50 Years of Porsche Sports Cars

Half a Century of Porsche Motorsport


Success at the Supreme Level

Motorsport and Porsche belong together like water and the sea. Over the years and decades the world-famous marque from Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen has been successful in virtually all areas and categories of motorsport, winning races and bringing home victories on the highest level. No less than 8 World Championships in Endurance Racing, three World Championships in Formula 1, 15 wins at Le Mans, as well as record-breaking victories in the classic Daytona, Sebring and Targa Florio (Italy) races speak for themselves. In all, Porsche sports cars have scored some 23,000 wins in motor racing the world over. But the fact remains that the technical aspects of developing a successful sports/racing car have always been more important for Porsche’s commitment to motorsport than the mere quest for the winner’s laurels.

On 11 July 1948, when Porsche 356 No 1 was not even five weeks old, Porsche’s nephew Herbert Kaes drove „Old No 1“ in the first car race in Austria after the war, the Innsbruck City Race. And despite the fact that the car had only 35 bhp developed by its 1131-cc power unit at 4000 rpm, it brought home victory in its class right away.

Customer sport – an old Porsche tradition

Ever since customer sport – the sale of potential race winners to private teams and drivers – has been one of Porsche’s great traditions. In the two years to follow, for example, Porsche drivers remained equally successful, Austrian driver Otto Mathé bringing home a class win in the International Alpine Rally in 1950. Naturally, another class win scored by French drivers Veullet and Mouche in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1951 hit the headlines even more, the two drivers at the wheel of a 635-kg coupé built in Gmünd and powered by a 1.1-litre engine developing 46 bhp thanks to its new camshaft covering 2,842.65 km (1,762.44 miles) at an overall average speed of 118.4 km/h (73.41 mph), with remarkable lap speeds of up to 140 km/h or 87 mph. A David among many Goliaths, the small Porsche finished a remarkable 20th in the overall rating.

Porsche drivers have really been at home in Le Mans ever since – perhaps more than on any other race track the world over. Following many additional class wins with small cars at the time, Porsche’s first overall win in Le Mans came in 1970, Hans Herrmann and Dick Attwood bringing home the title in a 4.5-litre 917 K. And in the meantime no other manufacturer has won this endurance race – now the oldest in the world – as often as Porsche: no less than 15 times up to 1997, with 7 wins in a row from 1981 to 1987.

In the ‘50s and to a large extent also in the ‘60s Porsche entered races with cars displacing less than two litres, scoring class wins virtually everywhere. But as early as in 1956 Umberto Maglioli driving a 550 A Spyder scored Porsche’s first overall win against seemingly almighty competitors in the famous Targa Florio in Sicily. And in the Liege-Rome-Liege road marathon Claude Storez and Robert Buchet achieved the same success in 1957 at the wheel of a Porsche 356 Carrera Speedster.

From a class to an overall winner

Driving a Porsche 718 RSK, Wolfgang Graf Berghe von Trips won the European Hill-Climb Championship in 1958, Döry/Mieres then bringing home Porsche’s first overall win in Daytona in 1959 at the wheel of a Porsche RS 1500. In 1962, in turn, Dan Gurney won the French Grand Prix in Rouen, clinching Porsche’s first Formula 1 victory at the wheel of a Porsche 804 developing 180 bhp from its 1.5-litre flat-8 power unit. Two years later in 1964 one of the most beautiful racing/sports cars ever built by Porsche, the 904 Carrera GTS designed by Ferdinand Alexander („Butzi“) Porsche, scored the Company’s sixth overall win in the Targa Florio.

One of Porsche’s particular strongholds has always been motor racing with prototypes and sports cars clearly related, also in the their looks, to their production counterparts. Many successful Porsche racing/sports cars such as the 906 and 907 (three times the winner in Daytona), the 908 (the winner of the first World Championship of Makes in 1969), the 910, 917, 935, 936, 956 and 962 thus remain unforgotten, having brought home great victories the world over both with the works team and in the hands of professional private teams, just like the 911 GT1 today. Indeed, the names alone of the great racing drivers winning major events with these cars would fill many lines and even pages.

Another Porsche stronghold for many years was rally racing, where the 911 was raced for the first time in the 1965 Monte Carlo Rally with Herbert Linge and Peter Falk at the wheel, finishing fifth overall behind Eugen Böhringer and Rolf Wütherich in a 904 Carrera GTS. In 1968 Vic Elford and David Stone driving a Porsche 911 T scored Porsche’s first overall win in the Monte, further overall wins in this classic event following in 1969, 1970 and 1978 – all with various versions of the Porsche 911.

