Journal: Which Mid-Engined Targa is Right for You?

Which Mid-Engined Targa is Right for You?

By Petrolicious Productions
April 2, 2013
30 comments

From the early 1960s on, the growing dominance of mid-engined designs, in almost every category of international racing, saw public demand for similar road machines rising throughout that decade—by 1970 that demand had reached a boiling point. Though cars like the Lamborghini Miura (the first rear mid-engined road car to market in 1966) and DeTomaso Mangusta had been around for a few years by that point, they weren’t exactly within the reach of the middle class, either. Introduced in late 1969 as a 1970 model, Porsche’s 914 was the first affordable, mass-market mid-engined sports car (discounting the Lotus Europa, many of which were sold in kit form). It was an immediate hit. Fiat followed suit two years later with the X1/9. Both cars relied heavily on pre-existing mechanicals in order to keep costs low, but still managed to deliver the goods—they were indeed greater than the sum of their parts.

For this week’s eBay Question we have two beautiful examples of each for your consideration.

First up is is a ’73 914 wearing the lurid, overripe orange that they’re best known for. With a fuel-injected version of VW’s flat four making only about 80 HP, you’ll never get to the corners very quickly, but thanks to a curb weight of just over a ton and typically sophisticated Porsche suspension tuning, once you get turning the fun on offer is nearly off-the-charts. We absolutely love the 914’s simplicity and purity of design, particularly inside its all-function, no-frills cockpit. If there’s ever been a better looking set of instruments fitted to a car, we’re not aware of them.

Next is Bertone’s diminutive and delicate wedge on wheels, the X1/9. Using Fiat’s SOHC , 1300 cc motor from the then-new 128, it offered a similar power-to-weight ratio to the Porsche—with six fewer horsepower but with an overall weight of about 160 lbs. less. Just like the 914, all X1/9’s were equipped with targa tops, perfect for savoring the revvy little four’s raspy exhaust note on bamy summer nights. Known for their tossable demeanor, the X1/9 savored a good thrashing—best results were had by revving it mercilessly and tossing it like a fastball into corners. Styling-wise the X1/9 isn’t as unadorned and minimal as its German competitor, but rather than endow it with a fussiness, its intricate detailing somehow only adds to its prettiness.

So, which do you prefer—German simplicity and efficiency or Italian emotion and design flair?

1979 Fiat X1/9

Click here for the Fiat details.

1973 Porsche 914

Click here for the Porsche details.

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Rip Curl
Rip Curl
9 years ago

Given the choice I would take the X1/9 any day. In stripped form it actually made a pretty good race car especially the ones Dallara got their hands on. For the X1/9 lovers here is the funniest thing you are likely to see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=giHEC5LmtiQ

Jon Warshawsky
Jon Warshawsky
9 years ago

As a former X1/9 owner… I have to vote for the 914. Durable, simple, track-ready and in 914-6 form seriously fast for a car from that era.

Konstantyn Levyn Baranpourian
Konstantyn Levyn Baranpourian
9 years ago

I’d pick the Fiat X1/9 and put a Dallara twincam in the back,then I’d have something worthwhile.

Greg Tuft
Greg Tuft
9 years ago

Of the two, definitely the Fiat. However, as the owner of a 1974 Europa, I wish you hadn’t discounted it!

Rick C
Rick C
9 years ago

The MR2 is a much more modern car and not within the context of this comparison, which is covers two vintage sports cars. As it was already stated, the 914 has more power from the factory, but as contemporary magazine comparisons will show, the X1/9 is the better handling car. Endowed with a little extra power, X1/9s are the Davids, the giant killers, and can still be seen demolishing the Golliaths on tracks worldwide. My only gripe is this; they could have chosen a better X1/9 to photograph. I’m not a lover of brown on[i] any[/i] vehicle.

nagasakee
nagasakee
9 years ago

The X1/9 for me and by a longshot. Porsche guys don’t even talk about the 914, it’s the black sheep branch of the 911 tree. The MR2 got better after they dropped the wedge shape but it was always a “sporty” car and not a sports car even with the nicer engine.

