John Rialson tells us what it’s like to own a 912 for more than four decades. That’s how long John Rialson has owned his 1967 Porsche 912. Now, with no fewer than 421,600 miles under its tyres (yes, you did read that right!), it’s living proof that they built these cars to last… Words & photos: John Rialson.

    My father, who was an educator and a librarian at San Jose State College, would always tell me that a car should simply get you from point A to point B, and be nothing fancy. I would always ask, why couldn’t we have fun in a car that does more? I was eight years old.

    The first car I remember my dad buying was a 1953 Volkswagen in Texas Brown. It had a 36 horsepower engine, a small rear window, turn signals that popped out of the door pillar, no fuel gauge, and a thick metal body. The interior was red. I don’t remember it even having a radio installed.

    We were probably about the first family in the San Francisco Bay area to buy a VW. The neighbours would tease my dad about the car and would often hide it by carrying it down the street and putting it behind a hedge (love it! – KS). I, on the other hand, would brag about all the car’s functions to my school friends, which probably didn’t make me very popular since I told them this was a better car than the one they had.

    This turned out to be a good, reliable car that Dad drove for many years. He traded it in for a new 1960 Volkswagen. That one was red with a white interior and this time it did have a radio. It also had a fuel gauge and the larger rear window.

    I learned to drive in that car when I was fifteen. I received my driver’s licence when I was sixteen and proceeded to show my high-school friends what a good driver I was. I knew the car was waterproof, and while driving in the mountains on a dirt road one day we came to a river. Usually the river was passable but it had been raining and the water was higher than usual. We decided to try and cross.

    We got half way and the car started floating down the river! Feeling hopeless and wondering what I was going to tell Dad, we finally hit a sand bar on the other side. I was then able to drive the car in the shallow water at the edge of the river back to the road. The girls thought I was crazy and I never told Dad.

    In 1967, when I was twenty-two, I bought my own car. It was a brand new Volkswagen in beige with black interior. I fitted it with Koni shocks, Pirelli tyres and an anti-sway bar. It handled well and I put well over 100,000 miles on it by 1970. I drove it everywhere.

    I used to take the car to a garage in Los Altos, California called Reitmier’s Werkstatt. They worked on VWs and Porsches. One day in 1970 the owner’s brother put his 1967 Porsche up for sale for $4400. He said he was selling it because he wanted a 1968-model #Porsche with the flared fenders so he could put wider tyres on for autocrossing. The car was beautiful, so I bought it: it was a Bahama Yellow 1967 912 Porsche with low mileage, and looked as good as new. It was probably the best investment I could have made.

    I have always enjoyed driving. Over the years that I’ve owned the Porsche, there have been some fun stories. On one camping trip up to the San Juan Islands between Washington and Canada, we took the ferry boat to Orcas Island. I was taking photos of some Scottish Highland cattle when a huge dog came running up to me. Needless to say, I jumped into the Porsche. The dog stood higher than the car and proceeded to mark his territory on all four tyres…

    On a memorable trip to visit close friends in Bangor, Maine, I was told about some places I should visit and explore in Canada. One was Campobello Island in New Brunswick. Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States, had a 34-room ‘cottage’ used as a summer retreat on Campobello, which is now a park and museum.

    When I travelled alone, I’d usually camp out, or sleep in the car. I could put the passenger seat all the way down, put an air-mattress over the seats and climb into a sleeping bag. It was very comfortable. One night while exploring Prince Edward Island, I parked the car next to a lighthouse out on a point of land high above the ocean. While I was asleep during the night the wind came up, waking me a few times as the car shook. At about four in the morning, I noticed that the lighthouse had ‘moved’.

    Feeling confused, I looked out the side window and could see the waves breaking on rocks about a hundred feet below. The car was sitting right on the edge of the cliff. The wind had slowly moved the car across the dewcovered grass, right to the edge. A few more minutes and I’d have gone over. I quickly moved the car to be out of the wind and went back to sleep. The next morning I walked over to where the car had been and could see the wind had moved it about fifty feet. The right rear tyre was on the edge of the cliff. That was close.

