Not backwards in coming forwards

With its rear engine and low profile, Porsche’s new GT hardly looked like a rally star; yet it went on to prove itself with a hat-trick on the Monte. Words: John Davenport. Photography: LAT

Ubiquitous seems the appropriate word for the Porsche 911 in rallying. It’s hard to find a year since 1965 when some variant or other of that classic design has not been competing – and probably doing pretty well – on major rallies. In the 21st century those rallies tend to be classic or historic events, but even now the Porsche factory has breathed new life into the 911’s rally CV by homologating the 993 as a Group N GT car, and both Walter Röhrl and Marc Duez have appeared on events with it.

This rally story started back in December 1964. Porsche was already involved in rallying as well as racing. The 356 in its various forms had won the European Rally Championship twice, most recently in the hands of Hans-Joachim Walter in 1961. The 904 first appeared in 1964, and, though principally conceived as a racing car, it was scheduled to be Zuffenhausen’s rally weapon for 1965. Homologated as a GT car, two were entered on the 1965 Monte Carlo Rally to be driven by Eugen Böhringer, European Rally Champion in 1962 and on release from Mercedes for this event, and Pauli Toivonen, already winner of the 1000 Lakes Rally in 1962 for Citröen and Finnish Rally Champion the same year. All this was under the direction of Huschke von Hanstein, sporting director of Porsche.

But von Hanstein had another role: marketing and PR. The new six-cylinder 901 coupé – the name later changed to 911 after protests from Peugeot – had been revealed at the 1963 Frankfurt Motor Show, and in August of 1964 full-scale production started. With Porsche doing the Monte, it occurred to von Hanstein that it would do no harm at all to have at least one 911 on the event. At that time Peter Falk was working in the engineering division and was given the job of preparing a car for Herbert Linge. “Huschke was very clear about our task” recalls Falk. “No heroics, don’t damage the car and make sure you are there at the presentation in front of Prince Rainier.” The crew did a good recce and the car, homologated in the GT category in January 1965, was prepared with Weber carburettors and Koni dampers, plus spot lamps and fog lamps.

No one could have guessed that this was to be one of the toughest Montes on record. The blizzard that wiped out more than half the entry and the story of how Timo Mäkinen’s Cooper S fought it out for a nail-biting victory over Böhringer’s 904 is well known. But through the terrible weather and ghastly conditions, the 911 came through to finish an excellent fifth overall and, to top it all, was undamaged when it was presented at prize giving in front of the world’s press. But this modest success did not catapult the 911 into rally glory immediately. It was not until the following year that the factory abandoned its 904 rally programme and started entering a factory 911 on major rallies.

Günther Klass, a 30-year old from Stuttgart, was paired with Rolf Wütherlich, a Porsche mechanic who had not only accompanied James Dean on his fateful ride but had also been with Böhringer on the Monte of 1965. Together they did a complete season of 1966 events. With GT cars severely handicapped on the Monte, they could not finish higher than 16th overall, but they did win the GT category. Second on the Geneva Rally, they won in Germany and narrowly missed a Coupe on the Alpine. All this gave Klass the title of European Rally Champion in Group 3. For 1967, Klass signed to drive sportscars in racing for Ferrari but Porsche did give him a go at the Monte, where he retired.

The 911 rally story now becomes a tale centred on three men: Vic Elford, Pauli Toivonen and Björn Waldegård. There was also the matter of homologation, at which Porsche proved to be particularly astute. New rules had been introduced for the 1966 Monte Carlo and were one reason why there was all that fuss about headlights and handicaps. But what von Hanstein and his homologation man Gerhard Haerle realised when they read the rules carefully was that the internal dimensions of a 911 were sufficiently large to allow it to be recognised as touring car. Thus it was that the 911S with its relatively small productions numbers was homologated in Group 3 as a GT car, while the common-or-garden 911, of which more were made, was able to be homologated into Group 2 as a touring car. And later in the year, the four-cylinder 912 was recognised as a Group 1 car.

Vic Elford had been driving Ford Cortinas for two years and had suffered an extraordinary amount of bad luck allied to mechanical failure. This culminated in his retirement going up the last test of the 1966 Alpine Rally with a set of broken points in the distributor of his Lotus Cortina. “As we had led the entire rally, GT as well as Touring, right from the start, this was the last straw,” Vic recalls. “I didn’t really know Huschke, but when we got to the finish in Cannes I called him and suggested that we talk. We had lunch at the Hotel Martinez and the result was that a few months later I did my first ever rally in a Porsche 911, the Tour of Corsica.” The outcome was a storming third overall for Elford ahead of Klass in 10th place. After serving out the remainder of his Ford contract on the RAC Rally – the Lotus retired – Elford signed with Porsche for the 1967 season.

This Monte Carlo was the one where tyres were restricted to the eight you could carry with you: four under the car and four elsewhere. Initially it looked like a dream debut with Elford coming in at the end of the common route clearly in the lead. But on the last night it snowed, and the front-wheel-drive cars made better use of their worn studs to get ahead of the Porsche on the three passages of the Turini.

