How To Build 914 Fandom: Dave Toppin’s Porsche 914-6 GT Tribute
Photography by Kyle Crawford
Build images courtesy of Dave Toppin
Exactly how does one build 914 fandom? Step one: be like Dave Toppin and admire the forgotten Porsche 914 chassis and flat-six-cylinder engines. Step two: unfailingly commit your spare time to building the ultimate version. Step three: enjoy the living hell out of the whole journey!
This is the story of how one weathered Porsche 914 became the gleaming 914-6 GT tribute you see before you. It all started over 22 years ago with Dave Toppin, who at the time was a content street rod and muscle car enthusiast, garnering enjoyment from working on a few dirt track stock cars with friends. So how does one move from that into the world of commonly overlooked mid-engine Porsche sportscars?
“I got into 914s by chance,” says Toppin. “I was in the middle of a divorce and a coworker asked if I wanted to go to a Porsche-only swap meet. He had a 914, and let me drive it, and it was just too much fun! I had one within two months.”
He recognized sports cars could be enjoyed more—and in many cases required fewer repairs—than the muscle cars he was used to. As an added bonus, Porsche 914 parts are much more affordable than those for their 911 rear-engine counterpart. Toppin stuck with them and has always owned at least one at a time over the past two decades.
At A Crossroads
This brings us to how Toppin stumbled onto this particular car. After owning a 914 for six years, his eyes began to wander—as all of ours do at some point—toward other sportscars from the Porsche marque. In particular, Toppin found himself looking over a 1959 Porsche 356 A Coupe that a fellow club member had for sale.
While mulling over the possibility in his head, he decided it was more car than his budget or garage could handle and scrapped the idea. Then, he was told the owner’s son-in-law had a 914 for sale.
“We walked across the street, and I bought it on the spot,” says Toppin. Although, “the devil and I could have a conversation about my soul for a 356 A!”
That’s the moment the journey with this car began. He switched his own rebuilt 1.8-liter four-cylinder motor and accessories over to the newly purchased chassis, and continued driving it like that for five years. All the while, the vision of this exact car was brewing in his mind. He refers to the car at this time as driver quality, which means it wasn’t quite a looker.
When It All Changed
While perusing a swap meet, he found a 914-6 conversion mount, purchased it, and it was all downhill from there. I think the automotive culture is incredible; it only takes one small part purchase to help us rationalize a complete overhaul. We’re all nuts. With all intentions toward creating a narrow-body sleeper with a beastly 914-6 motor nestled in the bay, something went wrong…
“During the inspection process to weld the engine mount in, I found rust. The rust had to be repaired or the chassis needed to be replaced,” he recalls. “I spent six months unsuccessfully looking for a suitable chassis.”
Once the mission for a suitable new chassis was aborted, Toppin was left with one option and got to work repairing the chassis he already had. Prior to that, he had amassed all of the panels and flares to make it a GT clone, but the car’s final look was undecided during the chassis overhaul.
“I spoke with as many ‘six’ owners as I could to pick their brains on the benefits and pitfalls of the various ways to build a 914-6,” he says.
It was only once he picked up the ominous 3.2-liter six-cylinder engine and 915 transaxle for the conversion that he decided to opt for the broadened GT route to get “as much rubber on the car” as he could.
The Beast Inside
When asked, he was quite clear about his favorite addition to this 914: the rebuilt US-spec fuel-injected 3.2-liter Motronic six-cylinder engine sourced from a 1987 Porsche 911.
“It is a completely different driving experience. The original 90-horsepower configuration was a momentum car,” he says.
“To drive fast, you had to be very smooth. Any mistake would seriously affect your speed. Now it’s around 250 horsepower, and you can make up for driving mistakes with the throttle. You can get yourself into trouble quickly, but it is exhilarating. Plus the sound of the flat six. It is unmistakable. The whir of the fan! That sound never gets old.”
Of course, it’s not nearly as simple as bolting the bigger engine into this little ripper. First of all, it gets mounted facing the opposite direction of its 911 home. For this to work properly, there are a myriad of additional parts which must be perfectly fitted and then stuffed into one of the world’s least spacious engine bays. For example, you can’t just use the 911’s transmission; that’s for when the motor is behind the rear axles. If you did that in a mid-engine 914, you’d have a handful of reverse gears, and only one forward. So a 915 transaxle must be retrofitted with an accompanying Vellios 916 conversion kit. Toppin also added a Quaife torque-bias limited-slip differential to aid in power delivery. This new package allows the transmission to function as it is intended, with all gears focusing the power in the correct direction.
