912: the bar­gain clas­sic?

The 912/6 was never an of­fi­cial Porsche model, but is it a vi­able way into long-bon­net 911 own­er­ship?

Total 911 - - Contents - Writ­ten by Neill Wat­son Pho­tog­ra­phy by Chris Wall­bank

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.

Thanks

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

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