The 911 is a pure, six-cylinder sports car, with its associated appeal. But if you are considering a 356, should you also take a look at the four-cylinder 912? We drive both back-to-back outside Cape Town.
Words: Wilhelm Lutjeharms
The modest four-cylinder, boxer engine that launched Porsche onto the motoring scene in 1948 started off with a paltry 30 kW from its 1.1-litre displacement. Fast-forward to around 12 years and the flat-four, 1.6-litre engine in the 1600 GT developed a very healthy 100 kW.
- Find a classic Porsche for yourself here.
A look at Porsche’s racing history reveals it is littered with racing-developed flat-fours fitted to 356s, as well as a number of notable race cars that achieved several victories over many years.
By 1963 when the 356’s replacement saw the light of day,Porsche's focus had obviouslyshifted tothe 911,but the company still saw enough appeal in the 4 cylinder to unveil a new model, the 912, at the 1965 New York Auto Show. While the 912 was unveiled in 1965, it only became widely available by 1966. Interestingly, the 912 sold very well and clearly buyers didn’t mind at the time to have a familiar flat-four engine in the back of their Porsche and a cabin that offered less equipment than the 911.
The idea behind the 912 was to offer a more accessible sports car to buyers who couldn’t stretch all the way to the 911… and it clearly worked. In its first year of production around 5000 units were manufactured and 6692 in 1966. Today 912s are valued lower than early 911s. Bring the range of 356s onboard, and again the 912 slots comfortably belowthat range of models if you compare them specification-wise.
Compared to a car like this beautiful Ruby Red 356B, how does the 912 stack up from behind the wheel and does it deserve more admiration than it currently gets? The entire 356 range was fitted with the flat-four-cylinder engine, and the 912 was the only 911 to ever receive a four-cylinder engine, which makes it a bit of an oddball in Porsche road-going history.
Few enthusiasts know this, but a number of 356s were assembled in South Africa after being imported as knocked-down kits. However, this 1960 Porsche 356B was manufactured in Germany before being delivered to the Winelands town of Stellenbosch. The first owner was an Olivetti typewriter engineer. He owned it until the day he died and the current owner bought it from his grandson six years ago.
“I haven’t done anything to this car except to give it a small service and a polish every now and then. We even left the minor cracks in the paint. The car has not been restored and we have several invoices, even including insurance premium slips from early years. The original owner was really fastidious. For example, he took the original keys, made copies and only used the copies, filing the original keys in the car’s folder. There is the service book, the handbook and the toolkit. There was also a big folder on the then new Porsche 928. At some stage he considered trading in his 356 for this new GT.”
Subsequent to purchasing this 356B, it won the regional Porsche Club Cape concourse event in 2020.
Eight years after that 356, in 1968, this Bahama Yellow Porsche 912 rolled off the production line. The owner, founder of Dogleg Werks in Cape Town, acquired it in early 2021.
“All the license discs from new came with the car. It was a Johannesburg car and has had two or three owners. Unfortunately, it was cheaply maintained. It does have some rust and will soon be heading for a gentle restoration. However, it won’t be a nuts-and-bolts restoration. The fenders will be removed, sills will be replaced and it will receive a partial respray. This was a daily driver for the past 10 to 15 years. It was unfortunately kept in Newlands which is one of the wettest parts of South Africa. The engine was rebuilt in the '90s, but it now needs attention again.”
Parked next to each other it is easy to see the evolutionary design flowing from the 356 to 912. There are similarities, but they are also two very distinctly different cars.
Behind the wheel
I settle in behind the wheel of the 356 and notice the solid thud when I close the door. Everything about the 356 is rounded. The dashboard curves underneath the windscreen and the large Bakelite steering wheel allows for much needed leverage during slow speeds. The red leather vinyl covered dashboard ties in perfectly with the red window garnish rails below the side windows that run towards the rear of the car as well as the fascia, which is also ruby red (or body coloured).
Being a 356 means there are only three dials behind the steering wheel, them being, from left to right, the speedometer, tachometer and a combination gauge for the oil temperature and the fuel level. It is relatively luxurious in the cabin with rubber matting on the floor, carpets along the sides while the original beige seats and door panels provide a welcoming contrast. Over the bonnet the rounded curves of the lid as well as the fenders are clearly visible.
