We could describe the 912 as a lubricant to smoothen the transition from the 356 to the 911, but this would not only bring the wrath of Porsche fanatics upon us, it would also be an insult to this short-lived but nonetheless successful and fascinating model in the history of the German brand.
Curious how this diluted 911 would perform and handle, I had it on my to-do-list for many years. The temptation of more powerful and spectacular 911 models kept me from driving it, so when Dutch classic car specialist Gallery Aaldering in Brummen offered me a pristine example for a drive, I grabbed the offer with both hands. With a fairly recent bare metal restoration, this 1968 model looks like new and drives like new. At least according to the sales add and co-owner of Gallery Aaldering, Nick Aaldering.
It is not a secret that Porsche mated the four-cylinder of the 356 SC with the body of the six-cylinder 911 to create a more affordable alternative
Starting the 1.582 cc pushrod flat four reminds me of some of the 356 models I drove in the past; the Type 616/36 engine in the back is derived from the Type 616/16 engine as used in the 356 SC, which was on sale in 1964 and 1965. In this last and most powerful variant of the 356, the engine delivers 95 PS at 5,800 rpm, but the updated boxer in the 912 delivers 90 PS at the same engine speed, yet with a lower compression ratio of 9.3:1 instead of 9.5:1. Torque is identical with 122 Nm (90 ft-lb), but is delivered at a lower 3,500 rpm instead of 4,200 rpm.
It is not a secret that Porsche mated the four-cylinder of the 356 SC with the body of the six-cylinder 911 to create a more affordable alternative for the latter. When the 911 was introduced in 1964 it was more expensive than the 356 that was about to retire. The difference in price, at least on the German market, was enough to buy a Volkswagen Beetle. To bridge that gap and to prevent scaring away existing customers, the more affordable 912 was developed and introduced in 1965, shortly after production the 356 ceased. The 912 became not just a success in itself, it can even be seen as the savior of the brand by bringing much needed success and income.
Driving the 912 in search of a suitable photo location, is feels quite similar to a 911 T, yet the sound and performance throw you off and fool your senses into thinking you are driving a 356. At low speeds this effect is barely noticeable, but as soon as I reach some empty roads and the speeds go up, it is like I am missing something. Pushing all the way past 6,000 rpm does not bring the expected acceleration, which is not surprising with a claimed 0 to 100 km/h sprint of 13,5 seconds. Something to keep in mind though, is that in the sixties 90 horsepower was about twice the amount of an average daily driver. This not only puts the sprint time in a different perspective, it also makes the top speed of 183 km/h look less pathetic.
Where the 912 excels, is in corners. The steering has that wonderful 911 directness, feeding the driver with every detail about the surface and the load on the front tires. With the rear being much lighter – and this being a pre-1969 short wheelbase model – the weight balance is better than in a 911 from the same era, making it a little less tail heavy. To really feel the differences between the two though, speeds have to be significant. That means most of the time the 912 will not be able to show its only true advantages over the 911, unless the driver uses it on track or for extreme driving on (hopefully) deserted public roads.
Does that make the 912 inferior to the 911? No, it just makes it less powerful, less exclusive and less expensive. Values are on the rise though, so those who want an affordable and rewarding Porsche experience should not be fooled by what others say and hurry up. Listen to your heart, because the 912 offers a unique balance between the 356 and the 911 for a fraction of the price of either.