A Special Sports Car Celebrates a Special Anniversary: The Porsche 911

Written by Shaun Keenan & Jordan Lenssen | Photography by Porsche and LAT on .

Racing Pedigree

By Jordan Lenssen

In addition to its classic yet unique lines, the Porsche 911 has always been distinguished by its advanced technology. By logic the car defies physics, the rear engine hanging over the driveshaft should make it nearly undriveable, but the 911 has been an example of technical mastery. Many of the ideas that made their debut in the Porsche 911 were conceived on the race track – the 911 has been committed to pure performance from the start – and motor racing is its most important test lab.

No other production automaker is as deeply rooted in motorsport as Porsche. Starting with a class victory at Le Mans in 1951 with the first 356 Light Metal Coupé, Porsche Motorsports has celebrated more than 54 major world and national championships and 137 wins in Formula One, sports car, endurance, rally and hill climbs worldwide.

In just 50 years, the 911 has reached more drivers and racers than any car ever built. Porsche racing engineer Norbert Singer can almost singlehandedly take credit for that success, playing a major role in all 16 of Porsche’s Le Mans victories. Originally tasked with developing the 911 road car for racing use, he is responsible for designing the legendary 956 and 962 Group C endurance cars, the WSC prototype, the 935 and 911 GT1.

From the very beginning it has been at home on circuits all over the world, earning a reputation as a versatile and dependable winner. Indeed, a good two thirds of Porsche’s 30,000 race victories to date were notched up by the 911.

With such a rich history, we take a look at some of the most iconic 911 sports cars and the people who raced them into the record books…

A Special Sports Car Celebrates a Special Anniversary
1968 Porsche 911T 

Major Victories: 1968 Monte Carlo Rally
Championships: N/A
Drivers: Vic Elford, David Stone

Flat-six, air-cooled turbo

Displacement: 2.0L
Horsepower: 110 hp @ 5,800 RPM
Gearbox: Four-speed manual
Layout: RR
Weight: 1,030 kg

Coming off his 1967 European Rally Championship, which included a victory in the first-ever rallycross at Lydden Hill, Vic Elford landed the latest 911T (S-C 9166) in what is considered the 911’s first year of competition. Partnered with co-driver David Stone, the pair drove to an impressive victory on the streets and snow-covered hills at the grueling 37th Monte Carlo Rally. Elford’s car was a near-100% production model, but covered almost 5,500 km in just six days. More impressive, “Quick Vic” followed up with a win at the 24 Hours of Daytona the following weekend in a Porsche 908, to go along with a Nürburgring 1,000 km victory and one of the greatest comebacks ever – from 18 minutes back – in a 907 at Targa Florio.

That same year, four 911Ts were entered into Le Mans. Elford was given the task of driving a 908, but the two 911s that finished took the top two positions ahead of the only other finishing GT car, the Fiat Dino. Elford’s reputation quickly preceded him as one of Porsche’s all-time greats. He is also the only driver to pilot every version of the 917. Elford might owe much of his success to Porsche and the original 911, but likewise, he helped cement Porsche and the 911 as that of a winner from the beginning.

A Special Sports Car Celebrates a Special Anniversary A Special Sports Car Celebrates a Special Anniversary

Brumos 911 Carrera RS & RSR 

Major Victories: 24 Hours of Daytona Overall Victory (1973 RS, ’75 RSR)
    12 Hours of Sebring (1973 RS)
Championships: IMSA GTO Championship (1973 RS, ’75 RSR)
Drivers: Peter Gregg, Hurley Haywood, Dave Helmick

Engine: Flat-six, air-cooled, naturally aspirated
Displacement: 2.7L / 3.0L
Horsepower: 210 hp @ 6,300 RPM / 330 hp @ 8,000 RPM
Gearbox: Five-speed manual / Five-speed full-synchro
Layout: RR
Weight: 920 kg / 900 kg

Established in 1971 after Peter Gregg purchased the Brumos Porsche dealership, Brumos Racing has four overall wins at the 24 Hours of Daytona – amazingly, three of them as participants in the GT class. The No. 59 Carrera RSR is responsible for two of those victories in ’73 and ’75, piloted by Gregg and current Brumos team/dealer owner Hurley Haywood. In 1977, Brumos switched to a 935/77, but Haywood, driving for the Ecurie Escargot team, drove the old Brumos car to the Daytona winners’ circle. Brumos won the following year in the 935, then again in 2009 in a Riley Mk XI-Porsche.

Hurley Haywood on the Carrera RS/RSR: “Anytime you win the 24 Hours at Daytona, it’s a great feat, but the one that really stands out in my mind is the ’73 race. We went into it with really no hope or thought of winning the race overall, but the car was quick and reliable and we soldiered on, got lucky and won the thing. Then we backed it up by winning Sebring.

“The first time I went to Le Mans driving for the factory team in 1977, I remember Professor Porsche told me, “We don’t pay our drivers very much, but we give them cars they can win races overall with. The rest will take car of itself.”

“Each 911 has a familiarity to one another. The 911 feels like home. I can’t express it any more distinctly. Every time I sit in a Porsche, regardless of the model, whether it’s a prototype, a production car, it feels the same to me. And I think that gives Porsche drivers a lot of confidence, to sit in a car they know well and feels like home.”