The engine starts without any trouble and it sounds spot on, a throaty flat-four rumble that permeates from the two exhaust pipes, situated inside the chromed overriders.
The gearlever slots with ease into gear in a very light manner and it is easy to modulate the clutch, all the pedals being floor mounted.
There is a surprising level of sprightliness to the 1582 cm3 engine’s power delivery. You can potter around at 2 to 3000 rpm, but it is from 2500 to 4000 rpm that the engine seems at its happiest and delivers an honest level of performance. The redline arrives 500 rpm later at 4500.
Chase the 4 000-rpm mark through first, second and third gear, and you will be impressed at the speeds you can achieve.
There is a little play in the steering, but you still get a good feel through the wheel. However, you need to remind yourself of those high-profile tyres as you start to drive more enthusiastically through the corners. Still, being so lightweight and with the engine mounted low in the chassis, there is grip to be found through the bends and some fun to be had. Even the brakes feel up to the task of bringing the speeds down, although you don’t want to overdo it, having to then use them with vigour.
The owner also told me that he fits all the 356s in his collection with a camber regulator on the rear axle which limits the wheels tucking in during cornering or other vertical loading and unloading.
In terms of practicality the 356 offers less luggage space at the front thanks to the fuel tank and spare wheel which almost completely fills this area. In the 912 there is ample space for a few soft bags.
There might be only an eight-year difference between these two cars, but the moment you step into the 912 you know this is the more modern model, body and layout that also spanned around two decades of 911s.
There is a complete change of feel in the cabin thanks to the horizontal, straight dashboard design and the cabin is marginally roomier in every direction.
The seats are well worn, so I sit very low, while the cabin colours are darker compared to the 356. The black vinyl seats, door trims and the dashboard are all black as well.
As in the 356, the steering wheel is close to the dashboard, but now there are five dials to look at (there were only three originally when the 912 was launched), one of the additions being a clock. As in the 356, there are still rear seats that can be folded flat to offer additional luggage space, or up to offer seating space for children.
As I twist the key, the engine turns and for a moment the different beat from the flat-four caught me off guard, not a sound you associate with a 911 shaped Porsche. When cars are half a century old, or older, they are very much the result of how they have been maintained. The 356 has clearly been maintained better than the 912, but even so this 912 has been used regularly and provides a good idea of what the 1960s cut-price 911 offers.
The view through the windscreen is also different compared to the 356. Gone is the rounded centre lid, now replaced by the sloping flat deck, with the pronounced fenders running towards the headlights leaving you in no doubt this is a 911 (or 912).
This 912was, at some time in its life, fitted with a factory short shifter kit, as the throws are very short and direct and it doesn’t have any of the vagueness usually associated with this transmission. This does add an additional level of driver involvement and sportiness for me. If it was my car, I would probably have opted for this upgrade as well, especially after having experienced these gearboxes in their original state.
It still needs some getting used to though, but after a few minutes I become accustomed to finding that dogleg first gear and also the following four gears. The availability of five speeds is an important change over the 356’s driving experience. The additional ratio allows you not only more speed, but once on the go it is easy to swap between second and third, ideal for the twisties, and then fourth and fifth as you head onto the longer straights. I immediately feel there is a wider scope of performance with the 912.
Although the engine, in its current state, is not as smooth as the 356B's, it still pulls stronger than its older sibling, while also allowing you to head higher into the rev range. With the red line only arriving at 6000 rpm, you can comfortably let the needle run past 4000 and 5000 rpm. After all, the 912’s engine was based on the 356 Super 90 engine, offering 90 hp (67 kW) versus the 356B’s 44 kW.
As the suspension is a notably better setup compared to the 356, the 912 feels more planted on the road and it does feel more suited to enthusiastic cornering than the 356. Of course, the 912 benefits from the same suspension, steering and braking system as the early 911s.
Is there a winner?
On the way home we both select third gear, needles pointing to the middle of the rev range. We push the throttle pedals to the floor. For a moment the 356 pulls away from the 912, but as our speed builds and I select fourth gear in the 912, it pulls away from the 356.
