The prospect of an inexpensive mid-engine road-car chassis excited many a designer when Porsche announced the 914; the car’s flat and angular design, an intentional break from the 911’s curves, did not. So Jacques Cooper sketched out his ideal body for the 914, a design he was so determined to see produced he saw it through to reality despite his company’s exit from coachbuilding partway through the project.
French firm Brissonneau and Lotz, established just after the war in Creil, had more than 20 years of experience supplying bodies to the likes of Renault, Opel, and Matra — and five years of experience designing bodies in house — when Cooper, a former Raymond Loewy employee, suggested the company take on his 914 rebody. Where Porsche stylists Heinrich Klie and Butzi Porsche (drawing from a Gugelot design, according to Brian Long’s Porsche 914 & 914-6: The Definitive History) gave the 914 a targa-top design with a very flat profile, Cooper instead envisioned a more wedge-like body style with a character line that swooped upward toward the rear and with a rearward-tipping hatchback that allowed access to the engine.
Brissonneau officials liked what they saw and obtained an early production 914/6 sometime in late 1969, at least a couple months before the model was slated to go on sale. Late 1969 was also shortly before Brissonneau suffered a series of financial troubles — reportedly brought on by the company’s association with bus builder Chausson — that led Peugeot, Renault, and Alsthom to each buy into the coachbuilder, more for its factories and its railcar operations than its automotive ventures.
Cooper, who envisioned entering production with his design (and who would have found it difficult to coachbuild a Porsche under Peugeot and Renault), managed to broker a deal between Brissonneau officials and Henri Heuliez in Cerizay. Heuliez had concerned itself with bus manufacture since its early days 40 years prior, but Henry Heuliez, son of founder Louis Heuliez, was looking for an in with the auto companies and readily agreed to take on the Porsche project.
In just two-and-a-half months, Heuliez’s works progressed from a sketch and a 914 into a complete running and driving prototype. Just about nothing of the original 914’s body remained other than the pop-up headlamps, the door handles, and a Porsche crest on the nose. The hatch did indeed tip up to provide access to the engine, though it also included a backlite that lifted up and provided access to a carpeted trunk. To replace the 914’s grille above the engine, Cooper incorporated gills in the wide B-pillars.
Under the skin, everything remained the same, down to the stock interior, the 110-hp 2.0-liter flat-six engine, and the 1300005 chassis number, the latter just four off from the earliest known production 914’s chassis number, according to 914Garage.com.
Painted in a brown-metallic-over-light-beige two-tone, the car debuted in Heuliez’s booth at the 1970 Paris Auto Show as the Murene. It actually wasn’t the first coachbuilt 914 to appear; at the Turin show earlier that year, Eurostyle showed off an Albrecht Goertz-designed prototype while ItalDesign showed the Giorgetto Giugiaro-designed Tapiro. Like Cooper’s Murene, both cars had a wedge-shaped design. And like the Goertz and Giugiaro cars, the Murene suffered the same fate, according to Long: Porsche officials, whether they liked the designs or not, had already settled on abandoning the mid-engine layout for the 914’s replacement.
Cooper, who remained with Brissonneau as it became Alsthom, ended up designing the TGV high-speed train alongside Paul Bracq.
Heuliez, however, accomplished what he had set out to do with the Murene: Gain a foothold in the automotive sector. He established a styling studio, added a division dedicated to ambulances and limousines, and began to build prototypes and show cars for European and American carmakers. The company bought the Murene from Brissonneau in 1971 for 24,250 francs, repainted it orange over beige, and added the car to its private collection.
It remained in that collection until 2012, when Heuliez’s automotive division began selling off its assets, including its private collection at Artcurial’s Le Mans Classic auction that July. The Murene sold for €42,889 and has since seen a mechanical overhaul and aesthetic preservation, according to Osenat, the auction house handling its current sale. The pre-auction estimate for the Murene ranges from €180,000 to €220,000 (about $215,000 to $265,000).
In addition to the Murene, Osenat’s Strasbourg auction is slated to include one other Porsche 914/6, this one stock bodied, and a collection of nine Bugattis, among them a Type 35B, a Type 46 Coupe de Ville, and a Type 57 Galibier.
Osenat’s Strasbourg auction will take place May 1. For more information, visit Osenat.com.