AFN race prove the 911 SC Sport
RACING the Porsche 911 Sc in winged Sport guise is, in a number of ways, an exercise in turning the clock back. When AFN Porsche at the historic Falcon Works in London Road, Isleworth, decided that the 1981 Lucas CAV Production Sports Car Championship was worth contesting, their driver choice for the rear engine 911 went back prior even to the 911’s announcement. For Tony Lanfranchi’s first race was at Brands Hatch on Boxing Day, 1957. Furthermore the chief opposition in 1981, and so far even more effective in 1982, has been the 3.5-litre, V8 Morgan. Porsche enthusiasts might also point out that the 911 in non-turbo form has not been seriously competed by the factory for many years, on the race circuits at least. The Martini Porsche prototype 911 Turbo factory racing programme was initiated as long ago as 1974, when the factory silver 911 Camera Turbo finished second overall at Le Mans.
All that may seem a long way from a British club racing championship designed to cater for showroom models, but Porsche in Britain must currently be hoping for a little more 911 non-turbo power to cope with their current predicament. In 1981 AFN took OPR 911, the distinctively registered 911 SC used by Porsche at Reading for press testing, and loaned it to Lanfranchi for the aforesaid Lucas Championship. The Porsche, hastily converted to the 911 SC Sport trim that we will discuss, won 11 races, recorded three second places and finished third in the only other Championship round to be held, that lowest position recorded by a stand-in driver for Lanfranchi. It had literally not missed a beat and had done a lot of winning against mainly Morgan and TVR opposition. Yet the wins had been by narrow margins and, with the admission of the mid-engine 210 b.h.p. Lotus Esprit, the 204 b.h.p. Porsche was obviously going to have to work even harder for victory in 1982.
To find out what goes into a production racing Porsche 911 SC, and what the finished result feels like “on track,” AFN’s General Manager Campbell Finley and Service Manager Lawrence Hardwicke asked MOTOR SPORT to assess the car at Brands Hatch. The track was closed for repairs but the management there kindly allowed us an hour to play games on a sunny February day, including a stint where the reporter drove, then accompanied Lanfranchi to see what he should have done! That alone may sound the recipe for a perfect day. Then AFN also stirred in a 928S for the journey to the track, an intriguing look around the works and its small Frazer Nash / Porsche museum (recently augmented by the 1951 British Empire Trophy-winning ‘Nash and a 1924 roadster, both acquired by John Aldington), followed by an economical, yet swift, drive home in the revised 924 Turbo. That February Wednesday became a day and night in which it was hard to pick the most enjoyable memory. A pause for thought and the 911 jostles to the front of my recollections. Any 911 is fun, but the Pirelli P7-shod Sport model and a sunlit track clear of constabulary can have few rivals if you are interested in concentrated exhilaration, a headiness tempered only by the occasional feeling of “will the engine follow the front wheels?” This doubt presents itself forcefully only when the power is being applied once more after an apparent age of stone-run deceleration for Paddock Hill Bend. The long over-run period is caused by no mechanical Porsche defect but the driver’s respect for the task of committing a 911 to that downhill swoop.
Looking at Lanfranchi driving into the same situation after my stint I was relieved to see that he too had to settle the car carefully at this point. To emphasise such impressions I would add that this SC Sport manages 120 m.p.h. before the paddock braking area, anchors up to 75 m.p.h., or so and then dives to the best of 90 m.p.h. in third gear while kissing kerbs at the exit of Kent’s most famous corner. Generally, the more restrictive a formula is, the more detail work and knowledge is then required to get an advantage over other competitors. Since the conception of a production category, be it for saloons or sports cars, is that the cars be as close to showroom condition as safety and commonsense dictate, few competitors are going to admit to anything more than careful fitment of standard or recognised parts. In the case of this Porsche the emphasis was heavily upon the unmodified aspect of the car, yet there is a lot of detail alteration that makes all the difference in setting up even a beautiful thoroughbred such as this black 911. As a production car this 911 SC was tested by Motor in November 1980 as providing 0-60 m.p.h., in 5.7 sec.; 0-100 m.p.h. in 15.8 sec.; the standing quarter mile occupying 14.3 sec. and a top speed of 148 m.p.h. Fast enough, surely? No, for in 1982, Morgan V8s won the Silverstone Championship round at a pace of up to two seconds a lap faster than the Porsche.
The Lanfranchi car was taken off the fleet shortly after that Motor test and was fitted with the Sport option package, costing £1,943.50 at current retail prices, taking the 911 SC to over £18,500. The package provides Pirelli P7 Porsche Turbo tyres (205/55 x 16 front and 225/50 rear) on forged alloy wheels, which are not Turbo size, due to the smaller wheel arches of the 911 SC, being of 6″ width at the front and 7″ width at the rear. Also included are Bilstein gas dampers of harder setting than the SC’s hydraulic Boge shock absorbers and a rear spoiler of subtly different line to that of Turbo, though current models are similar. At the front of a 911 SC Sport you find the normal SC spoiler lip is extended vertically, following the body sweep back toward the front wheels.
