May 2003 Status ReportWe are now starting on the fourth year of ownership of the 912. The weather is good and there are lots of 912 related events to visit on week-ends.
Last year varied wildly in our miles per day statistic because the car went out of service for some restoration work in June and most of July and again in November-December to repair some damage done by a rock and to repaint the hood, front fenders, bumber and passenger door.
May 18th, 2003, marked the third year anniversary of our 1966 Porsche 912. It is time again to update our experiences with the car. This note is the sum of our experience. We are reflecting on what has been learned and to suggest what other owners might do with their car, particularly new owners or those who are contemplating the purchase of an early 900 series car such as the 912 or even a 911.
If you have just purchased one of these cars and it does not run or has serious damage, then your plan and experience will be different than mine. The documentation I've done is specific to my '66 912. Later years may have different problems and solutions.
Why a 912?
When Asha turned in her leased BMW Z3 in the spring of 2000, she took the Boxster and I started to look for something less expensive for myself. I like Porsche's and have had one off and on since 1971. My reaction on getting the first one was, "Why did I wait so long!". That same sense of wonder and excitement carries over to our current ones.
I read (and recommend) Bruce Anderson's surveys on used Porsches in Excellence magazine. His fundamental position is to get the newest one you can afford.
My thought process led to a different conclusion.
The 912 is the lowest cost classic Porsche available today. Good examples are available. Parts, information and mechanics are available.
The 356 is twice the price of a 912 and not as good a daily driver because of poorer comfort, handling, brakes and performance.
The late Harry Pellow told me that most 356 and early 911 cars on the market need engine work. His statistics suggest the average time for a new owner to have serious engine work done on a 356 is 3 months compared to 9 months for a 912. He also says that there seems to be more 912s on the road compared to the same vintage 911s.
I might have considered a pre 1974 911 had I found a suitable one. I am particularly fond of the late 1973 911T, but the 912 presented itself first.
We are very happy with the choice. This is a great little car.
New cars depreciate. Old cars require maintenance. They sell a lot of new cars so people don't have to fix them. People keep old cars in hopes the the maintenance is less than the depreciation is less than the maintenance cost. I looked at the depreciation cost of my wife's Boxster and realized there is some serious money here. I fixed some things and realized that repair costs are not low just because the purchase price was modest. I wrote an editorial for the 912 Registry news letter suggesting you need to spend the money to improve and maintain your 912. My initial guess was a budget of $5,000 to $10,000 on my $7,500 car. I carefully tracked my expenses for the first 27,000 miles to give and idea what can happen.
My first concern was safety, so the initial maintenance was the brakes. I replaced the brake fluid, checked the rotors and pads, and replaced the brake lines. The brakes are now acceptable although I am gathering the parts to upgrade to a dual master cylinder.
Next came three point seat belts. Mine have an inertia reel at the shoulder attach point. Check the inside of the rear wheel wells for rust damage on the factory shoulder attach point. Is keeping the functionality of the rear seats important to you? If so, my solution is not good because the inertia reel is so large that the rear seat backs can not be changed between flat and their upright position. I use the rear seat area for package storage, not passengers, so the inertia reels seat belts are a great solution for both safety and comfort.
Check the suspension. Be sure the shocks work as shocks. My Koni's still are OK. Check the tie rod ends and front ball joints. The former are cheap to replace. I had to replace them all.
Compared to now, the car essentially would not run, shift or stop when I bought it. I assumed that a serious tune up would fix the engine and that there was not any major damage requiring removal of the engine. That was some part blind faith, the previous owner's reassurances and a feeling that most of the initial problems were due to ignition and carburetion problems. It was all true. The engine is strong and runs very well even though it has over 130,0000 miles with just a top over haul and a carburetor rebuild.
Do the initial maintenance with an eye on not hurting the car due to your own ignorance. Get some professional help.
I have to laugh at my efforts to be a mechanic (a flavor of which you can find in the description of fixing the pedal bushings). The good news is that all it has cost is time - or is that the bad news? At least I've not damaged the car in any significant fashion. And the fixing is part of the fun.
