Tuesday, April 17, 2018


The 1979 LeMans winner

Beginning in 1963, Porsche built and sold the rear-mounted  air-cooled flat-six powered 911 model until 1998 and many were raced. In 1976, the racing governing body the FIA opened up the rules for Group 5 sports car,  In response Porsche introduced the ultimate 911 race car, the 935, a  development of the 1974 Carrera RSR turbo. The FIA rules required only the race car’s roof, door and hood remain stock, so the 935 with its tube-frame was a silhouette of a 911 passenger car.  

In addition to 935s built by Porsche, independent builders such as Joest Racing and Kremer Brothers Racing built their own developed versions of the 935. Kremer, based in Cologne Germany run by brothers Erwin and Manfred developed their own series of 935 “K” variants with the K3 introduced for the 1979 racing season.



 

This 935 K3, chassis serial number 009 00015, was entered for the 1979 24 hours of LeMans as race number #41 by the Kremer Brothers with their lead driver German Klaus Ludwig. Little known at the time was the fact the $200,000 racer was owned by a pair of American brothers, Reginald “Don” and William “Bill” Whittington who would co-drive in the race.  





 

The 935 K3 featured a wider track and advanced aerodynamics with power supplied by a twin-turbocharged intercooled Porsche 3.0 liter (183 cubic inch) air-cooled flat-six engine. The engine could develop up to 800 horsepower in qualifying trim and pushed the 935 K3 to a trap speed of 217 miles per hour (MPH) on the 3-1/2 mile long LeMans Mulsanne straightaway.

In qualifying for the LeMans 24 hour grind, the Kremer #41 935 K3 qualified third fastest overall and was the the fastest of the Group 5 entries. During the race, #41  ran near the front of the field until the leading sports prototypes, Porsche 936s, ran into trouble.





 
 
The #41 "Numero Reserve" car inherited the race lead with the 936's misfortune,  but then it too suffered mechanical troubles with three hours to go in the race,  but hung on to win by eight laps over another Porsche 935 driven by Rolf Stommelen, Dick Barbour and actor/race driver Paul Newman.

In the years after their 1979 LeMans victory, the Whittington brothers went on to race in Indianapolis 500-mile race five times until they were convicted in 1986 of charges of money laundering, income tax evasion and conspiracy to smuggle cocaine and each served eighteen months in federal prison.

The 1979 LeMans winning car meanwhile was first displayed inside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame and Museum  around 1982. In 2009, Don Whittington sued the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Foundation regarding the ownership of chassis #009 00015.
 
Whittington claimed that the car was on loan and wanted to reclaim possession, while the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Foundation maintained it was a donation. In April 2010, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago sided with the museum and ruled that the car was a donation.
 
After 2011 the car was sold to car collector Bruce Meyer who commissioned the nuts and bolts restoration by Canepa Racing of Scotts Valley California. This immaculate car was featured in “The Porsche Effect” exhibit at the Petersen Automotive Museum.



Photos by the author

Friday, April 6, 2018


A historic Porsche 917K

For the 1970 season, the world motorsports governing body the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) designated that Group 4 Sports Cars with maximum engine capacity of 5 liters (305 cubic inches) would contest the FIA's International Championship for Makes in 1970 & 1971.
 
Author's copy of an original 917 brochure
 

The Porsche racing department designed and built the 917 in just nine months and on March 12, 1969, a 917 was displayed to the public at the Geneva Motor Show. Qualifying  manufacturers had to build 25 examples (down from the original 50), and on April 20 1969 Porsche displayed a line of 25 completed 917s which met the new FIA regulations with two seats, a luggage compartment, spare tire, turn signals, turn-key ignition, and a horn.
 





The 917 was designed by Porsche chief engineer Hans Mezger using a lightweight aluminum spaceframe chassis which weighs less than 100 pounds. Power came from a new 4.5-liter (274 cubic inch) air-cooled engine featured a 180° flat-12 cylinder layout, with twin overhead camshafts and two spark plugs per cylinder fed from twin distributors. The large horizontally mounted cooling fan was driven from centrally mounted gears.
 
 

Porsche’s first 12-cylinder engine produced 520 horsepower at 8000 revolutions per minute and used and aluminum crankcase and cylinder heads along with the use of such exotic materials as titanium (for the connecting rods) and magnesium. To keep the car compact despite the large engine and longitudinal transmission, the driver’s position is so far forward that the driver’s feet are ahead of the front axle. The entire machine fueled and ready to race weighs less than 1800 pounds.
 
Details of the original 917 tail designs
 

In testing the original design of the 917 proved to be, at least according to test driver Brian Redman "incredibly unstable, using all the road at speed,” while fellow test driver Jo Siffert reported that the car “is not only unstable, but it is frankly dangerous.” The 917’s results during the 1969 racing season were disappointing so for 1970 J.W. Automotive Engineering (JWA) became the Porsche factory racing and development team.





