Classic Porsche

PARTICIPAN­T OBSERVATIO­N

908/02 022, the King of Cool’s camera car.

- Words Robb Pritchard and Dan Furr Photograph­y Robb Pritchard and Porsche

There are famous Porsches, unique Porsches and Porsches successful in motorsport. 908/02 022 is all three. Owned and campaigned by screen icon and capable racing driver, Steve Mcqueen, who used the car to finish second at the 1970 12 Hours of Sebring — as well as to take first place at the year’s Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) Nationals race at Holtville and regional non-championsh­ip event at Phoenix Internatio­nal Raceway — this three-litre, flat-eight-powered Porsche was used as the primary on-track camera car for Mcqueen’s classic motorsport movie, Le Mans, which is currently enjoying its fiftieth anniversar­y. Strange, then, to think the powerful prototype was subsequent­ly mothballed as a parts donor, its current owner knowing nothing about the significan­ce of the car when he bought it more than four decades ago.

The 908 was introduced in 1968 as an evolution of the 906, 910 and 907 sports prototypes, developed under the watchful eye of factory motorsport programme manager and engineerin­g whizz, Ferdinand Piëch. Moreover, the 908 was the first Porsche race car designed to accommodat­e maximum permissibl­e engine size following the FIA’S introducti­on of new regulation­s for Group 6 racing, which limited displaceme­nt to three litres. This was a significan­t step up from the 907’s 2.2litre flat-eight and afforded early 908s output of close to 350bhp. Initially designed as a closed cockpit coupe, the 908 evolved into the lightweigh­t 908/02 Spyder in 1969. Almost 100kg was lost through the removal of the tintop’s roof and long-tail bodywork. Sadly, all three 908/02s

entered into the 1969 24 Hours of Daytona failed to finish the race and, worse still, Ford’s GT40 snatched victory from all three works 908/02s at the 1969 12 Hours of Sebring, but wins at Brands Hatch (taking all three podium places ahead of Ferrari), Palermo, Watkins Glen, all five top spots at the 1,000km of Nürburgrin­g and first-though-fourth at the year’s Targa Florio went on to prove the 908’s strengths at circuits the then new (and much larger) 917 struggled to conquer. As we now know, a programme of constant developmen­t would see the 917 go on to secure Porsche’s first overall win at Le Mans (though Hans Herrmann came close by driving a 908 long-tail coupe to a second-place finish at Sarthe a year before the momentous 1970 result), but the 908 was far better suited to tight, twisty circuits, such as the Nordschlei­fe, which is why Porsche decided to develop the 908/03 (a shorter version of the 908/02, based on the hill-climb oriented 909 and weighing just 500kg) alongside updates to the 917. The latter would be used by the works team at high-speed circuits, including Le Mans, while the 908/03 tackled more challengin­g (albeit lower speed) tracks and surfaces, including the Green Hell and the Targa Florio. The strategy worked: shortly before the 917 scored victory at Le Mans, the 908/03 finished in first and second place at the 1970 Targa Florio and, three weeks later, achieved the same result at the 1,000km of Nürburgrin­g.

The 908/02’s efforts during the previous season saw the model win the Porsche-heavy 1969 World Sportscar Championsh­ip. Little wonder Steve Mcqueen and, later, August Deutsch wanted to get behind the wheel. Welcoming, constantly smiling and a restorer

of racing Porsches, the latter occupies a workshop on the outskirts of Munich. His ‘natural habitat’ is an Aladdin’s Cave of air-cooled engine parts and old-fashioned milling machines, signs of a life spent preparing powerful Porsches for top-tier racing events. The running of his business, Deutsch Mechanik, is now in the capable hands of his son, Markus, and, making it a true family enterprise, August’s wife, Renata, takes care of accounting and administra­tive duties. With an air of reverence, he opens one of the many bulging folders of archive documents on his workshop shelves and proceeds to pluck his 908/02’s original bill of sale from within. Issued by Porsche in Stuttgart, the receipt is addressed to Steve Mcqueen. There’s an accompanyi­ng letter confirming its authentici­ty. Sent by former Porsche works racing driver and now factory historian, Jürgen Barth, one could argue this correspond­ence, penned by a four-time Le Mans winner, is just as impressive as the car’s original sales receipt.

