You don’t have to live in Stuttgart to know that the 911 has been Porsche’s brot-und-butter sports car for decades.

But try to imagine a time when the 911 was still in development.

Remember, the 911 was going to be a leading-edge halo car to eclipse the venerable 356 and, as such, it was crammed with everything the Porsche folks knew about performance vehicle design and engineering.

…Problem was, it also meant that the 911 was going to be more expensive than the outgoing 356 line.

Facing the risk of losing customers with the 911’s higher price tag, the company pondered its options.

The result was the Porsche 912.

1967 porsche 912

Debuting in 1965, the 912 was intended to be the “entry level” Porsche. It rode on the same chassis and wore similar bodywork to the 911 released a year prior—yet it held a secret out back.

Lift the rear hatch and, instead of the 911’s new 2.0L horizontally-opposed boxer six, you saw a version of Porsche’s venerable 1.6L four cylinder plucked from the 356. To be clear though, it wasn’t the exact same engine as the 356. In fact, the 912’s engine produced slightly less horsepower than the top-hund 356 “S” powerplant—a tuning tweak said to give the 912 more low-end pep.

Green 1968 Porsche 912

The 912’s four cylinder cranked out around 90 horsepower, which was not an insignificant drop from the 130+ hp made by the contemporary 911’s six. Yet the ironic thing was, the smaller engine shed some precious weight from the rear of the car which, many Porsche aficionados say, gave the 912 even better handling than its lauded großer bruder.

It was a hit with the public too. When it went on sale as a 1965 model, the 912 retailed for about 33 percent less than the 911. As a result, the 912 actually outsold the 911 early in its release.

Rear passenger side View of a silver 1967 porsche 912

During its original five year run, the 912 accounted for about 45 percent of total Porsche production. While some 912s were assembled in Stuttgart, Porsche outsourced a bulk of 912 production (roughly 75 percent) to the Karmann Carosserie contract automobile manufacturer in the northern German city of Osnabruck.

front view of a green 1969 porsche 912

But as the 1960s came to a close, Porsche had begun working with Volkswagen on a standalone model that would be a true entry-level Porsche, the 914.

The eminent arrival of the 914, coupled with difficulty in meeting updated U.S. emissions requirements with the 1.6L’s older engine design, meant that the 912’s days were numbered. Production of the 912 ended in 1969 with a little over 30,000 leaving the Porsche and Karmann factories.

Fun Fact: A 912 also holds the distinction of being the 100,000th Porsche ever built, rolling off the assembly line in December, 1966.

1.6 L Type 616/36 engine in a porsche 912, 1967

Bu that’s not the end of the 912 story…

After production ceased in 1969, the 912 was resurrected in 1976 for the one-year-only 912E. It was a a stop-gap model to fill the void left by the discontinued 914, before the arrival of the 924. The 912E followed a similar recipe as the original, only this time it used a 2.0L four based on a Volkswagen design, but modified by Porsche to make around 90 horsepower.

interior view of a 1967 Porsche 912

While once regarded as a “budget” Porsche, the 912 has followed the 911 pricing trajectory, and clean examples certainly command a premium. Though it’s easy to see why—which iconic styling and acclaimed German engineering, the 912 proves that you don’t need six cylinders to get legendary Porsche Leistung.

rear view of a green porsche 912
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Author: Paul Sakalas

Paul is the editor of OnAllCylinders. When he's not writing, you'll probably find him fixing oil leaks in a Jeep CJ-5 or roof leaks in an old Corvette ragtop. Thanks to a penchant for vintage Honda motorcycles, he spends the rest of his time fiddling with carburetors and cleaning chain lube off his left pant leg.