Run by John Willment and his partner John Wyer who had won the 24 hours of LeMans as a team manager three times in 1959, 1968, and 1969 the team had sponsorship from the Gulf Oil Company.  In early testing of the unstable 917, the JWA engineers created a new wedge shaped tail, called the ‘kurzer shwanz‘ or ‘short tail’ which transformed the car’s handling and this revised car became known as the 917K.  

The new Porsche 917K raced for the first time at the 1970 24 Hours of Daytona held on the 3.8-mile Daytona International Speedway road course. This car, chassis 917-015 (race number 2) assigned to Mexican driver Pedro Rodriquez and Finnish driver Leo Kinnunen, qualified third behind their JWA team car (race number 1) driven by Jo Siffert and Brian Redman.   
 



The blue and orange #2 Porsche 917K took the race lead 2 hours and 35 minutes into the event and never relinquished the lead, and completed 724 laps (a new record) 45 laps ahead of the #1 Porsche 917K. In an interesting twist, Redman wound up driving both the first and second place cars, as he drove one stint in place of Kinnunen.   

The Gulf Porsche 917Ks dominated the 1970 International Championship for Makes, as they won six of the ten rounds; Rodriquez and Kinnunen won four races, while Siffert and Redman won two rounds. At the crown jewel of the series, the 24 hours of LeMans, while the JW team did not win, but a 917K won, entered by the Porsche racing department and driven by Richard Attwood and Hans Hermann.  

Porsche 917Ks returned for 1971, the second and final year of the FIA rules package, and one again were dominant, as they won six of the eleven races and were again crowned the International Makes champion. The JW Gulf Porsches won five 1971 rounds, but fell short again at LeMans and finished second to a similar Porsche 917K entered by Martini & Rossi Racing.  

The 1970 Daytona 24-hour winner chassis 917-015 shown as part of ‘The Porsche Effect’ exhibit at the Petersen Automotive Museum was restored and is owned by Bruce Canepa of Scotts Valley California.   For more detailed photographs of this immaculate machine visit http://canepa.com/museum/1969-porsche-917k-015/


Color photographs by the author

 

Monday, March 26, 2018


The CART-IRL Split
open wheel racing’s second civil war
 
Author's note: This article appeared in print in The Classic Racing Times. To subscribe to this excellent publication, visit http://www.theclassicracingtimes.com/
 
 

Several years after the contentious split with the United States Auto Club (USAC), in 1983 the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) series began to include the results and award points from the Indianapolis 500-mile race. This was an odd arrangement as the ‘500’ was still sanctioned by USAC, but this unlikely marriage continued until the second American disastrous open-wheel racing civil war which erupted after the creation of the Indy Racing League (IRL).
 

The IRL was the brainchild of Anton “Tony” George President of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS). George was racing royalty, as the son of the 1957 American Automobile Association (AAA) Sprint car series champion Elmer George and the grandson of IMS Speedway’s savior Anton “Tony” Hulman. After he assumed the role of President of IMS in 1989 following the death of Joseph Cloutier, George used as the leader of world’s most famous auto racing course to push for changes in CART rules and the series’ direction.
 
 

During early 1991, George attempted to buy CART, but in his own words he later admitted that his offer was “too low and poorly presented.” After his offer failed, George floated a proposal to CART Chairman William Stokkan a former Playboy executive to reorganize the CART board from its frequently unworkable 22-member board to a six-member board comprised of three groups.

George suggested the board made of representatives of car owners, sponsors and race promoters, with the latter group to be represented by George. On November 15, 1991, following a meeting with the CART owners, Stokkan sent George a letter that rejected the offer which CART characterized as a “counter proposal,” but George branded it as a “complete failure of CART to do what was promised.”

In the middle of 1992, some peace was achieved when Tony George was placed on the reorganized CART five-man board as a non-voting member. In his new role George advocated that CART series become American-based, with lower costs and a schedule with more oval course races.  George became frustrated by CART’s direction the made championship car racing a more world-wide road racing sport and refusal to accept more track owner input. Even worse the CART board subsequent expanded back to 16 members which diluted George’s influence.

William Stokkan’s turbulent three-year reign ended on January 7, 1994 when CART hired British marketing executive Andrew Craig as the new CART President and Chief Executive Officer. George quit the CART board that same day; an IMS press release claimed that George's resignation had nothing to do with Craig’s hiring, that instead George was dissatisfied with CART's organization.  Steve Horne, himself a former CART board member told the New York Times that George’s resignation was “not a good sign; you can't make up with your wife if you're continually divorcing her."