The X always was a sports car with a too little power engine. It was and is a small car that you engine going slow in, high revs, superberb handling and much better styling than the other two. Far more practical too…two trunks front and aft, and a glove box that was close to being equivalent to the entire storage in an MR2. Remove the bumpers as many owner do, and the weight is hundreds of punds lighter than the others, and it looks better to boot. A real shame they can’t make a 2013 version of this classic.

Leucea Alexandru
Leucea Alexandru
9 years ago
Reply to  nagasakee

Well, we can’t argue with the Italians when it comes to design, can we? I can’t help myself noticing how this somehow resembles with a Lancia Stratos in the last picture, from sideways. And yes, it looks much better without the hideous bumpers.

Brett67
Brett67
9 years ago

My choice is the X1/9 (Although not the one pictured). The styling of the early X1/9 is cleaner, more pure to the original designers intent but the later models had better mechanicals and electronics. I have chose to make my car look like an early version and added a host of upgrades including dual DCOE carbs. The X1/9 is a car that responds well to modification and the chassis can handle more than twice the horsepower it came with from the factory. The Porsche is nice but will always be the unloved stepchild with VW, no matter what collectors say. The X1/9 is a car that is meant to be driven, not invested in. Buy the best one you can find and enjoy making it your own.

[img]http://brettspic.smugmug.com/Cars/X19/i-q39MFTF/0/L/DSCN2006-L.jpg[/img]
[img]http://brettspic.smugmug.com/Cars/X19/i-r3Fg8gr/0/L/DSC_0056-L.jpg[/img]

Josh Clason
Josh Clason
9 years ago
Reply to  Brett67

Is that yours? It is beautiful!

jvandyke
jvandyke
9 years ago

Can’t speak to the 914 but I love my X1/9. Easy/cheap to work on, handles great, fun to drive. Needs more ponies but don’t they all?
My son has a first gen MR2 and it is a great car. Doesn’t seem to handle quite as nice as the X to my mind but easily out runs it. It also has AC and cruise control! How, luxury. (it’s also for sale, I guess, I wish he wouldn’t).
The X’s Italian heritage via Bertone and all that great pedigree stuff makes it more “exotic” in some way. The 914 always seemed like a VW with a Porsche badge on it and thus a bit of too much of a poser, but that’s not spoken from much experience. I would think a nice X could be had for A LOT less then the 914?

toddr124
toddr124
9 years ago

I have owned both cars. A 1974 Porsche 2.0 914 and a 86 Bertone/Fiat X1/9. The Porsche had more power, but the X1/9 handles better. The 914 was a nightmare to work and parts cost 3 to 5 times the X1/9 equivalent. The seats in the X1/9 are much more comfortable and adjust. The interior of an X1/9 is better finished than the 914.

Final summary; Sold the 914 5 years after I bought it and was happy to see it go. After 5 years of owning an X1/9, I bought one for my son.

Ae Neuman
Ae Neuman
9 years ago

another vote for the original mr2 !
especially that revised red one.
😉

Leucea Alexandru
Leucea Alexandru
9 years ago

None of them. I would go a little bit further to this period, 1984 – 1989 and choose the Toyota MR2 Mk1. With angular, origami-like lines it is for sure the prettiest. It is also faster, more enjoyable on the road. It’s a baby Ferrari 328. Well, no it isn’t. But if you like the feel of a well-sorted mid-engined chassis and the sound of an urgent multi-cam engine less than a foot from your head, the first generation MR2 is just the ticket. It’s zippy, economical, comfortable, fairly refined and loves to go sideways in the wet. What’s not to like? The chassis development team included racing god Dan Gurney. The most important features of the MR2 were its light body (as low as 2,095 lb (950 kg) in Japan and 2,350 lb (1066 kg) in the US), superior handling and lightly powered, small-displacement engine. It simply crushes the other two in every way. And come to think of it, the Fiat was actually part of the opposition.

