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Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Revs Institute, Part 3: Porsches by Another Name, More and / or Less

Along with the comprehensive selection of sports racing Porsches in the Collier Collection at the Revs Institute, you will find some cars which are powered by Porsche, bodied by Italian coach builders rather than Porsche itself, or featuring chassis which were provided by other makers but powered by Porsche.  The 1958 Porsche-Behra was created when French driver Jean Behra, then racing sports cars for Porsche and Formula 1 cars for BRM, decided that he could produce a more focused car for Formula 2 than single-seat version of the RSK he'd been driving for Porsche.  The Behra car, designed with the aid of ex-Maserati engineer Valerio Colotti, had a narrower front and rear track than Porsche's new open-wheel F2 car, and a sleeker alloy body, all in the interests of better aerodynamics.  Despite the substitution of the old rear swing axles for Porsche's newer all-independent design, the new car proved competitive. It was fast enough in the hands of Hans Herrman (shown driving below), in fact, to beat the factory Porsches and Ferrari Dinos at Reims, the best-supported event of the '59 F2 season, where it finished ahead of everything except the Cooper-Borgward of Stirling Moss.* 

Also during 1959, Porsche began to search for ways to extend the racing life of its aging steel-bodied 356 Carrera in production sports car racing while engineers were busy with its F1 and F2 efforts. This led them to approach Carlo Abarth, the Austrian-born specialist builder who had worked on the Porsche-designed Cisitalia Porsche 360 GP car in 1947, to build a lightweight car on the 356 Carrera platform.  Abarth in turn commissioned Franco Scaglione of Bertone and Alfa fame to design the alloy body shell.  The first body was built by Viarengo and Filipponi, as Zagato was busy building bodies for Carlo's Fiat Abarths and for arch rival Alfa Romeo.  The new Abarth Carrera GTL looked so much sleeker than the old 356, it's hard to believe both cars are on the same stubby 82 inch wheelbase.  It's narrower and lower than a 356 coupe; the Revs crew have parked it between a 356 coupe and Speedster and this serves as a reminder of why these cars were called "bathtub Porsches."

The first car produced is pictured, and even though Porsche needed to add cooling slots to avoid overheating and the cabin proved leaky during the rainy Le Mans of 1960, this car won its class. Twenty cars were commissioned, and some experts have suggested that improved workmanship on later cars resulted from moving body production to Rocco Motto.

Our last example carries both Porsche and Elva labels on its nose, but the chassis and body are entirely the work of specialist Frank Nichols in England, who had long experience building lightweight chassis when approached in 1963 by Porsche distributer Oliver Schmidt and dealer Carl Haas to provide a version of his Mark VII for an effort in the then-new U.S. Road Racing Championship.  Porsche agreed to supply copies of their four-cam engine in 1.7 liter, 183 hp form, and Nichols redesigned the tubular space frame layout to fit the wide engine.  The final product weighed an amazing 975 pounds.

The name "Elva", by the way, is a riff on the French for "she goes", and she did indeed.   The Porsche-powered Mark VII won its first race at the 1963 Road America 500 at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin against stiff competition.  Planned production of fifteen cars sold out, but the car acquired a reputation for unpredictable handling owing to the rearward weight bias.  As a result, the Mark VIII Elva featured a longer wheelbase.  Most of those cars, however, also featured BMW engines.

*Footnote:  For notes on the Cooper-Borgward, see our posting from March 3, 2017 entitled "Forgotten Classic: When Borgward Went Racing."  There are excellent photos of the Behra Porsche on the Revs Institute website, but we preferred a rare shot of the car in action.

Photo credits:
Top:  uncredited photographer, at 8w.forix.com
2nd:  Ian Avery-DeWitt 
3rd:  the author
4th:  Ian Avery-DeWitt
5th:  Paul Anderson
6th:  Ian Avery-DeWitt

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Revs Institute, Part 2: Pantheon of Paranormal Porsches