On March 11, 1994 George announced the formation of the IRL as a “lower-cost, American-based oval series” set to begin competition in 1996.  In explaining his actions George explained that he felt that “the long-term protection of the ‘500’ depended on a solid series of top level open-wheel, oval track races. To that end, this league was created because CART provided no long-term guarantees to the ‘500’ or to oval track racing.” George also cited CART’s lack of long-term stability, as he pointed out that CART had “four different board voting structures and four different chief executives over just five short years.”

While the racing world was processing the implications of the new series, the team owned by one of CART’s original founders Roger Penske pulled off a stunning upset at the 1994 Indianapolis 500-mile race.  To fully understand the Penske coup, we must first review the history of the USAC “stock block” engine rule.

In some ways reminiscent of the American Automobile Association (AAA) 1920’s “junk formula,” for thirty years the USAC rulebook included a provision for "stock-block" pushrod engines limited to two valves per cylinder actuated by pushrod and rocker arms. The rule was promulgated under the guise of encouraging participation by automobile manufacturers, smaller teams and independents.  

Through the years, traditional "stock block" engines such as fuel-injected small-block Chevrolet engines were fielded by independents on occasion joined by factory funded attempts by Plymouth and American Motors, but a new “stock block” arrived at Indianapolis in 1984 – the 209-cubic inch turbocharged Buick V-6.
 
The Buick engines returned to Indianapolis year after year, and while the engines generally were fast over short runs due to the higher allowed turbocharger boost levels, the Buick engine’s reliability always remained a problem due to the mechanical stresses on components from those boost levels.

In 1991, USAC relaxed its previous rulebook requirement that “stock block” engines must use some production parts, intended to help the Buick teams to develop more robust parts to extend their durability.  As an unintended consequence USAC rule 1107 also opened the door for a purpose-built pushrod engine, but since USAC only sanctioned one race a season the construction of such an engine was not considered economically viable.
 
 

In an audacious effort during late 1993 and early 1994, Penske Racing in partnership with Ilmor Engineering designed built and test a “clean sheet” pushrod engine that carried the Mercedes-Benz nameplate. As related in Jade Gurss’ book Beast, the Mercedes 500I 72-degree V-8 engine was developed by Penske Racing in secret and was unveiled to the public just a month before the 500-mile race.

Upon arrival at Indianapolis, the dominance was obvious from the moment that the Mercedes-Benz powered Penske PC-23B cars appeared on track on the first day of practice. The dayglow orange and white PC23B cars consistently exceeded 244 miles per hour (MPH) in the back straightaway speed trap. The 209-cubic inch engine, with 10 inches more boost then the competing double-overhead cam racing power plants, developed 1000+ horsepower and over 580 foot/pounds of torque at 8000 revolutions per minute (RPM).

At the drop of the green flag on May 29, 1994 Mercedes powered cars of pole sitter Al Unser Jr. and outside front row starter Fittipaldi ran away and hid from the rest of the field, and “Little Al’ led the first 23 laps before he pitted. Unser stalled his engine in the pits which allowed Fittipaldi to assume the lead and “Emmo” eventually lead 145 laps.
 
At one point Fittipaldi the defending Indianapolis ‘500’ champion had Unser Jr. down one lap, but Unser battled back and unlapped himself on lap 183. On lap 185, Fittipaldi attempted to re-pass Unser and crashed hard into the outside retaining wall in turn four. Unser Jr. then cruised home to claim his second and Penske Racing’s tenth Indianapolis 500-mile race victory. Roger Penske had pulled off the ultimate ‘Unfair Advantage.’

In August 1994 Roger Penske already perturbed by the pending CART-IRL split was further angered when for the second time in three months, the USAC rule makers reduced the allowable maximum boost level for purpose-designed pushrod engines for the 1995 Indianapolis ‘500.’ USAC’s moves relegated the Mercedes-Benz 500I engine which had won the 1994 Indianapolis ‘500’ in dominant fashion to museum status after just one race.

In July 1995, the IRL announced its “25/8 rule,” which guaranteed 25 spots in the 1996 Indianapolis 500-mile race for the top IRL drivers, and no CART teams entered the 1996 Indianapolis ‘500.’ The CART teams claimed they were effectively locked out by new Indianapolis qualifying rules. While IRL stalwarts countered that the CART teams were boycotting the ‘500,’ in truth the IRL one-season carry-over rules package for the 1996 ‘500’ would not allow CART teams to use their 1996 Penske, Reynard and Lola chassis.
 
 

In December 1995 CART retaliated and announced plans for the inaugural “U.S. 500” race at Michigan International Speedway (MIS) to be held on the same day as the 1996 Indianapolis ‘500.’ Looking back through the lens of history, there was much ugliness exhibited by both sides leading up to Memorial Day but in the end neither race was an artistic success.

