Porsche four all: celebrating the 912E, 912 and 914

| 21 Jul 2020
Classic & Sports Car – Porsche four all: celebrating the 912E, 912 and 914

For the latest classic car news, features, buyer’s guides and classifieds, sign up to the C&SC newsletter here


Set aside your preconceptions and there is a certain foresight to the Porsche 912.

Consider that today Lamborghini, Alfa Romeo, Porsche, Maserati, Aston Martin and soon Ferrari are all making vast money-spinning executive SUVs for the masses with the sole aim to bolster the bottom line, and indeed Stuttgart has once again introduced a four-pot baby Porsche, and the original ‘entry-level 911’ is a car that shouldn’t be sniffed at.

That theme of broadening the customer base threads throughout the often-maligned four-cylinder Porsches gathered together on, as chance would have it, the best and brightest day between two name-worthy storms.

Classic & Sports Car – Porsche four all: celebrating the 912E, 912 and 914
A very fine trio of four-pot Porsches

Each one of the 912, 914 and 912E has its detractors because of an almost universal snobbery that declares these not to be ‘proper’ Porsches.

But all are true enthusiasts’ cars, and some of the best enthusiast examples you’ll find in the UK.

Volkswagen is the inevitable elephant in the room, and at the root of why this trio was so overlooked for so long.

But VW, its letters there but hidden away on some models, and non-existent on others, has also been a bond for the past half century that has united owners, and offered a means into the Weissach marque.

Classic & Sports Car – Porsche four all: celebrating the 912E, 912 and 914
On the road in this lovely 912

The 912 – or 902 until Peugeot used its then-great might to claim ownership of such names soon after the model’s unveiling at the 1964 Paris Salon – was a straightforward evolution.

It combined the 356 and the 911, the car that first made Porsche’s name and reputation and the car that would take the firm to unprecedented heights.

It was always in the business plan, too, because development of the six-cylinder 901 and a four-cylinder for the 902 ran concurrently.

When it came to the production car, though, the new experimental 2-litre ‘four’ was shelved in favour of using the discontinued 356C’s Typ 616 because of the sheer number of surplus engines.

Classic & Sports Car – Porsche four all: celebrating the 912E, 912 and 914
The 912’s sweet-revving flat-four is sourced from the later 356 and is all Porsche

That meant a twin-Solex 1582cc, and 90bhp, but it was ageing, having first been installed into the 356A 10 years earlier, in 1955.

But it was still largely a Porsche unit. Motor’s 1964 review of the 365SC even opens with the assertion that: ‘The Volkswagen ancestry is, if not obscure, at least not so apparent.’

Barely a part hadn’t been tweaked, changed or improved by the Stuttgart engineers.

Classic & Sports Car – Porsche four all: celebrating the 912E, 912 and 914
The 914 was a collaboration between Porsche and Volkswagen

The same cannot be said of its descendent – and replacement – the 914.

This was a genuine collaboration between the two manufacturers that eventually soured.

The 1.7-litre, 80bhp injected four-pot boxer engine bolted into the middle of Porsche’s new chassis in 1969 was lifted straight out of the back of a Volkswagen Type 4.

By the middle of the decade it had been slightly reworked by Porsche, with a bigger bore and longer stroke to create the 1971cc powerplant that was used for the 914 2.0 in 1970 and the US-only, 1976-only 912E.

Where there can be no cries of “VW!” is on the exterior styling. Stationary, the 912 and 912E are barely distinguishable from their more celebrated brethren – the ‘pre-’73’ 911 and Carrera 3.0 respectively.

Classic & Sports Car – Porsche four all: celebrating the 912E, 912 and 914
A flat dash and an upright wheel in the low-slung 914, which shares an organ throttle and wand-like lever with the earlier 912

“I took my 912 to the Sunday Scramble,” says owner John Macdonald, “and because I follow the hashtags on Instagram, I saw that people were tagging it as a 911…

“I have always been into VWs – my first car was a Beetle – and my first Porsche was a 914 because I thought that was my way in to an air-cooled Porsche.

“But the classic shape of the 911 and 912 never went from my mind, so I sold that and my split-screen van to get this.”

