Le Mans Porsche 930. It won the new GTX class first time out at Le Mans in 1975, then faded into a hillclimb career and obscurity. Now this primordial 911 Turbo is back, raring to go. Words James Elliott. Photography Jonathan Fleetwood.
THE LOST LE MANS WINNER: REDISCOVERED PORSCHE 930 TURBO DRIVEN
PORSCHE 930 GTX Porsche’s first turbocharged Le Mans winner
The prodigal Porsche
On the surface, 1975 was not a good year for Porsche at Le Mans. John Wyer continued to exact his revenge for being ousted from Porsche’s racing plans, Ickx and Bell crossing the line first after 24 hours in Wyer’s Gulf-Mirage GR8, Schuppan and Jaussaud third in another Mirage. Wyer’s cars were split by the Ligier JS2 of Lafosse and Chasseuil, similarly Cosworth DFV-powered, which meant there were no Porsche drivers on the podium.
The first Stuttgart car home was the Joest 908, by then long in the tooth, followed by a slew of 3.0-litre RSRs to make up the top ten. But that was little more than clubman’s stuff to the top brass. No, 1975 was not a good year at Le Mans for Porsche. Except that, really, it was.
A little further down the field, history was being made in the new-for-’1975 GTX class. Introduced that year by the Automobile Club d’Ouest, GTX stood for ‘Le Mans Grand Touring Experimental’ and it welcomed, with open arms, GTs that used equipment yet to be homologated, This brand-new class was won by a brand new type of Porsche: a 930 Turbo.
‘It’s a surprising car in many paradoxical ways: fame with anonymity, speed with civility’
This car, which finished 15th overall, had been bought by Max Klay and entered by his pal Guido Habethurs Swiss Porsche Club Romand team. It was driven by Claude Haldi, Bernard Beguin and Peter Zbinden. Powered by a three-litre version of Porsche’s flat-six with Bosch injection and KKK turbocharger, and wearing Michelin tyres, the 930 qualified 44th. It then completed a commendable 291 laps to become Porsche’s first ever turbo winner (well, class-winner) at Le Mans.
That was not the most astonishing thing, however. Yet more impressive was that this unfancied, unheralded ‘out of the showroom and onto the track’ road car had run as high as 11th and might have vanquished the entire GT class had it not suffered repeated brake problems, The discs were changed three times over the course of the 24 hours, the last of the sets reputedly borrowed from a spectator’s 911S in the La Sarthe car park.
It really was a remarkable achievement, even allowing for the inconvenient truth that after Ferrari, NART and the ACO had had their annual falling-out and a privately entered Lamborghini had failed to start, the 930 was actually the only runner in GTX. Similarly, any perception of the Swiss garagiste outfit as a small, homespun team is misleading. It was seriously experienced. Haldi was de facto team leader – if there was any pretence of democracy among the drivers, it was a charade – and was by that time already a Le Mans veteran, having first raced there in 1968.
The Lausanne-born driver, a boilermaker by trade, would go on to compete in the 24 Hours a total of 22 times until 1993,14 of them in Porsches and twice for the works, in 1973 and 1987. He was also a European hillclimb champion in a 911 S. He knew Le Mans and he knew his Porsches, albeit not this one before it gave him his first finish in the 24 Hours.
Before winning the GTX class at Le Mans, this very car had been displayed by Porsche at the Geneva Salon. It was the 13th 930 produced and the first to be imported into Switzerland. For a road car – for a race car, too – the 930, known officially as the 911 Turbo, was properly cutting-edge even though the company had been experimenting with turbo technology since the 1960s.
Development of the 911 Turbo had begun in earnest in 1972 primarily to meet homologation requirements, as the company had done previously with the 911 Carrera 2.7 RS and 911 RSR.
Launched in 1975, the Turbo soon found its original purpose as a homologation special eclipsed by its popularity, and around 1000 examples were sold in its first year of production, The whale-tail became an instant motoring status symbol and the Turbo waltzed effortlessly into and through the gauche 1980s, arguably the decade that suited it best. By the time it was supplanted by a combination of the 928 and the 964 Turbo, Porsche’s halo car had exceeded its original build aspirations 200-fold. It had reigned for nearly 15 years as comfortably the fastest German production car you could buy. It had become a legend.
