May 2003 Status Report

We 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.

 Year Total Miles Total Gal MPG Cost $/mile Miles/day Est My/yr Updated
 2000 9796 479 20.5 $1001 $0.102 27 9877 May 15
 2001 13084 595 22.0 $1132 $0.086 36 13013 May 17
 2002 8892 388 22.9 $793 $0.089 24 8892 May 17
 2003 729 33 22.0 $67 $0.091 104 38012 May 24

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.

My Criteria:

  • Classic air cooled Porsche only. This is purely an emotional decision. We have had both a 924 and 944. Both were great cars. The 924 is a bit under powered. A 944 with the new dash board design is an exceptional daily driver. But they are not classics.
  • Less than $10K initial investment. This was not a hard rule. I did look at some $15K cars but I noticed that my internal resistance point started going up rapidly above $10K. I also drove a couple of 1996 993s ($50-60K) which might be the choice if we were to win the lottery.
  • A daily driver. We are interested in concours because it shows what a car can become with a lot of work. Show cars are an inspiration and a joy. But I want to drive my car. Safety and comfort are more important than perfect paint. No garage queen for me.
  • 356, 911 and 912 seem classic to me, the 914-4 does not (but I had one of these too. Fun car!). I would have considered a 914-6 but daily driver candidates are rare. Autocross and show quality 914-6 are available. I found a concours quality 914-6, but show cars cost too much. It used to be said that a show quality Porsche is $30K no matter what model. I think the market has more differentiation now, but there are no show cars that meet my price point.
  • Pre-1974. Let's not get into the 911 magnesium case engine rebuild game if we can avoid it. Part of the fun is to be able to work on the car at home. The complexity of Porsches has grown exponentially in the last 50 years. If anything goes wrong with the Boxster, it is off to the dealer where the last service cost was $1600 and a week later a 'transmission' in the top raising mechanism died for the second time. The only maintenance you can do yourself on a new Porsche is to clean it.
  • Stock. I do not care for fake whale tails or after market air dams. Please, let it be repainted (if not original) in the original color unless it has had a bare metal restoration. Check the engine and body serial numbers to see that they match.
  • Rust free. This is a tough criteria, but rust is such a car killer. If the car needs a ground up restoration to find and eliminate the rust, it is not a daily driver. I looked at a beautiful 356 on which a previous owner had spent $20K. Hidden under a fresh coat of undercoating was rust problems around the rear torsion bar carriers. Reject.

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.

  • Change all the fluids when the car arrives. This includes gas, engine oil, transmission oil and brake fluid. Change the oil every time it appears dirty. This may be often when you first get the car if there is any sludge. Oil is cheap. I can change the oil in 30 minutes for $12 including a new filter.
  • Check the valve clearances. Don't be responsible for valve damage that occurs on your watch. I was lucky here. The valves were tight but not so much as to cause damage.
  • Check the battery. If there is any hint of leakage, get a new one now! Leaky batteries lead to serious and expensive rust in the body pan.
  • Next do the electricals including new plugs, wires and perhaps the coil. The coil is kind of a no-brainer because it is inexpensive.
  • If the distributor is original (022), upgrade to the Bosch 050 with the Pertronix electronic points. With the new coil, distributor, electronic points, wires and plugs, the remaining electrical issue is timing.
  • I wish I'd gotten a timing light with the dwell angle knob on the back. The fly-wheel pulley only has marks for TDC. It is much more accurate to dial in 30 degrees before TDC on the timing light and then adjust the distributor rotation for exact line up with the TDC rather than marking a 30 degrees point on the pulley. We now have a digital timing light to make this measurement.
  • Adjust the carburetors. I continue to learn more about carburetors, but they remain largely a mystery to me. The factory manual and Harry Pellow's books have instructions. I have a bit of information here on the WEB site. I had Harry tune mine when we first got the car rather than risking amateur adjustment to the point of the car not running.
  • Clean the engine compartment and the engine and keep it clean. Look for oil and gas leaks. I've replaced the rubber gas lines, tightened fittings on the carburetor, replaced gaskets and replaced an oil pressure switch to fix leaks. Watch your gas mileage to know if the engine tune is good and if there are leaks. Mine milage started at 14 mpg and is now in the low 20s.
  • There are 4 bushings that probably should be replaced on your shift linkage. The parts are cheap and the benefits great. Consider a short shifter. The other item that can help a shifting problem is the appropriate gear lube. A favorite for Porsche mechanics is Swebco 201. Avoid the synthetics or the transmission will leak fluid from the four rotating seals. The formula needs to have the appropriate qualities for the synchros to work. Shifting is now satisfactory and much better than the day I brought it home.
  • 181-529-18.jpgListen for suspension noises as you drive over various surfaces. Are there any funny noises when you back out of your driveway? The bad tie rod and front ball joints were identified by noises here. There are several expensive suspension pieces including the front integral shock strut and the rear torsion plate. At this point, our 912 is tight, the shocks work as shocks and there are few unexplained noises.
  • Consider new tires. Ours had OEM Pirellis just like those I bought for my 1967 912 28 years ago. Plenty of tread, but the rubber compound had hardened. New Michelins improved the handling and the ride dramatically. One caution on the Michelins. The side walls are soft which may contribute to wandering at high way speeds. I don't have experience with other tires.
  • Listen to the car. Track down all noises. When things go bad, there are warnings.

