356 vs. 912

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  • Tech Forum: Pre-purchase inspection, Part II
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The 356 comes into its own in medium-to-fast corners, where its light, communicative steering and hunkered-down rear end encourage the dance so long as you keep the engine in its powerband and avoid mid-corner throttle lift, which — at speed — can quickly unsettle the car and allow the heavy rear end to rotate in an inconvenient manner.

The 912 has a welcoming open feel as we slide into the seat behind a similarly large steering wheel. There’s more room, and while the dash isn’t as appealing as the 356’s, the car offers an excellent view forward through the large windscreen. A particularly easy clutch uptake gets us going, and the car feels light on its feet, which are 165R15 Michelins on 15×4.5-inch rims — the same as the 356.

Once the 912’s engine is warm, we give it full throttle in first gear; it pulls well. Flooring the throttle at 3500 rpm in second and third gears produces a surge that can only be described as adequate. Okay, it’s about the same as the 356, but, with an extra 130 pounds to motivate, no gearing advantage, and larger air cleaners/silencers on an engine that sits a little further back in the car, the 912 seems a little less willing. It’s worth noting that the close-ratio five-speed, something that was never available on a 356, was a $75 option favored by most road-testers of the day.

The 912 tracks beautifully, even over rutted roads that upset the 356. Credit its four-inch-longer wheelbase and new suspension front and rear. Porsche had finally banished the twin-trailing-arm front and swing-axle rear suspension. In the fast stuff, the 912 takes a set and goes where you point it, and — unless you really load it up — you can back off the throttle mid-corner with impunity. In sharper corners, the 912 pushes to the point that no toe-dance will correct mid-corner. You just have to back off the throttle and wait for traction to return.

Spend some time with the 912 and you begin to appreciate how easy it would be to live with. Its capacious interior, larger front trunk and more composed nature make it a more “normal” car than the 356. With the exception of the dashboard, the 912 is full of interior cues to make the traditional Porsche owner feel at home. The seats, wing windows, rear quarter windows, dome lamps, upholstery, heater controls and pedal assembly are carried over nearly identically from the 356.

The 912 is a handsome companion, too. One can envision a young Butzi Por­sche, canting his head just so as he contemplated the shape of the 356 and envisioned the new Porsche he was asked to oversee. “It should be a new Porsche of course, as good or better than the old,” he said in a 1966 interview with Road & Track. “And in the same pattern, but not necessarily with the same form.”

That reinterpretation of the Porsche shape is unquestionably dynamic. With its svelte, windblown lines, integrated bum­pers and wrap-around indicator lights, the 900-series car looks ready to spring forward, while the 356, with its fully formed curves and shiny ancillary ornaments, invites more lingering contemplation.

The 912 surely has the more competent chassis and, overall, it received many im­provements. So, has the collector market got it wrong? In terms of value, perhaps, but the 912 lacks in one in­tangible area where the 356 still shines brighter: soul. The 356 is full of it. It’s a car that you fall in love with and never want to let go of — handling quirks and all.

I’m sure a handful of mid ’60s Porsche shoppers struggled with which car to buy. The 912 would have been the logical choice, the 356 the sentimental favorite. To choose the 356 was to live in the past, glorious as it may have been. But, if you had never owned a 356, you wouldn’t know what you had missed and surely you would grow very fond of the 912. You couldn’t go wrong. And then, in a heartbeat, the 356s were all snapped up and the next chapter of Porsche motoring began.

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