Old cars require constant attention. There is always something that can be done. Neglect leads to degradation. I keep working on it to make it better than it was before.
Oil leaks. The horizontal sheet metal shroud on either side of the engine are held on to the engine with bolts that penetrate into the heads. If they are loose, oil can splash out. Be sure to check these occasionally. A similar problem can occur where the oil return hose attaches to the cylinder head. It is a good idea to replace this hose. Although it normally just passes fumes, the ends can loose their elasticity and become loose. If this happens at the cylinder end, an oil leak can occur.
The carburetors have a tendency to leak. We might notice a smell in garage, or find the car harder to start in the morning because the leak can drain one of the float bowls. Then no gasoline will get into the engine from that throat until the fuel pump fills the bowl again. There are a number of brass bolts, caps and covers that seem prone to the problem. It is easily fixed by putting a bit of Permatex thread sealant on the threads and tightening the fitting with wrench.
My car starts instantly when cold unless there is a carburetor leak as mentioned above. It is harder to start when the engine is hot. This is common and is mentioned several times in 'Up-Fixin der Porsche'. When hot, I slowly advance the throttle while cranking the engine. It starts by the time I reach half throttle.
Sit in the car and decide if the seats are satisfactory. I knew from the beginning that the factory seats would have to be replaced with newer ones. The old ones were too soft, too low and there is no head restraint. New padding can fix the first two problems. I replaced the old ones with seats from a 944 that had been turned into a race car. You can also raise. the seat an extra inch with a simple modification using some square tubing from the hardware store.
My car was NOISY! You can do a lot to solve the noise problem. There are three specific areas that helped my car:
I also put an additional engine pad on the fire wall. I'm not convinced it helps and am planning to remove it. It is not that easy to glue it over the entire surface.
There are four possible major expenses in owning a 912. The engine - transmission, body damage, paint and rust repair. Rust is a car killer. It will destroy your investment, and your pride in your car. It is probably already present. It is insidious. You have to search for it. It is expensive to fix once once perforation of the metal occurs..
My car had two significant rust problems, one was the front body pan which has been repaired and the other in the door sill area of the passenger door.
Common areas include the front body pan, floor boards, rocker panels, head light buckets, below the rear window and the fender to body attach points. A particularly nasty area is the body around the rear torsion bars and swing arms because it is common and expensive to fix.
The only reason I can see for buying a rusty car is for parts.
I am paranoid about water. Water causes rust. As a result, I seldom wash the car with a hose. However, I've spent hours cleaning the car. It looks pretty good now an continues to get better.
It is common in 912s for the gear shift to 'jump' when going over a bump. It sometimes is so bad that it will jump out of gear. This has been a problem with my car, but it has changed a lot as we have maintained the car. It was not a problem when we got the car.
But the shifting was extremely vague so all the plastic bushings in the shift linkage were replaced. I noticed a large crack in one of the front motor mounts, so they were both replaced. Now the jumping gear shift was very active. I'd hold on to the shift knob when driving down some streets near our house. Certain irregularities in the road combined with the suspension dynamics to cause the engine-transmission to oscillate against the motor mounts in such a way to cause violent movements in the gear shift linkage.
I was considering changing the motor mounts to the 911 version, a common solution.
Driving over speed bumps had to be done very slowly during all these early months because if any speed was carried at all, it seemed as if the car would become airborne, leaping off the bump back to the pavement. So I adjusted all 4 Koni shocks to their softest position. This fixed the speed bump problem.
I also found the bushings that isolate the rear torsion bars to the body were deformed enough that the suspension was resting on the carrier plates. The old rubber bushings were replaced with plastic ones. Now the rear suspension stopped making noise and seems more compliant, a definite improvement in ride.
I was thinking about all this while driving home last night from work because the jumping gear shift problem is now gone. The addition of the short shifter has stopped the remaining occassional occurance all together. I do not grab the shift knob on certain streets any more. It is an interesting study in the interaction of components.
One stormy day I drove the Land Rover Discovery to work leaving the 912 safe and secure in the garage. On the way home I thought about a conversation with a friend of mine who has a 924 in the back of his property slowly reverting back to nature. We were talking about the pleasure the 912 provides. He said that when he was driving the 924, his attitude was much different because it was the only car available for him to use to go to work. It had to be reliable and maintaining it was done because he had to, not because he wanted to. Maintenance was a chore.
