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Model Guide: The first Porsche 911s

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Article by Ed Mayo
Photos courtesy Porsche

Above: 1970 Porsche 911T Targa.

The first era of the Porsche 911, aka, “early 911” or “longhood,” was from 1965 to 1973 — a period of considerable change. The sports car was at first built much like the 356 it replaced, yet over the years developed its own flavor and style that served to define what a 911 would be for years to come.

Because of its faithfulness to the original concept, including a long hood and small bumpers, this range of 911s is much desired — and copied! Many people now want to use a post-’73 air-cooled 911 and backdate the appearance to one of pre-’74 vintage, gaining the advantage of later developments and creature comforts with the purity of the original design. Park a 1967 911 next to a 2017 911 and you'll be shocked at how much bigger the new car is, even though it clearly looks like a 911. This desirability for the “pure” 911 has led to a feeding frenzy as the finite number of cars are snatched up. As the prices keep rising the fear has been that you better get one now — tomorrow it will cost even more.

Above: 1969 Porsche 911 advertisement.

The upside of rising values is cars that would have been scrapped 40 years ago are now worth investing huge sums of money into costly restorations. The downside: As early 911 values go up, so do the owners’ fear of driving them. A shame, really, since they are such fun cars to drive, especially touring long distances. However, you must understand they are not modern cars with traction and stability control, anti-lock braking, and pro-active safety features. You must be involved when driving one. If that is your style, then these old relics are just the ticket. 

Although early 911 models seem to look the same, there are many subtle differences that can sometimes even test the experts. For one thing, Porsche was not entirely concerned about model year differences. And being frugal Germans, they tended to use up the previous model’s parts on the next series rather than throw them away. This can drive restorers and concours judges nuts. Since EPA and DOT regulations were not involved back then, model year distinctions were not as critical as they would be in later years.

The search for the 356’s replacement began in 1959 and it took until September 1963 before a prototype of the 901, as it was called for a brief period, was finally unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show. And that was not even a running car. Although production wouldn't really begin for another year, Porsche had by this time invested so much in development that they were anxious to get the car exposed, and hopefully pique some sales interest. Production slowly started in September 1964 alongside the last of the 904 Carrera GTSs and 356s, both of which would continue into 1965. At this point, the 901 was shown at the October 1964 Paris Motor Show, barely one month after the start of production.

Above: Production of the first Porsche 911s and the last 356s overlapped.

Peugeot objected to the model number, saying that it had the rights to three-digit model numbers with a zero as the middle digit. Although this would only apply to sales in France, Porsche decided to just add a “1,” creating the 911. There were about 80 cars built and labeled 901 before the change. About another 150 cars were built before the end of calendar year 1964.

1965 marked the first full year of production, and although early 911s were virtually ignored during the seventies and eighties, their rarity and value started rapidly rising during the nineties and, for the most part, continue to do so today. These cars regularly reach and exceed six figures in transactions and are considered collectibles. 

One point that leads to confusion is the aforementioned distinction between calendar year and model year. Generally Porsche started building the next model year in September of the previous calendar year. Additionally, in these early years some dealers would title a 1965 calendar-year car as a 1966 model if it were sold in 1966 to give it the appearance of being a newer car. In this case the distinction is critical, because a true 1965 calendar-year car is worth more than a 1966 calendar-year car. For the purposes of this model guide, we’ll refer to model year unless otherwise noted.

The 911 was a much more expensive car than the 356 it was designed to replace, and the automaker needed to start recouping the investment in the new sports car's development. The 356 continued to be built alongside the 911 in 1965, but Porsche would need a new entry-level model to replace it. It was decided to use the lower-cost 356 engine in the new 911 body and call the resulting model the 912. This was successful to the point that the 912 outsold the 911 two to one for a couple years. The last year for the 912 in this form was 1969. 

Above: 1967 Porsche 911S.

In 1967 Porsche expanded the model range with the 911S. This really marked the beginning of the 911 as a genuine performance car, both on the street and the racetrack. This was also the first year for the Targa. 1968 marked the beginning of government influence on automobile design and emissions, such that Porsche was afraid the 1968 S might not meet emission standards and opted not to market it in the US. In retrospect it probably would have passed, but Porsche could not take the chance of having to ship large numbers of cars back to Germany. Porsche also brought out the Sportomatic transmission in 1968. The semi-automatic gearbox was an attempt to broaden the appeal of the car to those who didn’t like using a clutch.

Above: 1967 Porsche 911 Targa.

