Porsche 910 Racer on the road. In period this Porsche 910 was race likes of Vic Elford at tracks including Spa Hockenheim, and the Nurburgring. Today we drive it in rural Essex. Words Ivan Ostroff. Photography Jonathan Fleetwood.
Road Racer Shattering the tranquility of rural Essex in the Porsche 910 used by Vic Elford to storm to a rampant class victory at Hockenheim
Taking to the public road – yes, really in ‘Quick Vic’ Elford’s race-winning Porsche 910
And I can drive it on the road?’ My voice must surely have betrayed my shock. The owner of Porsche 910 chassis 020 - a Sixties sports prototype that was raced successfully by ‘Quick Vic’ Elford and whose endurance-racing DNA can be found in the legendary 917 - has agreed to hand over the keys. And my playground won’t be Spa or Hockenheim, where this very car claimed class victories in period, but on the country roads of Essex.
Now the car is resting idle in front of me, I’m curious as to why its current owner, successful restaurateur and keen historic racer Rainer Becker, keeps it fully road legal, not least because of its seven-figure value. Apparently he often takes it out for a blast on the road just to put a smile on his face. I suppose I should humour him.
The 910 looks low, sleek and slippery. Although it’s possible to remove the roof panel to create a Spyder arrangement, today it’s fixed in place; not only is it rather chilly, but factory 910s were raced as coupes by all but the two tallest Porsche drivers. Its doors are front-hinged to the windscreen hoop and the rear of the front wings - a lesson learnt from the failure of a 906’s gullwing door on a period press launch - so they open forwards until they rest on the wings, making it easier for me to straddle the wide sill and drop down into the reclined racing seat. I secure the full harness and survey the instruments and controls; to the right is a light with a pull knob labelled ‘benzine pump’, while the the ignition master switch is near the door on the passenger side.
The Porsche 910 used its short window opportunity to earn a giant-killing reputation
The 910 was built to satisfy the Group 6 sports prototype regulations, which stipulated that it had to be able to carry a passenger and a spare wheel. However, a passenger would have their forward vision dramatically restricted by the large rear view mirror mounted offset to my right, and their comfort would certainly be compromised by the two ignition spark control boxes mounted on the rear bulkhead just where their head would rest.
Keeping my foot off the throttle I twist the normal-looking key in the ignition barrel marked ‘starten’ and listen to the flat six cranking over. The cambelt-driven Bosch mechanical fuel injection system - apparently even more difficult to find today than an original 910 engine - does its job and the engine fires easily. I keep the revs just below 2000rpm and hear the little 2.0-litre flat six’s ‘chist-chist, pssst, chist’; it sounds like it’s misfiring. Andy Prill, who maintains the car for Rainer, is there to put my mind at rest and explains that the injection system has slide throttles and insufficient combustion at low rpm. ‘The fuel tends to pond causing the occasional spit-off, so a cacophony of spitting is quite normal for these engines,’ he reassures me.
While I wait for the temperature to creep up, I identify the two fundamental engine monitoring gauges - water temperature calibrated from 40-120°C, and oil pressure from 0-10kg/cm2. There’s also a warning light marked ‘benzine’ to signify when to change over to the reserve fuel tank, and a fire extinguisher button to my right. Hopefully I won’t need either.
I dip the clutch, press down on the gearstick and then select reverse via an exaggerated movement left and forward. Satisfied that I now know where it is in case I need it to turn the car around while out on the road, I bring the lever back through neutral and straight into the dog-leg first-gear slot. I’m surprised by how light the clutch spring is; purebred racers aren’t usually so kind.
The flat-6 engine can to rev to 8200rpm as often as you like and still maintain reliability
The 910 has a delightful Porsche synchromesh gearbox so there’s no need for the double de-clutching required by many other racing cars of the time, which is helpful for road use. After some gentle pottering to get a feel for the controls, I select first, and with 4000rpm on the tachometer I drop the clutch. There’s so much torque channelling through the 12-inch-wide Dunlop CR65 tyres behind me that the acceleration is astounding. As the revs rise my body is pressed back into the seat progressively, but not violently. I slide the gear lever forward, across and forward into second; the back end twitches but I’ve got it.
Inside, the exhaust note is drowned out by the roaring crescendo and mechanical reverberations of air being gulped down the throttle venturis. I soon encounter some damp sections of road; the rear end starts to tickle and twiddle, then squirms sideways at 5500rpm as the torque makes itself felt. I take heed of the warning signs, lift gently and it all comes back.
In period the flat-six 910 engines were said to rev to 8900rpm, but back then the factory was rebuilding their engines before every race. Today, Prill has told me this engine is safe to rev to 8200rpm as often as you like and still maintain reliability for several historic racing seasons. On paper, the rolling road power figures for this car are the same now as they were in period - 228bhp at 7600rpm, with max torque of 155lb ft made at 6200rpm.
Says Becker, ‘It’s not heavily developed like so many historic racers are these days. As such I know that I’m unlikely to achieve a podium finish, but I would rather keep the car as original as possible. I don’t want to alter the suspension, fit bigger brakes or modify the engine - if I wanted that I would buy a modern car. It’s more important to keep it as it is for future generations of motoring enthusiasts to enjoy.’
This 910 might feel hamstrung when pitched against steroidal peers out on the track, but on the public road its 580kg mass provides the kind of power- and torque-to-weight ratios that must be experienced to be believed. To assume that the modest 2.0-litre capacity of the flat-six engine would make the car an easy, forgiving drive would be a mistake; it’s all about finding the limit and being smooth. Waggling the steering wheel through a fast corner like you might in a competition car five years older will just slow you down.
