ATLANTA - By the late 1950s it was obvious to Porsche that the Type 356, the company's sole product line since its inception in 1948, needed to be updated, but replacing it, while necessary, was perilous. Who knew that the eventual replacement for the venerable 356, the 911, would surpass its predecessor in sales, longevity and glory? Or that it would be so fanatically cherished by its owners that Porsche hasn't been able to replace it.
And, with Porsche Motorsport concentrating on its early prototype development for Le Mans and elsewhere, there wasn't much initial effort by the factory for racing the 911. By the late 1960's however, interest in competing with the new car grew and it went on to become the most successful race car in history, and the 911 story isn't over yet. Five significant 911 racing models are on display this weekend at Pebble Beach, and will be located on Peter Hay Hill starting Thursday, August 18.
This display on Peter Hay Hill will feature several historic 911 race cars, including the 1979 935 from the Brumos Collection, believed to be the last remaining unmodified 935 in existence, as well as the 911 S that carried Hurley Haywood to 10 Camel GT race wins and his first IMSA championship in 1972. Other cars to be on display include a 2011 911 GT3 Cup Car from the Porsche Sport Driving School, the Gunnar Racing 911 GT1 fashioned after the car that won Le Mans overall in 1998 as well as the 2011 911 GT3 RS 4.0, shown publically for the first time on US soil.
It wasn't too long after the 911 went into production, however, that buyers were using the new, rear-engined sports car in hill climbs and autocrosses and Porsche itself started to produce lightweight and enhanced performance vehicles for their motorsports customers. In 1967, Porsche built 20 911 "R" models with stripped interiors (no carpet, for instance), thin-skinned aluminum doors, fiberglass deck lids, taillights swiped from a Fiat, oversize carburetors, a magnesium engine case, dual spark plug cylinder heads and much more. With about 210 horsepower on board, these race-ready, lightweight rockets were the start of the 911 racing legend.
Vic Elford, one of the most famous Porsche drivers in history, was one of the first to compete in the Porsche 911 at a high level, winning in the mid-'60s in England winning a race with the very first demo model imported by the factory distributor, and later driving to victory in 1968 at the Monte Carlo Rally.
The Porsche 911 race car started to make noise in the U.S. when IMSA's Camel GT series started in 1970. Brumos Racing and Hurley Haywood took their 1970 Porsche 911 S to its first championship in the 1972 season. This car, the only Brumos championship car not clad in the traditional white with red and blue trim (it's orange) will be on display this weekend, still owned by Brumos Motors.
After Porsche 911 Carrera RS and RSR models won IMSA and Trans-Am championships in the mid-70s, the company introduced the radical Porsche 934 and 935 race cars - 911 silhouette bodied cars with big, twin-turbocharged engines. After being banned for a season from the Camel GT, they came back with a roar to become the car to beat in the late '70s and early '80s. The 1979 Brumos Racing Porsche 935, driven by multi-time champion Peter Gregg, is also on display this weekend, and is a prime example of this iconic 911 racer.
The 1980s and early 90s were prime time for Porsche Motorsport's 956 and 962 prototype race cars, and the 911 took a bit of a back seat on the GT side to Porsche 924 and 944-based models.
Then, in 1996, Porsche introduced the GT class 911 GT2 R at Le Mans where this 911-based water-cooled coupe promptly won its class, followed by the famous Porsche 911 GT1 which gave Porsche its last overall victory at Le Mans (1998). It was this victory that inspired race car builder and collector Kevin Jeannette, owner of Gunnar Racing, to build his own GT1 in 1999, and this car is also on display this weekend at Peter Hay Hill. The car, which raced from 1999 - 2003, had Paul Newman, Gunnar Jeannette, Kyle Petty, Milt Minter and Chad McQueen all pilot it to top finishes before the rules eliminated it from competition.
The next generation of 911 race cars were initiated by the introduction of the Porsche 911 GT3 R in 1999, and promptly driven to the 1999 American Le Mans Series GT championship by Cort Wagner. The pinnacle of this family was the Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, and the 2004 version on display at Peter Hay Hill is the McKenna Porsche sponsored example driven to the American Le Mans Series Championship by factory drivers Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb. The car, now owned by California collector Jeff Lewis, was prepared by Alex Job Racing, as was that first Cort Wagner car in 1999.
The other family of 911 race cars represented is the 911 GT3 Cup, which was developed for the Porsche Supercup and Carrera Cup one-marque series which takes place around the globe. The latest version, the 2011 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, which now competes in the American Le Mans Series, SCCA World Challenge, and Rolex Grand-Am Sports Car Series, rounds out the 911 race car display at Peter Hay Hill.
This 911 race car display is designed to bring attention to the upcoming Porsche Rennsport Reunion IV, scheduled for October 14 - 16, 2011 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, where the Porsche 911 will be the featured race car.