It first dawned on my childhood awareness that people could use Porsches for transportation when my family moved to LA in 1957; we already knew about Porsches for racing because of James Dean.  My dad's friend Isadore pronounced Porsche "pushy" in his Italian accent, and marveled that anyone would pay a Cadillac price for a tiny car with Fiat levels of power.  The standard Porsche you'd see in our neighborhood was the 1500 Normal with about 55 hp.; the 1500 Super was good for all of 70.  But the Stuttgart firm worked steadily at obtaining more power and better race performance from small-displacement engines, and by 1970, when they first won Le Mans, their reputation had attained mythic status. At the Revs Institute you'll find at least one example of each of the air-cooled sports racers that founded the Porsche myth,  from the '51 356SL coupe built in Gmund, Austria (72 hp from a VW-based flat four) to the 917PA flat-twelve from '69 and a '71 917K Le Mans racer, each with over 570 hp, and on a display stand, the all-conquering 917-30 engine from the 1973 Canadian-American racing series, with a tire-shredding turbocharged 1,100 hp.  If the modest little 1500 Normal represented Porsche's ambitions in the 1950s, by the late 1960s, you could say the attitude and even the esthetic impact of the cars bordered on paranormal.  The endlessly fascinating Revs website describes Porsche engineering talent for weight reduction as "supernatural"...
This 550A from 1956 makes 135 hp from the Ernst Fuhrmann-designed 4-cam four.  This Type 547 Carerra engine was the first purpose-built Porsche racing engine.  The "A" indicates that this car has a tubular chassis which offered greater rigidity and thus more predictable handling than the earlier 550 platform, the earliest examples of which also had the pushrod engine.  Of course, the Revs people have a couple of those as well… 


Here a visitor inspects the interior of a 718 spyder, otherwise known as an RSK, with the 550A and a rare 550 coupe in the background.

The RSK offered a lower profile with better aerodynamics along with a lighter and more rigid space frame chassis, and from 1957 through '62 it allowed Porsche to expand their competition record from class wins in the small-displacement categories to overall wins in the Sebring 12 Hours in 1960, and in the Targa Florio in 1959, '60 and '63.  This is a four-cylinder RS-60 from 1960.
The RSK had a long enough life to serve as a development tool for the four-cam  4 cylinder Carrera engine as well as a new air-cooled flat 8.  As a result, the car was built with two different wheelbases, and the Institute has examples of both.

Here's a '59 RSK with the weight-saving paint deletion showing off the workmanship on the alloy body, which, like the 550 bodies, was built by Wendler. 

Despite the success of the versatile RSK, an overall win at Le Mans still eluded Porsche.  In order to satisfy FIA requirements for the GT class in 1964, Porsche would need to make at least 100 of their new contender, which featured a steel ladder frame bonded to a stressed fiberglass body to save production cost.  Most of the 106 Type 904s built (many bought by private customers) in '64 and '65 featured the proven but complex 4 cylinder Carrera power plant, while 20 were built with the new Type 901 sohc, dry sump flat six.  A few factory test cars were fitted with a flat eight engine, but engineers experienced exploding flywheels with these. Porsche renamed the car the Carrera GTS in response to the same legal issue which had caused them to rename the new 901 the 911*.  

In 1966 for the 906 (also called the Carrera 6), Porsche reverted to a tubular frame, this time  with unstressed fiberglass body.  Some think this was due to problems with variable thickness and complex repairs on the stressed 904 body, and note that the more expensive tubular route was OK'd because only 50 copies of Type 906 were required under new FIA rules.  Regime change may also have played a part, as this was the first racer completed under the new Ferdinand Piech management.  It marked a turn away from the four-cam, four-cylinder engine to the flat sohc dry-sump six then becoming common in the 911, and yet another step away from dual-purpose road / race chassis to designs focused strictly on racing... 
When Porsche finally won its home endurance race at the Nurburgring in 1967,  it  was with this particular 910-6, with smoother contours than the somewhat graceless 906, and making 220 hp. with a fuel-injected version of that car's 2 liter flat six. 


Still chasing a Le Mans win and a Championship, the Piech team hatched the 908.  The  3 liter flat eight took over from the 2.2 liter 907* flat eights after the latter cars narrowly lost the World Championship of Makes to the Ford GT40s campaigned by John Wyer in 1968.  The "LH" derives from the German langheck, or "long tail."  The photo conveys just how long.

Despite the movable rear airfoil for downforce, the long-tailed cars could weave unexpectedly at high speeds.

There was also a 908-02 Flunder ("flounder") from the same year, with short-tailed open spyder design aimed at producing rear downforce and weight saving, up to 220 lb. compared with the long-tailed coupes.

