HAPPY DAYS EKLUND RALLY PORSCHE 911
We take a look at the recently-restored Per Eklund #Porsche-911-SCRS
rally car. Swedish rally star Per Eklund ran this factory-built 911 as a privateer in the WRC in 1978 and #1981
, and now it’s been totally restored. We caught it in action on the rally stage at 2014’s Goodwood Festival of Speed. Words: Johnny Tipler. Photos: Antony Fraser (statics), Johan Dirickx (archive), Johnny Tipler (action).
I duck instinctively. A cloud of dust, stones flying everywhere as the white 911 sweeps sideways round the final bend on Goodwood’s Festival of Speed rally stage, barrelling angrily along the final run between the bales to the finish line. It’s Johan Dirickx, Belgian Porschephile extraordinaire, resolutely helming his latest acquisition, the ex-Per Eklund SC.
Whilst snappers are liberally showered with shingle, there’s no particular danger of an off as Johan is familiar with the course, having run his Bastos SCRS here on previous occasions. He has a penchant for 911s with provenance, and bought the Eklund car in 2013, its illustrious rally star owner having abandoned the restoration that he’d implemented a full 15 years earlier. In the past year, under Johan’s tenure, the car has been comprehensively rebuilt from the bare shell – including a repaint and replicating the original Happy People livery – at Johan’s 911Motorsport workshops in Kontich, Belgium. All mechanical work, including a comprehensive engine and transmission rebuild, has been expertly carried out inhouse by Mike van Dingenen.
A passionate collector, Johan makes an acute assessment of the Eklund 911: ‘There were two factory cars – the East African Safari cars – and then there were three cars built to most of the Safari specs, and one of those is this one, the Per Eklund car. I think two of the three client cars still survive. So this car was pretty much built up like the Safari cars, and that’s why it is a little bit higher, and if you look at the rear wheel arches you’ll note that they are much wider than SC wheel arches, more like STs. There are signs that this is an experimental engine; you’ve got the high butterflies and single-plug ignition, which is strange because most of those engines ran on twin sparks. The engine sounds pretty similar to the SCRS; it’s a deep boom. I absolutely love it.
‘Also the suspension is different to what you would expect, and it could indicate it was a prototype, because the car is much higher. Those were some of the little things that #Porsche
did at the time when it was built into a race car; all those little things that only Porsche did that no individual would ever have done.’
The car has an intriguing provenance. Chassis number #911
410 2989, it only competed in a couple of WRC events, though Per Eklund campaigned it in a number of less important rallies, the car ending up with 935 style front bodywork doing autocross, a discipline (if that’s the right word) that Eklund excels in. A works Saab rally driver from #1970
to 1979, he scored a fair number of podiums at the wheel of a 96 V4, and like several of his countrymen he is up there with the gods of the WRC. He was Swedish Rally Champion in 1978, and Swedish Rallycross Champion as recently as 2004.
So how come the #Porsche-911
? In 1978 Per was looking for a suitable rally car for the #1978
WRC season, and was introduced by his pal, Prodrive engineer David Lapworth, to the exalted short run of rally 911s that Porsche was building in Weissach at the time.
This batch consisted of just five cars, two of which were retained by the factory, one ordered by Alméras Frères (winners of the 1978 Monte Carlo Rally with Jean- Pierre Nicolas), and one by Prodrive, in the pipeline for Henri Toivonen to contest the 1984 European Rally Championship, while the fifth went to Eklund Motorsport.
Rather than being the very latest kit to come out of Weissach, the specification actually dates from four years earlier, 1974, when Porsche homologated the 911 to FIA regulation 3062. The competition department didn’t actuate the homologation until 1978 when they decided to build up the SC as a competition car to Safari spec, based on FIA 3062. The factory finally decided to go for the East African Safari Rally and nail the win, according to Jürgen Barth, who was, predictably, involved with the project at Weissach, along with Roland Kussmaul.
Working backwards, in 1974 Porsche created what they called the ST kit, which seems to have been an adjunct to the pre-existing ST race car spec that came into being as a factory-derived competition car in 1970. Although not well documented, it’s likely that 15 examples of the original 2.3-litre #Porsche-911ST
were built in race and rally format, with a further 23 units of the 2.5-litre 911ST documented as race cars. In The Porsche Book, Jürgen Barth lists the chassis numbers of 15 special 911S race and rally cars from 1970 and 1971, with 23 race cars from #1972
. The ST designation was an in-house amalgam of the #Porsche-911S
engine and the lighter #Porsche-911T
Eight years on, it enabled Porsche to build this small run of rally 911s to comply with the #FIA
papers based on the 1974 car. Porsche judged the 1974 car to be the lightest base-model of the range, and so that was the starting point for the 1978 project. While a number of key privateers like Kremer and GELO Racing acquired STs and SC packages in the early ’70s, these later kits were so rally specific that only Alméras, Prodrive and Eklund Motorsport got them.
The Alméras SC was also a narrow-body Group 3 lookalike, and they had a second 911 which was the Group 4 car, built up as a wide body Tarmac specification car, on account of the fundamentally Tarmac requirement of French rallies, whereas Prodrive and Per Eklund stayed with the narrow bodied 911, given the gravel-strewn surfaces of the rallies they would be entering.
These two cars were built at the same time, but with significant collaboration between Per Eklund and David Lapworth. As such, the cars resemble each other very closely, and were equally similar in specification to the two 1978 works Safari cars (see sidebar).
