1967 Porsche 911R

 

When a car maker with a reputation like Porsche's produces a new competition car, journalists take note, competitors get nervous and customers line up with cash in hand.  That's because Porsche has a long history of building fast, reliable cars that can be raced with great success.  And this is why the 1967 Porsche 911R is such a difficult model to place in either the production or racing strategy of the German automaker.  The reason is, in the late 1960's, Porsche was building fiberglass bodied, tube-frame race cars like their 906 and all-steel bodied street cars like the 911.  So in 1967, when Ferry Porsche's nephew Ferdinand Piech, head of the experimental department at Zuffenhausen, built two dozen plastic bodied race cars based on a production 911 chassis  he seemed to be defying current business practices and (some say) common sense.  Strong words?  Not to experts who claim that the production of this car (and other expensive, fruitless projects) eventually cost Piech his job and control of Porsche's racing program.  Let's take a closer look at the 911R so you can decide for yourself.

Piech's automotive philosophy, almost obsession, was that fast race cars, had to be light weight.  To lighten the 911R, Porsche gave it the automotive equivalent of the "SlimFast" diet.  He started with a standard 911 tub, but used thinner steel panels wherever possible.  Next, his engineers experimented with fiberglass and aluminum for all of the bolt-on body pieces.  For cost reasons, they settled on fiberglass for the doors, trunk and engine lids, bumpers, tail light housings and fenders.  These changes saved hundreds of pounds of speed-robbing weight.  As has been a Porsche tradition since the fifties, additional weight was saved by being creative.  In the 911R this meant thinner glass in the windshield and the use of Plexiglas in the driver, passenger and rear windows.  The rears did not open, but instead were fitted with louvers to improve ventilation.  The already astoundingly light plastic doors used epoxy door handles, molded to look exactly like their metal cousins.  The engineers even made special aluminum hinges to connect the rear deck lid.  These hinges were extremely light and allowed the lid to lie open flat across the back window for easier servicing of the motor.  In the interior, Scheel brand bucket seats were used instead of the stock Recaros because they were just a little bit lighter.  And the work didn't stop there.  The rear jump seats were eliminated, as were the passenger sun visor, ash tray, radio and cigarette lighter.  Finally, there were only three instruments -- tach, speedo and a combination oil pressure, oil temperature gauge centered around the "Monza" steering wheel.  All of this chopping produced a prototype that was nearly 640 pounds lighter than the stock weight of the 911S.

 

To power the 911R, Porsche built the Type 901/22; a motor which was very close in design and performance to the one used in the Carrera 6.  Displacement was 1,991 cc with a compression ratio of 10.3 to 1 and dual ignition to get more complete combustion.  Fuel was fed through Weber 46 IDA 3C carbs.  Horsepower was a very respectable 210 DIN at 8,000 rpm with torque 152 foot-pounds at 6,000.  These are impressive numbers when you consider how small the motor was and that this was 1967.

 

Cooling radiators for motor oil were placed under the front fenders, located so that air coming through the open horn grill slots could pass over them.

 

The suspension was basic 911S with wider wheels (sixes and sevens) crammed under the mildly flared fenders.  For added stopping power, larger calipers were also used all around.

 

The transmission was a strengthened version of the Carrera 6, 5-speed and, unless otherwise requested, came standard with something called the "Nurburgring gear ratios." A limited slip differential was standard, as were stronger half-shafts and universals.

 

But enough with facts and figures, just how well did this experiment work?  Was the combination of high horsepower and low weight enough to turn a street car into a racer? The answer was, with nearly 50 more horses pushing around hundreds fewer pounds, a definite yes.  Quoting Manfred Jantke writing in Auto Motor Und Sport, the handling of the 911R (with Vic Elford at the wheel) was "astonishing."  Another writer of the time said that, "it accelerates magnificently."  Performance of the 911R was so strong that when Porsche ran it in July of 1967 at a race in Mugello, Italy, it finished third behind two full-race Porsches 910s.  Even more telling is that finishing in fourth, behind the 911R, was a more powerful Ford GT-40.  And the story does not end there.  One month later, Porsche won the "Marathon de la Route" outright in a 911R.  All of which prompted Huschke von Hanstein, a Porsche executive at the time, to float plans to build enough 911Rs for homologation in the European GT class.  The reason being, unless Porsche built a total of 500 cars, they would not have a viable series in which to race the car.  While they could easily build that number, selling them was another matter.  Despite the racing successes, Porsche's accounting boys nixed the trial balloon floated by Hanstein.  The bean counters felt that because sales of cars were weak all over Europe due to difficult economic times, the total run of 911Rs would have to be limited to two dozen. 

 

Their decision to scrap the 911R project has made these cars some of the rarest Porsches, the most interesting and the most controversial.  Controversial because with a run of only twenty-four 911Rs, 4 prototypes and twenty "production" models, you could say Porsche (really Ferdinand Piech) made a serious business mistake by wasting precious time and money on an obviously fruitless project. 

 

There is evidence for this because, despite its initial racing successes, there were only a few more competition appearances for the 911R.  The most noteworthy were the 1967 Monza world record runs where the car set many world speed and distance records and the 1969 Tour de France and Tour de Corse where the car scored outright victories.  These were long distance events where Porsche's reliability contributed greatly to their success.

 

What do you think?  On the surface, the 911R project looks like a bunch of German engineers, led by their boss, got together to build themselves an old-fashioned hot rod on the company's time.  Considering the amount of time and money that was spent, that might not be an unfair judgment.  

 

And yet, through the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, you could come to a kinder, gentler conclusion.  We now know that Porsche was onto something with the 911,  however, nearly 30 years ago, the design was as yet unproven.  This meant that, only a few years into the model run, the engineers were still learning - trying to find out just how good the 911 really was.  You, therefore, could argue that the 911R was a planned project by Porsche's racing department to uncover, in the fiery crucible of wheel to wheel racing, the potential that was sealed in the 911 design.  In fact, there is ample evidence that in the mid 1970's, when Porsche tried to cut the cost of its racing effort by using production cars as the basis for its race cars, that they went back to the lessons learned building the 911R as their starting point.

 

Revisionist history?  Probably, when you consider that a few years after the 911R project, Ferry Porsche, frustrated by the wild spending of his racing department, farmed out the competition program to private teams like Penske and Wyer.  But if the time and money spent and lessons learned in 1966 and 1967 to build the 911R eventually paid dividends in cars like the Carrera RS and RSR, maybe Piech was right after all?  

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