The new 'Damen'
Porsche 912 1965-2005 40 year Anniversary
(First published in Porsche Post April 2005)
So, the Porsche 912 is forty years old this year, amazing that I remember seeing my first 912 up close and personal about a decade ago, when I decided it was the car for me, understated, misunderstood and stylish it seemed to encapsulate everything about the a young'ish man as much as a great Porsche! For the uninitiated I will explain how this great car came about, and it's a story of luck more than judgement. After the long life of the 'original' Porsche the good people at 'Zuff' had developed a replacement for the much loved 356, that car was developed as the 901 and most people will be familiar with that iconic automotive landmark event and the motoring history it made when the 911 was finally born.
What maybe less known is why the 912 came into existence at all. If you put yourselves into the shoes of a Porsche customer in the early sixties they had got very well used to the charms of the fantastic 356 in all it's guises, and the 911 came as a bit of a shock to some, not only in it's 'modern' design but more significantly and perhaps more worrying, the price, which had put the 911 into a different price league. Harald Wagner, Porsche's Sales Director of the time is described as saying 'this was a very tense time' due to all pressure for the 911 to succeed. So, something was needed to fill the price gap left by the 356, the brilliant idea of using the new car but with a cheaper and highly developed and well loved power plant was inspired, although Porsche tinkered with the idea of producing a four cylinder engine derived from the new six cylinder engine, sense prevailed and a de-tuned 356 engine was transplanted into the new body and that car became the 912. So, 'The Porsche everyone could afford' was born as a replacement to the 356 Normal or 'Damen'. Mind you you could buy two MGB's for the cost of one 912 so it was never a "poor man's Porsche' or a cheap 'Lady'!
Production of the 356 ceased in September 1965 and in the first year of production 912 numbers outstripped that of the 911 2:1. The fiscal benefit of the 912 to Porsche cannot be under-estimated, and that inspired decision to produce a cheaper 911 paid off in a big way, ensuring the continued success of Porsche - one can see parallels with contemporary issues at the factory - the original Boxster anyone? Once the 912 reached the USA it's future was assured where it became a huge success, and these days most of the best examples we see in this country have originated from the 'dry' States.
The 912 evolved during it's 5 year lifetime with many subtle and more significant improvements (we won't talk about the 1968 smog pump!), to it's final incarnation in the form of the long wheelbase version of 1969.
So why buy a 912? Well from my perspective it's a car that provides everything that a sports car should, stunning looks, lively performance and superb handling. Although it was never the fastest Porsche, the 220lbs weight lost from having the 356 pushrod engine gives it excellent handling and power to weight ratio, 220 pounds may not sound like much but it's the weight of many a large adult so, without that extra 'passenger' leaving a 911 in the twisty stuff isn't as hard as you might imagine!. What was true in the sixties remains so today, a great car for a reasonable price — just what the good Doctor ordered!
So where are we now? 40 years on the 912 has been through the usual 'Classic Car' cycle, from being a neglected and under valued liability to being re-born as a 'undiscovered gem' by a new generation of afficianados. Through the 70's, 80's and 90's the 912's used prices dropped and as with all old cars it became a devalued and maligned model, often not seen as worthy of the money needed to keep them on the road. Then as now a 911 costs similar amounts of hard earned cash to keep in the same driveable condition, so why but a 912?
Well during the nineties people started to buy these great cars for peanuts by today's standards, and they discovered were actually very good. So the 912 emerged as the 'Sixties sleeper' and prices have been on the up ever since, as has the enthusiasm from owners around the world. We now have a global network of owners and part suppliers that is starting to put the 356 and 911 guys to shame, fortunately we can use after market parts from both of them, so the 912 makes more sense than ever. The car has reached the point at which it is no longer a stepping stone to the 911, but the choice of discerning buyers. Cars are now being restored to concours standard, £6000 is being spent on engine rebuilds, cars are being raced and rallied, nothing it seems is too much or unknown for the '12 these days. Even as I write this article I have seen an advert in one of the classic magazines for a company devoting its advertising space to a 912, nothing strange in that you may say, until you see the company is also selling a 1963 DB4 and a $399,000 427 Cobra with the same column inches allocated to a '12... ahh how times change, prices too, as it is going for $19,850-00!
Photographs courtesy of: Porsche AG, Barwaut Verhoeven, Gavin Joule.
40th Anniversary Poster by Guy Allen commissioned by the 912 Register