For 1969 Porsche made the single biggest change to the 911 thus far by lengthening the wheelbase 2.5 inches to reduce the oversteer characteristics inherent to rear-engined cars. Two 12-volt batteries were installed in each front corner in a further attempt to improve the handling, instead of the earlier bumper-weight solution. They also expanded the model range to three versions, which now included T, E, and S. The E and S got a new induction system in the form of mechanical fuel injection (MFI) to meet emission standards, and as a nice by-product performance was also improved. From the beginning in 1965 through the end of 1969, the 911 engine’s displacement had always been 2.0 liters, but this was about to change.

Above: 1968 Porsche 911S Targa in front of more than a dozen other 911s.

The next two years, 1970 and 1971, can almost be taken as one step, since there were almost no differences in that time frame. The three model variants, T, E, and S, remained, but the 912 was dropped. The new 914 was now the entry level Porsche. Engine displacement was increased to 2.2 liters, the E and S retained mechanical fuel injection, and the T still met emissions with carburetors. More big changes were on the horizon for 1972.

Above: 1970 Porsche 911E.

1972 and 1973 can also be taken as one group because there were very few changes from year to year. 1973 marked the end of the longhood 911, when, in 1974, the design of the original body style was changed in order to meet new bumper crash standards. The 1972 and 1973 engine displacement was increased again to 2.4 liters to gain back some power lost from compression ratio reductions to meet the new lower-octane lead-free fuel.. The Type 915 transmission was a totally new design. It was stronger and had a more user friendly H pattern for the first four gears, instead of the old dog-leg first gear that was down and to the left. 1972 was also the first and only time to date where the oil tank was mounted ahead of the right-rear wheel (other than the few 911Rs in 1967 and 1968) for weight distribution reasons. One can identify a 1972 911 by the location of the oil filler opening on the right-rear fender.

Above: 1972 Porsche 911S. Note the oil filler flap on the right-rear fender, which was exclusive to 1972 models.

Through 1972 and for part of 1973 all three 911 models, T, E, and S, had been able to meet emissions with the MFI system. However, European 911Ts did still use the Zenith carburetors as used on the US ’70-’71 911T. But Porsche recognized that ever-stricter emission laws would not be able to be satisfied with the MFI system. The new induction system, known as CIS (constant injection system, or K-jetronic), was first used on what came to be known as the 1973.5 911T. The MFI was used on cars built from September 1972 through December 1972. Starting January 1, 1973, all 911Ts switched to the new system, as the entire range would soon do in 1974. Additionally all ’73 911s from January 1 were equipped with larger bumper pads to meet the 2.5 miles per hour crash standards. All of this is just another example of calendar year versus model year requirements. Although it wasn’t sold new in the US, the famous 1973 911 Carrera RS was built largely to homologate the faster 911 RSR race car for GT racing, and many have been imported to North America.

Above: 1973 Porsche 911T.

If you are considering a longhood 911 purchase, it will likely be for one of two reasons: either as a collectible asset to be tucked away and left to appreciate in value, or as a useable driver to enjoy the way it was intended. Either way you’ll need to know how to get the best one for your purpose. If the intention is as a driver/touring car, then the best years will be the 1972-73 models. The higher torque of the 2.4 makes for an easier driving experience requiring less shifting, and the 915 transmission’s shift pattern is easier for most people to handle. The T and E engines have more torque at a lower RPM range, while the S has more power but needs to be revved to higher RPM to access that power. The 2.4-liter S is easier to manage than the 2.0-liter S, which has even less power down low in the RPM range. All of them are very good highway touring cars … but not like a Lexus! With any older 911, you as a driver must be involved in the act of driving.

There is a saying in the real estate business, “location, location, location!” With any 911 (or 912, for that matter) it is instead, “rust, rust, rust!” Due to the ever-increasing values of these cars, many rust buckets that would have been parted out in the not-so-distant past are being fixed or restored. How that job was carried out will greatly affect the value and usefulness of the car.

Above: The Porsche 911 development team.

The earliest cars are more susceptible to rust not only because of age but also due to the type of undercoating used. At first, the undercoat was the same as what was used on the 356, a hard, asphaltic material that tended to chip off and let in moisture. Starting in 1970, a much better, rubberized coating was used that stayed flexible and sealed for a longer period of time. All cars are prone to rust around the battery box area due to corrosive battery gassing. This can cause severe corrosion around the front suspension support pan, and is one of the most common areas to need panel replacement. Gel-type batteries have pretty much eliminated this issue. Of course, cars driven on salty roads are going to rust everywhere and are best avoided.