After Le Mans, this 930 was sold on to hillclimber Walter Pauli, who would own it for over 40 years. He campaigned it extensively in Switzerland up to the mid-1980s, a plaque on the dash recording its victory in the prestigious 1976 Nationales Bergrennen Am Gurnigel.
Over that time its illustrious past, if not exactly hidden, was gradually eroded and eventually forgotten, The history re-remerged publicly only after the 930 was taken over by a third Swiss owner, Rolf Sigrist, who spotted some unusual details. He realised that the car, still highly original, was something special and began to research its history.
The Porsche then changed hands again last year, when it was imported from Switzerland by Duncan Hamilton ROFGO. The company’s Simon Drabble admits that it was just one of those cars that wraps you up in the history, and they had to have it. ‘As the story unfurled,
I was more and more aghast. I like to think I know my stuff about cars, especially Porsches and especially racing Porsches, yet I admit that I had absolutely no knowledge of this car.
‘It turned out that very few other people did either, and that just enhanced the appeal. It’s not as if anyone had actually tried to hide this car or wipe it off the map, but it had just slipped very slowly into obscurity. It was time to rescue it and put it back in the spotlight.’
All those who didn’t realise this ‘lost’ car’s significance can be forgiven, because there was very little outward sign of its hillclimb history, let alone its Le Mans past, That sense of anonymity was greatly aided by Swiss legislation, which banished sponsors’ logos and race numbers, meaning that the 930 Turbo bore none of the obvious hallmarks of its run at Le Mans. At least there is now a plaque on the dashboard, even though it looks like it was knocked up while-you-wait in Timpsons.
There is also an unobtrusive rollcage, but few other concessions to serious competition. Instead you get MacLaughlan tartan doorcards, the standard 300km/h speedo, electric windows (and their heavyweight motors in the door, normally the first things to jettison when you are building a serious race car), rear seats, and not just a radio-cassette but an especially cheap and nasty-looking Tagaro. This understated beast really looks like it could be a car kept by a keen amateur for occasional sprints. Nothing too taxing, mind.
As driven by Drive-My EN/UK, it’s fresh back from one of ‘Hammy s Tours’, a trans-continental jaunt organised by Adrian Hamilton for friends and clients. So fresh back from Paul Ricard, in fact, that the passenger seat and rear bench are still littered with the detritus left by new owner Viscount Cowdray. We wouldn’t have been surprised to find the driver’s seat still warm, Those water bottles, route books, tissues and suchlike tell the story both of hard use and of simple usability, and Cowdray says that was a large part of the appeal.
Viscount Cowdray is not exactly green behind the ears when it comes to this stuff. Not only was he executive producer on Vanishing Point and a regular on the Tour Auto, he has been racing since 1996 after being inducted (and indoctrinated) by buddies Rupert Cleveley and Ludovic Lindsay.
He also has a fine eye for a competition car, having owned both the Jaguar E-type CUT 7 and the Lightweight 49 FXN. His road-car history is similarly impressive, starting with a ‘complete beast’ of a TVR Griffith in which it was ‘as easy to go sideways as it was to go forwards’, but which overheated continually because the fan was installed the wrong way round. After that he ran a DB5 followed by his first Ferrari, a 330 GTC, and later a 365 GTC that he still has.
He has big plans for this most special of Porsche 930s, even if the is in denial about one of them at the moment. ‘It’s road registered and ready to go, so I will be taking it on the tours that I do, about two or three a year. And, yes, I suppose it’s just possible that I could be persuaded to take it back to Le Mans…
‘There are so many dealers out there constantly looking for something special, yet this one somehow slipped under the radar and quietly got on with its life. It really was a long-lost car, one people had completely forgotten about, and that was quite bizarre. Appealing, too. It s a surprising car in many paradoxical ways: fame with anonymity, speed with civility.’
We are back to how normal and understated this car is, barring its balloon rubber on original three-piece lightweight BBS wheels – wider than standard; the actual wheels used at Le Mans – and its figure-hugging Corbeau seats complete with eyelets (thanks to the GT40s, nothing says Le Mans like eyelets). Yes, those seats shriek of competition, as does the snug cage, but little else does. You can even see where they put the rollcage in and it didn’t fit properly because of the door pockets, so they just cut big holes in them to accommodate it. Similarly, the gearlever has a vicious kink in it where it was simply beaten to be in better reach for the drivers. It’s extraordinary, but it’s also totally representative of how privateers did Le Mans back then.