In qualifying for the 1996 Indianapolis 500-mile race, the apparent pole position winning car driven by former champion Arie Luyendyk was disqualified for being underweight.  On May 17 a pall was cast over the race when pole-sitter Scott Brayton was killed in a practice crash. With the 33-car starting field comprised of ex-CART Lola and Reynard chassis, only nine cars finished the race itself won by second-generation driver Robert “Buddy” Lazier who drove the race with a broken back suffered two months earlier in an IRL crash at Phoenix International Raceway.

The starting field for the competing CART ‘U.S. 500’ which aired live on cable television channel ESPN2, featured only 27 cars, as two cars driven by Teo Fabi and PJ Jones were withdrawn before the race. A  crash before the initial start involved eleven cars and in a bizarre turn of events, CART officials allowed five of the drivers involved in the accident to start the race in their original position in their back-up cars.

The 250-lap CART ‘U.S. 500’ race, contested on the wide high-banked MIS 2-mile oval, was also marred by a remarkably high attrition rate as eleven cars experienced engine failure. Pole-sitter Jimmy Vasser won the race and the Vanderbilt Trophy replica by eleven seconds over former Formula One driver Mauricio Gugelmin in the only two cars to complete the entire 500-mile distance.
 
CART officials considered the 1996 “U.S. 500” a success with a reported 120,000 fans in attendance but CART never again scheduled the ‘U.S. 500’ directly against the Indianapolis 500-mile race and instead scheduled the race in late July through the 1999 season after which the race dropped from the schedule.

In January 1997 the IRL unveiled its new cars and engines - competitors had the choice of a Riley & Scott, Dallara or G-Force chassis and the choice of an Oldsmobile Aurora or Nissan Infiniti V-8 naturally aspirated powerplant. On May 17, 1997 days before the running of the 1997 Indianapolis ‘500,’ the Indy Racing League abolished its controversial rule that guaranteed 25 of the 33 ‘500’ starting positions to IRL regulars of the new series, but still no CART regulars entered the Indianapolis ‘500’ until 2000 after CART became a publicly traded company stockholders and competitors began to complain about series mismanagement.

CART car owner Chip Ganassi, who had driven in the Indianapolis ‘500’ five times between 1982 and 1986, assembled a two-car team to compete in the 2000 Indianapolis 500. The Ganassi team sponsored by Target department stores dominated the race as winner Juan Pablo Montoya led 167 of the 200 laps. Although a CART regular team won the race, public sentiment became that the tide had turned and that the IRL was now winning the championship racing sanction war.

Two other CART regular teams entered the 2001 Indianapolis 500-mile race - Team Penske (formerly known as Penske Racing), and Team Kool Green, while Chip Ganassi returned  with a four-car team with a driver line-up that included NASCAR regular Tony Stewart, Jimmy Vasser, and rookies Bruno Junqueira  and Nicolas Minassian. 2001 marked the first appearance of a Penske race car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) after a five race absence.

Penske’s 2001 Indianapolis driver lineup in the Oldsmobile-powered Dallara chassis included the 2000 CART champion Gil de Ferran who had driven in 1995 “500’ paired with Brazilian Helio Castro-Neves who had two years of CART experience but was an Indianapolis rookie.  In a startling result, Team Penske claimed the top two finishing positions, as Castro-Neves claimed his first of three Indianapolis ‘500’ wins.

Beginning with the 2002 season, Marlboro Team Penske competed exclusively in the Indy Racing League, and the championship was won by Castro-Neves. Team Penske’s defection as followed by Ganassi Racing and Andretti/Green Racing for 2003 after the package forwarding company Federal Express pulled their sponsorship of the CART series at the end of the 2002 racing season, and engine suppliers Honda and Toyota switched from the CART to the IRL series after the 2002 season. CART reportedly lost $100 million during the 2003 season and declared bankruptcy in early 2004 with the assets of CART scheduled to be liquidated.

IRL President Tony George made a serious attempt to purchase certain CART assets (the Long Beach race, the safety operation and the series’ engine contract) at the bankruptcy auction. George’s plan to acquire only select CART assets was designed to cripple the series and eliminate competition for the IRL

However, George’s effort was opposed by a trio of CART owners - Gerald Forsythe, Paul Gentilozzi, and Kevin Kalkhoven. George's bid of $13.5 million was not accepted as Southern District of Indiana United States Bankruptcy Court Judge Frank Otte ruled in favor of the three car owners who bid $3.625 million because their plan intended to continue the series which would satisfy the many vendors and sponsors still holding long-term contracts. 
 
 

The CART series, rebranded as the Champ Car World Series (CCWS) celebrated its’ 25th anniversary season in 2004 and carried on through the 2007 season, While the IRL concentrated on holding races at American oval track venues the CCWS staged races at tracks around the globe, that included races in Australia, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Mexico. In its final season of 2007, the CCWS series only averaged seventeen cars at 14 races with the cancellation of two races during the season.