A Special Sports Car Celebrates a Special Anniversary A Special Sports Car Celebrates a Special Anniversary

Martini Porsche 935/76 and the 935/78 ‘Moby Dick’ 

Major Victories: 24 Hours of Le Mans Class Victory (1976)
    6 Hours of Silverstone (1978)
Championships: World Sportscar Championship for Makes (1976, ’77, ’78, ’79, ’80, ‘81)
Drivers: Jacky Ickx, Jochen Mass, Rolf Stommelen, Manfred Schurti

Engine: Flat-six, air-cooled turbo / Flat-six, air/water-cooled turbo
Displacement: 2.85L / 3.2L
Horsepower: 600 hp @ 7,900 RPM / 845 hp @ 8,200 RPM
Gearbox: Four-speed with rigid drive through / Four-speed, no differential
Layout: RR
Weight: 970 kg / 1,025 kg

The most successful sports car ever built, the 935 is an exaggerated wide body designed by Norbert Singer in 1976 to take complete advantage of the Automobile Club L’Ouest Group 5 ‘silhouette’ rules. Regulations stated the car must have the same profile as its production counterpart when viewed only from the front. As a result, the 935 had noticeably wide rear fenders and an extended wing. The original headlamps remained in tact on early versions, but were relocated to the front bumper to make way for the ‘slant nose’ version for reduced drag and greater downforce. Driven primarily by Jacky Ickx and Jochen Mass, when their Formula One schedules permitted, the famed Martini livery 935/76 saw Porsche return to the Constructors’ Championship after a five-year hiatus.

Dubbed ‘Moby Dick’ for its long, flowing lines, the 935/78 was built exclusively for the 1978 24 Hours of Le Mans. Displacement was pushed to 3.2L and the engine featured new, water-cooled cylinder heads, but still made use of traditional air cooling. The car took the 6 Hours of Silverstone in what was considered a test race, but only managed to place eighth at Le Mans before retiring to the Porsche museum.

The car was a true marvel of its time, dominating Group 5 events in various liveries worldwide, claiming the 1,000 km of Nürburgring (1977-79), the 24 Hours of Daytona (1978-82), the 12 Hours of Sebring (1978-84) and an overall victory at Le Mans in 1979.

Jochen Mass on the 935: “To me the 935 was always a compromise between a sports car and a race car, but it was neither, nor. The ‘Moby Dick’ – now that was a specific race car. It was wonderful. But at the Nürburgring the 935 was not a pleasant car to drive; it had a lot of power, but because of that – it had almost 850 hp – it became very tricky to drive. You had to drive it reasonably gently. If you pushed too hard it wouldn’t do the job. Norbert Singer was responsible for that car; he was much more of a race engineer and really one of the best there has ever been.”

On teammate Jacky Ickx: “Jacky (Ickx) and I didn’t see much of each other in Formula One because our cars were so different, but driving with him in the Porsches was always a pleasure. We get along really well and always agreed on the setup and there was no sort of internal rivalry, it was always very relaxing, which was great.”

A Special Sports Car Celebrates a Special Anniversary A Special Sports Car Celebrates a Special Anniversary

Rothman’s Paris-Dakar 959 & 961 Le Mans Sportscar 

Major Victories: Paris-Dakar Rally (1986)
    24 Hours of Le Mans Class Victory* (1986)(*Experimental IMSA GTX class)
Championships: N/A
Drivers: 959: René Metge, Dominique LeMoyne, Jacky Ickx, Roland Kussmaul, Günter Steckkönig
961: René Metge, Claude Haldi, Claude Ballot-Léna, Kees Nierop

Engine: Flat-six cylinder, water/air-cooled twin turbo (Type 935)
Displacement: 2.85L
Horsepower: 400 bhp @ 6,500 RPM / 640 bhp @ 7,800 RPM
Gearbox: Six-speed manual, differential lock, electronic AWD
Layout: R4WD
Weight: 1,260 kg / 1,150 kg

Dressed similarly to Metge’s 1984 Paris-Dakar winning Rothman’s 953, Porsche sent three 959s to cover the 13,000-km desert rally in the ultimate test of the 911’s versatility. Of 113 coupes built in 1986, these three were equipped with a 330-litre fuel tank, lightweight plastic suspension components and an electronic mid-differential 4WD system with adjustable front/rear torque settings. Of 488 cars that started the rally, just 68 saw the finish. René Metge took top honours for his third career victory, followed by Jacky Ickx in second and Roland Kussmaul in sixth.

Based off the 959, the one-off 961 was designed to fight the Group-B sports cars at Le Mans in 1986. The hefty four-wheel-drive system was modified to compete at the Sarthe Circuit, putting greater emphasis on rear-wheel power distribution. But the drivetrain and lack of similar competition meant it needed numerous reclassifications. The 961 finished a strong seventh overall at the 24 Hours, but only managed 24th in the final round of the Camel GT series in Daytona, the result of tire issues from the banked turns. Hoping for a stronger result the following year at Le Mans, Dutch-Canadian Kees Nierop suffered a gearbox lockup more than halfway into the race, causing him to spin and hit the wall. The car caught fire and was severely damaged. After just three races, the 961 program was cut due to costs and classification issues.

** The 1986 Le Mans race was also the debut of the Porsche Doppel-Kupplung (PDK) double–clutch transmission. The system only lasted 41 laps before failing, but is now utilized in a large number of production models today.

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