Gear Head Tuesday – Porsche’s Beloved Original 911/912 Series

Gear Head

69 Porsche 912
1969 Porsche 912. My first Porsche was a ’69 912 exactly like this one.

Porsche badge


Dr. – Ing. h.c. Ferdinand Porsche

The story of the legendary Porsche cars begins with Ferdinand Porsche, born in Maffersdorf, Austria on 3 September 1875. His father had a metalsmithing business. Early on, Ferdinand showed an aptitude for engineering and was particularly intrigued by electricity.

In his 22nd year, 1897,  Ferdinand Porsche achieved a remarkable number of milestones:

• He built an electric wheel-hub motor, the concept for which had been developed by American inventor Wellington Adams more than a decade earlier.

• He raced his wheel-hub motor in Vienna

• and he began working in the newly created Electric Car Department at Hofwagenfabrik Jacob Lohner & Co., a Vienna-based company belonging to the Austro-Hungarian Army’s joint Imperial and Royal Army.

In 1898, Porsche developed the Egger-Lohner electric vehicle, the world’s first electric car. (Eat your heart out, Elon Musk!)

In 1906, Porsche became technical manager of the Austro-Daimler company. In 1923, he moved to the Stuttgart-based Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft, becoming a Technical Manager and Executive Board member. There, his career highlights included overseeing the construction of the Mercedes compressor car. For his accomplishments, Porsche received an honorary doctorate degree by the Imperial Technical University in 1917. (Thus the “Dr.-Ing. h.c.” in his title as well as in the name of the Porsche company) In 1937, Porsche was awarded the German National Prize for Art and Science.

In 1931, Porsche established his own company to do engineering work for others.

The year 1934 saw Porsche became deeply involved in Adolf Hitler’s “people’s car”, the Volkswagen project. Porsche’s son, “Ferry” (Ferdinand Anton Ernst Porsche, born in 1909), worked with him to develop the first designs for the original Volkswagen. From that point on, father and son worked together.

During World War II, Ferdinand Porsche was all-in with Hitler. He developed the Tiger tank and the Panzerjäger tank destroyer, fitted with an 88 mm long-range anti-tank gun that could take out Allies’ tanks before the Allies’ tanks could get within firing range.

At the end of the war, Ferdinand Porsche was imprisoned for 22 months by the French because of his collaboration with Hitler.

During his father’s incarceration, Ferry developed the Cisitalia race car, but was itching to develop his own sports car and soon after the launch of the Cisitalia, he did exactly that.

Starting with Volkswagen components, Ferry Porsche and Porsche employee Karl Rabe put together the first Porsche roadster, Typ 356/1, which was unveiled on 8 June, 1948. Developed alongside the roadster 356/1 was Typ 356/2 in both coupe and open versions. While 356/1 was the first Porsche-branded car introduced to the public, it was the 356/2 that actually spawned the first series-produced Porsche 356s which continued in production as 356; 356A, 356B and finally 356C versions through the end of the 1965 model year.

Porsche-356-1-Roadster-Pebble Beach 2008

Above: Porsche 356/1 at Pebble Beach, CA, 2008
Below: Porsche 356/2 became the basis for all following 356 series cars up to and including the last 356C built in 1965.

Porsche Type 356

Ferdinand Porsche was physically weakened by his 22 month imprisonment; after the war he lacked his previous energy and Ferry picked up the running of the Porsche operation which was at that time still primarily focused on engineering contract work for others. Ferdinand died on 30 January 1951, shortly after the public introduction of 356/1.

As early as 1955, Ferry began thinking ahead to the car that would eventually replace the 356. Work began in earnest in the early 1960s. The plan was to replace the 356 with a six cylinder car, Typ 901. Ferry’s son, Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, “Butzi”, penned the design which continued but refined the styling cues of the 356 series.

Ferry Porsche

Ferry Porsche on the hood of a 911.


Ferry Porsche’s son, “Butzi”, penned the Typ 901

Because the new six cylinder 901 would be significantly more expensive than the four cylinder Typ 356C it was replacing, Porsche decided to put the 356 Super 90 four in a Typ 901 body, label it Typ 902, and offer it as a lower-cost alternative to the new six.