Josh Clason
Josh Clason
9 years ago

You don’t have to convince me. That is why I own one. http://petrolicious.com/mid-country-runabout

Leucea Alexandru
Leucea Alexandru
9 years ago
Reply to  Josh Clason

Great article, great car! Thumbs up, i missed this article but thanks for sharing it now 🙂

Thomas Falkiner
Thomas Falkiner
9 years ago

I agree, 100\%, with Mr. Alexandru. The MR2 will run smokey rings around both the Porsche and the Fiat. Great, great little car.

RdS
RdS
9 years ago

Another huge thumbs up here for the AW11!
I admittedly have never driven a X1/9 or 914, but I can imagine liking any of them just as much as the others.

In those pictures above though.. [i]that [/i]914 vs [i]that [/i]X1/9? The Fiat, no question. It looks absolutely killer in that colour combination with those decals..

Brooks Wade
Brooks Wade
9 years ago

I’m going 914 as Porsche is the only manufacture I need to finish out the Germany section on my automotive bingo bucket list

Alex Clise
Alex Clise
9 years ago

After inheriting my father’s ’71 914 1.8L and owning it for only a short time, I would pick it over the Fiat. The 914 is modest, plucky, mid-engine motoring at it’s finest… If I wanted Italian styling and handling I’d rather find an Alfa Spider and forgo the targa look.

Joost Hillemans
Joost Hillemans
9 years ago

Always loved the X1/9, the Porsche being a bit of an oddball design. Also pricier and bigger, the Porsche seemed to be down on my wish list..But this partciular X1/9 is a perfectly kept specimen. Unfortunately the brown color does not do it for me at all…

Jeff Knoespel
Jeff Knoespel
9 years ago

Definitely the 914. Lovely car.

Ernest Riggen
Ernest Riggen
4 years ago
Reply to  Jeff Knoespel

Jeff – I agree. Took one on my honeymoon. Get a hold of me. Ernest.

Terrence Dorsey
Terrence Dorsey
9 years ago

Difficult choice. Both are great cars. I think the Porsche has more upside as an investment, if you care about such things. Tie goes to the orange car.

Andreas Lavesson
Andreas Lavesson
9 years ago

Normally I’d say I was more of a 914 fan than a X1/9 fan, but that epic paint scheme just sets the Fiat apart. Had it just been “a Fiat X1/9”, I’m not too sure of the outcome, but in this case I’ll have to follow the suit. I have to admit though, at first I was absolutely certain the Fiat came with an automatic, judging from the shape of the gear shifter coupled with the fact that you can’t see how many pedals there are. But when I realized they only came with manuals, it was a done deal.

Ryan Hoyle
Ryan Hoyle
9 years ago

Another vote for the Fiat. I know some guys with them, and they can’t say enough about them. The lines are better too I think.

Josh Clason
Josh Clason
9 years ago

I really love the coloring scheme on the Fiat.

Niklaus Gingro
Niklaus Gingro
9 years ago

I’m a Porsche fan (well, a German car fan, I’ve owned BMWs, VWs, Benz’s and I’m currently driving an UrS6), and I appreciate the 914 for what it is (I also have a NA miata which is sort of a modern equivalent), but I’ve gotta give it to the Fiat. Quirkier, sleeker, nicer interior, not locing the impact bumpers on that but otherwise I’d take the Fiat.

Levi Senft
Levi Senft
9 years ago

I like the look of the Porsche better, but after a lifetime of VWs, I’d have the fiat. Most of those Porsches had vw van engines, only a few had 6 cylinder engines.

Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange
9 years ago

If this had been a blind question I would have picked the Porsche, but looking at the pictures I really like the look of the Fiat. Both cars are crying out for engine swaps though. Porsche with a flat six or the Fiat with twin cam 124 engine would be fabulous.

Alan Franklin
Alan Franklin
9 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Lange

My thoughts exactly.

I’ve owned a Fiat twincam in the form of a 124 Spider, it’s an all-time great four cylinder, with Lampredi’s design roots really shining through in the way it revs and the gorgeous sound it makes.