A neighbor has a 356C with a cover on it. One day I inquired about the car. He drove it to work for many years and has now given it to his son. He had two engines and had an engine stand that he used to work on the spare engine. After retiring, he sold the stand to another Porsche owner who has two 356s and commutes many miles each day. If one car requires maintenance, he uses the other.
Our little car is a successful part of the family because it does not have to be 100 percent perfect. It could be down for repairs and we would not feel the strain. In the same way, the spare car does not have to be perfect either, reducing its need to be new and expensive. The power of redundancy. Hmmm, think of the possibilities.
Review of Expenses
The first year captured cost has been $15,832 plus $1001 fuel or $16,833 for 12 months.
If we just look at the heavy hitters (greater than $300) we find:
In September we identified $11,070 in 'capital' expenses (over $300) and total expenses of $14,500. We spent about $1200 for the next 4 months or $300/month. The big expenses for this period were $200 for an alignment and $250 for the Momo steering wheel and $255 for sound insulation. We are driving about 25 miles per day at $0.102 per mile for gasoline. Insurance is about $1 per day. Total daily fixed and variable cost is about $2.55 per day or $107 per month.
I'm sure at least $1-2K or more could have pulled out the total by smarter buying and or different vendor choices. There are certainly less expensive 912s available. For example the Golden Gate Region news letter lists one at $5,500 (and an other at $17,500). But my choices really were not driven by price.
For $14K I could have purchased a concours quality '77 911; and then worry about another $10K for a engine rebuild. I probably would have gone for an early 911 and accepted the risk of an expensive engine rebuild had I found a good one before the 912. But I suspect the total cost would have been much greater.
I expected to spend another $5-10K on the car above the purchase price. The only real surprise was the cost of rust repair. I think of the car as a 356D. i.e. a bridge from the old classic and the new standard 911. A 912 is a much better car in design, handling, performance and comfort than the 356 but less expensive.
On the other hand, an engine rebuild on the 912 does not seem eminent. We can keep that money in the bank for now.
I can project spending $2-300/month for the next 4 months barring any engine problems or transmission problems. If I decide to fix my other rust area in the passenger door frame, it will jump above that amount, probably by another $700 total.
We Have Good News
The 912 is a great little car, very simple, elegant and beautiful in design and quite practical to work on yourself. Parts are available from multiple sources with rapid delivery times. It has power assisted nothing; power steering by biceps, power brakes by leg muscles. Air conditioning is adjusted by twisting the vent windows. You can get at the spark plugs without removing the engine or even any skin.
It has plenty of power to keep up with traffic even on our freeway on-ramps. Shifting was a bit vague - now fixed with a short shifter. With stock tires and suspension, it doesn't approach the cornering power of a Boxster.
It is a wonderful choice here in California where there are seldom summer days when it is too hot or winter days when it is too cold. I used my first one as a ski car in Oregon and the original owner of this one use it as a ski car in the Sierra. I would not do that today because of my paranoia about rust.
My 912 has had continuous and substantial improvements in comfort, performance, handling and safety in the last nine months. It is just as solid and rattle free as our two new cars.
It is now a reliable and tight daily driver that I don't hesitate to drive to work or take on trips around northern California. Not bad for a 36 year old sports car.
Initial expenses were high compared to the purchase price but not in absolute dollars given that a new Boxster will be more than $50K with corresponding high additional cost of DMV, insurance and periodic maintenance.
It has required constant attention. Listening for new noises and continuing cleaning of all surfaces using the opportunity to inspect every touched piece for potential problems. I still maintain an active list of things to do of varying importance. The amount of work has dropped over the last five months and the nature of the projects have changed from mechanical repairs toward cosmetic and electrical system enhancement. There are a lot of moving parts on an automobile and they all deserve inspection and maintenance if needed. I enjoy the maintenance and look for projects.
My little car is comfortable, reliable, solid, rattle free, fun to work on, and great fun to drive.