While CART supporters derided the IRL series as a “spec series” with all the competitors piloting visually identical cars, the CCWS series became no different all the competitors in the 2005 and 2006 CCWS series all drove English-built Lola chassis powered by Ford Cosworth engines and in its the final year after the loss of Ford Motor Company as the series sponsor, all the CCWS cars were Panoz chassis powered by Cosworth XFE engines.

Following the troubled 2007 season, CCWS filed for bankruptcy on February 14 2008 and on February 22 2008, the CCWS and IRL series were reunited under the banner of IRL. The IRL purchased certain races (such as Long Beach) and assets from the CCWS with the remaining assets sold at auction on June 3, 2008. Most significantly for racing historians, as part of the agreement IRL became the owner of all CART and CCWS so all CART/CCWS history became part of the AAA-USAC-IRL history timeline.

For the 2008 racing season, after twenty-nine years of turmoil, American open-wheel racing was finally reunited under a single banner. Peace was restored in the top rung of open-wheel racing, but the Indy Racing League would experience growing pains in the coming years.

Monday, March 19, 2018


One of a kind- the Bosley Mark I
 




Cars were much simpler in the nineteen fifties, and a man with the vision and mechanical skills could build his own sports/racing car. Richard W Bosley a nurseryman from Mentor Ohio was such a man; a charter member of the Northeast Ohio chapter of the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), Bosley sold his Jaguar XK-120 to finance the construction of his sports car which began in September 1952. 

Bosley used 4-inch diameter .0625 wall steel tubing to build the Mark I’s ladder-style chassis, and used 1950 Ford front suspension and a 1948 Mercury rear axle with three trailing arms.
 
For a powerplant, Bosley used a 331-cubic Chrysler ‘Firepower’ hemispherical combustion chamber overhead-valve V-8 engine, equipped with a B.S. Cunningham Company intake manifold with four Zenith downdraft carburetors which boosted the engine’s output to a reported 225 horsepower. The Mark I used a New Process Gear four-speed manual transmission with a fifth gear overdrive and a clutch from White 3000 series truck.
 
 

Bosley designed and built the Mark I’s swoopy fiberglass Ferrari-inspired body himself, and the completed car rides on a 102-inch wheelbase, is 70-inches wide and stands a remarkable 48 inches high, but weighs a hefty 3,360 pounds.
 
The filler neck for the car’s 55-gallon fuel tank, visible in the photograph below, is located at the rear of the car’s roof. Bosley somehow convinced Ted Halibrand to sell him a set of center-lock magnesium wheels for street use which he shod with Pirelli tires.  Finished in March of 1955, Bosley drove his creation to Sebring Florida twice where he worked as a volunteer course steward.
 
 

Unfortunately, the Mark I never achieved Bosley’s dream of entering production; he spent $9,000 to complete the prototype and he realized the economics just didn’t pencil out. In 1957, he traded the completed Mark I to an Illinois car dealer for a well-used engineless Chevrolet Corvette SR-2 race car chassis which Bosley used to create his second masterpiece, the Interstate. The Bosley as shown at the Petersen Automotive Museum is owned by the Margie and Robert Petersen Collection.   
       
The speedometer and tachometer are
customized Ford police interceptor units,
 the balance of the gauges are Stewart-Warner
 
 
All Photographs by the author 
 

 

   

Sunday, March 4, 2018


Porsche 917/30 – “the Can-Am killer”

After John Surtees drove a Lola to the inaugural 1966 season championship for the Johnson Wax-sponsored SCCA Canadian-American Challenge (Can-Am) series, the series for FIA Group 7 racing machines was dominated for the next five seasons by Team McLaren in their orange Chevrolet-powered rockets.  
 
 

Then as now, Porsche, the German sports car manufacturer sold a large percentage of its production in North America, had made previous attempts at competing in the Can-Am series with a spyder (open-top) short-tail version of the 908 sports car for driver Tony Dean in 1969 and 1970.
 
In 1969 the 183-cubic inch flat six powered 908 was part of a two-car factory effort and the following year Dean himself was the entrant of the 908.  Dean in the 908 emerged as the surprise winner of the seventh round of the 1970 Can-Am series at Road Atlanta after four separate accidents eliminated the leaders. 

In the latter stages of the 1969 Can-Am season, in addition to the 908 entry the Porsche factory entered a spyder version of the new 917 sports car, known as the 917 PA that was driven by Swiss driver Jo Siffert. The 917 PA consistently placed in the top five finishers but being heavier and with “just” 580 horsepower as it was typically two seconds a lap slower and never in the hunt for victory versus the mighty big-block powered McLarens and Lolas.   