    One very cold morning while visiting Nova Scotia, Canada, I woke to find the car covered in snow (see photo). It was really cold in the car so I thought it would be a good idea to start the engine and get the heater going before getting dressed and having breakfast. I turned the key but the starter motor had stopped working.

    I knew I could probably start the car from the engine compartment, so I jumped out in my underwear and managed to start the engine. It was cold and the ground was covered in snow – and I was barefoot. When I tried to open the door, the lock mechanism was frozen and the door wouldn’t open!

    The car was running and the heater was on but I couldn’t get back in. There was no one around for probably fifty miles so I had to get out of this mess by myself. I was jumping up and down trying to keep warm while giving the door handle little karate chops, hoping the ice would melt. After about ten agonising minutes, the heater had warmed the inside of the car enough to thaw out the lock and allow the door finally to open.

    On another trip, I drove to Cape Breton Island where Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor, had a lab and boat house to test his inventions. That, too, is now a museum. I wanted to drive the car as far east as I could on the North American continent, just to say I had been there. But after studying the map, I realised that easterly point was in Labrador, about 1600 miles away. I am not even sure if the roads were passable, so I settled for the most easterly point on Cape Breton Island. A lot of the road was dirt, but I made it. The photo below left shows the car at the most easterly point, with lobster traps in the background.

    The Porsche has always been a joy to drive. I had wanted to visit Mexico for a long time, so I decided I would spend six months exploring as much of Mexico as I could and first of all I headed for Veracruz. The first night while staying with friends in the city, the local children found out that, by shaking the car, the alarm would go off.

    The kids thought this was great. I would yell out in Spanish to get away from the car, so they would run and hide. But when I left the window, they would come back and do it all over again. I finally had to turn off the alarm. I truly enjoyed exploring Mexico and never had any problems with the car or the people I met. Everyone was always helpful, warm and kind.

    This last year has been a time to restore the car. The carburettors were in bad shape. A good friend, who also owns a 912, totally rebuilt my carburettors. The car is now 48 years old and things wear out. It had been sitting in my garage for a few years, but I am enjoying driving it again. It still has the original paint, which buffed out nicely when I detailed it. She still looks good and now I have four little boys who all want to drive it when they are old enough!

    John Rialson is a professional trumpet player living with his family in Hollister, California.

    Bahama Yellow paintwork is all original, apart from the bonnet (hood) which was damaged by a drunk who fell on it one night! From left to right: 1978 and a trip as far east as John could go – Cape Breton Island; on a visit to visit relatives in Minnesota; just south of Carmel, California, in 1990.

    Above left: A trip to Nova Scotia resulted in the car experiencing some very un- California weather – and John locking himself out of the car…

    Above: Getting ready to make some music back in the 1980s.

    Family affair: photos with two of John’s four boys. All four want the car when they grow up. His youngest, at five years of age, told John he could almost reach the pedals…


    My Porsche 912 was originally sold to a fellow from Los Altos Hills, California on 20th December 1966 from Gus Mozart Volkswagen at 825 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, California. Unfortunately, I understand he was badly wounded during the Vietnam war and was unable to drive the car. The 912 was then sold to the Porsche mechanic, Helmet Bezak, from Reitmier’s Werkstatt in Los Altos, from whom I purchased it on 14th April 1970. The car had only about 16,000 miles on the clock and clearly hadn’t been driven much. In the 45 years I’ve owned it I’ve always been careful about maintenance, and still have all the records for oil changes, tune ups and major repairs. Oil changes are every 3000 miles, and a full service every 6000 miles. I also have all the records for other parts, repairs and rebuilds of the engine.

    Looking through my records, I was surprised to find so many old bills (about 150) for new tyres, batteries, brake jobs, clutches, bulbs, radio repairs, wheel bearings, wheel alignments, clutch cable, Koni shocks, rubber seals, generators, starter motors… the list goes on and on. I found that most oil changes cost less than $50, while full tune-ups cost from $150 in the early days to over $800 now.

