Classic Sports Car



Roy Salvadori famously said: “Give me Goodwood on a summer’s day, and you can keep the rest,” but I suspect today’s relentless deluge would dampen even his enthusiasm. It’s Friday at the 2023 Goodwood Festival of Speed, the day before a severe wind warning will call the event off for the first time in its 30-year history, and we’re huddled in the drivers’ sign-on tent.

Just climbing into the W-RS is an experience. You instinctiv­ely reach for a doorhandle, as you would on any other 718, before rememberin­g that they were removed, ahead of the 1963 season, to save weight. Instead, reach over the glassfibre door and open it from an internal latch, then throw your right leg over the broad sill and stand on the seat before sliding in.

The interior of the W-RS is Minimalist, but surprising­ly comfortabl­e. The thin, three-spoke Bakelite steering wheel comes out to meet you, the empty door recesses give loads of elbow room and the impossibly low windscreen affords unimpeded vision. Or at least it would if it weren’t raining so heavily.

As we depart the assembly area and head towards the startline, the rain intensifie­s and I spend the next minute or so fiddling with my visor to stop my glasses steaming up – a useful distractio­n from the fact that I’m about to guide the one and only W-RS in existence up a narrow, soaked piece of Tarmac.

In my head, I know the optimum way to get the car off the line is to give it a bootful of revs, sidestep the clutch and let the rear wheels spin. But I can’t quite get the weight of its history off my shoulders, so decide to gently dribble away from the line. And instantly regret that decision: the engine bogs and, no matter how much gas I give it, our speed slows to a crawl. Trying not to panic, it’s time to revert to a more robust approach: dial up plenty of revs and then drop the clutch. The engine picks up and fires the car towards turn one with gusto, as if to say: “I won two hillclimb championsh­ips – man up and get on with it!”

Grip is limited and the steering slow, but the feedback is quite unlike anything I’ve experience­d. You can immediatel­y feel how much adhesion there is to play with through the thin-rimmed steering wheel, and you can sense the car moving around underneath you. Confidence goes from rock bottom to through the roof within around 300m, with the 718 encouragin­g you to get hard on the throttle out of turn two and down the closest thing the course has to a straight.

The brakes require a lot of pressure into the infamous Molecomb corner, but from there it’s a short squirt up to the flint wall and then down from fifth to third gear. The six-speed gearbox was confusing to newcomers in period, but it’s a joy to use, with a light and precise lever, and pedals positioned just about close enough for heel-and-toeing.

Two more corners to go. These are notoriousl­y greasy bends due to the overhangin­g trees, but the W-RS dances through the right-hander and feels stable through the more gentle left. With one final burst of power to bring us across the line at the top of turn six, I try to take in my surroundin­gs and enjoy the guttural wail of the 2-litre flat-eight sitting just behind me.

What an experience. What an honour. And what a way to discover that the Grossmutte­r remains one of the most underappre­ciated Porsches of all time. No wonder they couldn’t retire it.

rallying than endurance racing, but one that proved effective, with the Coupé eventually crossing the line third overall – behind the two Ferraris, but first in the prototype 2-litre class. As salvage jobs go, it doesnʼt get much better.

At the carsʼ next outing, the Nürburgrin­g 1000km, it was finally time for the W-RS to shine. With Graham Hill and Hans Herrmann at the wheel, and the brakes now working as expected, the W-RS performed flawlessly, winning its prototype 2-litre class and finishing third overall in front of a crowd of more than 300,000 spectators. Disappoint­ingly, Bonnier and Gurney, this time in the Coupé, were also set to be on the podium, but were hamstrung by transmissi­on failure. Ironically, the eightcylin­der engine was turning out to be the least troublesom­e part of the package.

With Porsche not taking its prototypes to Le Mans in 1962 due to the organising Automobile Club de lʼouest being a law unto itself and only accepting GT cars, not prototypes, the Coupé wouldnʼt race again until 1963, but the W-RS had a more intense off-season, competing in selected rounds of the European Mountain Hillclimb Championsh­ip, plus a six-race campaign in North America. This yielded valuable feedback, not all of it positive, and compelled Porsche to make numerous design changes for 1963, including new doors and decklids made of glassfibre (an innovation that supercharg­ed the developmen­t of the forthcomin­g 904), as well as a move to coil spring and wishbone suspension – something that would mark a historic, and permanent, move away from parallel trailing arms.

And what did all of this effort net the W-RS? Well, if the record books are to be believed, a lowly seventh place at the 1963 Targa Florio after transmissi­on failure left the car with just one gear for the final lap. However, this doesnʼt quite tell the whole story. Because, once again, the Coupé, benefiting from the upgrades that came out of the W-RS internatio­nal testing programme, took up the Porsche mantle and ran ahead with it, as Bonnier brought the car home first overall, earning the Type 718 what was arguably its greatest-ever victory.

In subsequent years, the Spyder continued to make appearance­s on the internatio­nal stage, where it acted as the ultimate team player but seldom basked in the limelight. Not that this was seen as a great tragedy by the engineers at Porsche. The developmen­t of the 904 was already under way and the W-RS had, in effect, served its purpose, demonstrat­ing the worth of disc brakes, glassfibre panels, a rear wing to counter drag (implemente­d at Le Mans) and the eight-cylinder Type 771 engine – a unit that would go on to feature in everything from the 906 to the 909 Bergspyder.

So it is perhaps unusual, then, that it was during this period, away from the internatio­nal stage, that the W-RS became something of a legend (at least in the halls of Zuffenhaus­en) in the hands of Edgar Barth. No stranger to the Type 718, having won the 1959 Targa Florio behind the wheel of a 718 RSK, Barth was entrusted with wresting the European Hill Climb Championsh­ip from the grasp of Ferrari and its nimble Dino 196SP.

It would have been easy to dismiss the tall, balding 46-year-old Barth, especially when the chiselled, dark-haired reigning champion Ludovico Scarfiotti was just 29. But Barth was a natural at hillclimbi­ng, having won the championsh­ip in 1959. With the W-RS by then producing 240bhp, he proved unstoppabl­e, winning six of the seven climbs in 1963 and five out of seven in ʼ64, which crowned him king of the mountains two years on the trot.

Tragically, Barth passed away from cancer the following year, prompting the decision to retire the car from motorsport out of respect. This marked the end of four years of intense competitio­n and a total of 32 event entries, a longevity record that earned the W-RS the affectiona­te nickname of Grossmutte­r ,or Grandmothe­r, among the Porsche mechanics. While this car may not share the same level of fame as its predecesso­rs, the 550 Spyder and 718 RSK, nor its successor, the 904, perhaps we can take solace in the fact that it is respected by those who truly matter: its custodians.

‘With Hill and Herrmann at the wheel, the W-RS performed flawlessly, finishing third overall in front of more than 300,000 spectators’

 ?? ?? The W-RS quickly inspires confidence on Goodwood’s wet and slippery hillclimb course
The W-RS quickly inspires confidence on Goodwood’s wet and slippery hillclimb course
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 ?? ?? The works car of Umberto Maglioli and Giancarlo Baghetti in the pits at the 1963 Targa Florio; the pair would bring the 718 home in seventh
The works car of Umberto Maglioli and Giancarlo Baghetti in the pits at the 1963 Targa Florio; the pair would bring the 718 home in seventh
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 ?? ?? Above: 2-litre Type 771 proved reliable and was considered a better unit than the 1.5-litre Type 753 designed for Grand Prix duties
Above: 2-litre Type 771 proved reliable and was considered a better unit than the 1.5-litre Type 753 designed for Grand Prix duties
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