Andrew Frankel: 'The greatest collection of Group C Porsches ever seen?'

What does a high-speed Porsche Group C run at Goodwood feel like? The look on the drivers' faces said it all

I will in a coming issue elaborate  more fully on my experience of the Porsche Group C celebration and demonstration at the 79th Goodwood Members’ Meeting but for now I just want to spend a paragraph or two on the reaction of just a few of the other drivers who lined up in, I think, 18 Porsche 956s and 962s (three of them Le Mans winners, one that had done the double) to head out around the track with me.

Goodwood intended it to be a high-speed run at sunset and, sensibly enough, told all entrants that drivers nominated to take part should be able to show the machinery in a way to fit that brief. They were perhaps being mindful of the fact that in the 2019 demo of Porsche 917s, Dickie Meaden and I were stuck for some time behind a bloke in a 917/10 who appeared to be looking for the local supermarket. While clearly coming under the category of being a nice problem to have, crawling around Goodwood unable to deploy an 1100bhp 917/30 was frustrating. Sadly overtaking was a black flag offence.

No such problems this time around and when we were done the look on the faces of the many hugely experienced racing drivers said it all. Marino Franchitti looked like he’d just been given the keys to the Pearly Gates: “I met Derek Bell at Le Mans in 1987 when he won the race, and to be out on the track at the same time as the car he drove that day was more than I could have hoped for.” At the time Marino was just eight years old. Calum Lockie was wide-eyed in amazement saying it was one of the most amazing moments he had experienced, while it was Meaden who gave perhaps the best insight into the almost unbelievable quality of the field: “I keep on worrying I’m going to get into the wrong Rothmans Porsche.” And as someone with exactly the same dilemma, I knew there was truth in his humour.

“I almost forgot to mention the Jaguar XJ220 I drove a few weeks ago”

How good was the field? I sought out Henry Pearman, the man with the world’s largest and greatest collection of Group C Porsches and put it to him that, when you took both quality and quantity into consideration, this was the greatest collection of Group C Porsches ever seen in action anywhere in the world at any time including when they were racing. He thought about it long and hard, for Henry’s memory banks are terrifyingly deep and commodious, before he turned to me and said, “You know, I think you’re probably right.”

Earlier in the month I spent some time in the new Bizzarrini 5300 GT which, carbon body aside, is essentially the same as the old Bizzarrini 5300 GT that won the over 5-litre prototype class at Le Mans in 1965 by still being around at the end, unlike the 7-litre Ford GT40 Mark IIs. Some 25 of these machines are to be built by RML for the people who now own the rights to the Bizzarrini name, as an amuse-bouche for some new road car product they have in the pipeline which remains otherwise entirely under wraps.

But I did find myself wondering why the Bizzarrini (or ISO Grifo A3/C as it was more commonly known at the time of that race) never realised its potential. Yes, it won its class, but that’s what you get if you’re the only one still around at the finish, which it was. On paper it should have been the next great GT racing car after the Ferrari 250 SWB, GTO and Shelby Daytona Cobra.

For a start, two of those cars, the SWB and GTO, were Bizzarrini’s work before he left Maranello to join the ATS misadventure. He then designed the Lamborghini V12 which served in all 12-pot Lambos until 2010 before persuading Renzo Rivolta to turn the Grifo into a racing car. The result was a rattlesnake-low, super-slippery racer with a 400bhp Chevy V8 mounted so far back in the chassis, access to the distributors was via a hatch in the dashboard. It’s a genuinely mid-engined car. Combine that with fully independent coil-sprung suspension and you have a car that, on paper, should have gone onto truly great things. But Bizzarrini lacked Ferrari development money and had already fallen out with Rivolta before the end of the season and his car, like his company, fizzled out. Bizzarrini, by the way, is still with us and, aged 94, is one of the last survivors of the golden era of GT racing.

It’s been a good month because I almost forgot to mention the Jaguar XJ220 I drove a few weeks ago. Belonging to 220 guru Don Law, this was the same car I performance tested for Autocar 29 years ago. Back then we had the car for a few days which yielded a rich harvest of unexpected stories culminating in the moment one of our number crashed it. Awkwardly it was the first production XJ220 and Tom Walkinshaw’s own transport. A staffer had driven it over rather than round a roundabout.

But it still steered straight, so we took it to the Millbrook test track where Tom’s then PA, Fiona Miller, told us the great man was flying in to watch his car perform. I asked what his reaction would be when he saw the car. “You can never tell,” she replied. “Either you’ll be fine or God help you.” In the end Tom put his arm around the poor man’s shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, laddie, shit happens.” And then sent us a simply enormous bill.

A former editor of Motor Sport, Andrew splits his time between testing the latest road cars and racing (mostly) historic machinery
Follow Andrew on Twitter @Andrew_Frankel