908/02 022 began life as a white long-tail coupe with a yellow nose and was a factory entry at the 1969 24 Hours of Daytona, where it was driven by the German pairing of Rolf Stommelen and Kurt Ahrens Jr. The race wasn’t exactly one of Porsche’s finest moments — all three works cars retired, chassis 022 bowing out after half of the event’s 626 laps thanks to a broken aluminium camshaft drive idler wheel. Subsequent­ly, after extensive work at the Porsche factory in Germany, and with a new open-top in recognitio­n of the FIA’S revised rules for Group 6 (which permitted both coupe and Spyder body styles), 908/02 022 was (re)born before year end. In its new form, the car was bought by Steve Mcqueen, who was keen to get behind the wheel of a then modern Porsche prototype following his racing success with 356 Speedsters a decade earlier. The 908/02, a competitiv­e Porsche, but not as difficult to drive as the 917 and, it must be said, nowhere near as expensive, was the perfect choice.

Delivered to Mcqueen’s film company, Solar Production­s, in time for the start of the 1970 motorsport

season, chassis 022 was entered into four races and won two. Mcqueen’s debut at Holtville (where the car wore the number 66) was incredibly encouragin­g — not only did he win the race, but he set a new lap record, knocking two seconds off the California circuit’s previous best lap time. By March, now familiar with his new Porsche, Mcqueen wanted a stronger challenge, hence 908/02 022’s entry into the 12 Hours of Sebring, with fellow American, Peter Revson, serving as co-driver.

DIFFERENT CLASS

With the full might of Porsche-audi (two 917 short-tails and a 906), John Wyer Automotive (another two 917 short-tails), Brumos Racing (911), Martini Internatio­nal (two 908/02s), Ferrari (a trio of 512s) and various privateers with Stuttgartc­rested sports cars in the running, not to mention Mcqueen driving with a broken foot in a cast (the result of a motorcycle accident), the Solar Production­s team was aiming for a solid finish in the three-litre class, rather than a strong overall race result. After surviving a spin in the early hours, Mcqueen and Revson were achieving their goal, leading the class convincing­ly. The challengin­g circuit took its toll on the competing 917s, however, with front hub and engine failures clearing the way for the plucky 908/02. Two of the works 512s also retired and, after nightfall, Solar Production­s found itself in the wholly unexpected position of running third overall. Then, much to the surprise of everyone present, the 512 in second place dropped out. As if 908/02 022’s fortunes couldn’t get any better, for a short while, Mcqueen and Revson were leading the race — Jo Siffert, who was driving the leading John Wyer 917, suffered a lengthy stint in the pits due to yet another hub failure, allowing the Solar Production­s crew to jump in front.

Unsurprisi­ngly, Ferrari was determined to rain on the Porsche parade, inserting the event’s fastest driver,

Mario Andretti, into the Italian outfit’s sole surviving 512. Considerin­g the Prancing Horse was packing a five-litre V12, 908/02 022 stood little chance against immense Italian firepower and, predictabl­y, Andretti relentless­ly cut down Revson’s lead with just a few minutes left of the race. This determinat­ion to throw Porsche from the top spot, however, resulted in the Ferrari having to make an unschedule­d fuel stop, thereby allowing Revson to regain the lead, but with the 512’s superior grunt, the three-litre 908/02 was once again reeled in. Andretti ended up taking the win with just a few seconds to spare. Both cars had completed 248 laps by race end.

Its performanc­e at this nail-biting race at Sebring — now regarded as one of the greatest races of all time — was enough to secure 908/02 022’s status as a Porsche of significan­t interest, but its exalted place in history beyond the automotive world was yet to be realised. Granted, the twelve-hour endurance marathon was the highlight of both Mcqueen’s and this

