” Angus assures us. “He didn’t seem to mind, even though he rallies most of his cars. With expected usage taken into consideration, I asked if he wanted the finished restoration to include racing seats, a roll cage, a fire safety system and underbody protection. To my surprise, he told me he wasn’t going to campaign this Porsche. Instead, he would drive it on the road. Fair enough, all systems go. The fly in the ointment came when we were preparing his 356 Speedster for the Peloponnese Historic Rally last autumn. The day before the car was supposed to be packed off to Greece, he contacted me to say he’d changed his mind and wanted to take the 914. We had a day to install a trip meter, fire extinguisher, change the fuel system and various other alterations. I then delivered the car to Alistair’s race mechanic and off it went to Greece!”

As for Alastair’s side of the story, he asserts that when he first saw the 914 at Greatworth Classics, he paid little attention to it. “It was of no interest to me,” he shrugs. “I was there to see my 356 Speedster. I didn’t know much about 914s, but I thought the car was finished in a nice colour. Angus told me the project was being readied for a customer. That really was the end of it, or so I thought.” Some months later, Alastair and Angus were in conversation, and the topic of the 914 reared its head. “Angus told me the car’s owner wanted out of the build. It struck me a lot of cash had already been spent on it, meaning purchase would likely represent great value for money.” Angus negotiated on Alastair’s behalf. Long short, he bought the Porsche, but knew very little about the car, or indeed about 914s in general (six-cylinder or otherwise).

We know what you’re wondering: did these uncharacteristically boxy Porsches not impinge on him in the early 1970s? “You have to understand, back in 1970, I was running a Grand Prix team,” he tells us. “I was incredibly busy, flat-out preparing three McLaren Formula One cars, seven days a week, up to twenty hours a day. I didn’t pay attention to road cars. I remember reading about a much-derogated Porsche, which was a kind of Volkswagen, but not fully a Porsche. There was a lot of negative publicity about this joint parentage. What I did recognise, however, was that the 914 was mid-engined, meaning it was likely far superior to the rear-engined 911, certainly in terms of handling and balance. Later, in the mid-1980s, a 914/6 was entered into a few of the rallies I was competing in. It was very quick, but fortunately for me, suffered frequent braking and driveshaft failures. I only ever saw that one 914 on rallies, but it didn’t last. I certainly don’t recall ever seeing a 914 on the road.”


Rally-ready Porsche 914 with a 2.4-litre flat-six

After speaking to Angus, Alastair did his homework and began to comprehend the 914/6 was something special. “As I learned more, I discovered the 914/6 is a much quicker version of the 914, thanks to its 911 running gear and a 911-sourced flat-six. Angus continued restoring the car after I took ownership and, indeed, installed the 2.4-litre boxer. The finished build is perfect in its presentation, as though a factory car. It’s got the S/T steering wheel and the Porsche switches in the right place, the dials are the right colour and the seats are just so. Everything about this 914 is fantastic.” As soon as the build was finished, Alastair dispatched it to Greece to take part in the Achaios Rally Sprint and Acropolis Historic. “My mechanic and I towed it to Greece on a trailer pulled by my 1962 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud, which is a classic in itself. We also had a Rolls-Royce service car for the trip!

I’ve competed in the Achaios event several years in a row. The 914 was good, but this rally isn’t particularly competitive. Its organiser also presents the Historic Acropolis. He suggested I enter the 914. Consequently, instead of taking the car back to England, I left it in Greece for three weeks and returned when the Historic Acropolis was about to begin. It’s a regularity rally. You have to follow a pre-determined route. With the help of my Greek navigator, Dori Stavria, I managed to score ninth overall.”

