It was two years after its European introduction before the all new 911 was officially sent to America, along with its new stablemate, the four cylinder 912. Presumably Porsche wanted to introduce them both simultaneously, unlike in Europe where the 356 continued to be sold alongside the six cylinder 911 in its first two years. Needless to say, this first all-new Porsche since the 356 first arrived here in 1950 or so was a big deal. I assume the 911 was tested a couple of months earlier by R&T, but Lee J. has just let me know that there’s more older ones coming, eventually. In the meantime, we can relive the experience of the new generation powered by the engine of the older one.
That might strike some as a bit pathetic: why would anyone spring for a four cylinder version when the new two-liter 911 engine was so brilliant? How about a 40% premium over the 912’s price of $4690 $38k adjusted) for two extra cylinders and 46 more hp? Well, that was hefty 45% increase in maximum hp, but they were expensive ponies nevertheless. I don’t know the sales breakout, but the 912 was quite popular in the early years. It’s important to remember that the Porsche was somewhat unique among sports cars, as it was so civilized in its ride and rigid body that it was as much a GT as a sports car. And it could seat four, a quality that was put to the test here, with four full-sized adults. The results are a bit surprising, or not.
It’s fascinating to read that “There has been some unfavorable reaction among the marque’s fans to the new body…” Change is a bitch, for some anyway. And the 356 had an exceptionally loyal following. What would they have thought if they had been told that the 911 would be built in this incarnation for just over 30 more years?
The 912’s new suspension system of struts in the front and semi-trailing rear arms in the rear was of course the single biggest change from the 356, along with the new body, which was narrower but roomier, and with significantly more visibility. The new suspension was effective in eliminating the oversteer, for which the swing-axle 356 had become rather famous for, although it had been tamed some over the years, and was really not much of an issue for experienced drivers; in fact, many (like myself) rather relished a helping of oversteer win their rear engine cars. It’s an acquired taste, and not easily given up.
As a matter of fact, since I removed the front sway bar on my xB, oversteer is now part of its portfolio. Keeps things interesting.
R&T’s proclamation that “Oversteer is a thing of the past” needs to be put into context. In the case of the mildly-powered 912, it’s not surprising. But in the 911, especially as it increased in power, oversteer once again reared its head. Which is precisely why in 1969 Porsche moved the rear wheels back a bit and widened the track. And soon took other measures, like wider wheels and tires in the back than the front. And so on. The hunt to reduce oversteer in the 911 went on almost to the end of its life.
The 912 rode on quite narrow 5.5″ wheels shod with 6.95×15″Goodyear Grand Prix tires. Were those radials?
The 1.6 L air-cooled boxer four, the final evolution of what started out as a tuned 1,1 L VW engine making 40 hp, was rated at 102 gross hp, or 90 net DIN hp. It was tuned a bit differently than the one last used in the 356SC/Super 90, to give more mid-range torque. This was a concession to its new role as the lower-powered and more civilized Porsche, suitable for puttering to the store at low rpm, unlike the very high strung 2L 911 six.
Performance in the heavier 912 was adequate, but not exactly stellar: 0-60 in 11.6 seconds and the 1/4 mile in 18.1@78mph. But then the Porsche’s traditional strength was not in acceleration, but the ability to cover lots of ground, especially difficult ground, at high average speeds. That’s what made the Porsche reputation, thanks to a very rigid body and fairly supple fully-independent suspension. Compared to the typical sports cars of the 50s and 60s, the 356 had been a magic carpet ride. The 911 continued that, with a ride roughly comparable to that of the 356.
The tested 912 had the optional 5 speed transmission, but the linkage and odd shift pattern, with first on the left and down, came in for some criticism. This was not an overdrive 5-speed, so one might well do without, given the four cylinder’s ample power band.
Befitting its lower price, the 912 had a simpler dashboard with fewer instruments, and lacked the 911’s little wood veneer strip across the dash. The extra instruments were available optionally.
R&T decided to test the 912’s four passenger capacity, loading up four full sized males for a brief but fast ride. Although not as comfortable as the front passenger, the rear passengers said they would be ok riding back there for a hundred miles or so. I doubt that would be the case today.
Back around 2013, I took the scenic way home from the Iowa City jazz festival and a lovely red 912 for sale greeted me as I entered the next town north (Solon?). I stopped and looked at it, I still have pictures on my other computer. The ask was $13,000, which I didn’t feel was all too bad given the condition. Of course, a proper PPI would’ve been in order given how these faired in Iowa – glossy resale red can hide a lot of bondo! But it sure was pretty with those delicate early Porsche details and Fuch wheels. Oh, what could’ve been…
Another curious bit of 912 history is the 1976 only 912e:
Didn’t Wheeler Dealers USA get their hands on a green one a few series ago?. It was the entry model whilst awaiting the US launch of the 924
Possibly, can’t say I’m familiar with the show but that backstory checks out.
It was an episode while Edd Love was still the show ‘wrench’, and he was able to gather everything he needed for the recon from one NOS Porsche parts warehouse in Florida. Amazing his wrenching skills on that Porsche, and wish he was back instead of ‘Ant’.
I really enjoyed watching Wheeler Dealers, I wanted to buy the cars after Edd had fixed them. Ant doesn’t seem as skilled. The episode where he restored the 912 is what made me like this particular Porche so much.
A correctly restored to factory stock 1966 or `967 912 would be my purchase if I won the lottery. Hopefully in racing green with brown leather interior and period correct Blaupunkt AM/FM radio. While the one year only fuel injection would be nice, it’s not a must-have.
