The fast life of an RS2.7 This 911 has been up, down and sideways from the day it was built – read its wild Life Cycle. The life story of a Porsche 911 Carrera RS2.7 Following 42 rallies in six years, this RS went for a quiet retirement – as a circuit racer in South Africa. Its many owners describe its near-death experiences. Words Russ Smith. Photography Xisco Fuster.
Life Cycle The extraordinary life and times of the world’s most successful Porsche 911 Carrera RS2.7 Lightweight rally car, from gravel stage to racetrack
1973 – Harold Morley takes delivery of his RSL
fter being crowned British Rally Champion in 1972, Harold Morley wanted a new car to compete in international rallies. He stepped up from his Ford Escort RS to the first 911 RS2.7 Lightweight in March 1973, collecting it from the Porsche factory and entering seven rallies including the Scottish and Welsh international level events, winning four. He sold that, then on 1 August 1973 took delivery of this car, the last 911 RS Lightweight imported for the UK market.
It was registered OM 77. Harold says, ‘It was given to me by my brother Phil, off his old Austin Seven. The number plate was worth more than the car! It’s a shame we lost it when the car was sold later.’
The car’s first event was the Sherry Rally in Spain, sponsored by Domecq. Harold says, ‘I remember it so well. We drove the rally car and a Ford Granada estate from Manchester to Jerez with all my family, including kids, servicing friend, tools and so on. We finished fourth in the rally, had a holiday, then drove back after the event. Amazing how easily it did all of that.
‘The RAC Rally has a lot of rough roads so before that we fitted a special undertray and some stiffer, higher suspension. Most important thing was modifying the handbrake so I could easily lick the rear out for hairpins. I remember it as being a good car but not great – and hard to learn to handle. It would also keep knocking itself out of gear because the engine mounts were too soft. You can get harder ones nowadays.
‘The biggest downside was the tyres, which are so much better today. It lacked grip. Talking of which, we won 500 Kleber tyres, which were fine on gravel but not tarmac. We used to swap them with other teams – two or four for one Dunlop.
It’s funny talking about this car now – I’ve just bought another like it, built up from new parts around a 1973 shell. It’s just landed in Trinidad and I will be driving it on the gravel and tarmac Barbados Rally in June. Yes, I’m still at it! I did try a GT3 but it was no good – too big and heavy. The old RSs handle better.’
Late 1973 – A new owner in Northern Ireland
Cathal Curley was the driver who really made a legend out of AUI 1500, entering three International rallies during 1974 and winning each one. He spotted a classified ad for the Lightweight in the motoring press and wanted to upgrade from the RS Touring he was driving, with a view to the Circuit of Ireland Rally – an event all Irish rally drivers dream of winning. It was up for £8000 – about the price of two semis in Surrey at the time, so he borrowed the money for it. Says Cathal, ‘To be honest it wasn’t much different from the car with electric windows and sunroof; it felt a bit lighter but with the same power and handling.
‘By the time we arrived in Killarney on the Saturday night of the Circuit of Ireland I was five seconds ahead of Billy Coleman in an Escort. The next guy was three minutes back, so the last day was a two-horse race. I was going hell-for-leather with perfect roads and weather, gaining or losing a second or two on each stage, and rounded a horseshoe bend flat-out in second. The middle was covered in dung. I hit it and away it went; I waited for the bang against the stone wall on the left but it never came. That had little to do with ability but was just the car and luck. I finished the stage and waited to see how far behind Billy was. He never arrived and the next guy through told me Billy had hit the dung and the wall. So I won the Circuit of Ireland by five minutes, the largest gap in its history.
Cathal’s last rally in AUI 1500 was memorable for other reasons. ‘We’d struggled with lack of tyre choice and managed to get hold of four soft-compound tyres for wet use in the 1975 Galway Rally. I’d never driven on soft compounds before but expecting rain we put a pair on the front for a 15-mile stage. The rain never came, and eight miles in the car went straight on at a 60mph right-hand bend. We wound up at a precarious angle on a bank, my navigator looking down at me. Then he released his safety belt and fell on me. The weight shift gently rolled the car on its side, and in the middle of nowhere we were stuck so had to retire.
‘Turned out we had overheated the rubber, and also we found the tyres had only had 10-12psi pressure put in them. A lesson or two learnt.’
1975 – Part exchange and a new plate
AUI 1500’s next owner was Freddie Patterson who, despite being better known as a rallycross and sprint driver, would enter the RS in more rallies during the two years he owned it than anyone else. So how did he prize the car away from Curley?
‘Cathal was a friend and we had done a few deals over the years. I had a non-lightweight RS2.7 that had finished ninth in the 1974 Circuit of Ireland – the event that Cathal had won – and part-exchanged this for AUI 1500 along with some cash. I can’t remember how much now but certainly some money changed hands.
‘The car was still in remarkably good condition and I had several successes in sprints and rallies. The most memorable was the 1976 Circuit of Ireland. That was back when it was a full circuit of the country and took five days to complete, with two night stages. It was really tough. We were doing well but dropped out of the top ten after problems in dense fog near Dublin. We dropped to last at one point but it was such a good car we fought our way back up to finish 12th.’