So third again, and then on to an attempt at the Swedish Rally where Elford had gone particularly well the previous year in a Lotus Cortina. The Porsche proved more difficult but finishing gave him and the team more experience. It was certainly used to good effect as Elford and the Porsche won in quick succession, the Lyon-Charbonnières, the Tulip and the Geneva. Elford was less fortunate on his favourite event, the Coupe des Alpes: “That was a sad rally. We were first car at an accident on the Col d’Allos where an R8 Gordini had rolled and we found the co-driver dead. And then on a road section, our 911R went onto three cylinders having broken a camshaft.” In Corsica at the end of the season, Elford was third overall and that was enough to give him the Group 3 (GT) European Rally Championship title. It was not the only title won by a Porsche that year as Sobieslaw Zasada, despite a late start, wrapped up the Group 1 title with a 912.

During 1967 in Finland, a chap called Antti Aarnio-Wihuri, who among many other things was the Porsche importer, entered a 911 on the 1000 Lakes where he came a modest 18th. But working for him in his business was Lancia works driver Pauli Toivonen, so for 1968 the connection was made and Toivonen found himself joining Elford in the Porsche factory team. Also on the 1000 Lakes was Björn Waldegård, picking up 12th place in his Swedish 911. His career had started in VWs and Minis, but for 1967, with the Porsche homologated as a Group 2 car – Group 3 cars were not allowed in Swedish rallies – he got one and started winning national events. He recalls that “Scania wanted me to drive a 912 with its VW engine, as the 911 would be too powerful, but I stuck out for the right car”. He also tried his hand at the Tulip Rally, where he was fourth and first met Von Hanstein. He too was drafted in for the 1968 season.

The first event was the Monte Carlo where a dominant Elford swept to victory with Toivonen in second spot. Waldegård was 10th after some minor problems, but it was evident to all that a new era was starting in rallying, and it had a lot to do with power and traction. This was not Elford’s last rally for Porsche, but winning the Monte had given him the clout to move into racing. He did two further events later in the year – Corsica and the RAC – but retired on both. Waldegård promptly won the Swedish Rally and Toivonen the San Remo and both East and West German rallies. The Finn went on to win more European Championship events and by the end of the year had secured the unified title (no more Group titles), while Porsche were third in the new European Makes Championship.

During 1968, Von Hanstein’s responsibilities shifted within the company and Rico Steinemann joined to take charge of competition activities. Although a racer, he could see that the 911 was on a roll in rallying and things continued much as before, with Gerard Larrousse joining Waldegård and Toivonen as the mainstays of the team. On the Monte Waldegård took an amazing win ahead of Larrousse: “We lost four minutes on the road during the last night when I didn’t quite hear what the mechanic shouted and pushed the brake pedal when the rear pads were out. He had to get the pistons back into the calipers before we could go”. Elford, driving his last rally for Porsche, crashed and Toivonen had a mechanical problem. Once again Waldegård went on to win the Swedish, while Toivonen won Acropolis and Larrousse the Tour Auto and Corsica. The result was that Porsche came second in the European Makes Championship.

In many ways, 1970 was a replay of 1969, with Waldegård and Larrousse taking first and second on the Monte and then Waldegård winning the Swedish to net a personal hat trick. On the 1969 Monte, a young American serviceman stationed in Germany called John Buffum had shared his private 911 with Jürgen Barth and they finished 12th. In Europe, Waldegård won the Austrian Alpine and was third in Portugal, while Larrousse finished sixth on the RAC Rally, clinching enough points to give Porsche victory in the new International Makes Champion-ship. Back in the States in 1970, Buffum kicked off his distinguished rally career by winning the Canadian Winter Rally in his 911.

After three Monte victories on the trot, fortunes were bound to change, and sure enough along came Alpine-Renault which took that glory in 1971. But it was not up against 911s, as Porsche had decided to put the works drivers in 914/6s which, though theoretically better cars, were not so good for rallies. Waldegård reckoned that “they were too stable. I was used to driving the 911 a bit oversteering as that way it was more difficult to get caught out. But that was hard to do with the 914, so you felt more cautious with it”. They were back in Monte in 1972 when Larrousse fell just short of that elusive win after Sandro Munari came through all the blizzards in the Ardèche to win with his Lancia Fulvia and all the Alpines fell prey to transmission trouble. Porsche was not to win the Monte again until 1978 when Jean-Pierre Nicolas took a private 3-litre to victory.

But meanwhile, Porsche had discovered a new arena of challenge – the Safari Rally in East Africa. Zasada had taken a 911 there back in 1969 and finished sixth overall on one of the driest Safaris ever. He tried again the following year but retired. However, a spark had been ignited in Zuffenhausen, and in 1971 three works 911s were entered for Waldegård, Zasada and Ake Andersson. For four years, with a final attempt in 1978, this was to be the main focus of Porsche’s rally effort and is, as they say, another story.