Historically, Porsches are better known for their circuit racing escapades than rallying. However, in addition to Walter Rohrlʼs 1981 San Remo heroics and ERC wins with the Group B SCRS, Porsche made some high-profile attempts at winning the legendary Saf
Robb Pritchard tracks down one of the rare surviving works rally cars
The stunning Martini colours of the 1978 Safari Rally entries are perhaps themost famous, but the first full works entry was in 1973 with the yellow Bosch-liveried 2.7 RSS. After a huge factory development programme in 1974, they were back with the blue striped Kuhne & Nagel-backed cars, although the twin ʼ73 and ʼ74 cars were actually the same vehicles, just repainted.
The 1978 entries of Vic Preston jr and Bjórn Waldegaard, who finished second and fourth respectively, are treasured items in the Porsche museum, wheeled out only for special occasions, but the Bosch and Kuhne & Nagel cars are in private hands. But even though they are both absolutely priceless examples of Porscheʼs sporting history, they are owned by the same person and are regularly wheeled out to take part in classic rallies and shows. Uwe Kurzenburger is the lucky man who owns both and this is his story.
Uwe and his lovely wife Gabrielle had been Porsche enthusiasts for many years. Together they started the Classic Carrera RS ownersʼ club to organise weekends out and be an online hub for local 911 owners looking for repair/maintenance advice. From its launch it was a popular website and its metadata put it at the top of a Google search carried out by a Kenyan with a rotting and much abused 911 shell in his workshop yard.
In normal circumstances e-mails from africa offering deals that seem too good to be true are best ignored, but this one got through and the numbers it contained werenʼt for a Nigerian widowʼs bank account but for a long forgotten works rally car. Two days later Uwe and Gabrielle were on a flight to Nairobi.
What they found, though, was a car in a very sad state. After spending many years being campaigned in local rallies on insanely tough African tracks it was already in a pretty sorry state, but when an engine rebuild involving incorrect parts caused it to seize it was pushed to one side and spent many years quietly wasting away.
By the time Uwe found it most of the floor had gone, the front roof pillars were held in place by screws and then roughly covered with filler, and it had lost all its original Safari rally accoutrements, such as the distinctive bull bars, roof rack and lights. It was well on its way to being a write-off.
The numbers on the VIN plate matched those in the records, though, so there was no question about leaving it to the elements. Uwe arranged for the car to be dragged out of the yard but finding a container ship bound for Germany proved to be a bureaucratic nightmare, so they bypassed the export red tape and put it on a cargo flight instead.
But the real story of the car goes back some 45 years. Fresh from its watershed victories at Le Mans, Porsche looked further afield to demonstrate the competitiveness and reliability of its 911s. The legendarily brutal East African Safari Rally was the event they chose.
Two cars were painted in the same Bosch livery Willi Kauhsenʼs 917/10 sported in the Interseries championship. SAR 7909 was readied for Björn Waldergaard (who would go on to win the inaugural WRC championship, along with four wins in the Safari) and S-AR 7910 for Sobiesław Zasada, a Polish driver who had won the 1967 ERC Class 1 championship in a 912.
Neither car reached the finish, though, Zasada stopping with
“WHAT THEY FOUND, THOUGH, WAS A CAR IN A VERY SAD STATE”
collapsed suspension while Waldegaardʼs rally came to an end with engine failure. With two comprehensively broken cars on their way back to Germany, the team knew that a standard car had no chance of competing on the long distance bush roads of Africa. A thorough development programme was begun which eventually included a massive 300 upgrades.
The ʼ74 specification cars looked much more ready for the hardships ahead, raised by three inches, with longer travel suspension and specially-developed shock absorbers. They also had a full set of bash plates fitted underneath and unique bull bars fitted front and rear – not only did large game animals have a tendency to wander onto the tracks, so did locals as the rally was held on open roads.
This time Waldegaard switched to S-AR 7910 and 7909 was taken over by 1970 and ʼ71 Safari winners Edgar Herrmann and Hans Schuller. After all the testing theyʼd undertaken, and two top class crews, Porsche were confident they had a potent team… but despite all the testing nothing done in Europe could prepare them for was the weather.
Torrential rains flooded the route and turned the tracks into what modern and sensible people would only attempt with a Land Rover fitted with a winch. Despite this Waldegaard led for the majority of the event until, cruelly, almost within sight of the finish, the suspension gave out and the time lost dropped him down to an eventual second.
The second car fared less well, though. Due to a late entry Herrmann and Schuller were seeded well down in 41st place, so with all the roads being churned up by the cars ahead, they had to cope with the worst of the conditions, including getting stuck in a mud hole for three hours.
Despite all the work Porsche had put into improving the robustness of the cars, there was one small thing that had been completely overlooked… protection against mud ingress. Hans, now in his 80s, remembers those four days in the spring of 1974 very well and for Classic Porsche magazine explained what went wrong.
ʻThe car was too heavy,ʼ he says, simply. ʻThey made it strong but didnʼt make it light and in the mud you really donʼt want to get stuck in a heavy car. In those days the stages were so long that if you did everything right you would get maybe four
hoursʼ sleep at night. If you got the car filled with 200kg of wet mud in the first half an hour, youʼd be stuck with it for the next 20 hours. It was a big problem.”
