In my post about “My First Time (to drive 100 mph),” I wrote that I was working in a local grocery store after school and on weekends while attending high school. It turned out that I had an affinity for the grocery business and working in that business put me through college. All my life, I had been a “car nut.” My parents used to tell how, at the age of 4, I could tell you the make and often the year of any car they pointed out to me. My attraction to Packards came about in an odd way. In 1949, when I was 2, my father bought a 23rd Series (“Golden Anniversary”) Packard Deluxe Eight painted in Sylvam Green Metallic. Our ownership of that Packard was short-lived. My parents had taken me and my sister who was still an infant from Lubbock, Texas to Tulia where my maternal grandparents lived. On the return trip to Lubbock on old U.S. 27 just north of Lubbock, we were hit head-on by a drunk driving a large truck fitted with a drilling rig. Packards were sturdy, well-built cars, but our Packard was no match for that truck. Those were the days before safety glass, seat belts and child seats. I was standing in the front seat between my parents. The impact threw me through the windshield. The hood of the car had been sheered off in the collision and I landed in the engine compartment. Going through the windshield, I was badly cut by the glass. It took more than 300 stitches around my chest to close the wounds. I was also burned by the engine. Most of the impact had been on the right side of the car and my mother sustained many broken ribs. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was my introduction to Packards!
You might say that I had a smashing introduction to Packards.
Somehow I grew up understanding the wreck had nothing to do with the Packard other than the fact that we were driving one when the wreck occurred. I also instinctively knew that the wreck would have been far more serious had we been driving a car that was less substantial than that Packard.
Somehow, out of all of that, as a kid, I was fond of Packards. Being the young car nut – or, if you wish, “Gear Head,” that I was, when the ’53 Studebakers came out, I was immediately drawn to the Starliner hardtop. A doctor in Lubbock bought a yellow Commander Starliner and I couldn’t take my eyes off of it every time I saw it.
When Packard bought Studebaker in 1954, that “sealed the deal” for me and I’ve been as fond of Studebakers as Packards ever since.
As I got older, I was not pleased with the direction Detroit was going with its cars. Those over-sized whales that Detroit produced in the late sixties and early seventies were a real turn-off to me.
In 1969, I was living in Amarillo, and was putting myself through West Texas State University (now West Texas A&M) in Canyon, just south of Amarillo by working for the Safeway supermarket chain. My early years in the grocery business had led me to go to work for what other grocers called ‘the Great God of the West.” I had intended to become an English teacher, but my affinity for the grocery business led me to a career with Safeway that took me to California and to the company’s corporate office.
While in Amarillo, my disgust with what was happening with cars from Detroit led me to educate myself about European cars, particularly those from Germany. In my senior year at West Texas State, the Volkswagen dealer in Amarillo (who also sold Porsches) took a 1969 Porsche 912 in trade for a new Porsche 911. It was painted in “burgundy.” It was fitted with the optional 5 speed (vs. the standard 4 speed) gearbox. I was smitten. The Safeway credit union financed the car for me.
I joined the local chapter of the Porsche Club of America and became an active member. I kept the car very clean and entered it in several concours. I also campaigned it in local gymkhanas and rallies. I surprised myself at how good I became as a rally driver and I won several.
The development of the 912 was something of an afterthought for Porsche. The 911 was intended to be the successor to the 356 series upon which the company had been founded. After the development of the six cylinder 911 was well underway, Porsche decided to explore making a lower cost car available using a four cylinder engine. After experimenting with several four cylinder concepts, Porsche settled on using the four out of the 356-SC, but now fitted with dual Solex carburetors and using a slightly lower compression ratio. The resulting car had better weight distribution and more nimble handling than the early 911s.
The clean lines of the original “Typ 901-902” Porsches still show well.
The new 911/912 series Porsches were introduced late in 1965 as 1966 models. Known internally in Porsche as the “Typ 901/902,” the 912 initially outsold the 911. In the years of its production, it saw substantial upgrades with the 1969 models being the pinnacle of development for the series. Due to a combination of factors, both internal and external, Porsche elected to discontinue the 912 at the end of the 1969 model year. A few years later – in 1976 – Porsche offered for the American market only and for one year only, a 912-E.
My career with Safeway took me from Amarillo to the Oklahoma City Division office and my burgundy 912 came with me. While in Oklahoma City, I sold it when I ordered a new 912-E. That ’69 912 was one of the best cars I’ve ever owned. It was nimble, quick and economical – often giving me 30 miles-per-gallon. Of the cars I’ve owned in my life, that 912 is one of 3 that I wish I still had!
A rare ’69 912 Targa. Only some 2,000 Targas were built over the production span of the original 912s.