Continental Notes, September 1969

The long-distance sports car racing scene this year has been increasingly dominated by Porsche, both as regards new models and development and weight of numbers, for at each stage of their racing programme they have sold their own team cars to private owners and private teams, always trying to ensure that they went where they would do the most good. There are now so many racing Porsches on the circuits that it is interesting to recap on the models and some of their differences. The new face of Porsche really began with the 9-series which started with the first of the road-going flat-six cylinder 2-litre-engined cars, which saw the light of day in 1964. This started life as the 901, but before it went into production and general sale Peugeot coughed discreetly and tapped their patent papers and the 901 was changed to 911. It was not necessary for the racing models. Meanwhile the racing/sports car development had continued on from the RS and RSK and the 904 coupé was introduce for racing, with the old 2-litre Carrera four-cylinder o.h.c. engine. This was only an interim competition model and was soon followed by the 906 or Carrera Six as it was called, and this went into quite large production, over 100 being built. The 906 is still a fair proposition for a beginner, having the racing version of the flat-six-cylinder 2-litre engine with double o.h.c. valve gear and a vertical cooling fan driven by a belt, as on the 911 series. The 906 is a very low coupé with flimsy gull-wing doors and a long tapering tail with a large Perspex rear window over the power unit. The wheels are of the bolt-on type as used on the 911, and the cockpit has left-hand steering.

The 910 next appeared on the scene, being a new car using the 906 power unit. This was also a left-side steering coupé, more chunky than the 906, with smaller wheels of the centre-lock type, held on by a single large hexagonal taper nut. The doors are hinged at the front and do not run up into the roof line, but there is a detachable panel that clips between the top of the windscreen and the back of the cockpit so that the 910 can be open or closed. Cockpit size was reduced so much that big chaps like Schutz or Koch could only drive the 910 with the top panel removed. The 910 went into limited production and was homologated as a Group 4 sports car, as was the 906 before it. The works teams were now embarking on a full development-through-racing programme and produced the 907 coupé for their own use. This had a flat-eight-cylinder air-cooled engine, derived from the 1½ litre Grand Prix engine, with a horizontal cooling fan mounted above the engine and positively driven by gears and shafts. The chassis running gear followed the 910, or vice-versa, with alloy centre-lock wheels, and the coupé body had its dimensions reduced to the absolute minimum. A complete change for racing Porsches was that the 907 had right-hand steering, while the doors on this model were front-hinged, but opened up into the roof, almost to the centre-line. The rear of the body got away from the long tapering tail and sloping rear window by scalloping out of the tail and fitting a vertical rear window immediately behind the driver’s head, this tail treatment also featuring on the 910. The eight-cylinder engine in the 907 started as a 2-litre and was enlarged to 2.2-litres, leaving the 910 to contest the 2-litre class while the 907 went for an all-out victory.

When sports/prototypes were limited to 3-litres in 1968 Porsche were ready with the 908 (significant?) which had a brand new flat eight-cylinder engine, now with the cooling fan vertical at the front and driven by belts, in the manner of the production 911 engine. The cockpit layout followed the 907 in shape and with right-hand steering, but the tail treatment reverted to the long tapering shape like the 906. The 908 was an all-out works sports/prototype and there were long-tailed versions for fast circuits and short-tailed versions for slow circuits. As an aside Porsche were competing in European hill climbs with a 2-litre open car, a cross between a 907 and a 908, known as the Bergspyder and this year the works team appeared at Sebring with open 908 models obviously derived from the hill-climb car. The 908 words cars have appeared with five different body styles, the long- and short-tailed coupé, the first Spyder with large, low perspex windscreen and a Manx tail like the hill-climb car, and the latest smoother nosed type with a wind-deflector rather than a screen, which appeared at the 1,000 kilometre race at Nürburgring, and which is claimed to be 20 k.p.h. faster by reason of a lower drag-coefficient. This improved shape has appeared with Manx tail treatment and elongated all-enveloping tail.

Finally the very controversial 917 appeared, with 4½ litre flat-12-cylinder engine, developed from the 907, with gear-driven horizontal cooling fan, the body shape following the 908 coupé with right-hand steering and tapering tail with an extension for use on fast circuits, and sloping perspex rear window. Two of the 907 coupés were fitted with 2-litre eight-cylinder engines and sold to Italian drivers, as their National racing has a 2-litre prototype limit, and some 2.2-litre versions were sold to German private owners. After Le Mans this year Porsche officially withdrew for the rest of the season and sold off many of the 908 Spyders to private owners. The 917 was built in a series of 25 in order to class it as a Group 4 Sports car, but the only one sold so far was the ill-fated one to John Woolfe at Le Mans. One 917 was converted into an open version, lightened and strengthened for Siffert to drive in Can-Am races, and now that the normal 917 has won the Austrian 1,000 kilometres there will no doubt be plenty of customers.