Classic & Sports Car – Porsche four all: celebrating the 912E, 912 and 914
86bhp from the 1971cc ‘four’ for the 912E

It was the shape that also drew Ian Lindsay-Watson to his 912E (E for einspritzung, denoting the fuel-injected engine).

“I bought it after seeing The Bridge, the Scandinavian detective drama, because I loved the shape of the lead character’s Olive Green 911. I got this, then decided I needed the bigger one, too, so I got a 3-litre!

“The 912E has better handling because of the lighter rear end: you can crash a 911; you’d do well to in this. The E is my car of choice: it conjures the ’70s VW spirit.”

Yet the 914 – which perfectly splits the 912s, having been launched in the final year of the original, 1969, and built until 1975, the year before the stopgap 912E was launched into America while the world awaited the 924 – is more of a visual departure.

Classic & Sports Car – Porsche four all: celebrating the 912E, 912 and 914
The Momo wheel sets off the vinyl cabin inside this 912E

“People don’t know what this is,” explains our 1971 example’s owner, James Grayston.

“That breeds curiosity, and I’ve had people ask me if it’s a Fiat. The only Porsche badge is on the rear decklid – an American 914, such as this, was sold as a Porsche.

“The European version has the wolf and Wolfsburg castle on the steering wheel, and Volkswagen hubcaps. They also have a VW-Porsche badge on the back.”

The only VW badge to slip through the net here is on the hazard-lights switch on the dash.

Classic & Sports Car – Porsche four all: celebrating the 912E, 912 and 914
From a standing start it’s a close battle, but the earliest car makes up for being slowest to 60mph by offering the highest top speed

The more time spent with these three cars, the more apparent the 914’s place as the midpoint becomes.

The 912 is loud inside – enough even for it to become intrusive and ‘tiresome on a motorway’ to Autocar in 1965 – and the 914 is, too, in a seemingly more intentional manner. It’s not helped here by its targa top, while the E is perfectly quiet.

The 912 and 914 both have tall and rangy gearsticks, which combine with their lengthy linkages to make them at times vague, and in line with them lies the stout, floor-mounted heater lever.

As contemporary road-testers found, it’s easy to select fourth rather than second from the dogleg first in the 912, while the short slot into second in the 914 doesn’t confidently feel in gear after the long-throw first.

Both traits take some getting used to but, the owners assure, get used to them you do.

Classic & Sports Car – Porsche four all: celebrating the 912E, 912 and 914
VW’s 2-litre, a larger version of the 914 unit, sits low in the 912E’s engine bay

In the E, the excellent shorter throws engage with a very Porsche, very mechanical clunk every time, the slightly more prominent transmission tunnel enabling a stubbier lever that encourages quicker and more precise gearchanges.

It is thoroughly satisfying where the others take care, its heavier floor-mounted clutch full of feel.

Part of that can be put down to the newly rebuilt ’box in ‘our’ 912E.

“Third gear was shot and oil was coming out at a rate of knots,” explains Lindsay-Watson, “but it was away for just four days.”

Classic & Sports Car – Porsche four all: celebrating the 912E, 912 and 914
912 (left) and 912E side by side

None of these cars is what anyone would deem fast today, but that doesn’t mean they are not fun.

The weight distribution is sublime in each, the tiny flat-four barely taking up half the rear bay of the 912.

“It looks nicer than a 911 in there,” says Macdonald. “A friend asked me once what the space in front of the engine is for!”

The 914, meanwhile, is genuinely mid-engined, and of the three feels the best through the bends, hinting at why it spawned six-cylinder racers, whereas the pin-sharp steering of the E makes you want corners to be ever longer and ever more sweeping.

All are flat and docile in a very good way. Perhaps the real trick here is the lack of grunt; as the 911 became more powerful, more of its horsepower was being left unused.

Classic & Sports Car – Porsche four all: celebrating the 912E, 912 and 914
The attractive 912 cabin has the most classic appeal, with a quartet of dials and an aluminium dash strip

As the revs rise, each car similarly awakens, sounding closer to sweet than the less-appealing low-down clamour.

None can touch the 911’s ‘six’ in that respect, not that it really bothers you when you’re behind the wheel – each of which is different.

The large 912’s feels of its age, bigger and slower; the 914’s sits low in your lap, forcing your hands higher round the wheel, but doesn’t obscure the view ahead; and the E’s non-standard Momo is small and the most comfortable, not least when pushing through corners.

