964 TRACK REFUGEE
Starting life as a Carrera 4 racecar, transformed into an RSR with 3.8 flat-six transplant, this wide-body 964 has seen action at Daytona, Sebring and Spa. And now, woodland glades in north Germany where we put it through its paces
We drop in on Thomas Schmitz and drive a wild 964 3.8 RSR, which isn’t all it seems
This is a car with a very long story. It began life as a black, pre-production 3.6-litre 964 Carrera 4, and sold to photographer Klaus Treude (who also owned a genuine 964 C4 Leichtbau, in yellow) who raced it for two seasons in ’90 and ’91, notching up a couple of class wins and several podiums. Then, before the 1992 season, it was sold to Wolfgang Mathai, an industrialist and prominent amateur racing driver who ran it for himself and his son Oliver in the German national Porsche Club Championship, DTR club racing and VLN endurance racing.
Our storyteller for this remarkable tale is Thomas Schmitz, the car’s long-time owner and proprietor of TJS German Sportscars. We’ve come to visit him at his premises in Telgte, near Münster in North RhineWestphalia. Like the Siren’s beckoning call, it’s an enticing Aladdin’s Cave for 964 and 993 buffs, with a dozen gorgeous examples in the showroom and maybe a dozen more exotic Porsches of one sort or another in the workshop. And that includes our subject car, the broad-beamed silver 964 RSR, which Thomas bought in 2007 and converted to RSR spec. Paradoxically, this is one 964 that’s not for sale. Maybe.
So, meanwhile, back to the story: after Mathai acquired it, the car was first repaired, having been crashed by Klaus Treude, then prepped by Kremer Racing as a Class 6 Group 4 car, which included converting the bodyshell to a wide-arched RSR. Because there were not yet any tuning parts available for the 964, Kremer converted the engine to Group B-spec 3.8-litres, and since six individual throttle bodies were not allowed, it was equipped with one huge throttle body on top of a magnesium air intake. With the help of Porsche Weissach, specifically Jürgen Barth, Bernd Mueller and Roland Kussmaul, it was developed along the lines of a Carrera 4 Lightweight (Leichtbau), with the 953 drivetrain, aluminium doors, aluminium bonnet, a Kevlar rear wing, three-piece BBS magnesium rims, all acquired from Porsche Motor Sport. They also bought two sets of 953 transmission ratios, one set for the back and one for the front. Being wide-bodied it was more extreme than the Weissach-built narrow-bodied C4 Leichtbau, and was in fact a unique car in the events it raced in; the C4 Leichtbau was never seriously raced at the time, and they didn’t have the advantage of the strong Kremer-built engine. Father and son Mathai campaigned their C4 in endurance events under the Porsche Club Hildesheim banner, including Daytona and Sebring, and it did lots of the European longdistance races including Zolder, Nürburgring, Zandvoort, Dijon, Österreichring and SpaFrancorchamps, and Oliver also ran it in the Porsche-ferrari Challenge, twice finishing the series runner-up in ’92 and ’93; the only car to beat him was a Ferrari F40 Michelotto. It was maintained by Kadach Tuning, for whom Oliver Mathai drove in the German Carrera Cup (2nd in 1995) and Supercup. In the 1992 Porsche Germany Trophy Series, Oliver won five out of six races, including Dijon on 20th September, and he recalls the round at the Österreichring very well: ‘it was raining heavily, and in the course of the halfhour race I had lapped everybody else! I could brake really late with the four-wheel drive chassis, and it would turn in very nicely, so it was very competitive and a very good car to drive in the rain. It was a very fast
circuit, the old Österreichring, and our 964 was much the fastest car on track that day.’ The following year his results sheets show Oliver won the Porsche Club Championship round held at Zandvoort on 10/11th July, going on to win at Zolder on 20th July, and then father and son placing 2nd in race one of the round at Hockenheim on 31st July ’93, and Oliver then winning the 2nd race outright, too. He won again at the Österreichring on 29th August ’93 against a strong field of RSRS and 964 Cup Cars. The Mathais used it in the national Porsche Langstrecken Trophy and the Castrol Hauke Cup series – which evolved into the VLN endurance series (Veranstaltergemeinschaft Langstreckenpokal Nürburgring), where Oliver sometimes finished in front of top names like Franz Conrad, Roland Asch, Hans-jürgen Tiemann, Jürgen Alzen and Mike Hezemans. In ’93 Oliver and his father teamed up with another well-known German racer, Edgar Dören (at the time racing a 944 Turbo Cup) to contest endurance races, and one time at the Nordschleife they qualified ahead of Olaf Manthey who would normally have been up front, but it was part-wet, partdry, and the four-wheel drive C4 chassis enabled them to take pole on a greasy track. That was as good as it got, though: ‘Unfortunately, during the race, the gas pedal stuck open on the long straight, and we got marooned in the gravel trap!’ The following
year Oliver ran it in the Porsche-ferrari challenge again and won the Nürburgring round, but after that the car was retired and placed in storage. It wasn’t long before Wolfgang Mathai bought a brand-new replacement RSR bodyshell for it from Porsche Weissach: ‘It was a hard-fighting car, and it had quite a lot of accident damage during its race career, so a friend was able to help us buy shell production number 20, the last 3.8 RSR bodyshell left, and my father commissioned Kadach Racing to carry out a complete restoration, incorporating all the existing componentry.’ Thereafter, Wolfgang Mathai only used it as a hobby road car for 1500km. Still, it had been a pretty successful racing car.