When Porsche finally won the Manufacturer's Championship in 1969, it was with the help of cars like this 917 (this one's a '71), a 4.5 liter flat 12 which defied Porsche's reputation for doing a lot with a little, unless the sole judging criterion was chassis weight, and not the cubic yardage (or cubic meters in this case) of money expended. As the Institute's historians point out, while John Wyer won the 1968 Championship with a team of only 3 Ford GT40s, the 1969 Porsche effort involved no less than 52 new race cars, most of which were only raced once before being reconditioned and sold to privateers.  We will leave it to the reader to ponder which cars were more efficient, the 5 liter Fords, or the 3 liter and 4.5 liter Porsches…

*Footnotes:  For a discussion of the renaming of the Porsche 901, see our posting from July 10, 2016 entitled "Roads Not Taken, Porsche 911s We Missed".  For anyone wanting more information on the cars pictured, the Revs Institute website at revsinstitute.org is a fountain of technical details and entertaining stories.  In case you're wondering what happened to their Porsche 907, it was in the restoration shop, and off-limits to visitors, during our visit.

Photo credits:
1, 2, 4 & 7:  the author
3, 5, 8, 9, 10 & 11:  Ian Avery-DeWitt
6, 12 & 13:  Paul Anderson

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Revs Institute, Part I: First Impression

The Revs Institute in Naples, Florida envisions its mission as providing a resource for automotive historians and a training ground for the next generation of car restorers.  In keeping with that twofold mission, it maintains a collection of around 110 historic cars, many of them race cars. The collection is as wide-ranging as it is deeply considered, though, so you will find everything from early bicycles and an 1896 Panhard & Levassor automobile to a 1988 Arrows A-10B Formula One racer and a 1989 Trabant from East Germany.  The latter, with its two-cycle twin cylinder engine, is simultaneously the newest car you may find on display and also one of the least sophisticated. Irony is not your first impression of the Revs, however.  When you enter the foyer you are confronted by the Class of '64, three competitors from the under 2-liter class during the 1964 road racing season in Europe and America.  Gleaming in bright red, the Abarth Simca 2000, Porsche 904, and Alfa Romeo TZ-1 exemplify three different approaches to chassis and engine design. The rear-engined Abarth Simca combines a modified Simca sedan chassis platform with an all-Abarth twin cam inline 4 making 192 hp.  The mid-engined 904 is the first Porsche to feature a fiberglass body, but houses a tweaked version of the familiar four-cam, air-cooled boxer four which was introduced in the mid-Fifties 550 sports racer.  The Zagato-bodied Alfa on the right features, like the Abarth, a water-cooled, aluminum block, twin cam design, but is the most traditional of the three in chassis design, with a front engine and a live rear axle.  At 1.6 liters it's the smallest engine of the three, but it was a fierce competitor...

Step to the left of the entry and you find a display with a different theme.  Here we have two cars which pioneered the use of plastic materials in chassis structure.  The first is Colin Chapman's Lotus Elite (Type 14).  The body, designed in 1957 by Peter Kirwin-Taylor, pioneered the use of fiberglass as a structural material.*

Just behind the Lotus, you stop to take in a McLaren F1, the mid-engined super car from 1995 with driver's seat located between two passengers.  Designed by Peter Stevens, it pioneered carbon fiber as a structural material.  As a result, it was able to offer a curb weight only slightly higher than a Mazda Miata while providing a strong, compact chassis to house the BMW-sourced V12 making 5 times as much power.  It was enough to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1995...

If you make a right turn after entering you will encounter a 1965 Ferrari 250 LM, Ferrari's attempt to convince European racing authorities that a purpose-built mid-engined racing car was really a variation of the familiar front-engined 250 GT.  Even the name was a bit of a deception, as Ferrari engines were named after their individual cylinder capacities, and the 3.3 liter V12 in the LM was really a 275.  Masten Gregory and Jochen Rindt were convinced that their LM would be slower than the hotter Ferrari P2 prototypes and Ford GT40s at the 1965 Le Mans, so they decided to push the car to the breaking point.  Unlike its competitors, it never broke, and they won the race...

The Institute's LM was driven on Canadian streets by its original owner, and lived in New Zealand and Germany before finding a home here.  Like the other cars at the Revs, it gets exercised at least once a year.  The nose on the Scaglietti alloy body was repaired after an accident by Piero Drogo's bodyworks, and is profiled a bit differently than standard, with a more oval air intake.

