In June of 2014, Porsche will return to Le Mans with a newly designed LMP1 racing machine. With 16 overall victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the pinnacle of endurance motor racing, Porsche is the most successful manufacturer in the race’s 90 year history. Their last win, though, was back in 1998 with the 911 GT1, so Porsche has labeled this endeavor as “Our Return” and “Coming Home”. With so much heritage behind it, Porsche’s new LMP1 program is most certainly history in the making.
Over the coming months, Sports Car Digest will run a series of photo retrospectives drawn from Porsche’s Le Mans archive. Following the Porsche at Le Mans in the 1950s profile, the second installment looks at Porsche’s early successes at Le Mans from 1960 to 1968.
In the lead-up to Le Mans 1960, the new Porsche 718 RS 60 Spyder had already proven its worth as a winner, notching up outright wins in Sebring and at the Targa Florio. Compared to its predecessor, the RS 60 received a suspension make-over, featured modified aerodynamics, a rear axle with coil springs and the now mandatory luggage compartment behind the engine. Otherwise, the tubular frame made of seamless steel tubing and the proven four-cylinder racing engine remained unchanged. Only one of the three works-entered Porsche RS 60 racers saw the flag, albeit with Edgar Barth and Wolfgang Seidel scored eleventh overall and second in their class. Ahead of the Spyder in tenth place overall, a Porsche decked out in rare bodywork darts over the finish line: it was a Porsche 356 B 1600 GS Carrera GTL Abarth. The body of this lightweight version of the 356 B was built in an arrangement with Carlo Abarth at Zagato. The 1600 GS weighed 100 kilos less than the 356 B. Sharing the cockpit were Herbert Linge and Heini Walter, who also won the sports class – as the Abarth was not yet homologated to contest the GT category.
The 718 RS 61 lined up on the grid in 1961 with the biggest and most powerful engine in the fledgling history of Porsche at Le Mans. Masten Gregory and Bob Holbert won their class with 1,966 cc and around 185 hp, ahead of Edgar Barth and Hans Herrmann in the 718 RS 61 “Le Mans Coupe” that featured a roof and a 1.6-litre engine. This unit delivered 160 hp (118 kW), which correlated to an impressive per litre power output of 100 hp (74 kW). Also tackling the race was Dan Gurney who Porsche contracted for Formula 1. The American helmed an RS 61 with his Formula 1 colleague Jo Bonnier, but dropped out with engine failure on Sunday afternoon. The RS 61 was the further modified version of the RS 60 with an extra 100 millimetres added to the wheelbase to now measure 2,200 mm and a new rear axle with double wishbones. Herbert Linge and Ben Pon secured a class win amongst the GT race cars in the 356 B 1600 GS Carrera GTL Abarth.
Claiming third place at the Targa Florio, the Porsche RS 62 or 718/8 featuring the newly-developed eight-cylinder engine from the 771 type, underlined its potential in 1962, but was not sanctioned by the organisers Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) to start at Le Mans. Fielding three 356 B 1600 GS Carrera GTL Abarth, Porsche still had an iron in the fire of the GT class. Edgar Barth and Hans Herrmann promptly won their category and ranked seventh overall. Robert Buchet and Heinz Schiller finished in twelfth place, the third Porsche driven by Ben Pon and Graf de Beaufort retired after 35 laps.
The Porsche 718 W RS Spyder shined in 1963, scoring eighth in the overall classification and victory in the two-litre class. Sharing the cockpit of the 670 kilogram Spyder, which reached a top speed of 280 km/h with its 210 hp (154 kW) eight-cylinder power unit, were Edgar Barth and Herbert Linge. This success, however, did not come about without a little persuasion. After sustaining a puncture, Edgar Barth climbed out of the car 200 metres away from the pit lane and used muscle power to push the car back to the pit lane entrance. Only their mechanics permitted to administer first aid. Specially for the new GT World Championship, Porsche designed the 356 B Carrera GS/GT, which will go down in history as the ‘Dreikantschaber’. Heinz Schiller and Ben Pon as well as Gerhard Koch and Carel Godin de Beaufort were sidelined with their 180 hp race cars on Saturday evening after engine failures.
1964 marked the first time Porsche race cars lined up on the grid sporting the famed number 9 in its model name. The 904 Carrera GTS launched its career on the Circuit des 24 Heures with a quadruple victory in the two-litre class. Entered by Auguste Veuillet, who had claimed the first class win for Porsche back in 1951, Robert Buchet and Guy Ligier brought home victory ahead of Ben Pon and Henk van Zalinge driving for Racing Team Holland. Herbert Muller, later one of Porsche’s most renowned race drivers, tackled Le Mans for the first time in a Porsche and with Claude Sage snatched fourth place in class. The 904 Carrera GTS was the first Porsche to feature a particularly light plastic body that was bonded with a ladder-type frame made of steel – a ground-breaking technological solution. The chassis was twice as rigid as the frame of the 718. Following good Porsche tradition, the lightweight 904 Carrera GTS weighed around 650 kilos. Two different engines contested the long distance classic: the four best-placed Porsche featured a two-litre, four-cylinder unit transplanted from the Carrera 2 that delivered up to 180 hp (132 kW). Edgar Barth/Herbert Linge and Gerhard Mitter/Colin Davis helmed the 904/8 cars equipped with 2.0-litre, eight-cylinder engines that were based on the Formula 1 power plant and provided an impressive 260 hp (191 kW). Clutch failure threw both eight-cylinder versions contesting the class for prototypes out of contention.
In 1965 Herbert Linge and Peter Nocker brought a 904/6 home fourth overall and first amongst the two-litre prototypes. Indeed, this was a salute to the 911, as the mid-engine of the number 32 race car was a 901 type, here delivering around 200 hp (147 kW). Following in fifth place overall and winners of the GT class up to two litres were Gerhard Koch and Anton Fischhaber driving a 904 Carrera GTS. In addition, the GTS won the energy classification as the most efficient race car.