Around the same time they were cranking out the last of the old Beetles in Australia, Porsche dipped into the parts bin to produce a one-off 911 for the North American market.
Except it wasn’t called a 911, it was labeled the 912 E and was powered by the flat four Volkswagen engine from the Kombi.
It was in essence a cut-price 911 and just 2092 were built between May, 1975 and July, 1976 — all destined for the United States to fill a gap before the arrival of the 924.
Instead of making the trip from Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen to the port of Emden, and then on to New York, the US-spec car was removed from the production line and sent instead to the Development Centre in Weissach, where it was transformed.
It arrived as a mechanical shell, minus its engine, gearbox, engine oil tank or fuel pump.
The 911 S on which the car was based was powered by a 2.7-litre six-cylinder unit with an output of 130kW and top speed of 225km/h.
The 912 E however was fitted with a Porsche-tuned, 2.0-litre version of the Kombi engine with a larger bore and stroke (94mm x 71mm), with a longer stroke crank, new rod bearings and new pistons.
The 912 E’s Bosch L-Jetronic Air Flow Controlled system was later adapted for the 911.
Power output was 67kW and 137Nm.
The 912 E has a 75-litre fuel tank, with fuel consumption of 7.8L/100km and a whopping 965km range.
At US $10,845, the 912 E was $3000 less than a 911 S.
What we have here is a prototype of the 912 E, thought to be the first one that could actually be driven.
Owner Jan Adams is passionate about cars.
He restores and repairs them as well as acting as a broker — buying, selling and collecting them.
He knows just as much about the technology of cars as he does about their history.
Adams specialises in classic Porsche and Volkswagens, but has been known to go chase after Lancias and other exotic models on behalf of clients.
He first laid eyes on the 912 E at the Automuseum Prototyp in Hamburg.
Finished in Light Yellow, he said it was obvious the rear end housed a flat-four boxer engine from Volkswagen – the same engine that found in a VW bus, VW Type 4 and VW-Porsche 914.
Adams felt compelled to buy the car.
He wanted to hear what it sounded like and to feel what it was like to drive.
Managing Directors of the museum, Oliver Schmidt and Thomas König, agreed to the deal.
Now, standing beside the 912 E, Adams gets in and starts the engine, preparing to unleash the force of history.
While it may only develop 137Nm, it is capable of great power.
Adams describes the car as having been reduced to the essentials, a sports car in its purest form.
The 2.0-litre flat boxer engine sounds like a Volkswagen, but also produces a rich, burbling melody like a well-made T2 bus or sporty 914.
It might not have a truckload of power, but its delivery matches the five-speed gearbox surprisingly well.
At 4900 rpm the boxer engine is screaming and transmits its maximum power to the rear axle.
But it no longer has to rev to these extremes today. Like many older sports cars, it feels most at home when cruising.
As a driver, you might even forget the level of power back there in the rear end.
In fact, it feels something like a 356, even though it doesn’t have the four cylinder engine from the 356.
What it is really just like is the first generation 912 (1965 to 1969), but this time in a G Series.
American customers loved both versions of the 912, even if the Type 923 912 E was only offered for sale for a single year – 1976.
In this colour, the car could have settled beautifully into a city like San Francisco.
It would have been the perfect partner for driving from Fisherman’s Wharf, past the Golden Gate Yacht Club and up onto the bridge, before heading towards Sausalito and continuing all the way up to Bolinas.
This is the sort of trip the 912 E was built for — for US speed limits and the American-style of driving that still exists today.
But before the first of only 2099 examples could be sent to the US 45 years ago, the Light Yellow test car had to be put through its paces.
Its back-story really begins in 1971, when a plan came into being to develop a new 912 that would be offered internationally as well as in Europe.
Records show there were internal discussions at Porsche about the economic viability and development of the 912 starting in 1972.
These were based on the 911 F Series line, predecessor of the G Series – but development didn’t make it beyond the prototype stage.
The US dealer organisation was not interested in the car initially, because the 914 was already successful as an entry-level model and was not in competition with the 911.
An inexpensive 912 would have probably stolen customers from the expensive 911, but a decision was taken in 1974 to launch the 912 E in the US — and to cancel its worldwide distribution.
The 912 E – now based on the 911 G Series – was to be exported to America for the following reason: the VW-Porsche 914 would be discontinued in 1976, but its successor, the Porsche 924, would not yet be available in the US – unlike in Europe.
This is where the Light Yellow 912 E prototype came into play.
It covered a total of 95,471km on the road and on test rigs.
Porsche had not only upgraded the engine with a Bosch L-Jetronic system, but had also equipped the car with secondary-air injection and thermal reactors, reducing CO2, hydrocarbon and nitrous-oxide emissions.
An exhaust gas recirculation system was also fitted, fine-tuning it to ensure compliance with US emission standards.
Porsche received a Certificate of Conformity With the Clean Air Act from the State of California on July 30, 1975 and the 912 E prototype was retired a year later.
It received a reconditioned engine and was sold to a private buyer from Leonberg – a transaction that was arranged by then Porsche Head of Development, Helmuth Bott.
The car remained in the customer’s family for 29 years before it was sold to Automuseum Prototyp.