Note: This was the very first article I wrote about old cars that was published online, back in August 2011. Not unsurprisingly, it is about a Porsche. Now that I have a couple of hundred articles under my belt, it has been redone and prettied up from its original iteration. -TK
My father is a Porsche guy, more specifically a 356 Porsche guy. He had them before he was married and before us kids came along, including several 356s-a 1951 Cabriolet, two 1960 Roadsters, and a 356C coupe, along with many parts cars. He’s been a member of the 356 Registry since the mid-’70s, and still has most of the magazines. In the early years of the new Millennium, he had settled down with one 356B Roadster and his daily driver, a midnight blue 2001 Carrera.
My mother was used to cars coming and going over the past thirty-five years. Heck, back when they were dating in the early 1970s he regularly stashed a parts car behind her parents’ house. Above picture is from about 1973. Even that toasty light gray Roadster would be worth big bucks now! But back then it was just a rusty, crusty $100 parts car.
But no new (or rather, additional) Porsches had entered the family for quite some time. The 356B Roadster had been in the family since 1988. Bought as an engine-less basket case, a friend restored it in his spare time when he wasn’t at his day job at the body shop of the local Buick-Dodge-Mazda dealer. But then one evening in the spring of 2003 she mentioned that there was an old Targa parked with a For Sale sign on 30th Street in Rock Island. Dad drove over, checked it out, then called the number in the window. In short order, he found out it was being sold by an old friend from high school.
He and Dan had gone on a road trip to Denver right after high school graduation in his new 1970 Boss 302, where they had the chrome Magnum 500 wheels stolen in a parking garage and left on jack stands. Fun! He had to call my grandfather and have money wired to get new wheels and tires from the Ford dealer in town. So yes, they go back quite a few years. So he bought the 912. Mom was less than thrilled.
The 1969 912 Targa is a rare bird, with only 801 built that year according to the 912 Registry (along with 3,913 912 coupes). The 912 itself has been eclipsed by the 911 these days. Only in the last few years have they started becoming collectible again, due to the stratospheric rise in early 911 values. But it didn’t start out that way. When the 911 replaced the 356C in 1965, it was much more expensive, and the flat six engine was a completely new design from the four cylinder that had been in 356s for 17 years. And old habits die hard, and there were loyal customers to think about. What to do?
Perhaps to make sure they didn’t isolate the more traditional and thrifty Porsche owners, the 912 was also offered starting in 1965. It was essentially a 911 with the 356SC engine, good for 90hp. As any 356 owner will tell you, low horsepower does not mean low fun in a 356, and the statement could be applied to the 912 as well.
It sold quite well, as there was a healthy price cut vis-a-vis the 911. A 1967 912 went for $4790, while the ’67 911 was $5999. They actually outpaced the 911 for a time, but when Porsche began to offer lower cost versions of the 911, its days were numbered. 1969 was the last year, excepting the 1976 912E, which is a whole different animal.
Dad enjoyed the Targa. It had left the Porsche factory coated in Bahama Yellow, but was resprayed black at some point, with black interior. We could tell it had a lot of Bondo in it, but it was a cheap and cheerful ‘nice day’ car. He was able to work on it, too, since he’d been working on 356 engines since the 70s. The fact that it had the 356 engine was what prompted the purchase; he could tinker with it in the comfort of his own garage!
He drove it to work on a semi-regular basis, even in the winter on occasion. It was a decent car, but he had bought a 1966 Chris Craft 35′ Commander in 2007, and was having a lot of fun boating, so he finally sold the 912 to my Uncle Dave that summer. On the day they came to Rock Island from Iowa City to pick it up, the accelerator pedal bound up. Murphy’s Law, right on schedule! My brother and I were the only ones there and my parents were out of town-and I’m not mechanically inclined. My way of fixing a car is to drive it to the Lincoln dealer, say, “The car is broken, please fix it” then head to the lounge for the free Wi-fi and coffee. Fortunately, my brother and Dave got it working, and he, my cousin and her boyfriend all made it back to Iowa City in one piece.
Iowa Hawkeye personalized plates were ordered for it, reading OTTO912. From then on, the 912 was known as Otto. Dave drove and enjoyed the car for a year or two, and was going to restore it, but a new job and my cousin’s upcoming wedding kept it on the back burner, and he ultimately sold it to a man in Belgium. The new owner is very enthusiastic about the 912, and it is next in line after his 912 coupe is completed. The Targa is still known as Otto. Ex-Otto, to my Mom.
The 912 may have been just a blip on Porsche’s production records, but it had a unique personality and was the final link to the classic 356s!
The early 912s were close enough in weight to still run well on the 356 engine. That would not have been true much longer, at least in the USA. With the 914 badged as a VW in Germany, there still might have been room for the 912 at home, but I guess Porsches are really most at home in California.
I love four cylinder Porsches. They’re quick but not truly fast, and 90 bhp is plenty for me. I know I’ve related this story before, but I’ll write it again because, after all these years, I’m still kicking myself. Back in 1972, when I was running a Sunoco station in South Richmond, a young fellow brought in a really nice 1960 356B for routine service. He paid the bill and mentioned the car was for sale. “How much?”, I asked. “One thousand dollars”, he said. Gawd, I wanted that car, but at that time a thousand might as well have been ten thousand. I had to let the little white Porker escape. The ones that get away…
A nice little car indeed ! .
A Porsche Mechanic once told me these used Convertible bodies so finding a cheap one (easy in Los Angeles back then) and converting it to a convertible would nearly double your $ if it was in good shape .
At the last VW Shop I worked in, a Customer had an insanely cherry red one for sale for $4K ~ I really shoulda bought it but back then $4k was real money .
Thank you for sharing your fun story ! .
My Son still has my two owner low mileage 1963 356B Coupe moldering in his back yard, doesn’t want to drive nor fix it .
The Targa predates the convertible 911 by seventeen years… might be more accurate to say that the convertible uses the Targa shell although there are differences 🙂
Thanx for the clarification .
I like four banger air cooled Porsche’s because :
A. I’m a VW Junkie and
B., obviously I’m not too bright .
Nevertheless I loved driving old 356’s hard and my ’67 912 harder….
My mom’s yellow 912 Targa was a leaky beast in rainy Oregon in the mid-1980s but it was way more forgiving at the limits than a 911. By US standards my family had a wierd fleet then: 912, Fiat 124 sport coupe, Toyota Fj 55 moose, Opel 1900, Mazda glc wagon, Mazda 626, Opel GT. All in various states of repair & tune except for the anodyne Mazdas that my parents drove up to the high 150ks of mileage which was astonishing at the time. There’s not a lot of difference in weight between a 911 & a 912 in that era but a few pounds in such a small car made a difference on the twisty country roads around our country home.