Rob Mackie raced this 911T/R at Mugello in 1968. 51 years on, we reunite car and driver. Written by Ben Barry. Photography by Steve Hall.
Memories of Mugello
Drive-My reunites a car and driver pairing which saw success at Mugello in 1968
Chances are you’ve never heard of Rob Mackie. I hadn’t until I interviewed the 79-year-old about racing a 911 S in the Targa Florio in 1967. He described driving the new 911 to Sicily aged just 26, giving a factory Porsche a scare and finishing second in class before driving home again. It was an amazing tale, all told with Rob’s typical understatement and modesty.
When I asked where else he’d raced back then, Rob recounted the Mugello road race in Italy 1968 in a 911T/R. That same car, he revealed, was restored and in the UK. Reuniting car and driver at Sports Purpose in Bicester Heritage seemed an opportunity not to be missed.
“Von Hanstein promised a good deal on the next car if I didn’t go quite so quickly – they didn’t want the works cars embarrassed!”
New owner Philip Basil is already on site when we arrive, the T/R timewarp pristine. Rob opens the door, settling into the driver’s seat. “It’s just like turning back the clock to 1968,” he says, and the memories start to flow out of him.
Engineer Rob’s motorsport career began in the early 1960s as rally co-driver for Alan Allard – son of Allard Motor Company boss Sydney – before he was approached by Dan Margulies in 1966, a wealthy privateer racer with an upscale car dealership in Kensington. First came a race in a Ferrari 250 GTO at Silverstone – in at the deep end, to say the least – and soon after the 1967 Targa. Margulies then bought the 911 S and shared the driving, Mackie the hired hand and the quicker of the two.
When that car sold, the pair knew they could count on Porsche team manager Huschke von Hanstein’s promise of a chunky discount on the next car. “Hanstein put his arm around Dan while I was on the Targa, promising a good deal next time if I didn’t go quite so quickly – they didn’t want the works cars embarrassed!” Mackie recounts.
For 1968 Rob and Dan settled on a new 911T. It was Porsche’s least powerful, least well-equipped 911, but also its lightest at a homologated 923kg. An S was 975kg. Crucially, the FIA regulations allowed the T numerous upgrades, including the more powerful S motor, rated at 160bhp – 50bhp up on a T. There’s a handwritten note in TMD 7F’s history file from Rob, noting down the spec while chatting on the phone with Dr Severi in the competition department.
Ultimately their 911 was equipped with the Sportskit 2, featuring uprated carb jets, a twin-outlet exhaust helping the engine run cooler, and uprated spark plugs. It also got hotter cams, a 200rpm-higher rev cut-out, a close-ratio gearbox and limitedslip differential. The factory quoted 186bhp. Only latterly have these factory-prepped racers become known as 911T/R, numbers thought to be in the 30s. When the car was ready for collection, Rob shook it down at the Nürburgring and returned it to Stuttgart for a first 500km inspection before driving back to the UK. It was then ready for Mugello, thought to be its only race outing.
These days Mugello is synonymous with the 3.3-mile-long circuit built a short distance east of Scarperia in 1973. But until 1970 it was a road course over which racers competed for seven or eight laps of 41 miles each.
Starting from Scarperia in Tuscany, the route runs along flood plains, tangles through knots of hairpins and climbs beyond 900 metres. It was an even faster, more mountainous kind of Targa Florio. Rob set off for the race in late July 1968.
‘‘I drove from Stuttgart in convoy with [race driver] Mike Franey, who was in a Jaguar E-type,” recalls Rob. “It was going well until I rolled into a van in traffic in Munich and broke the headlamp glass – we got a new one, which dipped the wrong way, and fitted it on the dealer forecourt.”
Getting out of the city allowed the 911 to stretch its legs. “We were going up the Brenner Pass flat out, the two of us, using my maximum of 6,000rpm in fifth – probably 120mph or so with no speed limit – and I looked over to a café and saw everyone on their feet… they must have heard us coming!”
Rob had raced at Mugello the previous year in the Bahama yellow Targa Florio 911 S, gaining a class win and 30th overall, so he was already familiar with the place. He stayed at the same hotel on the Futa Pass. Co-driver Dan Margulies flew in, collecting a hire car for the rendezvous.
“We’d go through corners, then turn round and run them again,” remembers Rob. “But it wasn’t safe to go flat out – you’d have traffic coming the other way, a man with a donkey!”
Qualifying took place in perfect conditions, the sun beating down, with Alfa GTAs, Fiat 124s, Morgan Plus 4s, Abarths, Lotus Elans and Ferraris all scorching around the road circuit. “Because I’d driven TMD all the way down there, I was immediately comfortable – it handled beautifully. If you went into a corner too fast you’d just back off, the rear would swing round, point you at the apex and you’d squeeze the throttle and away you’d go – wonderful.”
Rob’s time put the pair towards the front of the 911s on the start grid. “There was one fast left-hander through a bridge. I was braking at first, then I learnt you could barely brake at all – that saved ten seconds alone. But I remember telling Vic Elford I could make up time lost elsewhere on the course, and Vic said, ‘no you can’t, that time’s gone.’ That stayed with me.” The weather was equally perfect on race day, with the racers released in pairs at intervals. Thousands of spectators lined the route, their cars parked haphazardly at the side of the road.
