Stars & Stripes

One of the most celebrated of all racing Porsche 911s is now just as it was at the time of its most famous victory, on the 1973 Targa Florio

Imagine a new Porsche 911 RSR winning a round of the World Endurance Championship today. And no mere class win, but outright victory, beating two of the world’s great factory teams with purpose-built prototypes in the process. Would it not be an achievement unparalleled in the history of even the world’s longest-living sports car?

Actually, no. Back in 1973, the original RSR did exactly that – and not once in a season, but twice. The first occasion was the Daytona 24 Hours, on the model’s debut at the start of the 1973 season; but in May another RSR won not only the Targa Florio – the most durable of all the great road races – but the last Targa Florio ever to be accorded world championship status. And it did so against the best that Ferrari and Alfa could throw at it. That alone must surely make it a candidate for the most important 911 of all time.

That car is this car, chassis 0588, known in the RSR world as R6. And for the first time since that win in May 1973, it has been returned to its original Targa Florio specification after a year-long and quite extraordinarily painstaking restoration by Porsche restorer, authority and dealer Maxted-Page. “It was an incredible honour to be asked to return R6 to exactly as it was that day in May, 45 years ago,” says Lee Maxted-Page. “Just the research phase of the project took three months to complete. But when you look at the result, I think you’ll agree it was worth it.”

Before we do, however, we should look briefly at how it got there. The RSR was a result of rules for 1972 limiting Group 5 cars to a 3.0-litre engine capacity. That outlawed the 917 prototype, while the still-eligible 908 was too long of tooth and short of power to keep up with Italian and French opposition now putting Formula 1 engines in their sports cars. Besides, new Porsche boss Dr Ernst Fuhrmann was enthusiastic about racing cars that could be sold. Which is how the RSR and the road car needed to homologate it, the 2.7 Carrera RS, came into being.

I COULD TAKE up the rest of this space detailing all the changes required to create the RSR and plenty more on all the other modifications that were relentlessly applied during the 1973 season, but essentially it started life with a 2.8-litre engine, soon swapped to a 3.0 when its magnesium crankcase was changed for a Silumin (aluminium alloy) unit that was stronger and could therefore tolerate thinner walls between the cylinders. With twin plug heads, big valves and a 10.5:1 compression ratio it produced about 315bhp. Widened track, race suspension and brakes from the 917 made it such a formidable weapon that, for the next three seasons and almost without exception, it turned the GT category of the World Sports Car Championship into Formula RSR.

But the car was not homologated in time for the season-opener at Daytona, so it raced in Group 5 while Peter Gregg and Hurley Haywood outlasted a fairly thin field of prototypes. It raced as intended in Group 4 at Vallelunga and Dijon, winning the class in both, but from Monza onwards the works cars raced as prototypes, not just to keep the customers happy but also to test unhomologated experimental parts.

R6’s WSC career as a factory car was brief. It was the car that won at Vallelunga in March but, with its usual driver line-up of Gijs van Lennep and Herbie Müller, it failed to finish at Monza. But, as we know, it then triumphed on the Targa. At Le Mans (driven by Haldi and Joest) it officially retired with a fuel system failure, a somewhat euphemistic expression for simply running out of gas. At Zeltweg it was again first home behind the purpose-built racers, after which it was lent to Roger Penske for the season finale at Watkins Glen. The power couple of Mark Donohue and George Follmer maintained its record of absolutely best-of-the-rest behind the real prototypes. And that was that. It was sold, raced in Mexico until 1975 and then stored until returned to Le Mans configuration in 1991. It was exhibited as such until the end of 2016, when its current owner commissioned Maxted-Page to turn it back to its Targa-winning specification.

The good news for Maxted-Page and the owner was that, as a result of its fairly quiet life, R6 went onto the operating table already in very good condition. “It had had what we call a 1990s restoration, which was as good as you’d might expect back then. But the world has moved on so far since, and what the owner wanted was the car to be as it was when it won the Targa down to the smallest discernible detail,” says Maxted-Page.

“THE JOB COULD have been incredibly difficult were it not for the factory, which gave us unfettered access to its photographic and technical archive, and Norbert Singer, who wrote everything down in period by hand and kept every word. So when we wanted to know the exact suspension ride height used on the Targa Florio, we just needed to look at the set-up sheets to find the answer.”

In fact when the team media-blasted the shell back to bare metal, it found that, save for one knock on an A-pillar that needed to be straightened on the jig, R6 was in remarkably good and original order. “But there was still a lot of work to be done, not least because of all the changes made to the car between the Targa Florio and Le Mans.”

