The cars we loved.
When the ground breaking Porsche 911 made its debut in 1964 as a replacement for the aging but popular 356, it established Porsche as a world leader in advance performance cars. It also established that a new Porsche was expensive and would be out of the hands of even more motorists. The solution was to make a diluted version of the 911, with most of its charms sans the flat 6 engine. The resulting car was called the 912 and undercut the 911’s sticker price by a few thousand dollars.
For about $4,200 in 1965, you could pick out a 912 in one of nine exterior colors with no less than 4 interior colors and two types of fabric patterns (just like the 911). Also like its big brother, the 912s dash was well equipped with a tach and 120 mph speed odometer. Like the 911, tyhe 912 was powered from its rear wheels. Other creature comforts like electric windshield washers, three speed wipers and rear window defroster came standard. About the only thing the 912 did not come with was the 911’s 2.4 L flat 6 engine. In it’s place was a 1.6 l flat 4 cylinder from the departing 356. It was a strong reliable engine that produced 90 hp compared to the 911’s 130.
In some ways the 912 was a better car than the 911. For the average driver, it was easier car to drive at the limit. The 911 had odd handling traits due to its unusual weight balance from having the engine in the rear, behind the rear wheels. The 912 solved this problem by reducing the weight of the engine in its 4 cylinder version. Weather it was handling, or the fact that it was cheaper, the 912 was a popular seller. Sales outpaced the 911 easily in the years from 1965 to 1969. In fact had the 912 sold poorly, it would likely have meant an early end to the 911. Fortunately, the popularity of the 912 meant that 911 production could be subsidized until it was able to stand on its own as the legendary car it would become.
The 912 benefited from a string of improvements, most notably a breaking system that would earn Porsche a reputation for safety, before Volvo would attach itself to the label. These running changes had the added benefit of coming as the price of the 912 was lowered, further boosting sales. At first glance it was difficult determine a 912 from a 911. They looked nearly identical. Aside from badges and engine sounds, there was little to distinguish the two. 912 buyers liked it that way. The general public was not the only ones taken by the 912’s charms. Police departments across the world adopted the 912 due to its reliability, excellent handling and reasonable quickness.
As the 1960’s came to a close, the 911’s sales were strong and had splintered into three variants. Now there was the high performance 911S model, standard 911 and a new stripped down 911T. The need for a proper entry-level car that did not resemble the 911 so much became more apparent. In 1970 the 914 would become the new entry-level Porsche, replacing the 912. Interestingly the 912 mad a short return appearance in 1975 just as the fuel crisis had begun to effect makers of high performance gas guzzling cars. The 914 fizzed out but the new 924 replacement was not ready. The solution was to bring back the 912E for one year.
The 912E was the best one yet. Like the 912 before it, it used an air-cooled flat four, this time at 2.o l making 86 hp. The 912E was sold for one year and was replaced by the new 924 in 1976. Porsche has since introduced entry-level cars that have been extreme departures from the basic look of the 911. More recently the Boxster cars have begun to resemble the 911’s front end, while featuring smaller less powerful engines, but with enough of the Porsche mystique to command premium price tags. 912 are still popular and sought after today for two reasons.
First, it’s a 911 essentially without the high cost and quirky at the limit performance. Secondly and perhaps more importantly 912’s make an easy entry into the world of the 911 where with the right body kit, you can make your 40+-year-old 912 look like any number of modern 911 based cars up to the mid 90’s! A cottage industry has flourished to make old 911s new again with the bolt on look that would make those Monte Carlo LS to fake SS conversions look tame. That’s a sad legacy for the car that saved the 911 while it was in the incubator of newness. So consider that the next time you see a “911 Turbo-like” cruising down the boulevard.