Porsche – the endurance specialist

In the course of time Porsche’s list of overall wins became longer and longer. In the 1968 24 Hours of Daytona, for example, Porsche celebrated a glorious 1-2-3 victory, Hans Herrmann and Jo Siffert won the 12 Hours of Sebring with Vic Elford and Jochen Neerpasch finishing second, and Gerhard Mitter clinched the European Hill-Climb Championship for the third time in a row – winning 8 out of 8 races. In 1970, in turn, it was once again Hans Herrmann and Dick Attwood who scored Porsche’s overall victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans at the wheel of a 4.5-litre 917 K. Just one year later Helmut Marko and Gijs van Lennep followed their example, this time driving a 4.9-litre 917 K.

In 1972 George Follmer brought home the US CanAm Championship at the wheel of a 917/1C Turbo, Mark Donohue following in his footsteps in 1973 in a Porsche 917/30, at the time the most powerful racing car ever built with maximum output of 1100 bhp – which is perhaps why Mark scored six overall wins in a row and finished once as the runnerup. It was also in 1973 that the classic Targa Florio was held for the last time on the Madonie course in Sicily, Herbert Müller and Gijs van Lennep scoring yet another triumph at the wheel of a 911 Carrera RSR.

The newly developed 911 RS 2.1 Turbo (1974), the 935 and the 936 dominated the endurance racing scene in 1975, once again bringing home the World Championship of Makes and Sports Cars for Porsche. And to round off this outstanding success, Jacky Ickx and Gijs van Lennep scored an overall victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. A couple of years later, in the 50th 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1981, Porsche itself was back for the 31st time, Jacky Ickx and Derk Bell once again clinching victory in a 936 and marking the beginning of an almost unbelievable series: Porsche was the winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans from 1981 to 1987, the Company thus bringing home 7 outstanding victories in a row.

A winner also in Formula 1

While all this was happening, Porsche’s racing engineers in Weissach were busily developing the 1.5-litre turbocharged V6 Formula 1 power unit for the TAG Group. Powered by this impressive engine, the McLaren TAG Porsche then won the Formula 1 World Championship in 1984, its first full season, with Niki Lauda at the wheel, Alain Prost subsequently taking over and bringing home the title in 1985 and 1986.

Driving the famous 959 spearhead in technological development launched by Porsche in 1985 and sold at a price of DM 420,000.- in a production run of only 292 units, René Metge and his co-driver Dominique Lernoyne won the ultra-tough Paris-Dakar Rally in 1986, repeating the victory they had already scored in 1984 in a 911 SC Carrera 4x4. The 962 prototype soon to become the most successful racing/sports car of all times spent all these years bringing home one victory after the other, while Porsche was establishing new options in popular sport with the 944 Turbo Cup initiated in 1986. Indeed, this was the first racing series in which all cars were equipped with a catalytic converter. In 1990 it was followed by the Porsche Carrera Cup supplemented in 1993 by the Porsche Pirelli Supercup held in conjunction with Formula 1 races.

Customer sport then continued to dominate the Porsche racing scene in the years to come, while at the same time the Company was working hard on the successful introduction of GT racing, developing a new generation of racing/sports cars spearheaded by the 911 GT1. The result was yet another win in Le Mans in 1994 with the works team bringing home the laurels, Porsche triumphs No 14 and 15 following in 1996 and 1997. So the bottom line, quite simply, is that no other marque has won the 24 Hours of Le Mans as often as Porsche.


Major Wins and Championships

Event  Wins (as of 1988) 
World Championship of Makes, World Championship of Teams  14 
Endurance World Championship, Drivers’ Rating 
MSA Supercar Series 
German Motor Racing Championship 
European Hill-Climb Championship  20 
Formula 1 World Championship (Drivers) (McLaren with the Porsche engine designed and built for TAG) 
Formula 1 wins (McLaren with the Porsche engine designed and built for TAG)  25 
Formula 1 wins (Together with the race won in Rouen, 1962)  26 
Daytona (24 Hours)  18 
MSA Supercar Races (USA)  15 
Le Mans (24 Hours)  15 
Sebring (12 Hours)  17 
Targa Florio  11 
Monte Carlo Rally 
Paris-Dakar Rally