For the 1975 season Fred put his personal number plate – 8 FGP – on the RS but it reverted to being AUI 1500 the following year. Patterson’s best rally result was second place on the 1975 Circuit of Munster, though he was a regular in the top six placings for the 17 rallies he entered, and finished sixth overall in the 1976 BP Irish National Rally Championship. But after two years in the RS it was time for a change.
1977 – To the Isle of Man
Patterson’s friend, garage owner Ian Corkill, was AUI 1500’s next owner. ‘When I bought the car from Freddie in May 1977 I part-exchanged a Group 4 Escort MkII BDA for it and from memory didn’t have to put much money along with it.
‘The clutch was slipping and we fitted a new one in the open air in his truck yard in Ballygawley, Northern Ireland because we only had a few days before the Donegal International Rally.
‘By then the engine had already been rebuilt at least once and the car had been hit very hard when it was crashed it in 1975, and again in 1976. Despite AUI only being four years old it had a host of other issues, including difficulty starting when hot, and that year’s Donegal Rally was a hot one – the engine was running so hot that the petrol was vapourising in the fuel pump.’ It was after that rally that the car’s AUI 1500 number plate disappeared, replaced by 111 MAN. Its development continued though. ‘We fitted a lower ratio differential after Donegal to drop the gearing for a more acceleration but less top speed, about 125mph. We came second in the Galway Summer Rally, did the Creg ny Baa hill climb and then the Manx International Rally, where we finished fifth. We had to run most of that with the engine cover of to keep it cool.
‘The next event was the Cork 20 where it seized solid on the first stage. After lying in a Porsche technician from London it was discovered that the crankcases were warped from being run without oil when it had been run to the end of a stage with the oil cooler split. We managed to line-bore the cases and by that time I was getting pretty fed up with the bills, especially when we found the bodyshell had become so flexible after the accidents that the front torsion bars would jump out of their sockets if the full-length Dural sump guard was not fitted.
‘This sealed its fate and it was sold in 1978 and replaced initially with another Group 4 Escort and later with a Turbo-bodied 3.3 Carrera 930/G-Series, which was a much better car then the 2.7. The RS never held any great positive emotions for me – it was just an old rally car.
‘Since then I have run the Isle of Man’s official Porsche franchise [now retired] and found that a lot of the later 911s were much better cars in all sorts of ways – sorry to prick anyone’s bubble who has been saving up a few hundred grand to buy an RS2.7!’
1978 – Back to the mainland
The RS was once again traded for a Touring model, with dealer Jon Scowcroft, and re-registered MAN 911V. Within weeks he sold it on to Yorkshireman Fred Brown, owner of Tip-Top Drug Stores and a keen rally driver with 911 experience. Brown’s mechanic Keith Upton remembers the car well. ‘I picked the car up from Liverpool docks with Andrew Haw, the other member of Fred’s service crew. We had just two weeks to prepare it for the Welsh Rally. It was much faster than the previous 911 Fred had rallied, but was set up for tarmac rallying and had racing tyres.
‘We changed the brake pads for Mintex ones with more feel, fitted filters over the open inlet trumpets and welded up a side-exit exhaust to get noise levels down so it would pass scrutineering. The suspension was a bit low but there was no time to change it so we just fitted steel wheels with gravel tyres. It coped well, despite a reluctance to start when hot, but stopped on a stage in the Clocaenog Forest. Once allowed in to recover the car we found the multi-plug connector to the ignition switch had come apart. We made up a bracket to stop that happening again.
‘While on the rally we were questioned by an inquisitive police officer about the validity of the ‘V’ registration, issued by the Isle of Man. Although we wished to retain it for obvious reasons, a UK number was insisted on, but they issued a new 1978 number, DUG 919T, not an age-related plate as you’d get now.’
After the rally the car was repainted in Tip-Top colours and the suspension raised. It was also fitted with navigator John Cartwright’s new invention – the Terratrip digital tripmeter. Several more rallies were entered – including the 1978 RAC – with little success.
The car’s swansong was entering two rallies on the same weekend – Scarborough Stages and the Norking Alcan Stages. Keith Upton takes up the story again. ‘Fred clipped a boulder in Dalby Forest, badly damaging the ofside front suspension but just managed to limp out of the stage. A fellow Porsche competitor, Richard Jackson ofered to lend us a spare strut – but it was 40 miles away in Leeds.
‘We got the car back to the workshop and toiled late into the night to get it repaired, then after a couple of hours sleep got the car to Doncaster for the second event, which the car finished without incident.
‘Around this time Fred was looking for another car to compete in. The Porsche was sold to someone in South Africa and we sadly said goodbye to it.’
1979 – The road to Johannesburg
The RS had three owners in South Africa, who are either no longer with us or unwilling to talk about their time with the car. However, Mark Waring, an early 911 expert and the car’s restorer and current owner, has pieced together its life in South Africa.