Dampers can be replaced in this production formula and the AFN 911 has run on a wide variety of inserts for the Bilsteins, as well as Spax and other shock absorber brands. “The car is very sensitive to the way the suspension is set up,” reported Lanfranchi. “We spent a lot of time fiddling around, but basically we run the standard set up now with a bit more toe-in and camber, the torsion bars providing the minimum ride height we are allowed. It is better with a full standard front tank than empty!” Only this quip, and the thoughtful expression passing across the face of somebody renowned for 28 seasons of jovial motor racing, reminds you that this is a car that has to be carefully exploited in order to get results without accidents.
Generally AFN race volunteers Gordon Kemp and Nick Stubbs have had an uneventful time on the preparation side (aside, I suspect, from putting things largely back to standard after an initial sojourn outside the works), but unofficial practice for the first race of 1982 at Silverstone did see the car put lightly into the catch fencing a few weeks after our test. It was the first time it had been dented in action and shows, together with a race result that featured two Morgans ahead and a brace of Esprits getting awfully close on lap times, that the Porsche may have to drift toward more power if it is to win in 1982. . . . Porsche GB specifically do not want to use the 3.3. Turbo in a club racing championship.
What can be done? It is rather a shame they have to start scratching for that little bit extra, for the present unit really has little more than the major 12,000-mile road service to prepare for battle. The exhaust system loses the bulky transverse silencer system. The injection is allowed to flow a little more fuel and that was the only information I received on this front: no head fettling, port matching or other mayhem. The result? At Reading they expect to see 160 b.h.p. emerge from the rear wheels of an average 911 SC. Last year this motor recorded 173 b.h.p. at that site and a check, days after our test, showed the same output to within fractions. What a magnificent advertisement, though it would be nice to know if 31 b.h.p. is the sort of figure Porsche expect to lose between flywheel and the road, or is the step down from 204 advertised b.h.p. to 173 horsepower delivered, distorted by the vagaries of getting P7s to grip those rollers without power loss? From a practical viewpoint it matters little. As ever the engine exceeds the legend created around it, providing power with Italianate shrill excitement and Teutonic dependability. There is also a helpful surplus at the rear wheels providing rocket starts and spectacular third gear tail slides.
The gearbox has had a tough life but was another marvellous treat for the driver. Alter a life devoted to the press trying to clip a tenth of their rival’s times, it went into racing trim without a murmur. Lanfranchi’s experience, as he will so willingly inform any passing female, allows him to treat things gently and the 48-year-old regular driver had done a tremendous job of going quickly without stressing the internals.
However, following the winter lay-off there was surprising evidence of deterioration in the synchromesh, so Nick Peacock at AFN spent the night before our test taking the transaxle apart and reassembling it with new clutch, synchromesh, and a third gear that had lost its inclination to drop out of mesh.
The brake balance remained as standard with the 1978-introduced servo-assistance system fully connected. I am told that the current pads for the 911 are very close to competition DS II in hardness qualities, this move only possible after Porsche adopted the servo, because pedal effort changed so much with hard pads in a road 911. In fact the AFN 911 does have Ferodo competition pads and a raised temperature capability from the brake fluid. From what we remember of absolutely standard 911s under hot track conditions it takes an awful lot of stick to produce even a trace of problem: another 911 strongpoint. The 911 SC Sport races at 2,320 lb. Motor test-weighed the car in non-Sport guise and got precisely 2,558 lb, remarkable as it is exactly the weight Porsche give in their catalogue, an achievement unmatched by any manufacturer in any sporting experience.
Inside the car and under the front “bonnet” it looks as though a lot of weight has been saved. Gone are the comforting carpets and rolls of sound deadening. The rear seats are just vestigial pads of cloth trim, but the door panels remain in place and the electric windows were fully operational. Specific competition equipment included an Aley roll cage, Astrali four-spoke, leather rim steering wheel and Corbeau bucket seating, allied to Luke safety harness. Over 200 lb. plus of sound deadening, carpets and general trim were removed from the luxury UK RHD specified 911. The end result is the previously quoted weight, with competitions items like the aluminium roll cage and fire extinguisher on board, putting back some bulk into this purposeful Porsche.
Although the steering wheel has been replaced and the seat embraces the sides of the torso, the AFN 911 carries all the switchgear and instrumentation that we have come to expect of road models. The central position of the large tachometer, redlined at 6,300 r.p.m., makes even more sense on the track than in road use. Lanfranchi said drily, “people tell me these things have a cutout at 7,000 r.p.m. I don’t know if that’s true, there’s never any need to go over 6,500”.