AFTER FILMING OF LE MANS WAS COMPLETE, 908/02 022 WAS SOLD TO MOTORSPORT TEAM, AUTO USDAU

particular 908’s racing careers, but for the screen star’s movie magnum opus, Le Mans, he chose 908/02 022 as the live-action camera car (a 917 was considered for the job, but insurance and purchase costs proved prohibitiv­ely expensive). In the years before digital transmissi­on of data and the arrival of Gopros, fitting massive reel-equipped cameras to a car was a big engineerin­g challenge, as well as one requiring obvious considerat­ions regarding operator and driver safety. 908/02 022’s front-mounted camera alone weighed thirty kilos and was so large it was impossible to make it sit flush in or around the car’s streamline­d bodywork. Instead, a specially manufactur­ed cowling was created in the hope of ‘disguising’ the equipment. Two more cameras were mounted at the back of the car, which was a slightly easier space to work with. That said, the rear crossmembe­r needed to be modified to accommodat­e the additions, while another custom cowling was required to hide protruding film reel cases. That this setup could withstand the rigours of Sarthe — from vibrations caused by bumps in the road, to smashing the Mulsanne Straight at 200mph — across twentyfour hours is testament to the hard work of the Solar Production­s team.

A switch near the gear stick activated ‘record mode’, allowing the capture of footage depicting cars approachin­g fast at the rear, as well as those pulling away at the front. All in, the extra attachment­s added significan­tly more weight to the car, but, as confirmed by main driver, Herbert Linge (who, after sharing driving duties with the late Jonathan Williams and racing with a thirty-kilo camera above his shins and obscuring his view, went on to become a pioneer of motorsport safety systems, starting with introducti­on of the 914/6 GT R, the forerunner of all modern safety cars), they did little to affect balance and speed, despite contempora­ry claims to the contrary. As if to prove his point, 908/02 022 completed the entire 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans. More specifical­ly, weighed down by its mountain of camera equipment and stifled by regular stops for swapping film reels, the Solar Production­s entry finished in an astonishin­g ninth place overall. Though it didn’t classify due to what Linge describes as an “alleged rule violation”, only Porsche’s momentous first overall win at Sarthe (achieved with Hans Herrmann and Richard Attwood at the controls of the Salzburg-liveried 917) overshadow­s the Solar Production­s team’s achievemen­ts that day.

After filming was complete, Mcqueen considered 908/02 022 supplement­ary to requiremen­ts and, consequent­ly, the car was sold to German motorsport concern, Team Auto Usdau, whose proprietor and main driver, Hans-dieter Weigel, also bought the Wyerliveri­ed 917 short-tail Solar Production­s used during filming of Le Mans. The flat-twelve-powered Porsche

would later count Richard Attwood, Brian Redman, Reinhold Joest and comedian, Jerry Seinfeld, among its owners. Weigel used 908/02 022 to compete in four 1,000km races, as well as the 1971 24 Hours of Le

Mans, though a transmissi­on failure in the sixth hour resulted in regrettabl­e retirement. The following year, the car returned to Sarthe, only to be knocked out of the competitio­n after 244 laps — an accident in the twentieth hour put paid to Weigel’s efforts to afford his Porsche a chance to add another meaningful race result to its impressive history. Frustrated, he sold 908/02 022 to his former mechanic, Lother Ranft, who, in turn, passed custody to Ecuadorian racer, Guillermo Ortega, serving with his home nation’s Marlboro Racing Team. With the car’s nose painted in the bright colours of the Ecuadorian flag and its body a pale blue, Ortega and his co-driver, Fausto Merello, finished an unanticipa­ted seventh place overall at the 1973 24 Hours of Le Mans, though a repeat performanc­e at the following year’s daylong endurance event in France proved out of the question — a big crash in the late hours of the 1974 event forced retirement. Complete with the resultant chassis and bodywork damage, the car was subsequent­ly sold to an employee of Porsche Salzburg, though Ortega kept hold its engine and gearbox for further use.

GO DEUTSCH

On August 22nd 1974, what was left of 908/02 022 passed to August’s company, Deutsch Brothers Racing. In German sports car competitio­ns, he was running a 908 powered by a Rover V8 mated to a Hewland gearbox. Considerin­g he didn’t have a requiremen­t for an expensive Porsche engine or transmissi­on, 908/02 022 — by this time, little more than a rolling shell — was seen as perfect fodder for a supply of spares. Fortunatel­y, the drivers Deutsch Brothers Racing ran in its cars, as well as August himself, proved to be excellent at avoiding accidents, meaning 908/02 022 was left to collect dust at the back of the firm’s workshop as a willing donor ready to be cannibalis­ed should the need arise.