Porsche tried again with the revised bright red 917/10 spyder with STP Oil Treatment sponsorship for the 1971 Can-Am series. Powered by a naturally aspirated 305-cubic inch flat twelve-cylinder engine the 917/10 finished in the top five positions in all six races that it appeared in, but it remained heavier and underpowered compared to its competition. That would change for the 1972 season, as the Porsche factory partnered with Team Penske, led by driver and engineer Mark Donohue.

Donohue and the Porsche developed an improved version of the Porsche 917/10 powered by the twin-turbocharged 330-cubic inch flat twelve-cylinder engine that could develop over 1100 horsepower in qualifying trim. The #6 car with sponsorship from the Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company’s L&M cigarette brand, won the pole position for at the opening race at Mosport Park and dominated the early stages of the race until Donohue pitted with engine problems.

With the problems solved, Donohue returned to the track three laps down then stormed back to finish second to finish on the same lap as winner Denny Hulme’s McLaren. After Donohue was injured in a pre-race test crash before the series’ next race at Road Atlanta, he was replaced by George Follmer who won five of the remaining eight races and the 1972 SCCA Can-Am championship while Donohue, recovered from his injuries, won one race in his twin 917/10.

Although the McLaren juggernaut had been vanquished in 1972 and McLaren had quit the series, for the 1973 Can-Am season Porsche and Team Penske continued their development program and built the most powerful racing car ever built to that time.  The 917/30 was bigger and faster in every aspect compared to the 1972 racer with a longer and aerodynamically efficient body and an engine that developed up to 1500 horsepower for qualifying.
 
 
 
Mark Donohue and the Sunoco-sponsored 917/30 won six of the season’s eight races, finished second once and won the championship in dominant fashion over his ex-teammate Follmer and Charlie Kemp who drove the former Penske 917/10 cars for Rinzler Racing with RC Cola sponsorship.  
 
 
 

The Porsche 917’s back-to-back domination of the series combined with the nationwide gasoline shortage led the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) to introduce a rule requiring 3-miles per gallon maximum fuel consumption for the series for 1974.  The new rule worked as Porsche withdrew from further Can-Am competition.
 
Without Porsche and Penske racing, competitor and fan interest ebbed and five races into the 1974 season, the SCCA cancelled the Can-Am series. Although the Can-Am series had already lost teams and spectators through the years, the death of the series was blamed on Porsche’s domination, and the 917/30 was branded “the Can-Am killer.”  Penske and Donohue saw it as another example of applying their “Unfair Advantage.”

The history of the 917/30 is worth reviewing. A total of six chassis were eventually built, but only three cars were actually raced in period, and only two of those competed in blue and yellow Sunoco colors. All six cars remain in existence and today five of them are painted in the Sunoco colors. 

The first car built, serial number #001 built during 1972 featured an adjustable wheelbase and served as the factory test car. In 1973 #001 was raced three times in the Group 7 European Interserie Championship (the European version of the Can-Am series) and scored a victory at Hockhenheim Germany driven by of Vic Elford. It raced again in 1975 and won at Hockenheim driven by Herbert Mueller. It is part of the Porsche factory collection, painted as it appeared in 1975 in sponsor’s Martini & Rossi colors of silver, red white and blue.

917/30 chassis serial number #002 was one of two cars built for use by Team Penske and Mark Donohue in the 1973 Can-Am challenge series. Donohue drove it to his first 1973 Can-Am victory in the third round of the season at Watkins Glen.
 
Serial #002 was later seriously damaged in a testing crash then was completely rebuilt and served as the Penske backup for the remainder of the 1973 season. After the Can-Am program had ended chassis serial number 002 was returned to Porsche and it has since been part of the factory museum collection. 
 
 
 

The car on display at “The Porsche Effect” exhibit at the Petersen Automotive Museum, chassis 917/30 #003 is the most historically significant as it was the most successful, driven by Mark Donohue to six consecutive victories in the 1973 SCCA Can-Am series.
 
 
 
Mark won both heats at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, followed by a win at Road America (where he won the pole position by over three seconds), Edmonton International Speedway, Laguna Seca Raceway (where he won by a lap) and the season finale  at Riverside International Raceway.

With the withdrawal of Penske and Porsche from the 1974 Can-Am series following the SCCA fuel mileage rule change, the car sat in Penske’s Pennsylvania shop until 1975 when the bodywork was modified and painted in red and white to represent its sponsorship from “Cam 2” motor oil (a new hobbyist oil from Sun Oil Company) for Mark Donohue’s attempt to break the world’s closed course speed record.

In preliminary testing at Daytona International Speedway, the team broke the original 330-cubic inch engine as they discovered that the mighty flat-12 engine was not designed for sustained wide open throttle operation.  This meant they had to use the smaller 305-cubic inch engine from 1972, and with help from Porsche engineers, massive intercoolers were fitted to cool the charge air. 