The good news is even rusty cars can be brought back to life, as most panels are either available through Porsche or the aftermarket — but it takes a very good, experienced shop to do this correctly. The 1965-68 cars used a hot air defrosting method for the rear window, and it is known to cause rust at the bottom corners of the rear window surrounds. Later cars were equipped with electric defrosters and rarely rusted there. All the 900 series cars used the same style jack receivers in the rocker panels. If these are too rusty to use, then you can be assured the rust is very entrenched in the rest of the rocker sills. The original door and lid gaps were very consistent and even, so variable gap widths are a sign of poor repair or restoration work. Likewise, any difference in door edge levels from one side to the other is cause for concern.

Above: 1973 Porsche 911 Carrera RS 2.7. It was not sold new in the US, but many have imported the 210-horsepower homologation special.

The engines used during this era are very robust and usually good for 100,000 miles or so. It wasn’t until the late seventies that engine life was shortened due to overheating issues caused by emission controls. Aluminum was used for engine cases through the middle of 1968, and these were very strong, long-lived cases. Magnesium cases were then used from mid-’68 through ’73 and beyond. Heat was the enemy of 911 engines, and up through ’68, at the horsepower levels of the time, the flat sixes operated well within operating temperature limits in all but the most extreme conditions. Starting in 1969 the S models got an additional oil cooler in the right-front fender due to their higher horsepower and heat output. The cooler also could be fitted to the T and E models as an option. During 1970-72, the 911S had the front cooler as standard, but it became an option across the model range for 1973. In warmer parts of North America, a front cooler is really a necessity if the car is driven aggressively. 

Timing chain tensioners were a common problem area early on, but by now most of them have been replaced with updated versions that superseded the original, the most common of which are the oil-pressure-fed variety first used on the 1984 911 Carrera. The original rubber chain guides were also problematic, and most have been upgraded to the later plastic type. 

Above: A 1970 Porsche 911S coupe (left) and 1970 Porsche 911T Targa.

Cars with original matching-number engines and transmissions can command 10-20% more money than those with unoriginal replacements. In the past you could supply the VIN to PCNA and receive a “Certificate of Authenticity” listing all the pertinent numbers, build date, color, and options. Unfortunately due to the counterfeiting of these numbers, PCNA will no longer supply them in the CoA, a victim of rising prices and dishonest people. 

The ’65 through mid-’66 cars were equipped with Solex PI carburetors, many of which were converted to Weber carburetors, just as the factory did in February 1966. Now, of course, having the correct Solex units can be worth thousands of dollars. The same thing happened with the mechanical fuel injection systems. Many were changed to carburetors that were considered simpler to maintain. Now, once again, replacing them with the correct system adds value — but the parts cost thousands to source. 

Above: Ferdinand "Ferry" Porsche with a 1968 911.

Several varieties of wheels were used during 1965-73. From ’65 through ’67, the normal 911 and 912 used steel (painted or chromed) 4.5-inch wide, 15-inch diameter wheels. Starting with the ’67 911S, 4.5 x 15-inch Fuchs wheels were used while the other cars used steel wheels. And once again, as people updated to wider wheels, the 4.5-inch Fuchs were thrown away or sold off cheaply (Volkswagen drivers snatched them up). Now it will cost many thousands of dollars to replace them for a ’67 S, and they were a one-year-only wheel. In ’68, Porsche equipped the S with 5.5-inch-wide Fuchs, again a one-year-only wheel! The steel wheels followed suit with the wider widths. For 1969 the S got 6-inch-wide deep-spoke Fuchs. These wheels were used through ’71, when again they changed to 6-inch shallow-spoke Fuchs. And you guessed it, the early deep-spoke variety will set you back thousands. There were also 5.5 X 14-inch Fuchs used on comfort package 911s. The standard steel wheels followed suit with a 6-inch width in ’72 and ’73. The 1972-73 S used the 6-inch shallow-spoke Fuchs. 

The painting methods changed over the span of early 911 and 912 production. From 1965 to 1969, the engine bay and trunk were painted black, as were the hinges. Starting in 1970 the trunk area was now body color, except for Karmann-bodied cars, which remained black. For 1973, both trunk and engine bay were painted body color. Of course, the most desirable cars to find are those with original paint, since you know that what you see is what you get. But of course they get harder to find with each passing year.

It is always best to get a professional evaluation of any car before purchase, even if you know the information I’ve presented in this model guide. It is never a waste of money.

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