For the first six miles north to Ponzalla the SP503 is relatively straight, and it’s easy to forget these comparatively unremarkable and uninvolving stretches once demanded huge commitment from a racer.
After Ponzalla the road climbs quickly, with an incline of up to 10 per cent, zig-zagging through the hillsides on the Passo del Giogo. “The Giogo just never stops,” remembers Rob, “but the T was so nimble compared to the S the year before – it felt every bit of 50kg lighter.”
The road opens up beyond Firenzuola before descending the legendary Futa Pass. “That was the toughest section,” says Rob. “The year before the brakes went squishy in the S, but not in the T – perhaps because it was lighter, maybe because I knew the place better – but there was no front oil cooler, so the needle would go right to the danger mark.” Rob, too, was overheating, doing four 41-mile laps flat out in summer heat – rivals had put water bottles in their cars, but Rob wouldn’t get a drink for over two hours of flat-out driving.
An old picture captures the 911 barrelling down the Futa Pass, lifting a wheel, and it triggers Rob’s recollection of how he’d upshift to fifth with the car fully airborne rather than waiting for the landing, the better to prevent revs flicking right up to the limiter. He’d catch and pass rivals, but also get caught and be passed too. “I’d just lift or pull over when I could. I’d lose time at best looking in the mirror at them.” There were numerous accidents and retirements, including a 911 crashed into trees by a US driver, perhaps in 1968, though Rob can’t be entirely sure. “The engine and gearbox were ripped out by the impact and they just shovelled it up, a brand-new car. The triple carbs had even hit the driver on the head, but he survived!”
Times improved with each lap: first 38:59, then 38:02 and two final rounds at 37:57 before it was time for the driver change. “Re-fuelling the 100-litre tank seemed to take an eternity. It was just a pump, like a filling station,” remembers Rob. Dan buckled in and headed out for his stint as soon as the tank was topped.
His best lap was over six minutes down on his quicker co-driver’s, but he brought it home. The pair later discovered they’d placed third in class and 22nd overall at the prize-giving. Rob is generous many years after his friend’s death, acknowledging that without Dan’s funding he’d have never raced at the Targa or Mugello at all.
Again Rob drove the 911 home, and by early 1969 TMD 7F was advertised as ‘a 911 T to S spec, plus £1k of further modifications’. Collector John Melville Smith bought it as a road car before it passed through several owners, was resprayed black, then white, and slowly deteriorated.
In 1998 Josh Sadler at Autofarm spotted an advert for a 911T listed at £10,000 to be broken for parts. He spotted the hollow Nadella driveshafts, the 100-litre fuel tank and S-spec engine. He wrote to Porsche archive, it confirming the wreck was a highly prized ex-competition car.
A wealthy city worker funded the 18-month restoration – we pore over the extensive photographic documentation – before quitting and selling the car to current owner Philip Basil in 2001. “I was really looking for a 2.7RS, and Josh couldn’t sell this car. Nobody understood what it was,” remembers Philip. “But he said ‘your money is safe; trust me’, and he was right. I paid £62k, which seemed a lot at the time.”
Rob is instantly transported back to collecting the 911 in Stuttgart when he looks over the as-new condition today. He remembers choosing Blood orange because it was a new colour and looked so stunning, that the original wheels were smaller – five-and-a-half-inches wide all-round, not the six-inch fronts, seven-inch rears now fitted – and that he wished they’d gone for the fuel filler in the centre of the bonnet, a new option for that year. There never was a rollcage, just the factory sports seats, “but rightly or wrongly I always thought a 911 would look after me in a shunt. I’d seen others walk away,” reflects Rob.
Having last raced in 2007 and driving infrequently these days, Rob rules out any heroics, but he grins as he turns the key and the flat six bursts to life. The clutch bites abruptly, Rob saving it with a load of revs before disappearing off into the distance, lapping the Bicester track with increasing confidence before returning to the pits looking a little exhausted, if exhilarated, by the emotional reunion.
“I just cannot believe I drove this car flat out,” chuckles Rob, easing himself out of the driver’s seat. “But it’s so nice to drive it again after all these years, and so much of it is still familiar – the chatter from the drop gears at idle, the unforgettable noise of that 2.0-litre flat six with the rally exhaust. It feels great today, but you have to remember that we were racing Cortina GTs, Triumph TR5s, MGBs, even E-types, and the 911’s road-holding, the quality of the engineering, was simply on another level back then – it was such a privilege to drive. I was so lucky.”
Rob and Dan returned to Mugello one last time for 1969 and finished 3rd in class and “19th or 20th overall” in a blue 911 T/R. That car now lives somewhere in the US, making a reunion tricky; the Bahama yellow 911 – reg OLL 4E – has never been found. TMD 7F, though, is never too far away, and Rob and new owner Philip have become good friends. Reliving those memories of Mugello is just a phone call away.
ABOVE TMD 7F was a 911T fitted with an S-spec engine as part of its Sportskit 2. LEFT Inside, the T/R is a timewarp back to the days of Mackie’s Mugello race, though outside, wider Fuchs wheels have since been fitted all round. ABOVE Mackie is reacquainted with the driver’s seat of TMD 7F.