Even when you fire it up and get under way the 930 Turbo seems disarmingly normal, organ throttle and the other pedals hinged on the floor, orange section on the revcounter from 6650-7000, broken door pocket.
However the faces of the pedestrians, mouths agape, that we see as we rifle along suggest that all is not quite as normal from the outside as it feels from within, The minimal stickering and the ludicrous rear rubber are clearly incongruous in the Hampshire countryside, even if the exhaust (not the straight-through Le Mans system when we drive it) is no more threatening than that of the drainpipe-equipped Corsa that circles around and comes back for a closer look.
When the Porsche gathers its skirts, though, you do start to sense the difference, The ‘normal’ early Turbo has about 260bhp but this is considerably more powerful, The experts reckon it has more in the region of 380bhp (it has been dyno’d at 315 at the rear wheels) and it feels like it has a lot less lag. And when that power starts to feed through the rear tyres it affects the other end of the car, too, the fronts fighting the road more than you would expect and scrabbling for grip. We don’t experience the 930’s notorious snap oversteer, thankfully, but the blunting effect of the four-speed ’box is still a disappointment after the thrill of front-end lift on take-off that makes it feel like you are strapped into an Apollo at Cape Canaveral. Plus that wonderfully addictive whistling of the up-spooling turbo, of course.
With a mere 60,000km on the clock, this car feels mechanically spot-on. Viscount Cowdray has the previous owner to thank for that, who was meticulous about getting everything absolutely right and commissioned a full engine and gearbox rebuild, plus suspension, brakes, and all oil and fuel lines, at Eggenberger. That company also replaced the brake lines, but it will take more than that to make the ‘S-type’ production-specification brakes adequate for harnessing the car’s power. No wonder the Porsche went through brakes at such an alarming rate at Le Mans.
Thanks to those restrictive Swiss laws, the previous owner was less anal about the 930’s looks. It came to the UK looking like any other Turbo until a quick-fire (three weeks, seriously) bare-metal respray in Grand Prix White and some considerate cosmetic detailing gave it back its Le Mans allure.
Unlike most Le Mans cars, after that initial surge of exhilaration has dissipated, you never wonder whether you really could spend 24 hours in this one. Indeed, you could use it for the school run were it not for the contortions the kids would need to get into the back, There is even a Vitaloni door mirror on the passenger side, the same one that was fitted for Le Mans.
Make no mistake: this Porsche is very quick. It’s just that it makes so little fuss about its pace potential that it’s an attribute easily overlooked and taken for granted. But then such is the story of this car’s life since July 1975. We suspect that is about to change.
Left: US-spec headlamp rims surround uprated lights, which are backed up by auxiliary Cibies on the bonnet lid. New UK numberplates hint at a foreign look. Left: Swiss road regulations meant this Porsche spent much of its life minus race numbers and sponsors’ stickers, but all have now been faithfully recreated. Clockwise from above: Wider tyres are obvious as 930 emulates its 291 trips along the Mulsanne Straight during 1975 Le Mans race; front air intake feeds intercooler; wide BBS wheels are original; plaque commemorates class win; on the way to that GTX class victory. Clockwise from above: Stickers and wheels apart, this could almost be a regular 911 Turbo; engine has over 100bhp more than standard, and rather less turbo lag; author Elliott enjoys the tartan trim and ponders the Porsche’s suitability for the school run.
1975 Porsche 911 Turbo GTX 930
Engine Rear-mounted, air-cooled 2993cc flat-six, SOHC per bank, Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection, single KKK 3 LDZ turbocharger
Max Power 256bhp @ 5500rpm
Max Torque 286lb ft @ 4000rpm
Transmission Four-speed manual transaxle, rear-wheel drive
Front: MacPherson struts, lower wishbones, torsion bars, anti-roll bar.
Rear: semi-trailing arms, torsion bars, telescopic shock absorbers, anti-roll bar
Steering Rack and pinion
Brakes Power-assisted vented discs
Weight 1148kg at Le Mans scrutineering
Top speed 155mph
‘It’s a surprising car in many paradoxical ways: fame with anonymity, speed with civility’