Porsche: Evolution through racing
Le Mans Classic 2018: Porsche 935 Number 37

Porsche: Evolution through racing

From early racers to Group C prototypes, Le Mans Classic gave us a great display of Porsche history. What a great opportunity to witness the evolution of Porsche cars!

So, Porsche is turning 70 and for our pleasure the festivities are spread over the entire year. Celebrations are happening everywhere and 2018 is a great year for Porsche lovers. Le Mans Classic 2018 was no exception. The Mare badged cars were plentiful on both the grass and the track.

356 Pre A in the paddock at Le Mans Classic

As a result, 356 Pre-A, 904 GTS, 906 Carrera 6 and others were rolling and stretching their wheels on the track. For many people this string of numbers and letters is a code impossible to decipher. For car enthusiasts those are page numbers in Porsche’s history book. Each evolution wrote a page from 356 to 962. Le Mans Classic 2018 allowed us to open that book and to go through the history of the most winning manufacturer at Le Mans.

356 A GT Speedster in the paddock at Le Mans Classic

Although Porsche entered Le Mans the first time with race prepared 356s, they were not full blooded racers. Nevertheless, like the 911 today, Porsche could build The 356 that will cover all your needs including racing. You could of course order a steel bodied car powered by a rugged engine but you could also buy a sexy Speedster ready both for the track and a trip along PCH.

356 Speedster in the paddock at Le Mans Classic

Nonetheless, if you wanted more, you could even choose a version of the 356 prepared by Abarth. The gorgeous lightweight Carrera GTL was the first GT dedicated for racing made by Porsche. They cleverly use the expertise of the magician from Torino to optimise their car. There is no shame to learn from the best, isn’t it?

356B Carrera GTL Abarth on display at Le Mans Classic

The first true racers from Porsche were the mid-engine 550 Spyders even if they were still road legal. Build on the 356 experience the nimble roadster successfully competed at Le Mans. However the little cars shined more on the twisty road courses. Therefore the 550 were more effective at the Targa Florio or the Carrera Panamericana than on the Hunaudières straight.

550 on display at Le Mans Classic

The final evolution of the 550, the 718 RSK was replaced by a fiberglass reinforced plastic bodied coupe, the 904 or Carrera GTS. The new coupe fallowed the same philosophy as the 550, a lightweight car powered by a small capacity engine placed in the middle.

904 in the paddock at Le Mans Classic

Class victories and top finishing kept coming one after another. Unfortunately the evolutions that were the 906 and 910 could not give to Porsche the much anticipated overall victory at Le Mans.

906 on the Prégrille at Le Mans Classic
910 in the paddock at Le Mans Classic

Finally, the rule bending 917 provided Porsche with its 1st victory in the Sarthe. In essence the car was the last evolutions of mid-engine “road” car pioneered by the 550. A lightweight body wrapped around a state of the art tubular space frame chassis.

917 in the paddock at Le Mans Classic

However what really made the mighty 917 was its purpose built Type 912 engine. The final 5.0L version of the 12 cylinders produced up to 630hp. To put this in perspective, the 1.5l “Fuhrmann” engine that powered the early 550 made 108hp. Not only the 917 was almost 6 times more powerful than its ancestor, its specific output was also higher. Thus the 12 cylinders produced 126hp/l whereas the all-aluminium twin cam of the Spyder cracked 72hp/l. But please note that this last figure is still good by today standard for a naturally aspirated engine.

The legends: a 911 and a 917 in the paddock at Le Mans Classic

Nevertheless power is not everything hence Porsche kept a lighter open spyder to race alongside the “heavy” 917. With the 908-2 and later the 908-3 the 550 add reach its final development.

908-2 on the Prégrille at Le Mans Classic

Some says that the 936 group 6 prototype is the last spiritual descendent of the 550. Unfortunately, the turbo monster was not racing at the Le Mans Classic in 1:1 scale.

936 in the paddock of Little Big Le Mans

But, then again, let’s not forget the 911, the still on-going evolution of the 356. Thus keeping on the RR layout the 6 cylinders 911 raced everywhere and of course at Le Mans. From almost stock cars to silhouette beasts, many are racing on the Circuit des 24h:

 

911S in the paddock at Le Mans Classic
The wide RSR in the paddock at Le Mans Classic
The boosted 930 in the paddock at Le Mans Classic

and the nastiest of them all the 935. The rules only required that the doors, bonnet and basic shell were close to the ones fitted onto your neighbour pride and joy. So Porsche mad men hacked the front wings by moving the headlights into the bumper and widen the tracks. With the help of Turbo and Kremer expertise the “road” car wan the 1979 edition of Le Mans.

935 at Le Mans Classic

Icing on the cake, in addition to the 6 official grids, Group C cars were also part of the show. What a pleasure to see from close the 956 and 962 roaring on the track. Powered by the trusted air-cooled turbocharged Flat-6 from its predecessors Porsche first aluminium monocoque cars gave X wing to Porsche.

962C Group C in the paddock at Le Mans Classic

Today Porsche is not racing at Le Mans for overall victory. Through refinement, rule interpretation and flair the racers from Stuttgart kept on winning. In a way, the recently retired 919 hybrid prototype and even the future Taycan are developments of the technologies pioneered by Ferdinand Porsche more than 100 years ago. We could add that the now mid-engine 911 RSR are also perpetuating the legacy started by the 550 in the 50s. So let’s hope that the future evolutions from Porsche bring us the same pleasure as in the past. If not we can still happily come to Le Mans every 2 years for a booster shot.

962C Group C on the track at Le Mans Classic

One thing is for sure I cannot wait to admire the WSC-95, 911 GT1 and RS Spyder on the track and to witness again the 919. It is always a pleasure to see and hear the evolution of Porches.

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