Typ 901 made its public debut in 1965 as production of the 356C wound down. The four cylinder 902 followed several months later as a 1966 model.

In those days, Peugeot typically named its models with three digits with a “0” being the middle digit; for example the 504 being a well-known Peugeot model. Peugeot made a squawk about Porsche using the “901/902” monickers for its new cars, never mind that the numbers were legitimately the project numbers assigned by Porsche to the project of developing the new cars just as the 356 had been the project number resulting in the first production Porsche cars. Rather than fight Peugeot in court, Porsche simply replaced the “0” with a “1” and the 901 became the 911 and the 902 became the 912.

Offering the 912 was a good move for Porsche – it outsold the 911 by 2 to 1. The 912 offered nimble handling and, because its engine was lighter than the six in the 911, was not as prone to Übersteuern. Plus, you could flog the 912 hard and still get 30 miles per gallon.

Porsche assembly

Into the late 1960s, Porsche cars were hand assembled. The blue car on the left appears to be a 912.

Initially offered only as coupes, in 1967, the 911/912 series was joined by the Targa as an open top offering. The name was chosen in honor of Porsche’s many wins at the Targa Florio races in Italy. Initially, the Targa was sold with a removable soft rear window. This arrangement led to some early rust issues and the soft window was replaced by a permanent glass window which also added a small extra measure of structural stiffness.

69-Porsche 912 Targa

Porsche Targa – fitted with the glass rear window rather than the soft plastic window of the earliest Targas.

Porsche cars of this era were not soft fluffy things for boulevard cruising. They were intended to be driven. Yet they were tractable enough to make a run to the supermarket after being flogged in a rally. The seats were comfortable, but sporting.

69 Porsche 912-left interior

Comfortable but purposeful interior. Tachometer in the center of the instrument cluster. A real driver’s car.

Porsche reluctantly made air conditioning available, mostly because of demands of the American market. Fifty percent of their production was sold in the U.S. and fifty percent of that was sold in California. In 1970, power windows were an option on 911s. But there was no power steering. No power brakes. No cruise control. These Porsches were driver’s cars. Because of this straightforward purpose, they have tremendous appeal today, to which anyone who follows the auction prices of early 911/912s can attest. For example, this beautiful Albert Blue 1972 Porsche 911S sold on Bring-a-Trailer for $185,000.

1972 Porsche 911 S sunroof coupe-Albert Blue lr

This 1972 Porsche 911S sunroof coupe in Albert Blue sold on Bring-a-Trailer for $185,000 on 28 January 20.

In the comments section of one auction of a Porsche of this era at Bring-a-Trailer, was this perfect summary of the appeal of these cars:

“… the early 70’s cars represent the unadulterated intent of the designers. The engine is pure art in my opinion. Six individual throttle bodies/stacks deliver air and a mechanical fuel pump delivers fuel directly into the combustion chamber. The fuel mapping is “read” by a stylus following the contours on a 3D space cam; similar to the way a needle reads an LP. A pretty trick piece of engineering that existed briefly just before the dawn of the microprocessors and quartz watches. Why are early 70’s Porsche “long hoods” so special? These were minimalist cars with no power brakes, no power steering, no emissions, and not much safety. They were built for an express purpose with pretty much only that which could be fashioned by hand or mechanical means.”

Drivers miss this straightforward approach to motoring, creating a market for early Porsche 911/912 series cars that attract considerable attention – and money – at auction. How I wish I still had my ’69 912!

Porsche-Marken Weltmeister

Above: “Marken Weltmeister” – World Champion of Makes.
Below: a European-spec 912, probably a 1968.


69 Porsche 911T Targa - Irish Green

A soft window Targa in Irish Green

69 Porsche 912-Light Ivory rs

A Light Ivory ’69 912 in the hills of northern California.

71 Porsche 911T-Targa

1971 911T Targa in Mexico Blue


911 in Signal Yellow

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