Star Power: Carl Sagan’s 1970 Porsche 914

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Carl Sagan was an astronomer, teacher, writer and advocate for astronomy and space exploration. He was and still is a very well known public figure. A Pulitzer Prize winner for his book The Dragons of Eden: Speculations of the Evolution of Human Intelligence, Sagan was the author of many other popular books, including most importantly Cosmos, which became the bestselling science book ever published in English. The award-winning Cosmos television series has now been viewed by a billion people in more than sixty countries.

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Besides being a brilliant and accomplished scientist, Sagan was an important voice in support of human exploration of space. He was married to Ann Druyan, also a best selling author and television and film producer, who worked on Cosmos, as well as the Jodie Foster film, Contact, which she co-wrote with Sagan. Carl Sagan was for many years a professor at Cornell University, in Ithaca, New York.

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I have no idea if Carl Sagan was really interested in cars. His website mentions only interstellar vehicles, nothing so mundane as the 1970 Porsche 914 1.7 liter car that he ostensibly owned and which is now for sale here on eBay.

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Apparently, the current owner acquired the car when he worked at the Cornell Space Sciences Center in 2002. I’ll let you read his description of the car and what he has done with it since buying it nearly 15 years ago. You can make your own judgment about the car and the story. Thanks to reader Jim S for turning us on to this car and its background.

I was just looking for a convertible for the summer and someone happened to be selling this rare Porsche Targa.  Turns out this car was Phobos, the car that is iconic because it was Carl Sagan’s ride.  Many at Cornell recall seeing Dr. Sagan in the orange Porsche dictating into his dictaphone.  I think the car was given to a family friend after Carl Sagan’s passing.  Since it’s such an old car, there is no title for it and therefore the transfer of ownership is a letter from Carl Sagan’s wife Ann Druyan.

Since buying the car my dad and I put in quite a bit of work to get her going again.  Phobos was our bonding project.  Alas, given Ithaca’s weather, the car had significant rust on it which was repaired by a body shop there and we decided to paint it black (we assumed black would dry faster & protect the car from rusting further). Incidentally, the [person] who did the paint job didn’t do such a great job as he painted over the original paint rather than sanding it down.  So now the paint is chipping and you can see the original signal orange paint.

I brought the car down to Florida with me in 2004.  Unfortunately my dad died in 2005 and I haven’t really touched the car since.  It’s been in the garage, I started it a couple of times and it still starts up fine. I don’t think I’ll be able to bring myself to work on this car again, everytime I’ve tried, I end up depressed (even after 10 years).  With new additions to my family, I recently got a minivan and am planning to move again.  So, I think it’s time for Phobos to go to a new home (maybe a museum).

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So what do you think? Is this car’s association with the renowned Dr. Sagan enough to increase its value as the seller plainly hopes? I owned an identical car back in the eighties and was decidedly unimpressed with what felt like a gussied up VW to me. It handled pretty well, but was under powered (80 hp!), not all that well built, and required too much maintenance to make me happy about owning it. I think owning Carl Sagan’s car would be fun, but I can’t see this car as a museum piece.

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This car definitely deserves an owner who will appreciate it, but the current owner may be disappointed in the bidding. Top value for this car is around $23,000, for a car in perfect condition. As of this writing, with seven days left in the auction, top bid is only $1,600. The listing does not include enough pictures, in my view – nothing showing the engine, the interior or the underside of the car, extent of rust, etc. Given the work we have to assume will be required to restore this car even to driver status, bidders will likely be gun-shy. Even the visibly rusted areas of the car look nasty. Now if this was a 914/6…..

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Comments

  1. OA5599

    Looks like a black hole restoration project.

    • Jim B

      lol

      • DougM

        ditto

  2. Zenaldo

    Rather have the 2 door wagon in the background of the one image…

    • PHJ

      That’s what I was thinking!

    • Ropey

      I would rather have that, or the Rolls in the other view, or the VW in the Sagan picture. Heck, if it came down to it, I think I’d rather have the tow truck …

    • ROTAG999

      1960 Ford

  3. Dolphin Dolphin Member

    If you are going to sell a car on a celebrity connection there needs to be firm documentation. With this sale I don’t see documentation.