When Thomas Schmitz bought it, the driveline was still in 4x4 mode, but he had other plans. ‘I converted it to two-wheel drive and reverted it to full 964 RSR spec including ABS instead of adjustable brake balance, with a fresh engine, and since then it’s hardly been driven, sitting here most of the time; I did a track day on May Day this year, and it still runs wonderfully.’ The current engine is not the Kremer-built 3.8 – which Thomas still has; rather, it’s another 3.94-litre unit, built by APP Automotive, who are based at Weesp, just south of Amsterdam in Holland (www.appracingengines.com). Maximum torque is 434.8Nm at 5300rpm and maximum power is 375bhp at 6900rpm. Ready to race, with 82kg on the driver’s seat plus half a tank of fuel, it tips the scales at 1172kg, so it is quite light. It’s a visual treat, too, its purpose absolutely unmistakable. Those bulging wheelarches wouldn’t disgrace themselves on The World’s Strongest Man, while the engine lid is resplendent with the better-proportioned smaller 3.8 RSR wing. The car sports brandnew gold-centred split-rim with billet aluminium centre 18in BBS wheels wearing 235/40 ZR18 Michelin Pilot Sport Cups on the front, and 295/30 ZR18S on the back.
Thomas walks me round the car. ‘The normal RSR didn’t have power steering, so we fitted electric power steering so we didn’t lose the horsepower from the cam-belt. There’s a special wiring loom in the front with an electric motor with its own fuse. It works very nicely, especially on track with slicks on, because after a while it gets exhausting, especially in endurance racing. This exhaust system was developed for Le Mans by Mühlbauer Racing in 1991, and all the big teams copied the design. It’s very light, with individual headers, and it’s a very clever system, available with or without catalytic converter; this one is with a catalytic converter, and without it’s even louder.’ It’s currently mated to a genuine six-speed 993 RS manual box, but Thomas also has a correct five-speed ’box from a 964 RSR as back-up. He’s also switched glassfibre seats for Kevlar seats to save weight. ‘It’s very emotional to drive, because you are so involved with the handling of it and with the responses of the car, and when you look at it, it looks so sexy, and then when you fire up the engine the sound is amazing, the throttle response is unbelievable, and I just feel at home in these cars. Of course, when you drive very quickly then it gets tricky, because you don’t have any electronic helpers but I love it, it’s all so pure and very entertaining. It’s so much more visceral than a modern GT3 RS. Creating emotion is very important for me, and I’m doing this for my pleasure and with this car I always have a smile.’
Nevertheless, Thomas is critical: ‘it is a little
It’s so much more visceral than a modern GT3 RS
bit too stiff; I ordered a brand-new RSR suspension from Bilstein’s race department and they advised me not to use the normal race springs because the cars always have problems with understeer because they are too stiff at the front, so instead you should have a softer spring rate; but I didn’t listen, and I ought to swap the fronts for a bit more of a softer rate because I believe it will run much better then. We had some understeering problems at the beginning, but we sorted them out by making the car stiffer with the anti-roll bar at the rear and more negative camber at the front. But I love it, and the history is very interesting, and if you check the values of proper factory built 3.8 RSRS they are €1 million, €1.5 million even, and this car is a fraction of the money, and it can do exactly the same – and basically it is the same, but it doesn’t have the correct VIN number of course, but it does have a nice racing history and a nice provenance.’
We gaze at the mighty 3.94 flat-six. Thomas points out the reservoir tank. ‘This was something we put in recently; we call it a throw-up can, because when you have too much pressure in the crankcase or too much oil, it throws it into this can. The catchtank is normally a separate one for when you have excess oil, and if you have oil fumes there is a pipe going back into the air filter, but then it sucks in all the oil with the air, which is not good. In this case, this is like a proper race car breather tank. And you can see the solid engine mounts, and we have also mounted the engine a little bit lower in the engine bay, so there are spacers to make the engine sit a bit lower to set the centre of gravity a little bit lower.’
