Vintage Road & Track Review: 1966 Porsche 912 – “Oversteer Is A Thing Of The Past”

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.