The 912 will probably continue to remain under the radar for most buyers. I don’t quite understand why, though. Of course, it is two cylinders down on any other 911 in history, but it still delivers a visual experience that is one hundred percent that of the 911's and a driving experience which is very close to that of a 911. Oh, and did I mention it is around 50 kg lighter than a 911 of the same year? For those of us who appreciate these benefits that is a very attractive number. Depending on what your requirements are for a classic, four-cylinder, air-cooled Porsche, give the 912 a second thought. It’s an underrated classic.
1960 Porsche 356 B
Weight: 900 kg
Engine: 1.6-litre, flat-four petrol
Power: 44 kW at4 500 rpm
Torque: 110 Nm at 2800 rpm
Top speed: 155 kph
0-97 km/h: 14.4 seconds
Gearbox: four-speed, manual, RWD
1968 Porsche 912
Weight: 970 kg
Engine: 1.6-litre, flat-four petrol
Power: 67 kW at5 800 rpm
Torque: 133 Nm at 3500 rpm
Top speed: 184 kph
0-97 km/h: 12.3 seconds
Gearbox: five-speed, manual, RWD
An objective look at both cars reveals that the 912 improved on the 356 in many areas. The 912 offered a dynamic new look and integrated lights and bumpers. It also took on a noticeably more aggressive stance: While the 912 is more than two inches narrower than the 356, it has a wider track.Is a Porsche 912 rare? ›
Originally the 912 was only offered to the European market, thus early examples are particularly rare today. Porsche introduced the 912 to the U.S. market at the New York Auto Show in September of 1965, but the model did not become widely available until early 1966.What is so special about the Porsche 356? ›
As raw performance levels rose through the Fifties into the Sixties, there seemed to be far more interest in horsepower than in power-to-weight ratios. While that prototype Type 356/1 produced 35 horsepower, its light weight and slippery shape ensured that it could reach an 83 mile-per-hour top speed.Is the Porsche 912 better than the 911? ›
The 912 also appears to offer a more balanced weight distribution; its 1600-cc Type 616 engine is around 50 pounds lighter than the 2.0- and 2.2-liter six-cylinder engines of contemporary 911s. The 912 fan-people regularly claim that in situations where handling is more crucial than power, a 912 can outdrive a 911.How many Porsche 912 are left? ›
Porsche built just six prototypes of the 912 with its four-cylinder engine. Of those, just two remain and this is one of them. While not as fast or flashy as the 911, the 912 plays a vital role in the history of Porsche.Which Porsche is the poor man's Porsche? ›
Time magazine featured a cover story about the car, and Motor Trend named the Corvair as the 1960 “Car of the Year.” Americans bought them due to their unique style, and affordable price, well under $3,000. They even earned the nickname, “The Poor Man's Porsche.”How rare is a Porsche 356? ›
Porsche 356 Carrera Speedster
Only 151 were built, but if you want one–and belive me, you do–you're in luck: Jerry Seinfeld is selling his. Expect to pay at least $2 million.
The most wanted Porsche, according to the ultra-humble brand, is the 967/1968 Porsche 911R. Only 19 of these vehicles were ever created, and with its 2.0 liter, lightweight long hood short wheelbase, it is super special to Porsche aficionados.How much is a Porsche 356 worth today? ›
A: The average price of a Porsche 356 A Speedster is $341,193. Q: How many Porsche 356 A Speedsters were produced? A: The total number of Porsche 356 A Speedsters produced was 3944.How many Porsche 356 exist? ›
Total 356 model production all years came to about 78,000 units.
The 100,000th Porsche, a 912 Targa outfitted for the police, was delivered." Porsche executives decided that after the 1969 model year, continuation of 912 production would not be viable, due to both internal and external factors.Is the Porsche 912 fast? ›
The 912 could make the 0 to 60 mph in 11,5-12 seconds, and the top speed was announced at 116 mph, however, Road & Track magazine managed a top speed of 119 mph.What is the most expensive 912? ›
Porsche 912 - SWB (1965 to 1968)
As with the rest of the 911 line-up, for the 1969 model year, it evolved into the long wheelbase (LWB) Porsche 912. Q: What was the most expensive Porsche 912 - SWB ever sold? A: The highest recorded sale was $200,616 for a 1967 Porsche 912 5-Speed on October 12 2022.
