As far as couples go, this one seemed like a match made in heaven. Both firms were German – so 10 points already on the compatibility meter. But each had qualities that brought something to the partnership: VW had volume production down to a tee and Porsche was the master of sports car engineering. And what was each looking for in a partner? Essentially, VW wanted a sportier offering to replace the somewhat long-in-the-tooth Karmann-Ghia sports coupé, while Porsche needed a cost-effective-yet-still-sporty replacement for its 912. So far, so good.
So Ferry Porsche, son of Ferdinand Porsche and head honcho at the firm, got on the horn with Heinz Nordhoff, head of VW, and asked for a meeting to discuss a joint venture of sorts. A verbal agreement was reached, and they shook on it – as gentlemen do. The idea was that Porsche would design the car – named the 914 – using a large number of off-the-shelf parts from both firms, and VW would build it. There would be two versions: the 914/4 would use the 1.7-litre fuel-injected flat-four of the VW 411, and the 914/6 would get a 2-litre carburettor-equipped flat-six Porsche engine.
Originally, it was planned to sell the 914/4 as a VW and the 914/6 as a Porsche but then, on 12 April 1968, something happened that neither party anticipated – and which threw the proverbial spanner in the works – Heinz Nordhoff died. Unfortunately, his successor, Kurt Lotz, didn’t want to honour the gentleman’s agreement between Nordhoff and Porsche and wasn’t keen for the new car to be marketed under the Porsche name. An agreement was finally reached: in Europe, the car would be badged the VW-Porsche 914. A Volkswagen-Porsche joint venture called Volkswagen of America would handle export of the cars to the States, where both versions were badged and sold as Porsches.