Today, all but true Porsche enthusiasts may have forgotten that the Butzi Porsche-styled 901 (aka, 911) had a four-cylinder twin for the first five years of production. Introduced in 1965 as a replacement for the venerable old 356, the new four-cylinder Porsche brought the 911’s new design across the entire product line. A 912 is essentially a 911 body paired with a pushrod four-cylinder, which was actually a slightly detuned variant of the 356SC motor. While the 912 did weigh 133 pounds more than the old 356C, the new body was more aerodynamic and a five-speed gearbox, a $75 option for the 912, aided performance. Upon its introduction the 912 sold for $4,700, and it outsold the 911 by a margin of two to one. Porsche’s 100,000th car was actually a 912, and it was a Targa outfitted for a German police department.
Outside of the engine compartment, only badging and interior fitments distinguished the 912 from the 911, with true base cars having a plastic steering wheel rim and a three-dial dash as opposed to the 911s five-dial unit. A four-speed all-synchromesh transmission was standard with a five-speed optional. Most of the other usual 911 options were available including special order paints, a sunroof, and the unique soft rear window Targa top. For 1969, like the 911, the 912 rode on a stretched wheelbase with flared fenders and redesigned gauges. 1969 would prove to be the final model year for the 912. The 911 range expanded and a wider cost gap included the range-topping 911S, the mid-level 911E and the base 911T. By 1970, Porsche sought to carve out an entry-level market for itself with the Volkswagen-produced 914.
In 1976, though, with the demise of the 914 and with the new, water-cooled, front-engined 924 not quite ready for public consumption, Porsche resuscitated the 912 (called the 912E) for one year only. The 912E utilized the 2.0-liter VW Type IV motor that had previously seen service in the 914, and it was only available in the American market.
For decades, the 912 would languish in the 911’s shadow, namely for having two fewer cylinders. Adding insult to injury, the 912’s ensuing affordability placed them in the hands of unsympathetic owners who subjected the cars to all manner of thoughtless “improvements” and “updates.” Today, as long-hood 911 and 356 prices have increased, so too has interest in 912s, and the cars are now treated with much more regard than they were even just a few short years ago.
Enthusiasts now recognize that despite a less potent motor, the 912 nevertheless offers all of the quality and styling one would expect from a 1960s 911, but with easier maintenance as well as better balance and weight distribution. Because it’s still all Porsche, though, 912s aren't any less expensive to maintain or restore than a 356 or 911, so it is best to stick with the best examples.