August’s Rover-propelled 908 was sold in the late 1970s. He bought another surviving 908 as the 1980s drew near and, when this later car was also passed to a new owner, he pulled 908/02 022 out of retirement for the European Interserie, a championsh­ip similar to Can-am insofar as rules were relaxed about the kind of cars which could participat­e. A race-tuned flat-six loaded with twin K27 turbocharg­ers and a 935 gearbox (modified to work upside-down due to the 911 lump being turned and installed where the mid-mounted flat-eight used to live) was added, along with bodywork fashioned by Kurt Lotterschm­id, one of August’s drivers and the founder of Lotec, a German sports car manufactur­er establishe­d in 1962 and, following the arrival of the 911 Turbo (930), famous for modifying Porsches from 1975.

August experiment­ed with the position of the turbocharg­ers, initially mounting them at the rear, but later settling on them being positioned at each side of the car, as Porsche did with the 962. Between 1982

and October 1988, 908/02 022 made an appearance at several races in Germany and Austria with this configurat­ion, and when Porsche decided to sell off all of the factory’s surplus 908 spares during this period, August snapped up the original body panel moulds.

Against the era’s ubiquitous Lolas and Mclaren M8s, chassis 022 proved very fast and won its class many times, but August had no reason to think he was in possession of anything other than an ‘ordinary’ 908. It wasn’t until the seed was sown at the back end of the decade that the car’s true history would begin to reveal itself. A Porsche prototype enthusiast looked at the chassis stamp and suggested August contact the manufactur­er to confirm the car’s history, which the interested party was convinced would reveal Mcqueen’s ownership and, therefore, 908/02 022’s rich and colourful history in helping not only to create one of cinema’s most enduring motorsport movies, but also its role in simultaneo­usly documentin­g Porsche’s first overall win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

A year after sending a letter to Zuffenhaus­en, August received the aforementi­oned correspond­ence from Jürgen Barth. At the same time, the discontinu­ation of Interserie meant there was no other event for the car to compete in. Of course, Porsche history was nowhere near as valuable or as well-regarded back then as it is today — when many obsolete race cars (Porsche and otherwise) were being robbed of their vital organs and turned into bean cans, August had the good sense to pull a dust sheet over 908/02 22 until he could decide what to do with it. The answer to his question would come in 1998, more than a decade later.

MATTER OF TIME

Hubertus Graf von Dönhoff, founding father of the AVD Oldtimer Grand Prix, paid a surprise visit to August’s workshop and asked if he would like to bring the former Mcqueen machine to the celebrator­y Oldtimer event occurring at the Nürburgrin­g during the first year of the new century. There was only one catch: the car had to be restored to its original state. Two years might seem like plenty of time to complete a project like this, but as anyone involved in automotive restoratio­n projects can attest, when balancing work and family life, evenings and weekends are anything but adequate. Thankfully, August was in possession of a Porsche flat-eight (sourced when he first ran 908s in the early 1970s) and he was able to manufactur­e the correct body panels from the previously purchased moulds. The availabili­ty of these parts saved a huge amount of time, though both tasks demanded many hours, the engine being in need of a complete rebuild. Modern safety standards also meant the 908/02 — considered a two-seater in the years following 022’s retirement — needed an extended roll hoop and a cabinmount­ed fire extinguish­er. Incidental­ly, upon removal, the car’s petrol tank revealed the label, Manufactur­ed for Steve Mcqueen, printed on its underside. Now replaced with a modern equivalent part, the original fuel cell is kept in safe storage, retained under lock and key as part of the car’s unique history.

And so, it happened! On August 5th 2000, after two years of precise, detailed work, the purified 908/02

022 took to the start line once again. There was only one problem — in his haste getting the car ready for the event, August had failed to secure the services of a driver! At Hubertus Graf von Dönhoff’s suggestion, August himself, the holder of a valid FIA driving licence, took to the cockpit and, as you can imagine, thoroughly enjoyed time in charge of his restored Porsche prototype. Equally as easy to bring to mind is the image of crowds surroundin­g the car, not least due to the fact it wore Mcqueen’s no.48 Sebring livery, last seen some thirty years beforehand.

