Who would have known? When Porsche launched its new 901 coupé to replace the 356 on which its business was built, some might have anticipated that Peugeot would object to the chosen nomenclature, forcing Porsche to rename the car 911. No-one would have predicted the rest, that this was the start of a monster, a car which would win nearly every race, rally and series for which it would be eligible. A car which would go beyond status symbol to become a cultural icon, firing Porsche from niche player to global brand, a line of development which will hit 60 years of age soon.
No-one knew. The 911 was nice, but expensive. Well-built and quick but tricky to handle, its rear air-cooled flat 6 engine design was shared only with the Chevy Corvair, soon to be declared “Unsafe at Any Speed” and buried. But German development engineering and a passion for motor sport pushed the 911 through its probationary years and by the end of the 1960s, it was already a legend with wins in the Monte Carlo Rally, GT and even saloon car championships. 911 was the car which Steve McQueen drove through moody rural France in the opening sequence of his “Le Mans” Magnus Opus. In fact, this was McQueen´s own road car- 911 was endorsed by the King of Cool.
But 911 needed help to get there. It was much more expensive and complicated than the 356 which it replaced, a car which had its own devotees- not all of whom could afford to trade up to a 911. The USA market voiced this criticism the loudest, so became the largest market for the Porsche 912- Porsche´s answer to the problem.
1966 Porsche 912
Introduced in 1965, the 912 took nearly everything in its body and chassis from the 911, sacrificed some trim and options and fitted the 4 cylinder pushrod engine from the 356SC. It only had a 4 speed gearbox (5 speed as an extra) and 90bhp but costing only 2/3rds of the cheapest 911 price, outsold its big brother (32000 912s were sold between 1965 and 1969). This helped Porsche´s volume enormously, giving the 911 time to develop and establish itself as both brand and market leader.
There were other reasons to like the 912. It wasn´t a fast car, but it handled sweetly. The 4 cylinder engine was lighter than the 911, which was critical in the early days of 911 production, when the car developed a reputation for tricky handling that stayed with it until the 21st century. 912 was also practical around town, but these weren´t the qualities that make the heart beat faster, so the 912 has always lived in the shadow of the 911: the cheap seats, high volume entry point to Porsche 9 series.
But longevity and ingenuity go hand in hand with Porsche owners. Just as 2 door Escorts can be re-invented as RS1600 clones, 912s can be easily turned into 911s. And if you´re building a race car, there´s a lot of economic sense in that. Enter a new monster on the block, the Frankenstein 912/6.
Porsche Frankenstein: Road legal race car
Which is what we are looking at here. An early, SWB 1967 912 stripped, lightened and rebuilt with a mean 6 cylinder streak for a new life on the tracks. And in this case, as the car is road-registered, on tarmac rally stages.
This is not a car for shy people who´d like to fit in with the Goodwood set. Its Gulf colours are battle colours. Its fiberglass wings flare out to cover big Braid wheels and tyres. It is low and hunched. The interior is stripped to carbon fibre, a roll cage, racing seats and belts. Stack instruments and switches are powered by a custom wiring loom.
There is no padding or trim, replaced by a built in fire system and air jacks. Only the windscreen is glass, other windows are plastic. This is a light car.
Powered, widened, lightened and strengthened
The engine has grown to 3 litres, originally from a Carrera but now running on Weber PMO 40 carbs. Crankshaft, pistons and liners, rods and shells have been uprated, the oil flow is boosted by high pressure pump, fuel by twin racing pumps. Ignition is now managed electronically by a sophisticated MSD system and HiPo coils, RS cams are fitted, big valve heads are ported and flowed, breathing out through a snakes nest exhaust system. A noisy snake…
We´re guessing power at about 270bhp (engine is fresh and has not been on a dyno) which feeds out via a competition clutch, an upgraded gearbox and LSD. So what may have started as a second car in SoCal isn´t really a shopping car any more.
Racing Rubber, Brakes and Suspension to Tame the Beast
As noted, the SWB 911 has something of a reputation so it is re-assuring that the chassis has been upgraded as well as lightened. Split-rim Braid wheels and sportive tyres help to control the rear end in ways unknown in the 1960s, but you´d better be respectful all the same. The roll cage is there to protect the driver but also stiffens the shell considerably. Suspension upgrades incorporate Porsche 930 sway bars, thicker torsion bars, poly bushes and adjustable Bilstein Nürburgring suspension kit. Brakes are upsized 968RS and 964 Cup items, drilled and vented with 4 pot calipers and AP Racing brake master cylinder.
The car was developed for the Iberian Endurance Race series but has had little use and is now looking for a Brave New Owner. It will be soon for sale by auction via Collecting Cars.