912: the bargain classic?
The 912/6 was never an official Porsche model, but is it a viable way into long-bonnet 911 ownership?
Now the most affordable route into long-bonnet ownership, should we take the 912 seriously?
For a great many of us, the prospect of owning an early Porsche 911 disappeared years ago. Cars that were once financial possibilities in our budgetregulated bucket list have soared away to stratospheric heights in value. In addition, the advent of a passion for the iconic ‘barn find’ has given rise to excitement and hysteria whenever an early 911 emerges from those old buildings that used to supply us with a project to be renovated a little at a time. Today, the barn find is wheeled on to the auctioneers platform complete with decades of dust and what dealers call ‘patina’, so the prospect of owning an early 911 for anything under a six-figure sum is now pretty much impossible. However, there is one final possibility: the 912/6.
There is, of course, officially no such thing as a 912/6. It’s a term used to describe the once-popular move to take the four-cylinder 912 and transplant a six-cylinder 911 engine into it, effectively creating a Porsche 911 in the process. Engine transplants in many different cars are nothing new of course, though for the most part they don’t work. The extra engineering work needed, added to the heavier weight of the larger engine, the bigger brakes needed and the extra cooling all conspire to make engine transplants done for love and enthusiasm, not cost effectiveness. The 912/6, however, is different.
Conceived by Porsche very soon after the launch of the 911, the Porsche 912 was intended to bridge the gap in price between the outgoing 356 and the new 911. Porsche executives were worried that the price point of the new flat six was too high and would encounter resistance. In 1965 the 912 was launched with a four-cylinder, 1.6-litre engine. For Porsche the judgement call was inspired: the 912 sold 6,400 cars in the first year compared to 3,390 911s. In the following years the ratio gradually shifted in the 911’s favour, and 912 production ceased in 1969.
Many of the components of the two cars were shared. The same brakes, suspension and overall chassis was common to both cars, including the five-speed 901 gearbox with dog-leg gearshift as an option. Add in the quite numerous production volume and it is easy to see why the creation of a 912/6 became such a popular thing to do.
In the motorsport world, the 912 is credited with giving Porsche victory in the European Rally Championship, Polish driver Sobiesław Zasada taking his privately entered 912 to victory in 1967. Which brings us along quite nicely to the subject of this feature. A historic, rally prepared Porsche 912/6.
Today finds us in Chester, in many ways the spiritual home of British rallying and, of course, the northern gateway to Wales. Business partners Howard and Chas have been involved in classic rallying for decades, and we have talked in Total 911 previously about their experiences with the Porsche 911 and historic rallying. This particular car is a project that has been some time in the works. “It started as a car we bought from our friend Phil Hindley,” explains Howard. “At the time, we needed another car for rallying, this one was available so we bought it from Phil. Then various other
“In the motorsport world, the 912 is credited with giving Porsche victory in the European rally championship”
projects came along and it was put on the back burner for a while!”
What began as the passion of two men who had recently sold a business and needed something new to focus on has quickly blossomed into a business specialising in early Porsche 911s for classic and historic rally events. Today they are busier than ever, with word of mouth being the marketing tool as more and more owners have asked them to care for early Porsches. So the 912/6 project had to wait a while.
But today, on this bright but cold early spring day, the car is sitting outside, pristine paintwork shining in the sun, sitting on a set of Minilite wheels with brand-new Vredestein tyres still to be scrubbed.
“It needs some miles putting on it”, says Howard, sliding the key and motorsport cutoff across the desk. “It’s literally brand-new, so everything will need bedding in; have fun.” What could possibly go wrong?
Sitting alongside a new Porsche 991, I’m reminded at how small, almost delicate, the early 911 bodyshell looks in comparison with today’s technology-laden missiles. Clicking open the lightweight door, sliding down into the bucket seat, I fiddle with the fourpoint harness, still very stiff and new. A few minutes of fidgeting and adjusting and I have a good seat position relative to that slim OMP steering wheel. A push and twist of the motorsport cut off key and the Brantz trip lights up. Snap the ignition switch down and there’s a high-pitched buzz from the fuel pump. A quick squirt with the right foot to prime the Webers and I thumb the start button.
The 2.0-litre snaps instantly to life, then stops.
