In the 1969 model year, Porsche offered three passenger car transmissions.
The relatively wide gear ratios built into the 4 speed, 901/06 transmission was not intended for racing or autocross, especially in the relatively tame 4 cylinder 912.
This transmission, though, is especially well suited for low stress everyday driving and long distance highway cruising.
The 901/06 was the standard transmission on all 1969 912 Porsche models and what I have in my 912.
Above: The conventional, and stock, gear selector lever in my 1969 912.
A word about Porsche 4 speed transmissions is in order. Porsche liked 4 speed transmissions that would do the job.
Some people have forgotten, or may not have known in the first place, that the legendary Porsche factory 917s that won outright at Le Mans in 1970 and 1971 did so with an air cooled 12 cylinder engine and a 4 speed transmission.
Did only 4 forward speeds limit the 917’s top speed? No. One of the 1970-71 917 race cars was reportedly clocked at Le Mans, in competition, at an astounding 246 miles per hour! I like to think my 1969 912 and the 917s of 1970 and 1971 are distant, albeit very distant, cousins. But I digress.
The 911/01 was Porsche’s close-ratio 5-speed manual transmission for most 1969 model year passenger cars. This transmission was optional on the 912.
A common misconception over the years has been that the top gear in the 911/01 5-speed transmission was, compared to the 901/06 4-speed, an “overdrive” gear for economy cruising or for higher top speeds.
Not true. The standard 1st and top (4th or 5th) gear ratios in the 1969 4-speed and 5-speed factory passenger car transmissions were identical.
Clearly, the “performance” transmission is the 911/01 5-speed with three “close ratio” intermediate gears between 1st and 5th. This setup is especially effective on the more powerful 911 models which are also capable of higher top speeds because they are simply more powerful than the smaller, milder and carburetor-equipped 912.
If just the mighty 911’s having more power than the 912 weren’t enough, the 911E and 911S engines were fully capable of higher (7,500 versus 6,000) sustained engine revolutions per minute (rpm) than the 912. Having more power, and at least another 1,500 rpm of it, is a compelling combination!
But the 901-05 transmission has, for some, a dark side. The 5-speed transmission’s shift pattern has 1st gear down and to the left, closest to the driver’s right leg in a left-hand-drive chassis.
Because of this gear selection position, more than one overenthusiastic driver has missed a high performance shift from 1st to 2nd and ended up in 4th gear.
This unfortunate eye-hand coordination, or concentration, problem was often detrimental to the transmission, clutch, engine or driver’s ego, and occasionally all four.
A third “Sportomatic” automatic transmission was an option for 1969 911S and E models. It was, and remains, a rugged and durable transmission. It was proven early in the winning Porsche 911 at the 84 hour Nuremburg endurance trials in 1968. The “Sportomatic” transmission was not available on 1969 911T or 912 models.
Above: A “shop shot” of the 912’s 4 speed transmission, gunk and all. But note the axle boots are in excellent condition, since the originals were replaced in the 2005-06 rehabilitation project.
Finally, since all Porsches are race cars, a wide variety of gear sets for the manual transmissions were (and are) available for either transmission available on the 1969 912.
Even decades after the car was built, a serious 1969 Porsche owner, with equally serious financial resources, can have a transmission gear set and final drive ratio (via a selected spline gear ratio) package designed, assembled and installed to match any driving need.
The shortened (believe it or not) gear chart below shows the very large number of transmission gears available in 2012 for even the very early 901-911 models.
Above: This abbreviated gear chart is in the public domain and shows the extremely wide selection of transmission gear ratios available on post 1964 Porsche models. And this is only part of the list!
But this happy 912 owner needs nothing so exotic. I’m perfectly satisfied with my 912’s original (it hasn’t even been rebuilt!) 901/06 4-speed transmission for exploring America’s current and former U.S. highways.