Alastair was Bruce McLaren’s right-hand man from 1968 until the Kiwi’s untimely death at Goodwood in 1970. As McLaren’s Team Manager, our man Caldwell masterminded two Formula One World Championships. He also invented the air-starter and introduced six-gear-ratio transmissions to F1. It’s reassuring he rates the 914 so highly. “My car is a lot of fun to drive, though the gear change is not very precise. The steering is good, the engine is strong and it likes high revs. The Targa roof is great. I like open-top driving, and although the 914 features a hard top when closed, it can be removed in three or four minutes. You can run around with the top down, and then, if the weather gets rough, you can quickly pop the roof back on. It’s a good piece of kit.” How does this six-cylinder 914 compare to his 912 rally car? “They’re quite different in the way they handle, obviously. And the 912 is a lot slower than the 914. We’re talking four cylinders versus six, but both Porsches are fun to drive. The 912 is an oversteering car, whereas the 914 is grippier. It’s got wider wheels and wider tyres, making it much faster, especially around a racetrack.

Then again, driving an old Porsche isn’t all about speed, which is why I consider both cars great fun.” A project like this is rarely ever finished, and so it is with the orange two-seater. “The shifter has a very complicated linkage,” Alastair frowns. “In my opinion, the gearbox is wrong for the car. It’s facing the wrong way, which is why the linkage is so complicated. I’ve asked Angus to look at getting it more precise. And, much like my 912, the brakes are dull. They require huge pedal pressure and aren’t particularly responsive, which is what you need in a rally car. We tried the softest pads available, but they still don’t offer instant bite. You have to wait for them to warm up — there’s a delay. A brake booster is required.”

As for his 914’s next outing, he doesn’t currently have one in mind. “I’m about to take part in a rally in South Korea. It takes in Seoul and heads into Japan, leading entrants to Tokyo. I considered the 914 as my tool for the job, but I’ve decided to take my newly acquired 1957 Mercedes-Benz W198 300 SL roadster, which is a fantastic car finished in bright yellow with dark green upholstery. For the moment, the 914 will go on the back burner, as will my 912. I’ve got lots of cars, and I‘ve rallied most of them, but you can only fly one at a time. I’ll enter some more rallies, and the 914 will certainly be called into action.” With several Porsches to choose from, he might equally well plump for his 356. “I really like the Speedster. It just appeals to me. It’s lovely to drive, and though it only possesses four speeds, each ratio is perfect. The 914 is great, but of all my Porsches, the 356 is my favourite.”

To misquote Mastermind, I’ll finish where I started — one possibility for this 914’s future would be La Carrera Panamericana. Alastair has competed in the event three times from behind the wheel of his Austin A35 and AC Aceca. Perhaps he’d consider doing it in the 914/6? “I’ve got to the point I’m not really up for super-competitive events requiring flame-proof race suits, a helmet and cars with roll cages. I don’t want to race. The two Greek rallies were very relaxed and therefore didn’t require all the kit and caboodle. They’re FIA-sanctioned events, but don’t carry rules for clothing and so on, primarily because they’re regularity rallies. As long as the car is roadworthy and road-legal, you’re away.” With a bit of luck, we might end up following his progress in a semi-exotic historic rally in the coming year. Whether we’d like to see him in his 914, 912 or 356 Speedster doesn’t really matter — he’ll doubtless pick one on a whim.

Rally-ready Porsche 914 with a 2.4-litre flat-six

Facing page 2.4-litre flat-six was originally installed in a 911 E and produces a solid 160bhp following restoration. Above Navigation equipment was installed to assist Alastair on his participation in historic rally events in Europe.

Rally-ready Porsche 914 with a 2.4-litre flat-six

ALASTAIR WAS BRUCE MCLAREN’S RIGHT-HAND MAN FROM 1968 UNTIL THE KIWI’S UNTIMELY DEATH AT GOODWOOD IN 1970

Above It’s easy to see how the 914 laid down the blueprint for the massive-selling Boxster.

Above You can argue to the contrary, but any car with pop-up headlamps is cool Below Thanks to the work of the team at Greatworth Classics, every inch of this 914 is utterly immaculate.

Facing page Alastair picked up where the car’s previous owner left off, transforming a four-cylinder 914 into a widearched, GT-inspired sixer.

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