Formula 1 Safety Cars – Porsche 914

Porsche 914, first safety car in Formula 1

Courtesy motorius.com

The Canadian Grand Prix of 1973 was the penultimate round of the Formula 1 series of the year. It was held as the Labatt’s Canadian Grand Prix on 23rd September 1973. The race was attended by more than 40,000 people. It was the race to decide the Number 2 in the 1973 championship as Jackie Stewart had been declared the world champion in the previous race. The second place fight was between Francois Cevert,  Emerson Fittipaldi and Ronnie Peterson. It was a very wet race and there were accidents and incidents galore. For this race, a specific yellow coloured “Pace Car” had been brought across the Pond. The car was supposed to sit at the end of the pitlane with ex-Formula 1 driver Eppie Wietzes at the wheels. It so happened that Eppie did not have to wait much long at the wheels because of the heavy downpour which made the conditions extremely dangerous. The “Pace Car” was deployed and led to a lot of confusion, but that is another story.

Porsche 914, VW-Porsche, First safety car of Formula 1

Courtesy motorious.com

The car used as the “Pace Car” was a Porsche 914. In the late 60s, Volkswagen was looking to replace the Type 34 Karmann Ghia while Porsche was looking at introducing a replacement for the 912. Over time, even the entry-level Porsche 912 had become expensive and Porsche was keen to introduce an entry-level sports car. Till then, due to their intertwined histories, all cars for Volkswagen were designed and developed by Porsche. This was a verbal gentleman’s agreement and not a written one. The 914 was a joint development by Volkswagen and Porsche. It was agreed that the less powerful 4-cylinder car would be branded as a VW-Porsche while a more powerful 6-cylinder car would be branded as a Porsche. Physically both the cars were identical. However, before the car could be launched, Heinz Nordhoff, Chairman of Volkswagen expired and his reliever Kurt Lotz was not aware of the oral agreement. He insisted that Porsche share the tooling and manufacturing costs also. This led to an increase in the cost of the 6-cylinder 914/6. Branding the car as a VW-Porsche led to confusion and reduced the appeal of the car in Europe. As a result, Porsche convinced Volkswagen to export the car as only Porsche to the USA.

Porsche 914 interior, first safety car of formula1

Courtesy howstuffworks.com

The 914 was a mid-engined, two-seat sports car introduced in 1969 and was manufactured till 1976. It was a very low car and hence to meet the height regulations for headlamps, the car was provided with pop-up headlamps. The 914 had a very long wheelbase for its size and had short overhangs. It had a removable Targa top which could be stored in the aft boot of the car. The 914 had two boots, one deep one at the front where a front-engined car would normally have its bonnet. This boot also carried a spare wheel. The second boot was behind the seats and over the engine. This boot was much shallower than the front boot and could store the Targa-top. Though the mid-engine layout is good for handling and for the race track, it is not very desirable for a road car, and that too one which was not a very high performing vehicle. This position of the engine puts the drive-train right behind the driver’s seat and hence puts noise, vibration, and heat that much closer. Such an engine location also hinders rear view vision and makes access to the engine difficult.

Porsche 914, Targa Top, Sports caeThe 914 had some great features integrated in it which demonstrated the attention to detail that had gone into designing the car. For example, each headlamp unit was operated by an electric motor. However, for contingencies, a provision for manual operation had been provided. Both methods of operation were designed to easily break the thickest coat of ice in the cold weather. Further, Porsche provided a safety panel  which gave way to prevent harm to unwary fingers caught while the lamps were closing. Another feature was a foldable handbrake which did not foul while entering or leaving the car as it was provided on the outboard side of the driver’s seat.

Porsche 914, Layout of Porsche 914, sports car

Courtesy motor1.com

The 914 was originally launched with two engine options. A naturally aspirated, air-cooled four-cylinder petrol flat boxer engine which displaced 1,679 cc (102.5 cu-inch) and generated 79 BHP at 4,900 rpm while breathing through two valves per cylinder. It generated torque of 136 N-m (100 lb-ft) at 2,700 rpm. This engine was sold as the VW-Porsche in Europe. This engine, operated through a 5-speed manual transmission could push the 940 kg (2,072 lbs) 914 to a top speed of  186.5 km/h (115.9 mph). The 136 N-m torque allowed it to reach a speed of 100 km/h in 13.3 seconds. The second option at the time of launch was also air-cooled. It was a naturally aspirated six-cylinder petrol flat boxer engine which displaced 1,991 cc (121.5 cu-inch). This engine breathed through two valves per cylinder to produced 109 BHP of power at 5,800 rpm and 160 N-m (118 lb-ft) of torque at 4,200 rpm. The larger engine increased the weight of the car by 45 kgs making it tip the scales at 985 kg (2,172 lbs). This six-cylinder engine transferred the torque to the rear wheels using either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission. It could push the 914 to a top speed of 207 km/h (129 mph). The acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h was achieved in 8.7 seconds. However, this car was expensive and did not sell more than 3,332 cars while the four-cylinder version sold 115,646 cars. Later versions of the car were offered with four-cylinder 1.8 litre and 2.0 litre engines which produced 84 BHP at 99 BHP repectively.

The Porsche 914 experienced motorsport fame when Claude Ballot-Lena and Guy Chasseuil won the GTS class at the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1970. This race had multi-class racing meaning the 914 was pitched against Porsche’s legendary 917K and 908s in the same race. Despite such competition, the 914 managed 6th place overall beating bigger and more powerful machines from Ferrari and Matra’s works squads.

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