Feedback is felt most through the 914’s, however.

Classic & Sports Car – Porsche four all: celebrating the 912E, 912 and 914
The 914 has a distinctive appearance

The 914 is also the most spartan inside. Its super-’70s cabin, with brown seats and carpet, feels short and wide, the thin seats touching the bulkhead behind.

“On the fuel tank it says it’s a 2+1,” explains Grayston, “but there are no belts on that middle ‘seat’ and you wouldn’t want to use it.”

There is a radio, though, unlike in the earlier car with its attractive blanking plate, but you wouldn’t use that, either, owing to the clattering, raucous noise right behind your ears.

Whether any is ever found wanting for power is best answered by their owners. “The 914 is fast enough, but it’s not a car to tear around in,” concedes Grayston. “The gearing is long, too – at 70mph it’s turning at well under 3000rpm.”

“I hate it when people say it needs more power,” adds Lindsay-Watson of his 912E. “It wasn’t meant to be fast. It’s still quick enough – quicker than your average hatchback. You can probably push it to 125mph on the autobahn.”

Classic & Sports Car – Porsche four all: celebrating the 912E, 912 and 914
The ‘912’ script was one of the attractions of this early, Sweden-sourced car

This trio knew exactly what they were getting when they took the plunge into four-pot ownership, consciously deciding on these more leisurely Porsches.

Coincidentally, the 912 and 914 might even have the exact same – and perhaps famous – starts in life, via Jacksonville, Florida.

“They’re potentially Brumos cars,” reveals Macdonald, bringing instantly to mind the dealer team’s iconic red, white and blue RSRs.

“Jesse, the guy I bought my 912 from in Sweden – and who I have to credit with all the work – sent me a screenshot of its ‘birth certificate’ and it’s a 1965 build, so a first-year car, but registered in America in ’66.”

The 356 was still available Stateside in late ’65, hence the 912 being held back to avoid cannibalising sales. There were no such problems in Europe.

“I always wanted an early 912 because of the design: the smaller doorhandles, the script on the back, the narrow body. It encapsulates everything that is early Porsche, with form following function. And it’s a three-dial car.”

Classic & Sports Car – Porsche four all: celebrating the 912E, 912 and 914
Details of the 912’s more famous stablemate abound

It’s now four, because of the later addition of a matching VDO clock to the right of the speedo; later cars had the five-dial binnacle of the 911.

The padded dash, rather than body-colour metal, defines it as a late-year car, too.

There were subtle tweaks in the restoration, such as a slight lowering, an uprated exhaust and the optional Fuchs wheels.

“It’s had a bare-metal respray back to its Golf Blau and a sympathetic restoration – even the lenses are original, and he polished everything up without rechroming,” Macdonald says.

“I fell in love with it as soon as I saw it on Instagram and booked a £50 flight. Unbeknown to me, I’d actually seen and liked it on there before.”

Classic & Sports Car – Porsche four all: celebrating the 912E, 912 and 914
Undervalued – but now appreciating

Macdonald goes on. “He paid me the ultimate compliment when he said, ‘I’m not going to sleep tonight because I have mixed emotions: I love this car but I know I have to sell it.

“My biggest fear was that someone was going to come over with the money and I wasn’t going to like the guy.’ When I was back at the hotel I sent him a text saying, ‘I hope you sleep well tonight,’ just joking, and he said, ‘I’m really pleased that it’s going to you.’

“It meant a lot that he was happy to sell it to me, and we’re now friends. He’s a lovely guy.”

Lovely enough to include in the deal the Heuer rally timer that is clipped to the dash.

Classic & Sports Car – Porsche four all: celebrating the 912E, 912 and 914
This 914 is very standard, including these fab steel wheels

While Macdonald is only starting life with his 912, Grayston – who counts a 944 as his daily driver – is well accustomed to his 914, having bought it eight years ago: “I wanted orange, and didn’t want to spend too much.

“Auto Atlanta in Georgia specialises in 914s and I saw this on their site. I was told it was a good car, but needed paint. Within three months I’d got it, for $6000 when it was $2 to £1 – so it was cheap.”

But for stainless-steel heat exchangers and a Scart exhaust, the 914 is very standard, even down to the wheels.

