by Ken Visser
With Patrick Dempsey: Racing Le Mans series about to start, I thought we would take a look at some special Porsches. As we will see, racing improves the breed. (Continued below)
I photographed this 1953 Porsche 550 Coupe at the Amelia Island Concours in 2007.
First one up is the 1953 Porsche 550 Coupe. Two coupes were specially prepared for the grueling Carrera Panamericana. The coupes dominated their class and took the class first place trophy. Porsche was experimenting with small displacement and lightweight cars to take on the big boys.
This particular 550 weighed around 1200 pounds and had a top speed of 124. That doesn't seem like much by today's standards but back in the day….
The next example is a Porsche Special built by Bill Rutan of Connecticut in the late 50's and was focused on winning hill climbs. Its powered by a potent porsche 4 cam Carrera motor and was effectively piloted by Wayne Corini at the Elegance at Hershey Grand Ascent for the past 2 years. Wayne was fastest up the hill in 2013 until beaten by a Lotus Super Seven. He went back for one more try when the stickier tires proved to be too much traction for the drivetrain and forced him to the side.
The Hippy Porsche, officially known at the 1970 Porsche 917L was designed to win le Mans. The early versions were scary fast and somewhat unstable. The pursuit of high speed on the Mulsanne straight had an unsavory affect on the handling. Larger wings were incorporated to create more downforce.
The Hippy Porsche is part of the race car collection of Dr Simeone and happily resides in the Simeone Automotive Museum in Philadelphia.
The 1988 Porsche 959 was photographed at the Radnor Hunt Concours d'Elegance.
Last up is the competition bred 959. Porsche eventually produced 337 959's they werenever officially imported into the US but there are several companies that specialize in legalizing the car. The 959 was the most technologically advanced road car ever constructed and became a template for super cars to come.
I photographed the 96 911 GT1 at the Radnor Hunt Concours in 2007. (Just an aside the Radnor concours is coming up September 8th, 2013. If you are in the Mid Atlantic, this is a bucket list event.)
Lastly we have one of my favorite Porsches of all time, the 96 911 GT1 "Strabenversion". It was designed to compete against the Ferrari F40 and the McLaren F1. The car was very, very loosely derived from the 911, streaching the rules as far as possible. The GT1 won the GT class of Le Mans in 96. You can see the lines that eventually morphed into the Carrera GT.
So you can see from the small displacement 356's and 550's to the tremendous 1100 hp 917 and then the sophistication of the all wheel drive in the 959, competition has helped Porsche build a better machine for the street. Racing does indeed, improve the breed.
Make sure to tune in Wednesday Nights to Velocity Channel and see what Patrick Dempsey does with his Porsche at Le Mans.