The track chosen for the record attempt was the 2.66-mile long Talladega Motor Speedway oval in Alabama. Donohue, who had returned to driving after a short retirement of eight months, cut short his first attempt due to an engine wiring fire that destroyed the rear bodywork.
 
After overnight repairs, Donohue’s second attempt the following day on August 9th, 1975 in rainy and windy conditions opened with a lap of 195 miles per hour (MPH) from a standing start, followed by a 220.027 MPH lap, then on his third lap he set a new closed course standard of 211.160 MPH, with a recorded trap speed on the long back straightaway of 240 MPH.
 
 
 

The team expected faster lap speeds, but Donohue confessed after the run "I might have gone a little faster, too, but I got chicken," as he cited the weather conditions. Ten days later Donohue was killed in an accident while practicing for the Austrian Grand Prix, but his speed record stood for 11 years until it broken by Penske IndyCar driver Rick Mears, who reset the record at 233.924 MPH at Michigan International Speedway. 

In 1976 Porsche chassis 917/30-003 was sold to noted American collector and Los Angeles Times owner/publisher Otis Chandler who had the car returned to its 1973 Can-Am appearance as part of his extensive collection. Following Chandler’s death, the car changed hands several times, and within the last few years it was purchased by  investment banker racer and NASCAR team owner Rob Kauffman who had chassis serial #003 recently meticulously restored by Canepa Motorsports of Scotts Valley California.

Chassis 917/30 #004 was under construction intended for use for the 1974 Can-Am season, but became obsolete following Porsche and Penske's withdrawal from the Can-Am series. It was sold as an unpainted car to long-time Porsche racer and Melbourne Australia Porsche dealer Alan Hamilton who displayed it in his showroom and later sold the car back to the Porsche factory in 1991. Porsche had #004 painted in the Sunoco livery and fitted with a rebuilt engine which reportedly produced 1,200 horsepower during a dynamometer test. At one time 917/30 chassis # 004 was owned by comedian Jerry Seinfeld.  

Chassis 917/30 #005 was never completed as work stopped with the termination of the program. In 1979, it was found at the Weissach factory as a bare chassis by Florida Porsche/Audi dealer and Porsche collector Gerry Sutterfield. After the factory’s discovery of a mislabeled 917 engine in storage and the exchange of a huge sum of money Porsche completed the car for Sutterfield and was delivered painted white with the Porsche logos. 917/30 chassis serial #005 was used for a track test that was published in the March 1982 issue of  Motor Trend magazine, and a subsequent owner had it painted in its current Sunoco livery.

Chassis 917/30-006 the final chassis was acquired by legendary Porsche dealer Vasek Polak in 1982 along with existing parts were after he found sufficient parts to complete the car in 1995 and had it painted as it might have appeared in the Group 7 European Interserie Championship. The car has since been painted in “Cam 2” motor oil livery to resemble the 1975 record attempt 917/30 serial number 003. 
Color photos by the author

 

Saturday, February 24, 2018

An original Porsche 550 Spyder

The “Porsche Effect” exhibit at the Petersen Automotive Museum certainly would not have been complete without the inclusion of this example of the Porsche 550 Spyder, Porsche’s first production race car.

Inspired by the success of the Helm Glockler racing team's success with their Porsche 356, the Porsche factory began to develop a production racing car as project number 550 under the leadership of factory engineer Wilhelm Hild. In addition to later working on the development of the Porsche 911 passenger car, Hild also oversaw the Porsche 804 Formula One Grand Prix program as the manager of the competition department.   
1953 Paris Motor Show
Courtesy 550.com

The prototype Porsche 550 Spyder was first shown to the public in October 1953 at the Mondial de l'Automobile) (World of the Automobile) also known as the Paris Motor Show. Before the show, an internal Porsche memorandum announced that “this is the first time we are presenting a racing car that is not for sale as the main attraction at a motor show. Whether the cars will be delivered in small numbers to special customers for racing depends on next year’s racing season. We are therefore not able to quote a price today.”

Two 550 Coupes with bodies built by Karosseriewerk (body shop) Weidenhausen in Frankfurt were entered for the 1953 LeMans 24-hour endurance race and they both completed 247 laps and finished first and second in the 1.5 liter class. Later in the 1953 Carrera Panamericana (Mexican Road Race) two 550 coupes and two spyders were entered in the 1.6 liter and smaller sports car class. Both spyders and one of the coupes failed to finish, but the remaining coupe won its class albeit nearly six hours of accumulated time behind the winning Lancia D24 driven by Juan Fangio which was equipped with an engine twice the size of the Porsche engine.

The first two production Porsche 500 cars differed from their successors in a number of ways, primarily insofar as they were powered by modified Volkswagen 1500 Super engines. The third car, 500-003 was fitted with a new 1.5-liter, four-camshaft, four-cylinder engine equipped with two spark plugs per cylinder and twin down-draft carburetors.  Designed by Ernst Fuhrmann, the flat engine known as the 547 project developed 110 horsepower plenty of power for the 1400-pound car.