“Fifty cars went to Brooklands last year for a 50th-anniversary event and 49 of them were on alloys,” Grayston says. “This came with the 5½J steelies on, and it looks great. People want Fuchs alloys so the steel wheels have become really rare because they were just binned; I have two sets with Porsche trims. One might go on my 912 project, but I may sell that; I’ll never part with this.”

Classic & Sports Car – Porsche four all: celebrating the 912E, 912 and 914
All three have been bought to be driven and enjoyed

Naturally, the beautiful Sienna Metallic 912E has its own American backstory, too.

“It started at a dealer in Augusta, Georgia, then moved two miles across the border to North Augusta in North Carolina and stayed there for years,” explains Lindsay-Watson.

“Then it was sent to a US Air Force base in Germany with an officer, before he sold it to Kansas, and I picked it up just after it had been imported to the UK.

“I looked at a few – one was gold with cookie-cutter wheels and a Jake Raby six-cylinder conversion – but I wanted it to be original.

“This one had blistered paint but no rust, and I lived with it like that for a few months until my mum had it resprayed for me as a 40th-birthday present.

“It had been sitting for 13 years and done only five miles in that time, and was completely static for the last 10. We literally just did the oil, plugs, the usual stuff and I didn’t take it back for a service for 3000 miles – it didn’t miss a beat. They’re so resilient.

“The most amazing thing about this car is the chassis number: it’s 930 and, because this is the G-series, it’s the 930 shape.”

Classic & Sports Car – Porsche four all: celebrating the 912E, 912 and 914
This 912E started life in America

That figure also places it right in the middle of the 2099-car run.

Oddly, despite the model being some way down the list when it comes to the most special Porsches, it is possibly one of the rarest in the UK: one of fewer than 10.

The American overriders remain and have proved their worth, according to its owner: “I was out once and a friend came running over to say someone had just hit my car. It had jumped maybe a metre out of its parking space but there wasn’t a mark; the Audi A1 had a huge dent!”

Canny investors and enthusiasts have been making hay on the four-pot 911’s values – C&SC, meanwhile, is now on its second art editor who regrets once letting one go for peanuts.

Such was the reputation and the lack of enthusiasm for the cars. How we’ve all missed out, it appears.

Classic & Sports Car – Porsche four all: celebrating the 912E, 912 and 914
These three flat-four Porsches deserve their time to shine

The 914 is perhaps the most attainable, but days of deals such as Grayston’s are long gone. And for cars of this quality you’re looking at 911 money.

Not one of our owners bought their car with plans for investment, but to use. The phrase “not a garage queen” came from each more than once, and the cars are all the better for it.

As for which has come away with the best deal, that depends on what you want from your everyday Porsche.

For the purest looks it has to be the 912. For B-road bashing it’s the 914. For an all-rounder with modern comforts the 912E wins hands down.

But for me, someone who has always yearned for a 356 and dreams of an early 911, it has to be the missing-link 912.

Yet there will still be many for whom the choice is difficult for entirely opposite reasons. Prejudice can’t be shaken off overnight, or with a few thousand pounds added to their values. Perhaps, though, those preconceptions might now be misconceptions for some.

Images: Will Williams

Thanks to Thanks to Revival Cars; DDK Online; Kevin Clarke; Nick Trott


Expert’s view

Kevin Clarke

Classic & Sports Car – Porsche four all: celebrating the 912E, 912 and 914

In the world of 914s, one man’s name crops up more than anyone else’s: Kevin Clarke, 914 Register organiser for the Porsche Club of Great Britain and serial owner.

“People say ‘I like your 914’ now,” he says. “Before, they would ask what it was. A few years ago, when the 911 had its jump in values the 912 followed, and then the 914. The Karmann Ghia used to be maybe three times as expensive, but now they’re about the same.

“A project is around £6-7000, and a usable one is about £15,000 but might still need attention. For one like James’ it’s at least £20k now.

“The 1.8s are similar to the 1.7s, whereas the 2-litres are more desirable and about £26,000. As for the 914/6, some in Germany are well north of £100,000. Values have levelled out but they’ll continue to rise, just maybe without another jump.