The 3.8 RSR engine has six individual throttle bodies with a big magnesium air intake system that looks really formidable. ‘To gain a little bit more torque we extended the intake trumpet pipes, and because we wanted this car to be road legal and usable on the road we run it on a MAF hot wire air mass sensor system, while the normal race cars only run on the vane meter, and this makes it a little bit more usable on the road, provided you don’t go full throttle all the time.’
Thomas has three thick folders of documentation recording the car’s history and provenance, and he scrolls through the race history. ‘I have a lot of results from the earlyto mid-’90s, and it was a front runner. Wolfgang and Oliver Mathai had the car built up with parts sourced directly for Weissach. Here is a letter written by Wolfgang Mathai to the key people at Weissach, which is something I like very much, because Mr Mathai was an industrialist, but he was one of the proper old German gentlemen; you see the old cartridge paper that he wrote on, with a proper ink fountain pen, and you can read what he says: “Dear Mr Barth, Dear Mr Mueller, Dear Mr Kussmaul, …thank you very much for taking care of me on my visit on the 9th January 1991, following up again on my order (in written form) aluminium doors right and left, like Type 959, front bonnet in aluminium, thin glass, Carrera 4 Lightweight limited-slip differential transmission system, pedal system with double brake activator, strut-brace, Cup suspension complete with anti-roll bars, Cup version Matta roll-cage; all these parts are used to convert the Carrera 4 with the vin number 400325 to Class 6 race car. Please send all the parts in the next few days to Firma Mathai……” It also says, “The order form for the engine will be done shortly as we are considering whether it should be a turbo or a non-turbo engine; very best regards, Wolfgang Mathai.”’
Next document in the file is the invoice submitted to Wolfgang Mathai for the parts, dated 22nd January 1991. I scan though it, and my eyes alight on the whopping total: it’s
just short of DM9560, which back then would have been not far off £10,000. As Thomas admits, ‘That was a lot of money at the time.’ Indeed, but the Mathais were perceptive enough to see that the 964 configured with the four-wheel drive transmission had distinct potential as a competition car, especially in poor weather conditions, and it was probably a cheaper route than stumping up for a Weissach-built 964 C4 Leichtbau.
Wolfgang Mathai is no longer with us, as Thomas points out: ‘the father unfortunately passed away two years ago, but the son Oliver (49) is very much active.’ True enough, I spoke to him recently about the car’s early days, and he provided us with photos from back in the day. I’ve also seen him in action at a number of venues over the years, ranging from Le Mans Classic in a 911ST to the N-24 in a 996 GT3RS, and the Nürburgring Old Timer and Tour Auto in a 906. His career in the 964 RSR pre-dates those appearances, though he is keen to share his experiences, as I’ve already reported.
Time to put it to the test. This is a racing car and no mistake. Sure, it’s road registered, but there the synchronicity ends and the urge to be doing this on a circuit takes over. On narrow country lanes, it’s going to be nigh-on impossible to truly discern its capabilities, but it’s a thrill to be let loose in any circumstances. It’s a pretty exciting car, a very harsh drive and very loud, and it’s on proper RSR suspension so it’s very stiff, and on a bumpy road it probably wouldn’t be a lot of fun because you’d always have a wheel in the air, but here on the forest back-lanes it’s good enough, though the width of blacktop leaves something to be desired. Surprisingly, it is road-legal, even in Germany. The view in the rear-view mirror is of a substantial wing filling the space. I’m six-point harnessed into a Kevlar Recaro race seat, surrounded by a comprehensive silver painted roll cage, imparting that inviolable feeling once installed inside the cabin. The clutch is race-sharp, and I welcome the muscle-building challenge it presents, and to get if off the line I’m revving it rather harder than normal. On the other hand, the electrically assisted steering makes light work of wheel twirling. Shifts come easily enough, though it’s not a swift motion through the gate. I’m good and close up to the wheel, the perfect race position, and it’s simple enough hauling on the wheel to bring it around the bends – thanks to the electric power steering, then accelerating hard on the straight bits where its true storming performance potential reveals itself. Brakes are as powerful as its acceleration, and it’s as well-balanced gaining speed as it is slowing down, though actually we’re barely scratching the surface here. The throttle response is fantastic and the turn-in is supremely accurate. It’s compliant, it goes where I want it to go, and the power is right there. It’s a proper job, and I relish the fact that it’s done its time on important circuits in the hands of some of the top pro-am drivers. Or rather, its former bodyshell did, along with its other engine. Nevertheless, it would be so nice to emulate them on a track next time. For now, I stand back and appreciate the glorious lines of one of the most exhilarating cars I’ve (all too briefly) driven. PW
It’s a pretty exciting car, a very harsh drive and very loud