2014 Volkswagen Beetle GSR vs. 1964 Porsche 356SC

Joe Montana or Tom Brady? Madonna or Lady Gaga? The first love or the new flame? It’s in our nature to look in the rearview mirror, to measure the brightness of the present against the best of the past. It’s no different with car enthusiasts. For all the areas in which automobiles have improved -- safety, performance, efficiency, reliability—they still live in the shadow of the past. The great thing about cars, though, is that we don’t have to rely solely on our memories. We’ll never know how twenty-eight-year-old Michael Jordan would have fared against twenty-eight-year-old LeBron James, but we can find well-kept classic cars—the icons that enthusiasts worship -- and pit them against their modern equivalents. That’s just what we did with these seven matchups. It’s throttle cables versus direct injection. AM radios versus infotainment screens. Old-car patina versus new-car smell. So, was it really better then?

"How cute" is the first phrase that comes to mind when describing a Volkswagen Beetle. That's not at all what we're thinking as we take a long sweeper in a jet-black, 1964 Porsche 356SC. The phrase we're repeating aloud at this moment happens to be, "don't lift." The Porsche's skinny radials hold on and its flat-four clatters up to 5000 rpm as we accelerate out of the turn.

Filling our rear-view mirror and taking the corner with far less effort is the latest Bug with an attitude, the 2014 Volkswagen Beetle GSR. It is, of course, a very different car; front-engine, front-wheel drive, and fifty years younger. Yet its basic purpose is the same: turn the lovable, functional Beetle into something much spicier.

From People’s car to Porsche

The Beetle GSR officially pays homage to the 1973 Gelb Schwarzer Renner (Yellow Black Racer), but the crazy notion of making a sports car out of the Beetle can be traced back to an old sawmill in Gmünd, Austria. That’s where Ferry Porsche found himself at the end of World War II. Porsche chose the Volkswagen as a starting point not because it was fast or even because it was charming—the innovative advertising and the hippies would come along much later—but because it was cheap and reliable.

Porsche’s engineers cut nearly a foot out of the wheelbase and heavily modified the flat-four engine. Designer Erwin Komenda penned a sultry new body. The result, the 356, was a world-class sports car that continued to get better throughout its long life. It developed a cult following that included Bill Kinley, who bought his first 356 in the 1960s, when he came to Ann Arbor for college, and who owns the ’64 356SC pictured here.

From flower power to GTI power

Volkswagen hopes to cultivate its own set of discerning enthusiasts with the GSR. The hoards who bought New Beetles as fashion accessories have long since moved on, so the latest iteration has become faster, meaner-looking, and more sophisticated. The roof is chopped and the headlights slant back, just as they do on the 356. Underneath, the Beetle now shares an independent rear suspension with the Golf and in Turbo iterations employs a 210-hp four-cylinder similar to that in the GTI.

No surprise, today’s Beetle feels like a rocket ship compared with yesterday’s Porsche. The GSR’s 2.0-liter inline-four makes more than twice the power of the 356SC’s 1.6-liter air-cooled flat-four, even though the latter was tuned within an inch of its life by future Porsche motorsports legend Hans Metzger. It also benefits from a much more precise manual transmission, more grip, and more predictable handling (Kinley nonchalantly recalls rolling his Porsche back in the ‘60s).

The 356 still can teach Volkswagen a few things, though. The unassisted steering has some slop on center, but dials in with quartz watch precision and transmits information from the road that never makes it to the GSR driver. The throttle responds on a hair trigger, whereas in the GSR there’s a noticeable lag. Kinley credits the excellent bodywork on his car to a local restoration shop, but notes that the cars came out of the factory with tight panel fits. He can barely conceal his disdain for the stripes, big wheels, and duckbill spoiler that make up the GSR package, although he quite likes the tasteful black interior.