One example is the rare and distinctive ‘Mary Stuart’ rear wing, so called because it had a passing resemblance to the extended neck collars favoured by the Queen of Scots. This extension either side of the familiar ‘burzel’ ducktail spoiler was trialled by Singer at Monza, when it became clear the cars would not be able to race as GTs, and was still in use by the time R6 won the Targa. But they were modified for Le Mans and discarded thereafter in favour of a long-tail design with an adjustable horizontal section. But when R6 was taken back to metal, the holes made in the pits at Monza all those years ago were revealed, and used again to secure its new Mary Stuart.

Much more retro-engineering was required just to get the car back to Targa specification. “For Le Mans, R6 and its sister R7 were taken back to Weissach and much modified,” says Maxted-Page. “They got even wider 12in magnesium rear rims and centre-lock hubs from the 917, in steel at the front and titanium at the rear. The rear arches were enlarged to accommodate the wider rims and larger fibreglass-moulded Mary Stuart collars fitted. The steel front wings were replaced with fibreglass while the doors were made from a kind of fibreglass not seen since the 1967 911R. And all the glass was replaced with Perspex save the front screen.” In 1973 it all made sense, but in 2017 it all needed undoing.

PUTTING THIS RIGHT wasn’t just a question of finding some steel panels and some glass. The panels were unique to the RSR and had to be exactly the right gauge throughout, the glass had to be identical to the Glaverbel panes the RSR would have had when new. Inside exactly the right needle-felt lightweight carpet had to be sourced, trimmed and reinstated. The seats were original RSR seats, but for the Targa the drivers had had a ‘lollipop’ race seat, so another had to be found. All the instruments looked superficially correct, but the oil level gauge was not period, the speedometer was a dummy and even the 10,000rpm tachometer turned out to be a later electronic component, not the original mechanically driven dial. Even the steering wheel was wrong.

“Mechanically the car was in very good order, but we still had to go through everything down to the smallest detail. The engine was the correct type, but was fitted with slide throttle injection that appears to have been in use from Le Mans onwards. For the Targa it had butterfly throttles, so those had to be used again. Likewise the gearbox didn’t really need rebuilding, but it was full of the wrong ratios. Happily we knew exactly what gears it should have had for the Targa, so those are what it has today.” When the engine was put on the dynamometer, it developed an exceptionally healthy 340bhp at 7950rpm.

If this sounds like an obsession, I am really only scratching the surface of just how detailed this restoration was – so precise that the car was not just in Targa Florio specification but identical to the way it had been. The rear wheel arch extensions were lap-welded to the body using exactly the same techniques that would have been employed at Weissach in 1973. Maxted-Page’s team also discovered that the VDO rev-limiter unit that can be seen fixed to the rear bulkhead of the car in photographs taken on the Targa Florio had at some stage been repositioned and the original holes welded up. Needless to say, the unit is back in its rightful place. Even the exterior fire extinguisher handle was moved a few inches when the bare shell revealed where the original hole had been welded up.

And then, of course, there is its iconic Martini livery. To ensure the colours were exactly right, the paintwork of R13, a 1974 RSR Turbo, was examined and the livery built up painstakingly, layer after layer, finished off by hand and brush, just as would have been done in period, to an accuracy measured in fractions of a millimetre.

“IT HAS BEEN a dream job in many ways,” says Maxted-Page. “Obviously the car we are dealing with is an icon, probably the single most important example of undoubtedly the world’s greatest sports car, and it was a privilege to be able to return it exactly to how it was that great day in 1973. But we only realised how lucky we were when we stripped everything back and saw what incredible condition the car was in. Many racing cars get crashed, modified and rebuilt so many times it is sometimes hard to know how much of the original is left. But with R6 the shell was almost perfect, the bonnet original and even the rear wings, which we thought it had acquired later, turned out to have belonged to the car from the start. So when you look at R6 as it is today, it’s not just like R6 as it was then, in the most important ways it is R6 as it was then…”

Indeed Maxted-Page concedes that the RSR is now far too good to race. “It isn’t eligible as an FIA-spec RSR, would be uncompetitive as a Group 5 car– and why would you want to risk it? Damage it and you’re damaging the history of the most important racing 911. The owner has many other wonderful cars and races them frequently, so doesn’t need to chance it.”

Valuing R6 is almost impossible because it is unique. If it ever came up for sale it would be worth whatever someone was prepared to pay on the day. Pushed on the subject, Maxted-Page suggests something in the region of $10 million might be near the mark, but the truth is that nobody really knows.

And nor does it seem that important. For me it matters far more that its owner cared enough (and is rich enough) to want to return R6 to precisely the way it was at the moment of its greatest triumph, and that in Maxted-Page there is a company with skills and dedication to do it. For when you look at it now, you know you’re looking at the real deal, down to the last nut, screw and bolt. And, in all likelihood, that is the way it will remain forever.

IMAGES: Porsche Archive, LAT, Lyndon McNeil, McKlein