The chunky Dunlops grip extremely well, even on a damp road, but I want to find out where the limits of adhesion are, so I get a bit braver and push a bit harder through the corners. There’s an abundance of mechanic grip, although the 910 doesn’t like to be
pushed past its limit of adhesion. Play the 910 to its strengths, though, and it’s a dream. The engine and gearbox weight is kept well within the wheelbase it carried forward from the 906, bestowing the 910 with a beautifully balanced poise. The rack- and-pinion steering is light - ideal for endurance racing - yet still precise and communicative, while the brakes are full of feel and effective once the pads are up to temperature.
The Porsche 910 debuted late in the 1966 season in hill- climb specification, where Gerhard Mitter used one to clinch the European Mountain Championship. During the off-season it was then developed under Ferdinand Piech’s guidance as an endurance racer for a factory assault on the International Manufacturers Championship. Here it met its main rivals in the form of a now-18-valve Dino 206SP and a new 2.0-litre V8-powered Alfa T33. Helped by Ferrari and Autodelta’s reluctance to commit to fielding a comprehensive tilt at sub-2000cc Division II honours - the former too engaged in battling Ford in the open-capacity Division I, and the latter too wet behind the ears - the 910 helped Porsche clinch the both the sub-2.0-litre Prototype title and overall honours in the popular European Hill Climb Championship, where its gestation as a hill climb car shone through.
Unlike the ancestral 904 sportscar - built on two longerons with a tub and structural body - the 910’s chassis was made up from steel tubing of 15mm-20mm, based on the 906 that directly preceded it; its ultra-thin glassfibre body was similarly bonded to the frame. However, the 910 was far lighter than the 906, to the point where it only just edged over the minimum Group 6 weight requirement of 575kg. To save time in the pits its 13-inch wheels used Porsche’s new centre-locking system with a single aluminium nut, a Formula One-inspired development first used on Porsche’s 904/8 Bergspyder, which also handed down its suspension layout - cribbed from a Lotus F1 car - to the 910.
By 1968 the factory had moved on to 907s and 908s for the new larger engine categories, so sold most of the 28 surplus 910s to customer teams. It was at this time that chassis 910/020 was acquired by the William Bradley Racing Team; its first outing was at the Monza 1000km, where Bradley paired with regular Porsche factory driver Vic Elford. The car lost a wheel when running in fourth place but still finished in a creditable ninth overall. It was also the fastest of the five privately entered 910s in the race.
During its racing life, 910/020 enjoyed success within the sub-2000cc classes in 1968 and 1969, often with Elford at the helm. On 21 July 1968 he steered it to a class win at Hockenheim, ahead of several GT40 prototypes from the top tier. The following season Bill Bradley and Tony Dean won the 2.0 Sports class at Spa in May, and then on 1 June the same pair managed fourth in class at the Nurburgring. On 10 August 1969 Bill Bradley teamed up with Dieter Spoerry and came 11th overall and third in class behind two other 910s at the Ostereichring 1000km. They paired up again for what would be Bradley’s final major race in the car, the Barcelona 12 Hours, where they placed fifth overall and second in class, behind a Chevron B8 but ahead of a Porsche 910 run by home team Escuderia Montjuich.
Chassis 020 lived a quiet life thereafter, until it was restored by ex-Porsche mechanic Paddy O’Grady. In 1998 it was sold to Martin Koenig, and it changed hands twice more before Rainer Becker bought it in 2011. Rainer took the car to Andy Prill’s firm Prill Porsche Classics to fettle. Says Andy, The Porsche 910’s fiat-six has two banks of cylinders with two spark plugs per cylinder all running off one distributor. So you have “A” plugs and “B” plugs, and they should be wired so that the driver can switch off one set of plugs from his seat, leaving the engine still running on the remaining six plugs. If you race a twin-spark car with only one bank working, detonation will cause damage. The switches are there so you can check that both banks are functioning properly.
‘If you turn one off, you should hear the engine note change as one lot of plugs drops out. Obviously, if the engine stops with either bank switched off, you have a problem. When the car arrived here it was wired incorrectly - you could only switch off one complete bank of cylinders which resulted in the engine stopping. On top of that the firing order was all wrong and the fuel injection system was in a hell of a mess. It’s a rather crude system - it’s essentially a linear spray of fuel without any form of governing or altitude correction - but it requires expertise to rebuild.’
Now in a well-sorted but still refreshingly original specification, this 910 is testament not only to the model’s expectation-busting legacy, but to the work of Ferdinand Piech as patriarch of Porsche’s legendary series of endurance racers that began with the 906 - when he was just 28 - and culminated in the 917.
Just as Piech was wise beyond his years, the Porsche 910 is a more formidable machine than its modest 1991cc suggests. Light, well-balanced and thoughtfully engineered, the model used its short window of opportunity to earn a reputation as a giant-killer by humbling Goliath-capacity GT40S, Ferrari P4s and Chaparral 2Fs on occasion at certain circuits, especially when it rained.
In fact, Rainer Becker reckons his 910 is even more enjoyable to drive in the wet. ‘Even though it will start to slide that much earlier, it gives such good feedback through the steering you get adequate warning before it lets go. But the best thing about it is that you can drive for hours without getting tired. For a racing car it’s astonishingly comfortable.’
After a thrilling drive through the Essex countryside, I can concur. The Porsche 910 isn’t just a giant-killing racer - it’s a rousing road car too.