Of course, the 2014 Volkswagen Beetle GSR isn’t supposed to appeal in a literal sense to those who crave a Porsche 356. Really, how could it? The approving nods the GSR gets from young toughs as we drive around town indicate it’s connecting with a new audience, which is precisely the point. Nearly seventy years after those guys in Gmünd started hacking away at the Volkswagen, there are still those who want a Beetle with a mean streak.

More from our Then vs. Now series: 1972 BMW 2002tii vs. 2014 BMW M235i

1964 Porsche 356SC2014 Volkswagen Beetle GSR
Engine1.6L H-4, 107 hp, 88 lb-ft.2.0L turbocharged I-4, 210 hp, 207 lb-ft.
Transmission4-speed manual6-speed manual
Curb Weight2060 lb3056 lb
Price$4753 ($36,100 after inflation)$30,850
Value Today:$60,000-85,000
Vick Ishmael
porche ol da way
Karthik Arkasali
Adrian Lopez
Gianrico Nai
Are you asking seriously?
Kiran Inamke
Sourabh Rajput
Beetle gsr
Rick Reny
Cant beat a classic, and no man will ever be taken seriously driving a beetle
James Nelson
the 356 SC, hands down, way cooler
Chris Poy
i would pick the porsche but the beetle is probably faster lol
Steve Wolf
Not even a teal question....of course it would be the Porsche!
Ross Mazin
Chuck Brunson
You're kidding, right? Porsche all day- every day!
Joe Lussier
What a stupid question.
The GSR would be way cooler and more convicing if it came in one color and without the wing. How about gun metal grey with black steelies.
Robert May
Whoever says beetle is an idiot
Azam Saeed
My Modal
Michael Warden
Joy Wright
Andreas Mau
The 356 every day of the year.
IVan Morgan
Sanith Malshan
volkswagen beetle GRS
Jeffin James
Volkswagen Beetle
Mstr Wzzrd
356! If fit and finish were as high quality as Porsches of yesteryear, I might consider today's VW. SADLY IT IS NOT.
Gyan Jaiswal
Pure steel!!
Roy J. Adams
356, easy decision.
Brad Wildermuth
Luca DevilMan
There are no comparisons... 356sc
Mike Rivard
dumb question
Shannon Dever
Vebko Cars
Steven Matthew Myers
Porsche. Without a rear engine, rear drive layout in the new VW Beetle, the comparison is unworthy.
R Scott Torgan
LOL, is that a joke? Duh....
Gregory Easton
The real question is: Yellow or black Beetle? And will it catch on fire?
Gregory Seupaul
Um...is this a trick question? Because Porsche.
Rajat Maurya
POrsche 356Sc
Jeff Stein
Really? I mean, really? After all the years we've been together you ask me this. I don't even know who you are anymore. Do you know me?
Tim Lucas
Would anyone really choose the Beattle? Come on Automobile Magazine!!
Les White
Roy Spence
Why is this even a question. Anyone that picks the beetle isn't really a car guy and should start reading something else.
Attractive of arbic desi girl
Michael Dunmire
Kyree S. Williams, sounds like me & my '74 MGB. We go through a dance almost every time. Please start. Nope. Please? Nope. Ok, I'll wait a couple of minutes. How 'bout now? Nope. Please. Oh....OK. :)
Kyree S. Williams
Yeah, I'm with you. Given the choice, I'd also take the Porsche. BTW, I saw a *very convincing* 356 Speedster replica at Home Depot the other day. Unfortunately, the poor gentleman was having a tough time getting it started...
Craig Stishenko
Porsche. I'd then sell it and buy a new Golf R and Tiguan Highline
Michael Dunmire
The Porsche, hands down. If I wanted the Beetle, I'd just go to the lot and buy it. Did I over-think this? :)
Antonio Castiglia
356 forever
Shubham Shandilya
Posche 356sc
William Hudecek
Beetle, had my fill of old cars.
Brendán L. Mac Cárthaigh
Jesse Albrecht
Daily driver or fun car?

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