And it was the mud that ended their event… not because they got stuck but because the engine ingested too much of it on the constant wet roads and seized. Because the car was so damaged and ended up crippled in such a remote place, Porsche HQ didnʼt feel it was worth recovering and so it was abandoned as a write-off, sold cheaply to a local who could arrange a tow-truck when the roads dried out.
Its new owner used it for many years in African rallies in Kenya and Tanzania, but after a decade of sub-par repairs the final straw came when the inadequte engine rebuild failed… he knew the car had pedigree, though, so didnʼt want to just pass it on for spares. But it wasnʼt until the owner was approaching retirement that he decided to sell it.
Wanting it to go to a good home and get the rebuild it deserved, he looked for someone with the requisite Porsche know-how and made that fateful Google search. A couple of days later Uwe was in his living room signing the bill of sale.
Once the car was back in Germany the full strip-down revealed just how bad a condition it was in. Gaps that any halfdecent mechanic should have welded up were, instead, just full of filler. And after sitting so long in the humid climate, large sections of the floorpan and sills had been totally devastated.
Uwe was, of course, very concerned with keeping as much of the originality of the car as possible, so took great care that everything that could be salvaged, reconditioned and reused was, including 60 per cent of the bodyshell and, thankfully, most of the engine components.
Obtaining accurate dimensions of the ancillaries was a big challenge and many period photos were pored over with a magnifying glass to get accurate measurements. Uwe also found a few helpful people at Porsche, so the roof rack, bull bars, light covers and mud ladders were all fabricated with the utmost dedication to historical accuracy.
Three years after being dragged out of the aeroplane, SAR 7909 was finally ready and painted in the Kuhne & Nagel colours again. The care and amazing attention to detail of the rebuild is what led to Uwe owning the sister car, S-AR 7910…
The 1974 Waldegaard entry (S-AR 7910) had lived a completely different life to its sibing. After the Safari it was brought back to Germany but sold on to a privateer, who entered it in the 1977 Tour Dʼeurope – a gruelling 10,000km event that wound from Germany down to Croatia, then over to Morocco for a charge through the Atlas mountains before returning to Germany, via Portugal. Only six cars managed to make it back to the finish, with S-AR 7910 in first place!
Still in private hands it was owned and rallied for over 30 years in Germany. Without the need for the African hardware and raised suspension it was lowered and fitted with widened arches, which is why not many people were aware of its heritage. But seeing that Uwe already owned S-AR 7909, when it was time to sell he seemed a good first port of call.
He bought this one quicker than the plane tickets to Africa for the first one…
The rebuild for S-AR 7910 was made much easier thanks to the previous owner keeping absolutely everything heʼd taken off and placing it in storage. It pleased Uwe immensely to learn that S-AR 7909 only needed a couple of barely noticeable adjustments to make it perfect.
Now the proud owner of two priceless ex-works Porsches, Uwe could be forgiven for keeping them locked safely away for posterity. However, we must give full credit to Uwe and Gabrielle that both cars are taken to classic events and, to the delight of the tens of thousands of spectators, are put through their paces.
One of the premier such events is the massive Eifel Rally Festival (see report in issue #47) in the mountains near the Nürburgring, which is where Gabrielle had brought the car for me to drive.
First we had to get out of the service park. Normally traffic jams are a source of frustration but when youʼre waiting for a Lancia S4 and a Ford RS200 to get out of the way itʼs not quite so bad. With all superfluous interior panels and soundproofing stripped out, the engine is much louder than normal, but with the bark of the 2.7 flat-six thatʼs certainly no bad thing.
The clunking from the top suspension turrets was apparently nothing to worry about but, taking the adverse camber of a roundabout, it felt as though a wheel had fallen off. Gabrielle laughed and explained that the three-inch-raised suspension is also much softer than a normal road car…and thus gives a ride quality more akin to a Land Rover than a 911.
On a gravel road around the side of a field, Gabrielle gave the go-ahead for me to put my foot down, but the sound of the stones hitting the underneath of the museum piece, as well as the clatter and squeaking of the suspension, meant that there was no way I was going to push it to the limit, especially as it was easy to feel how the back wanted to step out on the loose, gravelled surface.
How Waldegaard and the others could have driven 4000km at full tilt on roads much rougher than this – and in 40°C heat and six-inch-deep mud – I can only imagine… CP
Above: Roofrack carries ramps to assist retrieval from mud. Sadly it was the glutinous mud that finally called an end to play…
Below left: Although stripped of carpets and sound deadening, the interior remained remarkably stock in appearance
Below: Halda Twinmaster was the height of sophistication in its day
Above: Bull bars front and rear were necessary to protect the cars from wayward animals – and equally wayward spectators…
Below: S-AR 7909 been restored with immense attention to detail and is now correct down to the very last decal. And far from being wrapped in cotton wool in a museum, itʼs still put to good use in historic events
Above right: Spare wheel was stored inside car…
Above: 1974 and the identical sister car (S-AR 7910) sets off on the Safari Rally in the hands of Björn Waldegaard and Hans Thorszelius