A top speed of 119 is sufficient for today’s drivers and fuel quality.
I think I’d try for a ’69 912 5-Speed. Many improvements since 1966, elimination of the need for an emissions air pump by using a new specially-coated intake manifold, a longer wheelbase(but same overall length) and side marker lamps integrated in the front and rear lamps instead of separate small reflectors. By that time, the black-painted five gauge instrument panel was standard on 912.
I owned a Euro spec ’68 912 with the optional 5 speed. Mine had later, wider Fuchs wheels with super stick (on dry, warm roads) Yokohama 007 gumballs. The car would fly thru curves, literally like it was glued down. OTOH with 2 drops of rain the car would become a real “THRILL” to try to drive; snow? Fergeddit!!!
The major drawback, here in N. IN. was rust. Fighting off the “tinworm” was a expen$ive ongoing, and losing battle. Porsches of this vintage had zero rust protection.
I probably spent more hours enjoying the looks of the car after waxing her while sipping a cool Sam Adams Lager or 6 than I did driving her!!!! While doing this the 912 remained under my front shade tree…….:) DFO
I was curious about the tires too, as I would have assumed radials, with metric sizing. According to several vintage tire sites I found, Porsche was OEM with 165R-15 radials on the 911 by that time, but I found no mention of the 912. Goodyear’s corporate history web page says that they had a full line of radials by 1965 (though no steel radial for the OEM domestic market until 1973). So I’d guess the OEM Goodyears on the 912 were fabric-belted radials, Goodyear’s equivalent to fabric-belted Pirelli’s or Semperits.
“Radial-ply tires” are listed under Extra Cost Options on the spec page of the article.
After a few months of 912 ownership my Father reluctantly admitted that he wanted his Corvair back.
Thanks, Paul. I really like these old R&T test articles. Takes me back . . .
So tell me: why is it that I’ve always been able to distinguish a 912 from a 911, at first glance ? Is it something with the wheels, or wheel covers, or is it the bumpers . . . ?
Never been enough of a Porsche fan to really get into them—but body design (and, as I read here, construction) is something I take seriously. Why can’t I say how I know the two versions apart, instantly ?
In the 911/12, there’s a tacit admission that swing axles were of the past. For an industry-leading progressive sports car maker, it seems a slow admission.
When tyres were skinny and power sometimes way in advance of any grip, such suspension was an advanced solution for racers drifting machines, especially on common-enough imperfect surfaces. And for modestly-powered little production cars incapable of much speed, swing axles were clearly better than rigid beams and such.
But for widespread public use on roads occupied by others, especially as speeds rose post-war, they were a strange interlude. Oversteer has no place whatsoever on a public road, at least, not in any meaningful sense other than on some road all-but guaranteed to be unoccupied. Were CV-type joints really so expensive? I can only presume so.
I’m fairly surprised by the performance of the 912 here, as it’s a good chunk ahead of many other ’65 1.6 pushrod fours (especially that top speed).
Incidentally, it’s the only car I can recall being assessed in a review like a house, in square footage!
I also wondered about the acceleration times.
Five years later Volkswagen put struts on the front of the Super Beetle after having switched to CV joints/trailing arms in the rear in ’68/’69. They were good handling cars that loved to be thrown into corners.
The thing with oversteer is that given enough power even front engine/rear drive cars can be induced to having the rear end slide out. More disconcerting to me was driving the first Rabbits back then with trailing-throttle oversteer. It took some getting used to, going into a turn too fast, backing off the gas, and having the ass end lighten up.
Another great car .
I had a 1967 912 5 speed, five gauge and loved it, the structural rust (even in Los Angeles !) caused me concern so I sold it on to a local Porsche restorer, I hope it’s still out there in it’s glory .
The 912 really was a better driver IMO, I could really haul ass in it and never had any spin out problems .
The 5 speed made a huge improvement as more gears always do unless you’re too lazy to be constantly shifting to match power/traction/hills .
Splitting the ratios costs money but is always the way to go when you can .
As Paul mentions : swing axles and over steer are great once you understand them and know how to properly drive an over steering car .
If I found one with no rust for $13K I’d see if I could borrow it…
My uncle bought a new one in 66. Swerved to avoid a deer on the hi way in upper Michigan. Barrel rolled the car 4 times. Tore off both doors. He survived with a bruised shoulder. Car was in the shop for over 2 years, before the insurance co. gave up and finally totaled it.
I became a believer in PORSCHE on the safety issue then.
Still can’t believe he survived…
Please keep the great content coming, great site!
Dad bought a new 1968 912 – 5 speed, 5 gauge, Sunroof, Fuchs, in white.
When I found out that as a 16 year old kid with a learner’s permit, I would NOT be allowed to drive the car, I switched tactics & asked him why he didn’t buy a 911. Here are the reasons he gave me, in no special order . . .
1. The Porsche dealer [Manhattan Auto of Bethesda, MD] had 6 various new Porsches in stock, all of them 912 versions. 911 cars were on long back-order with the factory.
2 Insurance costs; dad said that even with him as the only driver, the 911 would have been almost double.
3. Dad did his homework, and maintenance costs for the 911 were a lot more money.
4. This was his regular transportation vehicle, and he drove it to/from work, in a suburban & city commute [Paul — You will probably recognize the commute: Garrett Park, MD to Van Ness St, NW DC, where UDC is today.]