The speedometer remained operational, legally required as this car had been driven to the circuit for the test. “Occasionally it’ll be driven up to meetings too, just for the sheer hell of it,” chuckled Lanfranchi, “it’s sheer magic on the road, but you do get some funny looks with the signwriting all over it.”
Throughout the test the oil pressure remained at the top of the scale, the pit lane tickover always reverted to an even 900 r.p.m. or so, and the oil temperature was almost too low. This was immensely comforting to the driver as the only major mechanical mayhem he has suffered in track testing since the late sixties occurred within a 911 engine bay, albeit a far more highly tuned RSR. There is no more worrying sound for the enthusiast’s bank balance than a poorly Porsche, rare though such problems may be.
The belts fully tightened and the top of the steering wheel well within a relaxed grip, the view ahead was typically 911. The bulbous wings framed a stream of images – white lines, red and white trackside kerbs and grey tarmac — all rushing toward the steeply sloping bonnet.
The initial five laps take the Porsche from an ambling 1 min. 5 sec. lap time down to 1 min. 1 sec. The gearchange is particularly appreciated as the last competition Porsche I drove had a particularly nasty gate. Obviously, in this stage of tune, there is no lack of flexible power and the injection just meters the fuel without a hiccup from 2,000 r.p.m. in fifth, if that is the driver’s desire.
From 3,500 r.p.m. onward in second and third the acceleration is best described as vivid. From rest the rate at which 0 m.p.h. turns into 80 m.p.h. is most entertaining and best illustrated by the Lanfranchi-recommended 3,800 r.p.m. start. By Paddock, the Porsche is managing nearly 80 m.p.h., hardly a black mark left on tarmac, so slip-free is the 911’s progress from a standing start. On my flying laps with Lanfranchi I observed that we usually came out of Paddock dip pulling 6,000 r.p.m. or so and that my braking point for the bridge before Druids was over so far to the left that half a dozen Esprits would probably have whistled by in race conditions. Lanfranchi stayed determinedly in the centre of the track, braked hard and balanced the car with an almost literal hop, skip and a jump away from the kerbing in second gear. That ratio swiftly punched us past 60 m.p.h. on the exit of this slow U-bend, the tail of the car being allowed to slither gently outward. The path downhill soon provided 90 m.p.h. again before the Porsche was gingerly fed into what I shall always remember as South Bank. Again the Porsche is unhappiest below 80 m.p.h. in the corner itself but picks up speed so rapidly thereafter, to the accompaniment of a slight yawing from the soft suspension bushes and tail-bias (460 kg front, 700 kg rear, according to its RAC Specification sheet) that fourth gear can be utilised briefly
At 100 m.p.h. the brakes are applied briefly and hard to tackle the left-right swings before third (for myself) or second gear Clearways. Riding with Lanfranchi it was noticeable that he could twitch the Porsche into a safe full-blooded tailslide around the lefthander, whereas I was just glad to get round and brake in a straight line before guiding the car into Clearways, minus the extra change Lanfranchi later showed me to be important. The result was another arm twirling ride with Lanfranchi in second gear, or a gradual application of full power in third from just below 4,000 r.p.m. in my case. Either wav third gear picks you back up to 100 m.p.h. very swiftly (by the beginning of the pit lane wall at least) and then fourth went on to provide 115 m.p.h. in my case or almost 6,000 r.p.m. and 120 m.p.h. for Lanfranchi. With that fabulous flat six at full cry the Porsche seemed to be pressed into the gradual crests and dips of Paddock Hill approach, the steering squirming with information while the brakes provided their normal outstanding, straightline retardation, ready to start aiming for the best line back down Paddock.
I managed to fit over 20 laps into the time allotted and was pleased to come back with a number of laps in the 59 sec. bracket: Tony took both of us round in a time one second and three tenths quicker than I managed! In race conditions they would expect to manage 56 sec. laps.
The pleasure in driving this Porsche comes chiefly from the engine and braking, but the handling is outstanding for a rear engine car and just the ticket for a driver with many seasons of experience.
So far as the car was concerned I was impressed. A genuine, if expensive, production car makes an excellent account of itself on the track. Full marks to Porsche engineering integrity and Pirelli P7 tyres.
Yet I must end on a slightly downbeat note, for once again it seems that a British production formula is not being policed and this Porsche will almost certainly have to go through a costly and time consuming engine build to keep up with the times being set by the 1982 challengers in the category. I believe that what I drove was a production racing vehicle in spirit and substance. If it is still competing at the end of the season, and winning, it may have to be another “rebuilt racer”. – J.W.