After spending nearly an hour pondering the cars in the foyer,  you realize that there are over a hundred more cars to see, and that after lunch you'll have only about three hours to do that.  One of the docents mentions that there's one of every type of Porsche sports racer built, up through the Type 917, in the adjacent room, so you decide to get moving…

*Footnote:  For more on the Lotus Elite design, see our July 31, 2016 post entitled "Plastic Promise, Plastic Perils."

All Photos except 4 & 5:  the author
4th and 5th photos from top:  Ian Avery-DeWitt

Friday, March 3, 2017

Forgotten Classic: When Borgward Went Racing

Germany's Borgward, built in Bremen, was a liver dumpling of a car: wholesome, sincere, plump and a bit clunky.  Enthusiasts and historians alike bypassed it in favor of the more eccentric Porsche, the more charismatic Mercedes and the sometimes-elegant BMW.  If not for some bad management decisions and tricks of fate, however, we might be driving Borgwards today. Actually, in engineering terms, many of us are driving Borgwards today, because Borgward's engineers formulated the definitive modern inline four-cylinder engine in the late Fifties, a good twenty years ahead of the industry.  Features included twin overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, and direct mechanical fuel injection.  But these features were reserved for the racing engines that went into founder Carl Borgward's RS race cars, as well as the Cooper Borgward that Stirling Moss used to win the Formula II Championship in 1959 for privateer Rob Walker. Production cars like the Hansa 2400 six and the Isabella 1.5 liter four made do with pushrod-operated overhead valves.  The sturdy Isabella (1954-62), with its swing-axle rear suspension, might have seemed an alternative to Volvo in the USA, but eventually fell victim to the Swedish car's bigger dealer network, and to the inefficiency of Borgward's manufacturing policies.  These included completely different engine designs for the senior Borgward lines, the smaller Goliath, and the Lloyd mini cars.  This "separate companies" strategy was conceived to insure adequate supply of raw materials during early postwar rationing, but resulted in high tooling costs and almost no interchangeable parts between product lines.  It also resulted in a plethora of interesting engines, including a two cycle, fuel-injected twin (Goliath), an overhead cam air-cooled inline twin (Lloyd), and two distinct water-cooled boxer fours for Lloyd and Goliath.  

Hansa fastback sedan, 1952-55

Isabella, 1954-62 (1960 shown)

But it was the lightweight, twin cam fuel injected RS racing engine that caught English race team owner Rob Walker's eye.  He thought it would make a powerful alternative to the Coventry Climax fours then used in his Cooper Formula II cars, and approached Borgward about supplying engines.

The engine had first appeared in a limited run of RS (Rennsport) two-seaters, and these had competed in Mexico's Carrera Panamericana as well as on European tracks... 

The 1.5 liter cars gave the Porsches something to worry about, and the sleek alloy bodies were sometimes left unpainted to save weight...

Borgward's aerodynamic experiments included the tapered tail shown above and the Kamm-tailed car below.

But the RS engine achieved its greatest success in the Cooper chassis which established the template for the modern, mid-engined racing car.  With Stirling Moss in the driver's seat, the car won the Formula Two Championship in 1959, the same year that a Climax-engined Cooper won the Formula One Championship with Jack Brabham driving.

The resulting fame should have spurred sales of the Isabella, or at least garnered some orders for racing engines, but Borgward was spending critical funds on a bigger six cylinder P100 introduced in mid-1959.  That model sold only about 2,500 cars by the time of the firm's bankruptcy in August 1961; an additional 2,000 cars were assembled in Mexico.  At the time of the collapse it was widely reported that intervention by the Quandt family, which had recently taken over BMW, made sure that Carl Borgward could not get a loan to continue operations.  But a bit of Borgward influence survives in many cars sold today; the RS racing engine paved the way for modern twin cam, sixteen-valve fours, including (ironically) those made by BMW.  And Borgward's Lloyd 900 engine served as the template for the early horizontally-opposed fours from Subaru in Japan. Subaru maintains that boxer architecture in all its automobile engines sold in the US, along with four valves per cylinder.

Photo credits:
Top & 3rd from top:  wikimedia
2nd:  de.academic.ru
4th: borgward.com
5th through 7th:  pinterest.com
8th: Auta5p.eu