    The first major repair was in April 1971. I’d owned the car for one year, with only 24,000 miles on the clock, but it had a bad oil leak. It turned out to be a crack in the crankcase. After trying to weld the crack, which didn’t work, I had to buy a whole new crankcase for $235.

    We replaced the camshaft, main bearings, oil cooler and a number of other parts, for a total bill of $768. One lesson I learned early on is to keep the throttle pedal linkage well lubricated. One time while on a freeway on-ramp I had the car up to 6000rpm in second gear, ready to shift to third. What I didn’t know was that the throttle pedal was stuck, so when I pushed in the clutch to shift, the engine raced way past the redline in a split second. By the time I could reach the key to turn off the engine, it was too late. The fan exploded and sent shrapnel through the fan housing.

    The inside of the car filled with white smoke but I made it safely off to the side of the freeway and had to call for a tow. This happened in 1973 and the car ended up needing a valve job, a new oil cooler, fan and fan housing. The charge was only $289!

    My first full engine rebuild came in August 1974, when the car had covered about 110,000 miles. The bill for that was $867. The second engine rebuild was in August 1979, by which time the car had covered 190,403 miles. This also included a new flywheel, clutch, valves and brakes. The cost came to $1575. The third engine rebuild was in 1986 at 285,000 miles. The total bill this time came to $2100.

    In September 1987, at 314,340 miles, the car needed another new flywheel, along with a clutch and battery, all of which cost $964. When it was time for the fourth rebuild, I decided to replace the engine with a totally rebuilt older unit with a lot lower mileage. This was in 2005 at 398,000. I have not driven the car much in the last ten years, so it currently has 421,600 miles on the odometer. Ken’s Porsche Technique in Campbell, California, who carried out most of the work, still exists and is highly regarded for their repair work on Porsches.

    More recently, we moved to Hollister, California, about five years ago. The car had not been driven because the carburettors needed a complete rebuild (they were leaking fuel). I started playing trumpet with a big band here in Hollister and one day one of the other trumpet players, Jay Hilgers, showed up in a 912E Porsche.

    We were already good friends and he didn’t know I had a 912. His father, Rick Hilgers, was one of the chief Porsche mechanics at Westers in Monterey, California, and had taught his son how to tune and repair Porsches. When Jay heard my carburettors needed repair, he offered to rebuild them for free.

    He said the car was too nice to be sitting and that we needed to get it back on the road, so I paid about $76 to Eckler’s for the Solex repair kit and Jay did a beautiful job making the carburettors look and work like new. They now work perfectly.

    Because the car had been sitting for so long, it needed some more work. I felt guilty about letting Jay spend more free time on the car, as he had already done so much with the carburettors. I took the car to Briganti’s Automotive Service in Hollister where they repaired the throttle linkage and brakes, and gave the car a tune-up.

    I still have a few more items to sort out but the 912 is about ready for the road again. It still has the original paint, except for the hood, and still looks great. And, it goes without saying, it is still a joy to drive.

    Recent photo of the 912 was taken at San Juan Bautista, in California. You’d never believe this car has covered well over 400,000 miles in the last 48 years.

    Miguel Martinez is considered to be the father of mariachi-style trumpet playing and was only too happy to pose with the 912 Highway 90 in the middle of Montana in winter. No traffic. John stopped in the middle of the freeway to take this photo in 1994.

    “Over the years that I’ve owned the Porsche, there have been some fun stories ”

    John pauses at a roadside coffee shop on a trip to Baja, Mexico, in 1986. He recalls that ‘this place had great lobster tacos!’

    SPECIFICATION: #1967 #Porsche-912

    Delivered 20th December #1966 to Gus Mozart Volkswagen, Palo Alto, CA. Bahama Yellow, black interior with basketweave seat inlay; light grey perforated headliner; left-hand drive; #VDM Ebonite plastic steering wheel and circular horn button; #Blaupunkt radio; factory stabiliser bars front and rear; chrome bumper guards, front and rear; engine # P751924; standard #Mahle pistons/cylinders; Solex carburettors; #Bosch 022 distributor; five-speed gearbox; chrome steel rims; 165 HR 15 radial tyres.
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