The comprehensive ST kit installed in the lightweight car comprises the 300bhp 3.0-litre flat-six built by Porsche Motorsport (with butterfly injection instead of the slider injection that was prone to jam due to dust on rally stages), a close-ratio gearbox with oil pump and cooler on top of the ’box (like the RSR), a 10,000rpm rev counter, competition clutch, competition exhaust manifolds and system, and a front-mounted #Porsche-935
The uprated suspension components include front springs and struts with coil-over rear shocks, wrapped alloy trailing arms, and uprated brakes based on the 935’s at the front. There’s a front-mounted engine oil cooler, bias-adjustable pedal box, rear ducktail engine-lid spoiler, rear wing extensions in metal, and front alloy crossmember. The shell is reinforced in strategic places, including the engine bay and suspension mounts, with double-skinned front wheelarches and alloy roll cage. A battery of four Bosch spotlamps on the front lid completes the image.
According to Per Eklund, the kit did not include the additional rally equipment of sump guards, seat, spotlights and steering wheel, and hydraulic handbrake, which he didn’t like. At the time, seats and steering wheel were left to driver choice, and sump guards were fitted according to the nature of the stages the cars were rallied on. The fuel tank was original so the spare wheel could be carried. Fuchs wheels were fitted at the front, and Fuchs or ATS Cookie Cutters on the back, depending on the nature of the stages. Per Eklund confirms that he received the complete ST kit from Jürgen Barth as one of the three selected teams, and indeed Jürgen refers to the batch as ‘STs with Porsche Motorsport’.
The Per Eklund 911SC (or is it ‘ST’?…) began life as a standard car, converted with Porsche support in his Swedish workshop and remained in his ownership until Johan bought it. Bedecked in its jolly Happy People livery, its moment of glory was Finland’s FIA 1000 Lakes Rally of 1978, where Per and co-pilot Björn Cederberg finished 4th – having been 3rd on the road but docked a place for speeding on a transit section and receiving a time penalty.
The 1000 Lakes was also nicknamed the Thousand Jumps on account of the notorious ’yumping’ over countless blind crests. A photo in Motor Sport’s October 1978 edition shows the Happy People car chucking up mud while spectators on a sunny hillside shelter under brollies. Amazingly, this was the very first time that Porsche scored points on gravel in the World Rally Championship.
And the sponsor? According to Johan, ‘Happy People was a non profit organisation, and it seems that it still exists.’ But whether any funds changed hands, or Per just liked the logo is a moot point. As Johan says, ‘Per did not have any sponsorship and therefore volunteered to carry “Happy People” on the car, and even if that isn’t 100 per cent true, it is a nice story.’ The Eklund SC was then used at National Championship level with a good degree of success in rallies like the Hunsrück in 1979, and in the #1981
Swedish Rally where, notwithstanding its age, Per finished 9th overall, sponsored by Publimmo, with co-driver Ragnar Spjuth. This pair contested the 1981 Rally of 1000 Lakes, but failed to finish because of mechanical problems. Resplendent in white Clarion livery, Per then went rallycrossing with it, funking it up with 935 style droop-soot nose, front lid and polyester bumpers, all parts supplied by Porsche. These period parts have been kept with the car, including the original Swedish number plate, HOH 276. The car was then retired and placed in the local motor museum at Arvik, Karlstad, Sweden, part of which is dedicated to Per and his WRC successes, including his formidable Metro 6R4 from 1986.
Back in the late ’90s Per decided to restore the car with the idea that he would enter the European Historic Rally Championship, so he extracted it from the museum. In 1999 the original Porsche Motorsport engine and gearbox were dispatched to Francis Tuthill for overhaul, though they remain under wraps and have never been reinstalled in the car. The projected restoration was never finished: Per was pulled from the project to run an X-Games (X = Extreme sports) team in the States, so in #2013
ownership of the car passed to Johan Dirickx.
Perfectionist that he is, Johan instantly embarked on a full restoration, from bare metal repaint and application of the red-nosed clown and Happy People identification, based on a multitude of period archive images, to a comprehensive rebuild of the drivetrain and running gear. Happy People? A genial identity for such a fierce bolide. Still, it makes everyone smile.
Which brings us to the Goodwood Festival of Speed’s Rally stage. I asked Johan’s friend, Alan Benjamin from Denver, for his impression of hurling it around the Goodwood rally course. ‘Absolutely fantastic, and a huge grin every run,’ enthuses the laconic Colorado man. ‘I am one of the few American rallyists here; we don’t really do rallying in the USA that much. Except for Pike’s Peak, which is now all paved. But Johan, my best Porsche buddy in Belgium, allows me to do this, and then he comes over to the US and races some of my Porsches at Laguna Seca, so we have a good international alliance.
‘But the Goodwood rally track is narrow, it’s pot-holed and the edges of the track, as we would say in the US, are trees, so when you’re driving someone else’s expensive car you try and leave a little bit out there and let the car owner and the pros really go for it. But it’s absolutely fantastic and the car is getting better every day.’
What about the particular methodology of driving a loose, off-road rally stage? ‘The skill sets are completely different. There are way bigger slip angles, and if you had that much slip angle on pavement you would be dramatic but overall you would be slower, a lot more power and oversteer, less four-wheel drifting, but either way, it’s a blast!’ From last year’s 3m 24s in the Bastos car, Johan managed 3m 11s in the Eklund car. ‘We could have done better if the gearbox and final drive were more adapted to the terrain,’ mused Johan. ‘If this had been the case, 3m 05s would have been possible.’
The Happy People SC remained in Per’s ownership for 35 years, and that’s a testimony in itself, even though it got neglected latterly. But now it’s in Johan’s tenure, benefiting from a nut-and-bolt rebuild, and knowing of his penchant for letting his beast off the leash, we’ll be seeing lots more of the car in historic rallies. Happy days!