I try again. This time, I catch it on the bounce and get a few gentle blips on that featherlight throttle as I check the gauges are moving the right way. I’d forgotten just how instant the throttle response from these small Porsche sixes was, and this freshly built one is like a flick knife. I sit for a few moments as the engine warms through, the whiff of oil combined with the honey aroma of 98 octane and that telepathic throttle all combine to gently quicken my pulse.
Across and back for first, the cold gearbox, together with the newness of the internals combine to make the move stiff, as if moving through treacle. Rolling gently through Chester town centre, it’s a little tricky at first to make smooth progress, as the utter newness of the gearbox, coupled with the beautifully responsive engine, means that matching RPM and road speed requires practice. Moving out of town, the speed rises as everything warms through, and now I’m beginning to enjoy the flow of the drive a lot more.
Driving over the border into Wales, in just a few miles the geography changes as we head to our photo location of Llanbedr, and now the
A494 is sinuous and winding. The view through the open bends, combined with the strong response from the 2.0-litre flat six, means I need little encouragement to press on more. The car is really flowing now as I regain my muscle memory of driving these lovely, lightweight cars, the thinrimmed OMP wheel feeling far more delicate
than the thick, chunky airbag and Alcantara of modern GT Porsches.
Braking into the tighter bends, the motorsport brake pads need a firm push, making the solid brake pedal now the perfect platform for an addictive blip on the downshift. The warmed-up gearbox benefits from those last few miles as the shifts go in smoothly, the Vredestein tyres bite on turn in before picking up that sharp throttle and balancing the weight midcorner before powering out, always mindful of the engine’s newness. Arriving at our photo location, I have to suppress a giggle.
This particular car had been involved in historic and regularity events for some time before Howard and Chas obtained it. The rebuild started a while ago, but as mentioned, other projects meant that it dropped down the schedule before they focused their full attention on it. Today, the hundreds of hours of body shell preparation, that brilliantly responsive 2.0-litre flat six built to ’S’ specification and the brand-new Bilstein dampers all combine to give the feel of a car that is absolutely box fresh. With decades of historic and regularity event experience between them, they have incorporated the many small details into the build that both help long-term reliability and also add strength to the car. Regularity events are not as hard on machinery as stage rallying. Nevertheless, this car has under-body protection added both front and rear, as well as the sensible addition of a bolt-in half roll cage.
Photography complete, it’s time to investigate more the feel of this early 911, and, indeed, whether a six-cylinder 912 would be a good entry point into early Porsche ownership. The engine is fully warmed up now: half a pedal of prime for the Webers and it cracks into life. Even though there is no need to, I simply cannot resist some gentle blips of that superlight throttle, revs zipping up and then instantly back down again, cracking out through the stainless steel exhaust. The gearshift easily slips across and back into first now, the warm oil and those miles we put in on the way here have certainly bedded things in, both mechanically, and probably also mentally remapping the driver too. I personally prefer driving left-handdrive cars. For me, shifting gears with my right hand is far more intuitive, and it becomes evident that the dog-leg layout of this sort of gearbox was designed for that seat position.
For those who are adequately funded and are considering an early 911 to actually drive, rather than merely collect and hold in suspended animation, then a car like this would be a great choice. If you own a newer, water-cooled 911 and want an Espresso shot of the purest air-cooled 911 experience and feel to add to your collection, then these early cars deliver the purest drive. Devoid of all of the elements that have subsequently been added to the evolutions of the car, from larger engines to turbochargers, creature comforts and modern safety, they are superb.
Would you buy a 912 with the four-cylinder engine, or opt for a six-cylinder upgraded 912/6? Both are equally involving to drive, though for me the beautiful 2.0-litre six cylinder adds that additional spice to the drive and extra punch out of the corners that is both physically and aurally intoxicating.
While this car may have been built with classic regularity competition in mind, I would be quite happy to have it as part of my Porsche garage. Perfect for those occasions early on a Sunday morning when everyone is still sleeping, the roads are dry and there’s a bacon sandwich and Espresso around forty miles away across a winding B Road.
The Porsche 912 or 912/6 is probably the last affordable chance you will get to be an early 911 owner. If you love the DNA of a Porsche 911, you owe it to yourself to investigate it at its purest source.
The car in our pictures is currently for sale. Interested parties should contact Howard at the CHC Partnership on +44 (0) 1244 375773.
LEFT Spot lights, mud flaps and a revised ride height immediately mark this 912 out for competition use, but plenty may seek a 912/6 build as a viable way into long-bonnet Porsche ownership for road use