Porsche 956/962: Le Mans' most beautiful car?

Le Mans News

A gallery of our Porsche 956/962 test run – cars which are arguably just as thrilling to look at as they are to drive

Porsche 956 and 962 static on track at Goodwood

Mark Riccioni

The Porsche 956/962 models produced one of the most successful Le Mans legacies in history – seven straight wins came in between the 956’s debut in 1982 and Porsche’s penultimate year as a works entrant in ’87, whilst another victory was snared by the modified Dauer 962 effort seven years later.

The sleek 956 and 962 are an example of when competition cars’ form really does match their function, and the Stuttgart machines may well be Le Mans’ most beautiful challengers.

In this month’s magazine, Andrew Frankel has the opportunity to test both iconic cars – decked out in that famous Rothmans livery – around the legendary Goodwood track.

The 620bhp and 700bhp beasts might be somewhat blunt instruments compared to today’s hypercars but, as might be expected, our writer was hardly disappointed.

“The start procedure could scarcely be more simple: turn the key,” he says of the 956 in our July edition. “You don’t even need to press a button. Keep your foot off the throttle and wait for the flat six to burst angrily into life. Which it does, and then idles as easily (albeit rather more noisily) as a 911 SC.

“The gearbox has five speeds, laid out in a conventional racing pattern with first back and towards you, and in traditional Porsche racing practice, it also has synchromesh. This means the box is a little heavier and the change a little slower, but Porsche deemed that small price to pay compared to the number of retirements suffered by rivals with uncompromising dog boxes.

“First requires a healthy tug on the lever, and like all the other controls the clutch is heavy, but the motor sufficiently tractable to allow a smooth getaway. And there you are, driving the 1982 Le Mans winner around Goodwood.”

From the archive

Frankel is mindful of not putting either car into the Sussex circuit’s banking, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t still able to experience either car’s considerable aerodynamic capabilities.

“It’s obviously not a track where Group C cars ever competed, but with its long, flowing high speed corners it’s a natural fit for such a car,” he continues.

“Once you’ve got a feel for the way the controls want to work, the car is utterly reassuring from the outset. Unlike a Jaguar Group C car, which needs watching both while braking into and accelerating away from corners, the 956 seems instantly on your side. You feel everything through the steering which writhes gently around in your hands while it lets you pick your apexes with pinpoint accuracy.

“The overall gearing is high which means that first is actually a proper gear which might even have been used for maximum thrust away from Arnage or Mulsanne, while fifth will take you to 230mph and beyond.

“And what does that feel like? Well if I tell you its power-to-weight ratio even in this trim is more than twice that of Porsche’s current sports car flagship, the 911 Turbo S, you will appreciate that here is a car that will accelerate in a manner that even those experienced with some of the fastest supercars could even conceive.”

An incredible experience behind the wheel then, but one coming from a car which is no less breathtaking to look at than it is to drive.

July 2022 Motor Sport cover Read the full drive in the July issue of Motor Sport

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