‘Barry Levinson imported the 911 and used it in a couple of local rallies near Johannesburg. It then sat around until 1982 when he did a deal with property developer and racing driver Albert Van Heerden where Levinson received a red Porsche 912 and the tired engine from the RS, which Van Heerden had no need for.’ Indeed, Van Heerden was heading for the track. Using wings, spoilers and a works 3.4-litre engine bought from Porsche AG, he and friend Ralph Edwards converted the car to full Group 4 RSR specification. It ran in the Rolo Historics Championship from 1984- 87, but that eventually led to the car’s downfall. Mark Waring takes up the story again.
‘While leading a race at the Kyalami F1 circuit Van Heerden rolled the car at the infamous Jukskei Sweep complex at about 155mph. It hit the wall and the engine momentarily caught ire. Van Heerden was unhurt but traumatised and decided to retire from racing. The damaged bodyshell was acquired by Porsche collector Donald Van Standen – no stranger to rally cars because he also owned one of the East African Safari Rally “Werks” 2.5STs and understood the significance of this car. He simply stored it as it was.’
2006 – Mark Waring gets a phone call
Mark, who now runs a forensic business inspecting classic cars, got a lucky break. ‘Out of the blue I got a call to value – over the phone – a right-hand-drive RS Lightweight. Its owner had called me because of articles I’d written about the 911s I’d helped research and restore for others over 20 years. I could tell just by its colour which of the three missing RSs it was, which was quite exciting. Four years later I got a call asking if I wanted to buy it. To do that meant selling the
Porsche Formula Vee I was restoring at the time, but I don’t regret what I did one bit. How often do you get a chance to own a car with this kind of history?’
Once it had been recovered from South Africa, Mark had the daunting task of not only restoring it but doing so the right way. ‘I had a duty to save the most successful RS2.7 of all time. I had an epiphany moment when I realised if I simply used new panels I would be building a new version of the car. Constructing a new roof with panels welded together in a modern way seemed disrespectful. I decided that whatever it took I would find new old stock parts original to the car.
‘I bought a late 1973 911T hoping to salvage the inner rear wings. No such luck, they were rotten too. But I discovered I had a perfect roof. My bodywork specialist confirmed he could drill holes in between the factory welds, use these holes to weld it to new inner wings producing a stronger weld and then grind the welds flat leaving only the original welds visible. An added bonus was every nut bolt and washer missing from AUI 1500 was provided by the 911T.
‘I received a call from a Dutch contact about a pair of new old stock inner rear wings, still in their green coating. That was at 6pm and by 1am I was in Northern Holland collecting the wings and home again by morning. Then after some detective work I discovered Porsche had two pre-1976 right-hand-drive floorpans left in stock so bought them both, in the same period green finish. I even managed to find two 1973 doors with only one requiring minimal repairs.
‘I invested in a pristine set of 911 Celette jig brackets as used by Porsche to build the car. The new floor was mounted to the jig and the car built up as it would have been in period, panel by panel, section by section. Where factory spot-welding techniques were used the number of welds were counted to match the original car so even the men that built AUI 1500 would not be able to tell it was not their own work!’
A crucial issue Mark faced was that the chassis plate had been removed while in South Africa. ‘To reissue a chassis plate Porsche is understandably very careful and performs many secret test procedures. The inspection was carried out before restoration of the damaged shell. It verified the hidden official stamped number, so was happy to issue a new chassis plate.
‘I had more luck when in South Africa – Barry Levinson had kept the RS’s rare original seats and I was able to obtain these from him in exchange for a donation to his daughter’s university funds.
‘When I finished restoring AUI 1500 I was offered £1m but declined, returning it 40 years later to every event it won in 1974. It was allowed to run as a “00” car, re-enacting the stages on which it beat 14 other RSs and the works-backed Escorts. In 2016 I returned to film Curley and his navigator Austin Fraser driving Mols Gap. Afterwards Curley drove me up and down the Healey Pass, describing it as mechanically perfect.’
‘While leading a race at Kyalami, Van Heerden rolled the car at the Jukskei Sweep at 155mph’
‘I hit the dung and waited for the bang against the stone wall on the left, but it never came’
Morley and his new RS2.7 on the 1973 RAC Rally. In Newcastle Forest, the final stage of the 1974 Circuit of Ireland. Celebrating the 1974 Circuit of Ireland Victory. Cathal Curley shows how to fly on the Donegal International Rally in 1974.
Top: After a life of demanding competition, AUI 1500 has been restored in road trim; Bottom left: Cathal Curley pushes on during the 1974 Manx Rally; Bottom right: Patterson wowing the crowd on the 1976 Ulster Rally.
A genuine RS2.7 engine has replaced the Group 4 unit the car received in South Africa. Above, clockwise from top left: sporting Tip-Top livery in 1978; the aftermath of the 1987 crash that Van Heerden miraculously survived; taken back to the shell during restoration; in racing spec in South Africa in the mid-Eighties.
The level of detail to which 911 archaeologist Mark Waring delved to rescue a vital piece of Porsche competition lore is staggering. Bottom right shows mechanic Keith Upton with AUI 1500’s current owner Waring (right).