Upon its introduction the 912 sold for $4,700, and it outsold the 911 by a margin of two to one.What is the gas mileage on a Porsche 912? ›
It is capable of up to 30 miles per US gallon (7.8 L/100 km; 36 mpg‑imp) fuel economy.What does the E stand for in Porsche 912E? ›
Incidentally, he “E” in 912E stands for “Einspritzer” which is the German word for fuel injection. The prototype 912E was car #911 520 1617, and it first ran as a test car (without legal registration) on May 15th, 1975.What is the least desirable Porsche? ›
Quick answer: Avoid Porsche 911 year models 1983 and 2009
The 2009 year model would be the worst purchase with more problems reported than any other models. This includes stalling and leaking hoses.
Most supercar enthusiasts will say the Porsche 911 is the most popular Porsche, and that's exactly the case if we go by the real sense of the word “popular.” However, one of the most effective ways of determining the popularity of a vehicle is by the number of units it sells.What is the Widowmaker Porsche? ›
The 930 proved very fast but also very demanding to drive, and due to its short wheelbase and rear engine layout, was prone to oversteer and turbo-lag. It acquired the nickname "the Widowmaker" after several crashes and deaths attributed to its handling characteristics, which were unfamiliar to many drivers.What is the best 356 Porsche? ›
There was the 356 1100 Coupe that was the genesis of the shape that would later become the 911. However, amongst all the other variations and models, from 1956 to 1959, the 356A 1600 Speedster epitomized the model line—it's often referred to as the greatest version to emerge during the entire 356 model lifetime.
In late 1955, with numerous small but significant changes, the 356 A was introduced. Its internal factory designation, "Type 1", gave rise to its nickname "T1" among enthusiasts.What is the most valuable 356? ›
A 1957 Porsche 356A Carrera GT Speedster by Reutter was the top lot at Saturday's (28 September) RM Sotheby's Taj Ma Garaj Collection sale, selling for $1,380,000 (£1,122,285).Which Porsche holds its value best? ›
The 2022 Porsche 911 is our top pick for the best model year value for the 911. With the 2022, you would only pay, on average, 100% of the price as new, with 100% of the vehicle's useful life remaining. The 2021 and 2020 model years are also attractive years for the 911, and provide a relatively good value.Which Porsche is a future classic? ›
Future Classic: Porsche 911 GTS (997)Which Porsches are classics? ›
Porsche Classic refers to historic vehicles which have not been produced in standard production for at least 10 years. These include legendary sports cars such as the 356, 914, 959 and 911 up to and including type 996, as well as the 924, 928, 944 and 968, and the Porsche Boxster, type 986.Why are Porsche 356 so expensive? ›
The Porsche is rare. 30,000+ Corvettes are produced each year. The Porsche 356 had approximately 17,000 made in the final year. Fewer were the Cabriolet, such as this model.What Porsche 356 was in 48 hours? ›
Hammond's (Eddie Murphy) car was said to be a Porsche in 48 Hrs. (1982), meaning a Porsche 356 Speedster, but the vehicle is actually an Intermeccanica 356 A Speedster replica built by CMC (Classic Motor Carriage).Was the Porsche in Top Gun real? ›
In 1986's Top Gun, the 1958 Porsche 356 Speedster driven by Kelly McGillis was a replica, not an original.How can you tell if a Porsche 356 is real? ›
The original 356 (also called "pre-A") is easy to recognize from its two-piece windscreen divided by a center bar. This was replaced by a single-piece windscreen with a center bend as of model year 1952. All 356 generations were also available in an open-top version (Cabriolet, Speedster or Roadster).What year was the Porsche 356 in Top Gun? ›
In the 1986 version of “Top Gun,” Kelly McGillis's character, “Charlie,” zoomed around San Diego in a black 1958 Porsche 356. But the little Speedster was actually a replica of the real thing, which is now worth more than $200,000 when in the best condition.
Porsche 356 Specs:
Horsepower: 130 hp. Torque: 86 lb-ft. 0-60 mph: 13.5 seconds. 1/4-Mile: 19.2 Seconds @ 71.2 mph.