The chassis was built of seamless steel tubing with four-wheel fully independent torsion bar suspension with drum brakes and 16-inch Continental tires covered by an all-aluminum alloy body. The early series 550 Porsches were fitted with “flat-front” noses and exaggerated tail fins built by either the Weidenhausen or Weinsberg coach builders, but starting with chassis 550-016, all the sloped-front, smooth-tail bodies were built by Wendler in Reutlingen Germany. Eventually at total  of 90 production model 550s were built - three coupes and 87 spyders.  

Throughout history, Porsche 550 Spyders have attracted celebrity ownership; Ralph Lauren owns the restored chassis # 550-0061, while comedian Jerry Seinfeld reportedly owns several Porsche including #550-003 coupe, and he sold the unrestored # 550-0060 at auction in 2016 for over $5 million.

However the most famous (an infamous) Porsche 550 Spyder was chassis # 550-0055 finished in silver with red trim and red interior was delivered to actor James Dean on September 21, 1955.  Dean traded in his white Porsche 356 Speedster towards the purchase of the new machine at John von Neumann's Competition Motors on Vine Street in Hollywood.  

Dean took his new 550 Spyder to the shop of custom painter Dean Jeffries who applied the provisional race number 130 in washable black paint on the doors and across the front and rear of the car. Jeffries also painted “Little Bastard” in script across the lower rear deck lid - this was not the nickname of the car, rather it was nickname adopted by Dean, allegedly after Jack Warner the head of the Warner Brothers studio called him a “little bastard” after Dean refused to vacate a temporary trailer on the Warner lot after the completion of the filming of ‘East of Eden.’

In his first week of ownership, Dean had two minor incidents which dented the front of his new Porsche, then on September 30 1955 while enroute to the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) sanctioned Salinas Optimist Club race at the Salinas Airport, Dean struck another car head-on at the junction of Route 466 and Route 41 near Cholame, California. Dean just 24 years old with only three motion pictures to his credit was killed instantly.  

Dean’s wrecked Porsche was purchased for $876 from Dean’s insurance company, Pacific Indemnity,  by amateur racer Dr. William Eschrich, who stripped the wreckage of its type 547 engine, transmission, steering, brakes and other mechanical parts, then sold the body shell and frame to famed Hollywood automotive customizer George Barris.
The Dean death car on display
courtesy of 550.com

After partially straightening the body, the “King of Kustomizers” realized the car was beyond restoration and he loaned the mangled body shell to the National Safety Council for display at car shows the across the United States in order to raise motorists' awareness about highway safety with a sign entitled "this accident could have been avoided."  The hulk of Dean’s Porsche 550 Spyder disappeared in 1960 while it was being transported from Miami, Florida, back to Barris’ shop near Los Angeles and it has never been seen again.  

The car shown at the Petersen Automotive Museum is the final production Porsche 550 Spyder, chassis #550-090, built in 1956. The car’s first owner was Willet H. Brown, a pioneer in television broadcasting who had operated the Hillcrest Motor Company Cadillac dealership in Beverly Hills before he joined Don Lee, Incorporated, a broadcasting and automotive conglomerate. Brown, who in 1956 owned the Los Angeles television station KCAL, sold the car after he had driven it a scant 634 miles.
a scanned excerpt of the author's copy
of the June 1971 Road &Track article

After passing through several hands, the 550 Spyder wound up on the sales lot of Hermosa Beach Porsche dealer Vasek Polak in 1963 where it was purchased by a man known only as “Hank.” George Sebald who ran a body shop which specialized in Porsche repairs later purchased the car in 1967 with the intention of restoring it.  Sebald’s unrestored 550 was the subject of a ‘salon’ article in the June 1971 issue of Road & Track magazine as it was test driven by retired racer Paul “Richie” Ginther, who had won a number of SCCA West Coast Championship races in 1956 driving one of dealer John von Neumann’s 550 Spyders.     

Sebald realized the tremendous originality of the car and later “flipped” Porsche # 550-090 to another owner who then sold the car to the noted Porsche collector George Reilly for a reported $4,500, and Reilly owned the car for nearly thirty years. In 2010 the car appeared at shows with its ownership attributed to Indian liquor billionaire and Formula one team owner Dr. Vijay Mallya, and became part of his 30-car museum in Sausalito California.

Because it never raced, it never needed any repairs, thus Porsche # 550-090 is so true to the appearance it had the day that it rolled out of the factory that it has been used as a reference for other 550 Spyder restorations. Although the paint finish is spotty and discolored and the aluminum bodywork has a few waves and dings, it is totally original, which is why it fetched nearly $6 million dollars when sold at auction in 2016.

All color photos by the author