Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover: Porsche 912E

It looks like a 911, yes, but this is a Porsche 912E – a combination of the 911 shell and the 914’s 2.0L flat four.

With just 2,099 made (owner Ron says this sunroof-equipped, Peru Red car is number 909), it’s car known mostly to Porschephiles, but that’s in part because the 912E was a stopgap model, never meant to be a long-term offering from Stuttgart; and indeed, it was offered for just one model year – 1976, and in just one market – the United States.

The Original 912

The original 912 (offered from 1965 to 1969) was created to keep 356 customers who might have been priced out by the newer 911 in the fold. It combined the 911’s shell with the 356C’s four and a little less content at considerably lower price than the flat-six 911.

A decent seller, the “cheaper” 912 was still pricey for what it was – it cost more than a Corvette in 1967, though not quite as much as an E-type as some sources claim. Nevertheless, it was the most expensive four-cylinder sports car around.

The way forward for a lower-priced Porsche was the VW-Porsche 914 project, the development and marketing of which was a rollercoaster of arguments between the two related companies.

The on-again/off-again, “Which brand will it be” saga of the 914 could easily have been a Werner Herzog screenplay, but the 914 did finally replace the 912 in late 1969.

When it came time to replace the 914, the drama repeated, if for different reasons – Porsche developed the 924 for VW as the EA425 project, but VW cancelled it. Porsche unsuccessfully attempted to buy it back until Toni Schmücker, who took over from Rudolph Leiding at VW in early 1975, found it expedient to make that happen.

914 production ended in December, 1975, and U.S. market 924s would not be ready until April, 1977 (Euro 924s were ready in Feb. of ’76), leaving a big gap in U.S. Porsche stores, despite an extra run-out of “1976” model year 914s at the end.

Return of the 912

The solution? Bring back the 912 to fill the gap – just for a little while. A prototype was put together in early 1975 and was running by May. With all the components proven, it didn’t take long to finalize the product. The prototype, incidentally, was later sold to a German Doctor and driven regularly for 30 years.

Philosophically, this 912 wasn’t so different from the original. Where the departed 356C’s engine was used in the 912, the 90-hp 2.0L flat four from the outgoing 914 was used in the 912E. The E was for “Einspritzung,” denoting the engine’s Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection and revised systems that, despite the relatively low 7.6:1 compression ratio, meant the car developed 90hp on regular, not premium, gas.

When it arrived, just a 914 inventory was almost depleted, the 912E was quite a bit more expensive than the 914 but $3K less than a 911. It wasn’t nearly as fast as 911, but it was an excellent car. It had all of the 911’s virtues (quality, comfort, handling, style), but was also far less tail-happy, got great gas mileage (it has a 600 mile range), and cost far less to maintain.

It was a great all-rounder and a genuine bargain despite its high price (a situation also familiar from the old 912 era). Of course, it wasn’t meant to last.

Porsche’s last air-cooled 4-cyl, the car was put out to pasture in June, 1976 – around the time U.S.-spec 924s began to arrive at dealers in real quantity. This was just as Stuttgart intended. The practical nature and rarity of the 912E means they have a very high survival rate and, additionallly, that many have been repatriated to the EU, where they were, aside from the prototype, they were never originally sold.

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