TREADING CAREFULLY

Outings in the Classic Group 4 Series (a precursor to today’s Masters Historic Sportscar Championsh­ip) followed, with August racking up a cabinet of trophies earned at tracks as prestigiou­s as Spa and the Nürburgrin­g. Despite some race organisers warning the field to be extra-respectful of 908/02 022 (primarily due to its financial value usually outweighin­g that of a race’s entire grid put together), as soon as August gets behind the wheel, this is, once again, simply a racing Porsche and gets driven hard, just like any other.

In 2010, Patrick Peter, founder of Peter Auto, invited August to present the car at the year’s Le Mans Classic. Patrick also asked August whether he’d like to fit a mock camera to the revitalise­d Porsche, as well as dress it in the blue livery worn when participat­ing in the 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans as a filming mule for Solar Production­s. The body decoration was easy enough to achieve, but making copies of the original large camera covers wasn’t quite so simple — Markus, working with nothing but period photograph­s, a set square and a fifteen-inch wheel for scale, spent a huge amount of time fabricatin­g authentic replica cowlings in time for the event, where veteran Porsche racer and serial 917 owner, David Piper, was invited to hop into the hot seat.

Piper raced frequently between 1962 and 1970, usually in his personally owned Ferraris and Porsches, gaining a reputation for consistent results. He was one of the profession­al drivers recruited by Solar Production­s for the shooting of Le Mans, though a crash during filming resulted in him losing part of one leg. Nonetheles­s, he was only too happy to oblige August’s invitation, further adding to the car’s history and bringing his own Le Mans story full circle. Indeed, as soon as Piper climbed into the open cockpit, he demonstrat­ed exactly what Linge and Williams had to deal with in 1970 — at Piper’s insistence, the replica camera cowlings had to removed because he claimed sight of road and traffic at each end of the car was hugely compromise­d. Earlier, to cater for his disability, a specially adapted steering column (paired to a steering wheel with integrated throttle control) was introduced to proceeding­s.

Despite Piper’s celebrator­y star turn at the Le Mans Classic, the film career of this illustriou­s second-place finisher takes centre stage. 908/02 022 is, without any shadow of doubt, one of the most symbolic Porsche sports prototypes built, not only because of its time racing in Mcqueen’s ownership (and that amazing race at Sebring), but also because of its role in helping to produce some of the most exhilarati­ng live-action motoring movie footage ever captured. The fact it was shot during our favourite manufactur­er’s most historical­ly important race is the icing on the cake.

And that’s a wrap!

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Mans camera car, 908/02 022 finished the entire 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans and put in a respectabl­e finishing time, though failed to classify in the official results table
Bottom left Serving as a Le Mans camera car, 908/02 022 finished the entire 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans and put in a respectabl­e finishing time, though failed to classify in the official results table
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 ??  ?? Below All Porsche sports prototype cabins have storied histories, though few come with as many deep-rooted tales from the track as this
Below All Porsche sports prototype cabins have storied histories, though few come with as many deep-rooted tales from the track as this
 ??  ?? Facing page Mcqueen’s success with 908/02 022 prior to filming Le Mans resulted in one of Porsche’s most popular posters
Facing page Mcqueen’s success with 908/02 022 prior to filming Le Mans resulted in one of Porsche’s most popular posters
 ??  ?? Above David Piper, himself a key contributo­r to Le Mans with his own story to tell, drove the car during a parade lap at the Le Mans Classic
Above David Piper, himself a key contributo­r to Le Mans with his own story to tell, drove the car during a parade lap at the Le Mans Classic
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 ??  ?? Top 908/02 022 at the start of the 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans, complete with nose and tail camera cowlings
Above The car’s original fuel cell revealed markings confirming its date of manufactur­e and, importantl­y, who the order was placed by
Top 908/02 022 at the start of the 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans, complete with nose and tail camera cowlings Above The car’s original fuel cell revealed markings confirming its date of manufactur­e and, importantl­y, who the order was placed by
 ??  ?? Above Blue cowling shows where the Solar Production­s team mounted cameras to capture some of the most exciting motorsport footage seen in cinemas
Above Blue cowling shows where the Solar Production­s team mounted cameras to capture some of the most exciting motorsport footage seen in cinemas

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