Great racing cars: 1970 Porsche 908/3

Opinions

A series taken from the 164-page Motor Sport special Great Racing Carswhich is available to buy here

To buy the lead image click here.

From the editor Damien Smith

How would you define a ‘great’ racing car? Race wins and championship titles are an obvious place to start – and admittedly, when we began the process of rounding up the ‘voices’ to fill this special magazine, published by the team behind Motor Sport, we had in mind the likes of the Lotus 72, Ferrari F2004, Porsche 917, Audi R10 and so on.

But as the interviews of familiar racing figures began, we realised greatness is often a very personal thing. Naturally, most – but not all – would pick cars they had experienced first-hand, as a driver, designer, engineer or team boss. And on occasion the cars that stood out in their minds as ‘great’ weren’t necessarily so in the grand scheme of history. That’s why you’ll find a Minardi here among Formula 1 cars from Lotus, Williams and McLaren.

Unexpected? Certainly. Wrong? Not to the man who chose it.

As the interviews accumulated, our magazine took on a life of its own, full of personal anecdotes about the myriad cars that made careers. Some of those we spoke to, such as Mario Andretti and Dan Gurney, couldn’t be tied to a single choice from multi-faceted lives at the wheel. Such heroes have earned the right to choose an F1, sports and Indycar, so we allowed them more than one bite.

Others refused to be confined by category. Hence the short ‘Odd ’n Sods’ chapter on cars that, by and large, are mere footnotes in lower divisions of racing lore.

Thus there is nothing definitive about the selection listed herein. Then again, there’s no claim that this compilation offers the ‘Greatest Racing Cars’ of history. It’s much more personal than that, much more quirky – and all the better for it.

1970 Porsche 908/3


Brian Redman
All-round ace in sports cars and single seaters

In 1969 I co-drove with Jo Siffert for Porsche in a 908/2 and we won five of the 10 World Sports Car Championship races. We had a fantastic season and at the end of the year there was a massive celebration at Stuttgart. During that celebration we went to Weissach and the Porsche engineers asked me if I would like to see the new 908/3. They took me over into a darkened corner and took the dust cover off the first 908/3 and invited me to sit in it. It was amazing because there was nothing in front of your feet.

When I got out of the car the Porsche engineers asked me what I thought about their latest baby. I said I thought it was a very good car for Douglas Bader, the famous WWII fighter pilot who lost his legs in an accident before the war. From below your knees, your legs were ahead of the front wheels! There was nothing to protect you.

The 908/3 was built specifically for the Targa Florio and the Nürburgring and Jo and I won the Targa Florio with that car in 1970. It was a great little car and I still get to drive it from time to time courtesy of the Collier Museum in Florida, which owns it. It’s unbelievable what that car can do with 370 horsepower and weighing only 1,100 pounds. It was an amazing car. Manfred Bantley was the engineer who designed it and he never received the credit he deserves.

Jurgen Barth
1977 Le Mans winner, veteran Porsche engineer

The 908/3, conceived by a genius in Ferdinand Piech, has to be the most fantastic car in motor sport history. It was built to win the Targa Florio, though with the old Nürburgring a little bit in mind as well.

The driver sat more or less on the front suspension and the differential was on the back of the gearbox, and all the weight was on the right side to take advantage of anti-clockwise tracks. The driver, the fuel tank and even the battery are on the right of the car.

It was amazing to drive; it handled like a kart. It was a bit tricky with a full fuel load but my only regret is that I never raced it in the Targa Florio.


Sweetness and light
Its dimensions suggested the 908/3 might be a handful, but that wasn’t the case

What better measure of a car’s brilliance can there be than to know that of all the cars he raced in his long career, the Porsche 908/3 is Brian Redman’s favourite? “It’s a jewel of a car,” he says. “You look at that non-existent wheelbase and think it must be twitchy as hell but nothing could be further from the truth. It was fast, friendly and with that torquey flat-eight motor, wide tyres and no downforce, it was an absolute dream to drive on the Targa.”

Essential info: Porsche 908/3

Notable entrants: Porsche, John Wyer Automotive
Notable drivers: Jo Siffert, Pedro Rodríguez, Brian Redman, Vic Elford, Hans Herrmann, Richard Attwood, Kurt Ahrens, Leo Kinnunen
Debut: 1970 Targa Florio
Achievements: 6 wins, 2 poles
Constructors’ Championships: 2 (1970, 1971)

Ah yes, the Targa Florio, one of the races (along with the Nürburgring 1000Kms) for which the 908/3 was specifically designed. Of course Porsche already had the 917 at its disposal, but understandably felt its brutal power would not be put to best use in the Sicilian hills. As for the ’Ring, computer simulations suggested there would be little difference in lap time between the two cars, but Porsche rightly figured the 908/3 would be far easier to drive and therefore less likely to go punching holes in the Eifel scenery.

Actually that 908 title is a little misleading. Its 3-litre engine aside, the car actually owed very little to the earlier 908s and rather more to the astonishing beryllium-braked, titanium-sprung sub-400kg 909 Bergspyder hillclimb car of 1968. With the bigger engine and the need to be reliable for hours on end rather than a few seconds at a time, the 908/3 was never going to be that light, but its 545kg kerb weight still made it a quarter of a tonne lighter than the already flyweight 917. And with 360bhp under the driver’s foot, it was no slouch.

A Gulf 908/3 opened the account by winning the 1970 Targa with Redman and Jo Siffert while the rival Salzburg car of Kurt Ahrens and Vic Elford took care of the Nürburgring 1000Kms. In ’71 all three 908/3s crashed out of the Targa Florio, leaving victory to Alfa Romeo, but the model went out in style with a total podium lock-out at the ’Ring, with first and third going to Martini cars and second place to the Siffert and Pedro Rodriguez Gulf entry.

The car featured (link below) is none of the above. In fact chassis 12 was built for the ’71 season but only did one race in Gulf colours, with Siffert and Derek Bell qualifying fifth for the Nürburgring race but retiring from second place with a broken chassis frame. It was sold to Joest Racing in 1974 and continued to race for a further four seasons.

Taken from the March 2013 issue of Motor Sport. To read more click here.

 

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