“Because it’s a VW Type 4 engine the parts are available and servicing is pretty reasonable. It varies, though, because the suspension and parts of the ’box are Porsche.”


Expert’s view

Max Levell, Revival Cars

Classic & Sports Car – Porsche four all: celebrating the 912E, 912 and 914

Few know 912s like Max Levell, who not only owns specialist Revival Cars, but also drove one from London to Saigon (C&SC, May ’11).

“Where the 911 has rocketed up and then fallen a bit, the 912 has been a slow burner,” says Levell.

“Prices have been gradually appreciating, but they’re still undervalued. I’ve had one for 20 years – I paid £3000 and drove it home. Now, a project would set you back £15-25,000 – anything less is really parts value. For a usable 912 you can spend between £25,000 and £40k, and up to around £60,000 for a top car.

“Servicing is really the same as a 911 – if the engine goes it’s 911 expensive. But that doesn’t seem to be putting anyone off: in fact, we have clients who have expensive collections that tell us they don’t want a 911, they specifically want a 912.

“Steel wheels are becoming sought-after: when people were making their 912s look like 911s they put on Fuchs wheels; now people want their 912s to look like 912s.”


Factfiles

Classic & Sports Car – Porsche four all: celebrating the 912E, 912 and 914

Porsche 912

  • Sold/number built 1965-’69/28,333
  • Construction steel monocoque
  • Engine all-alloy, air-cooled, ohv 1582cc flat-four, with two Solex 40 PII-4 carbs
  • Max power 90bhp @ 5800rpm
  • Max torque 90Ib ft @ 3500rpm
  • Transmission four-speed manual (optional five-speed), RWD
  • Suspension independent, at front by MacPherson struts, anti-roll bar rear semi-trailing arms; torsion bars, telescopic dampers f/r
  • Steering rack and pinion
  • Brakes discs
  • Length 13ft 8in (4163mm)
  • Width 5ft 3in (1610mm)
  • Height 4ft 4in (1320mm)
  • Wheelbase 7ft 3in (2211mm)
  • Weight 2138lb (970kg)
  • 0-60mph 13.5 secs
  • Top speed 115mph
  • Mpg 33
  • Price new £2467
  • Price now £25-60,000*
      

Porsche 914 1.7

  • Sold/number built 1969-’76/118,978
  • Construction steel monocoque
  • Engine iron-block, alloy-head, air-cooled, ohv 1679cc flat-four, Bosch D-Jetronic fuel injection
  • Max power 85bhp @ 4900rpm
  • Max torque 109lb ft @ 2900rpm
  • Transmission five-speed manual, RWD
  • Suspension independent, at front by wishbones, damper struts, torsion bars rear semi-trailing arms, coil springs, telescopic dampers
  • Steering rack and pinion
  • Brakes discs
  • Length 13ft 1in (3985mm)
  • Width 5ft 5in (1650mm)
  • Height 4ft (1220mm)
  • Wheelbase 8ft 1in (2450mm)
  • Weight 1982lb (899kg)
  • 0-60mph 11 secs
  • Top speed 110mph
  • Mpg 26
  • Price new £2261
  • Price now £10-30,000*
     

Porsche 912E

  • Sold/number built 1975-’76/2099
  • Construction part-galvanised steel monocoque
  • Engine iron-block, alloy-head, air-cooled, ohv 1971cc flat-four, with Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection
  • Max power 86bhp @ 4900rpm
  • Max torque 93Ib ft @ 4000rpm
  • Transmission five-speed manual, RWD
  • Suspension independent, at front by MacPherson struts, anti-roll bar rear semi-trailing arms; torsion bars, telescopic dampers f/r
  • Steering rack and pinion
  • Brakes discs
  • Length 14ft 1in (4291mm)
  • Width 5ft 3½in (1610mm)
  • Height 4ft 4¾in (1340mm)
  • Wheelbase 7ft 5½in (2272mm)
  • Weight 2557lb (1160kg)
  • 0-60mph 10.1 secs
  • Top speed 113mph
  • Mpg 33
  • Price new $11,940
  • Price now £25-40,000*

*Prices correct at date of original publication


READ MORE

8 £10k Porsches that will have you raiding your piggy bank

Meet the super-cute forgotten Porsche rival you’ve probably never heard of

Dive into our packed Porsche Greatest Hits special