The Porsche 912 is a sports car manufactured by Porsche of Germany between 1965 and 1969 as their entry-level model. A variant of the Type 911, one of the most famous and successful sports cars of all time, the 912 is a nimble-handling compact performance 2+2, delivering 90 SAE horsepower at 5800 rpm. It is capable of up to 30 miles per US gallon (7.8 L/100 km; 36 mpg‑imp) fuel economy. This combination is possible because of a high-efficiency flat-4 petrol engine, low weight, and low drag. The Type 912 initially outsold the 911, boosting the manufacturer's total production until success of the 911 was assured.
Concerned that the considerable price increase of a Type 911 with "flat" six-cylinder powerplant over the Type 356 would cost the company sales and narrow brand appeal, in 1963 Porsche executives decided to introduce a new four-cylinder entry-level model. Like the 911 (original internal factory designation "901"), the four-cylinder 912 was originally known at Zuffenhausen by a number with a zero in the middle, but the "902" designation was never used publicly. ("912" as project number was used after 1968 to indicate the 12 cylinder flat-engine developed for Porsche 917 racing car)
In 1963, Porsche assigned Dan Schwartz, later Chief Departmental Manager for Development, Mechanics, a project to oversee design and construction of a new horizontally-opposed four-cylinder engine for the 902, utilizing components from the new 901 six-cylinder engine, that would produce higher performance than their 356SC engine, and be less costly and complex than their Carrera 2 engine. Another option explored by Claus von Rücker was to increase displacement of the 356 Type 616 engine to 1.8 liters, add Kugelfischer fuel injection, and modify both valve and cooling systems. Considering performance, cost, and scheduling, Porsche discontinued both of these design projects, and instead developed a third option, to tailor the 1.6 liter Type 616 engine to the 902.
Before 911 production commenced in 1964, the Porsche Vehicle Research Department had set aside chassis numbers 13328, 13329, 13330, 13352, and 13386 through 13397 for research testing of the 902; research vehicle Serial Number 13394 is the oldest 902 known to exist today. In production form, the Type 912 combined a 911 chassis / bodyshell with the 1.6L, four-cylinder, push-rod Type 616/36 engine, based upon the Type 616/16 engine used in the Type 356SC of 1964-1965. With a lower compression ratio and new Solex carburetors, the Type 616/36 engine produced five less horsepower than the 616/16, but delivered about the same maximum torque at 3,500 rpm versus 4,200 rpm for the 616/16. Compared to the 911, the resulting production Type 912 vehicle demonstrated superior weight distribution, handling, and range. To bring 912 pricing close to the 356, Porsche also deleted some features standard on the 911.
As production of the 356 model concluded in 1965, on April 5, 1965 Porsche officially began production of the 912 coupé. Styling, performance, quality construction, reliability, and price made the 912 a very attractive buy to both new and old customers, and it substantially outsold the 911 during the first few years of production. Porsche produced nearly 30,000 912 coupé units and about 2500 912 Targa body style units (Porsche's patented variation of a cabriolet) during a five-year manufacturing run. Production of the Targa, complete with removable roof and heavy transparent plastic rear windows openable with a zipper (later called 'Version I' by Porsche and the 'soft-window Targa' by enthusiasts), commenced in December 1966 as a 1967 model. In January 1968, Porsche also made available a Targa 'Version II' option ('hard window Targa') with fixed glass rear window, transforming the Targa into a coupé with removable roof.
The Type 912 was also made in a special version for the German autobahn police (polizei); the 100,000th Porsche car was a 912 Targa for the police of Baden-Württemberg, the home state of Porsche. In the April 1967 edition, the Porsche factory's Christophorus Magazine noted: "On 21 December 1966, Porsche celebrated a particularly proud anniversary. 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. First, production facilities used for the 912 were reallocated to a new 914-6, a six-cylinder high performance version of the 914 Porsche-Volkswagen joint effort vehicle. Second, the 911 platform had returned to Porsche's traditional three performance-level ladder, including a most powerful 911S, a fuel-injected 911E, and a base model 911T, with pricing largely in line with market expectations. Third, more stringent United States engine emission control regulations also had a bearing on the decision; Ferry Porsche stated "It would have taken some trouble to prepare the 912 for the new exhaust rules, and with the arrival of the 914 we would have had three different engines to keep current. That was too many."
Porsche had constructed more than 32,000 of the Type 912 from April 1965 to July 1969. For the 1970 model year the four-cylinder 914 superseded the 912 as Porsche's entry-level model, which Porsche had thought would be less expensive for them to manufacture and sell than the 912. In practice, a deterioration in relationships between Porsche and Volkswagen - who had designed and planned to manufacture the 914 - severely curtailed the intended cost reduction, and 914 production was discontinued in early 1976.
After a six-year absence, the 912 was re-introduced to North America for the 1976 model year as the 912E (internal factory designation 923) to fill the entry-level position left vacant by the discontinuation of the 914, while the new 924 – another Porsche-Volkswagen joint effort vehicle and the 914's official replacement – was being finalized and put into production.
The "Prototyp" Museum collection in Hamburg, Germany includes a 912E preseries vehicle constructed utilizing a 911 Chassis No. 911 520 1617 and four-cylinder VW-Porsche 90HP 2.0L Type 4 similar to the late-model 2.0L 914/4.
Once in production, the 912E shared the "G-Series" bodywork with the 911S but was powered by an 86 bhp 2.0 L Volkswagen air-cooled engine, refined with a new Bosch L-Jetronic (Air Flow Controlled) fuel injection system. During the production run of May 1975 to July 1976, Porsche manufactured nearly 2,100 of the 912E, targeted to the United States market.
Sold to the public for street use, the Porsche 912 has also proven successful as a race car, from production years to current vintage events. In 1967 the 912 contributed to Porsche factory rally history when independent Polish driver Sobiesław Zasada drove a factory-loaned 912, bearing Polish plate 6177 KR, to capture the European Rally Championship for Group 1 series touring cars. In the 1967 Rally of Poland, the second oldest rally in the world and one of the oldest motorsport events in the world, Zasada drove his 912 race No. 47 to finish first overall out of a starting field of 50 entries.
As a vintage rally car, on January 29, 2012 Hayden Burvill, Alastair Caldwell, and their #35 1968 Porsche 912 finished first in class, and 7th overall in the 2012 London to Cape Town World Cup Rally; a 14 country, three continent, 14,000 kilometre, 26 driving-days event.