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.


909-299-25.jpgSit 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:
  1. 651-361-06.jpgAdd sound dampening material from Dynamat. The Xtreme material is much better than the others. It is easier to apply and much better damping. You should line the inside of the engine compartment. Remove any remnants of the original material. By now it is crumbling and could even get into the back of the engine. The inside of the car below the rear window is not too bad to access and treat. The door panels come off easily allowing the inside of the doors to be improved significantly.
  2. Check the rubber molding around and in the doors. You can help any wind whistle by ensuring the molding is in good contact with the door. One possiblity is to replace the molding. Or just beef it up in key areas. I have worked on the drivers door to help in several areas.
  3. Replace the rubber seals around rear quarter windows. Most of the old cars have hard, brittle and broken rubber. Vibrating rubber pieces sounded like high frequency engine noise. I did not find a source for original cross-section rubber for my car, but gluing later seals with 3M Trim Cement is an acceptable alternative.

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.

Clean It

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.

  • Rags. Cotton terry cloth rags from Cosco and cotton diapers. I must wash these twice a week. Asha also uses the diapers on the Boxster.
  • Meguiar's Quik Detailer Mist and Wipe. I use this stuff all the time in place of soap and water on the external finish. $5
  • Mothers Clay Bar. A kit for $14 at Kragen. It has Mother's Showtime Instant Detailer, an inferior competitor to the Meguiar's product, a small bottle of Mothers Carnauba Cleaner Wax that I have not tried and the clay that looks like yellow modeling clay that we played with as kids. To use, first wash the car. Then spray the Instant Detailer to make a small area of surface wet and then rub with the clay until any friction grab from surface contaminants goes away. Be sure to keep the clay clean. They recommend throwing it away if you drop it on the ground. It will clean the top layer of contamination off your paint. Asha came home after I used it and said, "Wow!". It was remarkable to lightly touch the surface after the application. So smooth.
  • 3M Imperial Hand Glaze. A cleaner designed for hand application. Use as required before waxing.
  • Blitz One Grand Wax. There are many good waxes, but this one is commonly used by the Boxster crowd and works well on real paint in addition to the clear coat on new cars.
  • Simple Green All-Purpose Cleaner. Non-toxic, biodegradable and concentrated. I use it from cleaning dirt out of the engine bay to cleaning my hands. There is always a spray bottle handy in the garage.
  • ProGlas Professional Glass Cleaner. For windows. Avoid products with ammonia unless you are perfect at keeping the solution off paint.
  • Lexol Vinylex Protectant. For internal vinyl surfaces. We use their leather cleaning and conditioning products for the leather on the Boxster.
  • WD-40. Works surprisingly well as a grease and oiled dirt cleaner. Leaves a light coat of lubricant after the volatile solvents evaporate.
  • Touch up paint. Old paint will have chips. Unless you have a near concours quality car, cover the chipped areas with touch up paint. Try it on some small out of the way areas such as the door sill. I don't know how to make it flat and smooth, although there are some products that will help. I use a small brush or toothpick and place the smallest drop possible to cover the area and then just let it dry. Any more attention leads to smears and seems counterproductive.

Jumping gearshift

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.

Primary Transportation?

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:

Seat belts$406
944 Seats$400
5 new Tires$401
DMV (Sales Tax)$634
Restoration of rust damage$1,728
Purchase price$7,500

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.
  • May-Sep, 2000. First 4 months. $860/month. Included $1700 for rust repair and a lot of 'start-up' expenses such as DMV, tires and quite a few parts.
  • May-Jan, 2000/2001. First 8 months $580/month
  • Feb-May, 2001. Next 4 months $300/month.
  • Jun-Seb, 2001. Next 3 months $40/month. We have actually collected a few new rubber parts that are not included here, but they have not been installed. The expenses this summer have just been gas, oil and a $85 parts catalog.

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.
Last modified: Sun, 18 May 2003


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