Before leaving the subject of Porsche racing the prospects for next year are interesting, for Porsche have made an agreement with J.W. Automotive Engineering and the Gulf Oil Company, who sponsor J.W., to run the official team of 917 Porsches from the Slough workshops of J.W. Automotive. In 1968 it looked as though Porsche could not fail to win Le Mans, with Ferrari abstaining and Matra not ready, yet the 908 cars let them down and the J.W. Automotive GT40 Ford won. This year it was a repeat performance, a dead-cert win for Porsche on paper yet once again a victory for the J.W. Automotive Ford GT40. For 1970 the two firms were combining and J.W. Automotive, sponsored by Gulf Oil, will run the works 917 Porsches. What the Porsche factory team will be up to remains to be seen.

The leading light behind J.W. Automotive is John Wyer, late of Aston Martins, and many people assume his initials to be those of the Gulf sponsored team. J.W. Automotive is a joint affair of John Wyer and John Willment, so that J.W. can be whoever you happen to be talking to. It is Wyer who manages the Gulf Team, with the help of David Yorke, and John Horsman, and this year it was they who managed the Le Mans victory, as Wyer could not attend.

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In all classes of single-seater racing Ford-based engines or Ford-financed engines have a vertical monopoly, and in every country where there is motor-racing there are Ford racing engines. Ford publicity has pushed their own Formula Ford racing and the Ford-financed Cosworth V8 has driven all opposition into the ground in Formula One Grand Prix racing. Fordsport is a word that has become accepted in motor-racing jargon and it covers all motoring activities, as well as spreading into power-boat racing. If aeroplane racing was a serious industrial proposition instead of a sport, rest assured that Fordsport would be in the air. All this competition activity stemmed from the parent firm in Detroit deciding to drop the racing embargo they drew up with the other American giants of the automobile world. Once Detroit had given the green light for competition, activity spread like wild fire, Ford (England) and Ford (Germany) doing everything possible to further the aims of Fordsport. All this was a great pain in the stomach to General Motors, who have been unofficially dickering about with racing engines, as used by Jim Hall in his Chaparral and McLaren in his Can-Am cars. It seems that G.M. have become completely sickened by European Fordsport and through Opel in Germany are starting an offensive. First signs were the neat little Opel GT coupé, with 1.1-litre or 1.9-litre engine, and now the idea of Opelsport is spreading throughout Europe. At Nurburgring there was a static Opel display and races for Opel cars, though some of the antics of the Opel saloons were pretty bad publicity. In Austria Opel had a complete range of cars touring the circuit on demonstration, and the Opel GT coupé is to be seen all over Europe in increasing numbers. Fordsport has got such a big start that the task of Opelsport is a big one, but General Motors are a big empire, so the future might prove interesting. It would be nice if British Leylandsport were to join in, but that seems unlikely on the American scale.

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Back in the summer there was a great hoo-ha when the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa was cancelled. At first it seemed that the drivers were refusing to drive there, then it seemed that the manufacturers were refusing to run their cars there. While responsibility was being passed to and fro the Belgian organisers scrubbed the whole thing and said they would run the Grand Prix elsewhere in 1970, which was not at all what the drivers and constructors expected. Too late they realised they had been made the scapegoats for some political manoeuvring and all the shouting died down. Now the Grand Prix drivers have had a meeting and in view of some of their demands having been carried out, such as a guard-rail fence, separating the pits area from the actual circuit, and other barriers to prevent cars disappearing down a valley if they spin off, they have officially announced that they want to drive at Spa in 1970 (Hurrah!). It is now up to the constructors to agree to let their cars run there and then the Belgian organisers are going to be in difficulties, having already said they were going elsewhere. At the time I refused to believe that the drivers’ boycott was unanimous, and this was so. This latest pronouncement from the G.P.D.A. is fine and it is a pity that their organisation is so badly run that one never receives any official written word from them, and false impressions are put out by an active minority.

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Rallies got themselves a bad name when too much professionalism crept in and results were always accompanied by protests, some of which held up the results for months on end. I lost interest in rallies when the winner was decided on the interpretation of rules and not on driving ability, and enjoyed pure racing for protests were rare indeed and the first car to receive the chequered flag was the winner. At the inaugural meeting at the new Osterreichring there was a short sports-car race which Masten Gregory was leading with a 908 Porsche. On the last lap his engine broke and his teammate in a 910 Porsche pushed the stricken 908 to the finish. A first protest was accepted and it was agreed that Gregory’s last lap would not count, which meant that the race was stopped a lap short of the prescribed total, at which point Gregory was still leading by a considerable margin, so he was given the winner’s cup. Later Alfa Romeo, whose car was next in line, protested that Gregory should be excluded from the results, and also Brostrom, who pushed him. This was allowed and the Alfa Romeo of de Adamich was declared the winner, but the Italians took more than the prescribed time to put in their protest so Gregory is getting the Swiss Federation to fight the decision as not being in order by F.I.A. rules. At the moment de Adamich is the winner, but Gregory has the winner’s cup.—D. S. J.