    If the seller bought the car from Sagan, or anyone, to be able to drive a convertible why isn’t there a title? In contrast to the seller’s claim, being an old car doesn’t explain that away. The seller doesn’t even list a VIN for the car, so there’s really not much to go on here.

    The seller says he & his father did some work on the car, including having it painted, but the old paint under the flat black repaint looks like it’s maybe a different color than the light color in the B&W photo with Sagan sitting on the back of the car.

    There just isn’t much to say that the car has any celebrity status, and I believe the 1.7 cars are down on the list of 914 desirability, so if you want one to drive, better to find a good one that wasn’t rusty and badly painted and forget the celebrity stuff.

  4. Francisco

    Billions and billions of rust molecules.

    1
    • krash

      funny!

    • George

      Good one.

      I don’t view the association with Sagan as anything more than a curiosity.

      Now, if it were François, Sagan……..

  5. Mark

    Famous owner or not there’s not much that can make a 914 a desirable purchase.

    By the way it’s up to $3800 and the reserve has not yet been met!

  6. sir mike

    Mr.Sagan is alive and well and living somewhere in space….as for the 914 I have no comment.

  7. Fred

    Francisco- thanks for bringing back that hilarious memory of Johnny Carson’s Sagan impression!

  8. Brad

    If this auction gets shared onto some of the nerdier corners of the internet, I think we’ll see a ton of interest. This guy is legendary in the history of science… and there are more wealthy science geeks than ever before.

  9. Menmojo

    The story of the previous owner is worth zero dollars. This 914 looks like a rust bucket and not worth the current bid on eBay. I think there are a few people floating around in outer space on this one.

    • Brad

      Yeah, tell that to everyone who’s spent MILLIONS on anything with wheels that Steve McQueen might’ve sat in.

  10. Chebby

    The California black plates that say PHOBOS would be the most valuable part of the car, but they seem to be long gone. This is a curiosity but with such scant provenance I don’t see it translating into dollars.

    • Jonny the Boy

      New York plates.

  11. Trickie Dickie Member

    In Germany and all over the rest of Europe, when these cars were first out they were always sold as Volkswagens. Then were badged as Porsches here for the USA just to make them more salable. When first available in the US, there was a serious vote of members of the Porsche Cub of America to not allow them in the club! I remember that REAL Porsche owners would not even wave at 914’s they encounterd on the road. How amusing. I belonged to PCA for 33 years.

  12. Doug M. (West Coast) Member

    I don’t get why there is all the discussion of VW vs. Porsche. Take the car for what it is and either like it, or don’t! I happen to like them, and it does not take a “wave” from someone in a more expensive Porsche to make me feel accepted or to make my day. Oh, and one smaller point: many/most of the parts that are used to make a 914 carry a 914-XXX-XXX serial number on them, not a VW serial number. So it’s not like it is truly a VW with a piece of Porsche script tacked on it? Oh, well…just another opinion in the universe. (here’s a picture of one I owned a few years ago… had a lot of fun with it!)

    • Dolphin Dolphin Member

      Doug, not a 916, but a 914 with 916 flares I’m assuming. They say these handle like go carts. I owned an actual Go-Kart brand cart way back when I was too young to own a car, so I know what that’s like……great fun.

      • Doug M. (West Coast) Member

        Yes, 914 with flares, but it was a 2.0. Handled very nicely! But go-carts are REALLY fun! especially those with the dual side tanks and dual McCullough chain saw motors!

  13. FZR Moto

    I’ll take the VW Squareback in the top photo. Had one as my first car in ’93. Got it for $150!

  14. ImpalaGuy

    Dr. Sagan also had a ’64 Corvair Spyder. I remember following the restoration on one of the Corvair websites.
    http://blog.hemmings.com/index.php/2014/07/11/cosmic-provenance-the-resurrection-of-carl-sagans-corvair-spyder/

  15. Jeff G

    I think the only museum that would be interested in this car would be Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. lol

  16. Ed Willaims

    No excitement there!

  17. Rallyace

    Rumor had it that he would show up at a Glen Region or Southern NY Region autocross from time to time. I did see him at the Glen a couple of times.

  18. Dave

    I’ll bet the pistons went through MILLIONS and MILLIONS of cycles while Sagan drove this LOL!

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