356 vs. 912

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  • TechArt GrandGT
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  • Tech Forum: Pre-purchase inspection, Part II
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On the outside, a modular approach applied to the 912’s new body shell, which was no longer welded up into one piece as was the case with the 356. This was not necessarily a bad thing in the real world, where accidents happen. “The 900-series body was much easier to build and to repair,” says noted Porsche restorer John Willhoit. “It required less skill in the finishing of the metal, and there was more consistency between cars so that you could replace parts. The 356s were all different and required more hand work, metal-finishing, and a higher level of welding ability.”

None of this should have come as a surprise; there was no way Porsche could have prospered had it continued to build cars as it had through its first 15 years — with so much hand work and custom fitting. And so, in designing a new car, Porsche took the opportunity to redesign the way it made its cars.

From the beginning of its production in April of 1965, demand for the 912 was high in Europe where it was first available. By the end of the 1965, nearly twice as many 912s as 911s had been produced.

The 912 first came to U.S. dealers in 1966. While it is fairly rare to see early 912s on the road today, they are easily identifiable by their slim aluminum-and-vinyl bumper trim and plain chrome bumper guards. We spied the Irish Green 912 pictured on these pages as it sped by one day on two-lane road outside Nashville, Tennessee. With a view from the rear, we quickly identified it as a 1966 model due to the italicized silver 912 numerals at the lower right corner of the decklid.

The owner turned out to be a graphic designer who had taken meticulous care of the car since purchasing it from a Cali­fornia dealer in 2009. The Karmann-bodied car was produced in April 1965 and was sold out of Los Angeles Volkswagen & Porsche in July 1966. It still had the original engine and four-speed transaxle when the current owner purchased it. A respray in 1981 had held up well, and the leatherette interior had been partially redone. The odometer showed 10,000 miles after having flipped over to all zeroes once.

Among collectors, nicely restored 356s are more common than 912s, and it wasn’t hard to locate a matching-numbers, Signal Red 1965 356 SC sunroof coupe restored to a high standard and owned by a knowledgeable Porsche collector. This one is a European-spec car with the correct amber front turn signals, amber-and-red taillights, and rear reflectors positioned beneath the rear bumper (instead of above it as on U.S.-bound cars). Aside from these details, and a Euro-specific heating system, it’s identical to a U.S.-spec 356 SC. With its leather upholstery, electric sunroof and Blaupunkt radio, it represents the top-of-the-line, end-of-the-line 356.

Seated in the 356 SC, the big wheel comes readily to hand with your left elbow resting on the nicely contoured armrest. While there is no feeling of being cramped, the windows and the windscreen are quite close.

The jewel-like instruments set in the painted dash, the hand-upholstered dash lip and the detail on the stainless-steel steering wheel spokes all speak to an old-world aesthetic. Every­thing fits, and even smells good, like a bench-made shoe.

Underway, the 356 feels solid and stable. Only subtle inputs to the big wheel are required to initiate directional changes. Steering effort builds quickly in tight corners, and the front end wants to push. If you’re not in too deep, you can lift slightly and then floor it to reset the back end and reign in the front of the car.

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