An objective look at both cars reveals that the 912 improved on the 356 in many areas. The 912 offered a dynamic new look and integrated lights and bumpers. It also took on a noticeably more aggressive stance: While the 912 is more than two inches narrower than the 356, it has a wider track.Is Porsche 912 same as 911? ›
In terms of looks and technology, the 912 was virtually identical to the 911. Unlike the 911, however, it was powered by the 1.6-litre flat-four engine from the 356 SC at the rear.Did Porsche 912 have air conditioning? ›
Along about 1966 or 67 a company named Coolaire from Florida introduced an ac for the Porsche, both the 911 and 912. The 912 was fitted with a Giant condenser over the engine and it took up most all the deck lid.How much horsepower does a Porsche 912 have? ›
Its power output was reduced from 95 to 90 hp at 5,800 rpm for use in the 912 in order to give the engine more low-end torque and stability. Power transmission was provided by a 4-speed manual transmission.What is the slowest Porsche 911? ›
The Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolet is the last in our slowest Porsche cars list.What is the fastest classic Porsche 911? ›
|Top Speed||191 mph|
The 912c is the lightest of all the road-going 911/912s, and has a better balance than a typical 911.What changed in Porsche 912? ›
In 1968 the United States Department of Transportation (D.O.T.) imposed mandates that would significantly change the Porsche 912 for that year. No longer permitted were glass lenses that had enclosed the headlights, and in their place were large chrome bezels that housed the lenses directly.What is the most expensive Porsche style? ›
2023 Porsche 911 Sport Classic (Limited Edition)
This limited edition car is considered the most expensive Porsche in the market, with a starting price of around $273,750.
Though making considerably less power than a Turbo S (160 hp vs. 250 hp), the base cars can fetch $5000 to $9000 with relatively low miles.Are old Porsches expensive? ›
The pricing for Porsche Classic models fluctuates for a number of reasons and every Porsche Classic will have its own average price point. Some of the rarest limited-run Porsche models hit the market with price tags as high as $850,000, while other fan-favorites are available for prices around $30,000 to $40,000.What is a rare Porsche? ›
993 Porsche 911 Speedster - 2 Units. Another special Porsche with a two-unit production run, the 993 Porsche 911 Speedster is as rare as it is drool-worthy.How long do Porsche engines last? ›
Most Porsche engines will last for 100,000 miles or more, especially if you take good care of your car. You can reduce the strain on your engine and make sure it lasts long by booking regular maintenance appointments at the dealership.What is the idle speed of a Porsche 912? ›
solid idle at about 1000-1100 RPM.Can a Porsche last 300000 miles? ›
Porsches—hailed by car enthusiasts for their excellent German-engineered craftsmanship—are known for their long-term reliability and ability to perform well over time. In general, a Porsche can last at least 100,000 miles and about 9 years.What Porsche does Bill Gates have? ›
Gates is known to be a Porsche collector. In his possession are a Porsche 911, a 930, and a rare 959. The Porsche 959 is one of the most sought-after sports cars ever produced, with only 337 units ever made.
Numerous models followed within the 900 nomenclature. A very light and nimble mid-engined sports car with the 914 and the transaxle models with four- and eight-cylinder engines (924 and 928). This typical three digit number, beginning with a nine quickly became a Porsche trademark.How many Porsche 912s were made? ›
Until future research may prove otherwise, the consensus within the 912 Registry is that around 1,500 1965 model-year painted dash 912 cars were built.What is the rarest Porsche race car? ›
That may have come as a bit of a surprise to you, but the rarest Porsche of all time is a transaxle model. With just 14 examples in total (excluding one prototype and one race car), the Porsche 968 Turbo S is the rarest Zuffenhausen sports car of all time.
Q: What was the most expensive Porsche 912 Coupe - SWB ever sold? A: The top sale price was $200,616 for a 1967 Porsche 912 5-Speed on October 12 2022.What is Porsche's most iconic car? ›
Of course, the iconic flat-12, Le Mans-winner (fictional or otherwise) had to be included. Most famous in its 917K form in Gulf colours – for obvious reasons – the Porsche 917 was developed into multiple butt-kicking variants over the years.
The Porsche 911 Sally Special sold at the RM Sotheby's Monterey Auction on Saturday evening for a record $3.6 million (auction hammer price). In the charged atmosphere of the packed bidding hall, the one-of-one car attracted significant interest, with the final winning offer coming from a telephone bidder.