The Real Work Begins
From there, it was time to overhaul the chassis and make this driver into a showstopper. Similar to all of the engine work, Dave enlisted… well, himself, for this portion of the build, too. He needed to tend to the rust on the chassis, while also working the panels to their wider 914-6 GT stature. This involved an intricate process of stripping the entire car to bare metal, building bracing where structural shape could alter, and learning new tooling and practices he was almost completely unfamiliar with in order to capture the project’s glory. It was a daunting task for an untrained builder to attempt, but Toppin’s daily-trade as a tool and die maker helped his eye for precision.
“Keeping the chassis straight during the major repair was a challenge. Being an amateur and doing the work in a standard suburban garage kept me on my toes. I learned a lot about bracing and welding,” says Toppin.
“I didn’t have any issues that caused me major problems, but I did have more than a few sleepless nights wondering if all the panels would fit during assembly.”
Toppin’s garage could have substituted for a professional body shop throughout the reworking of the chassis. At certain points in the process, it contained a bare metal shell, an entire chassis rotisserie, and even a makeshift paint booth—along with all of the equipment and tooling necessary to bring this Porsche back to life.
The Final Outcome
After an immense amount of work and an approximate ten-year build time dedicated to perfecting the car, Toppin’s 914 was that much closer to his ideal vision. This included the 914-6 GT fiberglass bumpers and valances on the front and rear, and steel butt-welded flares attached to its sides. Following that, the entire car was painstakingly sanded, primed, and painted, by—you guessed it—Toppin himself. It’s finished nose-to-tail in stunning PPG Deltron two-stage SteinGrau (Stone Grey), a pigment taken from a 1957 Porsche 356, which looks perfect on this car.
The color and paintwork alone will stop you dead in your tracks at any public sighting. Trust me, I know from experience. It’s actually the whole reason I stumbled onto this car in the first place. Immediately after seeing it at a local Cars and Coffee event, I knew it needed to be featured here on Front Street. I approached him and explained that I don’t really like 914s, but I was enamored with the build quality and appearance of his car. It was probably not the nicest thing I could have said, but he still remembers it as a highlight, so I guess it’s okay!
It’s About The Journey
One thing to love about Dave Toppin and his 914-6 GT clone is the nature with which he uses it—journeying all over the area just for a chance to gain experiences. His favorite memory with the car came in September of 2018, when he attended an annual 914-only event called Okteenerfest.
“It was held the weekend Hurricane Florence came ashore. I drove the car to northern Georgia, and spent three days driving and hanging with 914 owners, and their cars. [My] car took Best Modified, and People’s Choice for Best in Show. It meant a lot from that group of people. It was rewarding driving down and back in a car that I had completely modified and restored myself,” says Toppin. “The 15-hour drive home in the remnants of a hurricane was something I won’t soon forget, either.”
While at that same event, during the award presentations, one of the organizers—who also happens to be a PPG rep—stopped the whole production to rise from his seat and tell the whole group that he considered Toppin’s paint and bodywork to be one of the best amateur jobs he had seen in his career. Dave freely admits that this occurrence, “still seems like it’s not real.”
In the past year, he has turned over 6,000 miles in the 914, and has tallied up a mass of instances where people are in awe of the vehicle. It is almost a constant occurrence when he has the car out and about. Toppin claims the public’s reaction to the car has been unexpected and humbling, but with such breathtaking craftsmanship at every edge, we struggle to see what anyone could dislike in the first place.
“I built the car for me, and would be okay if I was the only one who liked it,” he says. “It must press the right buttons for lots of people. I can’t take it anywhere without someone engaging with me about the car. I’ve had people get up from tables at restaurants and come out to compliment me on the car while I park it. If it puts a smile on someone’s face, that’s good for me.”
Dave wouldn’t have been able to build this car all on his own, though. He takes the time to acknowledge everyone behind the scenes that has helped him through this long and tedious journey.
“Maureen McLaughlin for patiently waiting on the bathroom and kitchen remodels during this restoration. Dion Ronio for the extra set of hands, a sounding board to my endless discussions of possible ways to build the car—and helping to drink a few pints along the way. Ron Reimel for instructing an absolute novice on bodywork and painting. Finally, the 914 World website, the suppliers I used, all the helpful information I received, and the good-hearted ribbing along the way,” he says.
Keep The Shiny Side Up!
Dave’s philosophy is elementary. Enjoy the car which you’ve built, and enjoy the process of building it. It’s very clear that he has followed his own advice throughout every minute of his Porsche 914-6 GT tribute build. That feeling now surrounds his car on its journeys. Regardless of the time invested, he continues to drive the car. All the while bringing smiles to faces, and altering the general perception of the 914 chassis—as he’s done for me. But what happens if the Porsche gets some scars from being used so much?
He sums it up, quite simply. “I’m not afraid of rock chips. I’ll just repaint it in 10 years if I have to.”