Saving the best for last: Porsche 911 3.0 RSR

| 23 Oct 2020
Classic & Sports Car – Saving the best for last: Porsche 911 3.0 RSR

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It’s gone midday in late July and the sun is fierce.

It’s quiet, bar the hum of tweeting birds and chirping grasshoppers; the sort of lazy calm that only comes on still summer days, the heat acting as a blanket that hangs heavy over the circuit and stifles the senses.

Then the spell is broken: rising from the distant treetops the unmistakable report of a blipped throttle and an aggressive downshift, followed by the glorious howl of a pinned flat-six.

In what seems like a split second the boxer scream is all around us, reverberating from the tunnel of trees through which the white, black-wheeled blur explodes, its driver massaging the wheel and feathering the throttle through a sweeping left-hander. You can’t help but smile.

Classic & Sports Car – Saving the best for last: Porsche 911 3.0 RSR

The scene is a familiar one to car and driver, both of whom have a lifetime of racing experience, the earliest part shared by man and machine at one of the most exciting races in the world: the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The man is Nick Faure, lifelong competitor and Porsche enthusiast, and the machine is one of the rarest and most focused naturally aspirated sports-racers to ever leave Stuttgart: the Porsche 911 3.0 RSR.

How the two came together at Le Mans in 1975 is a story that began with a chance discovery.

Classic & Sports Car – Saving the best for last: Porsche 911 3.0 RSR
Classic & Sports Car – Saving the best for last: Porsche 911 3.0 RSR
Classic & Sports Car – Saving the best for last: Porsche 911 3.0 RSR
Classic & Sports Car – Saving the best for last: Porsche 911 3.0 RSR

“One day I was rummaging through my mother’s coal shed when I discovered a small etching,” explains Faure.

“It was a Rembrandt, hidden underneath a few bits and pieces along with a Dürer etching. My grandmother was living with my mum at the time because she was pretty elderly – she was about 93 – so I went up to her and asked, ‘Granny, do you think I could have that Rembrandt etching?’ She said, ‘Oh yes Nicholas, you can have that.’

“I took it to Christie’s and got enough money out of it to buy three quarters of GVB 911D, Porsche’s demonstrator that was given to Vic Elford to race.”

Classic & Sports Car – Saving the best for last: Porsche 911 3.0 RSR

The unexpected windfall only got Faure so far, with the remainder of the balance settled by Chris Maltin of Maltin Cars in Henley on the agreement that the dealer had one race in it.

“So basically, Rembrandt got me racing,” says Faure.

No stranger to Porsches, he gelled immediately with the 911 and quickly gained a reputation for success that led to AFN, Porsche’s concessionaire in the UK, financing future seasons.

“I couldn’t even buy tyres,” laughs Faure. “I was racing on last year’s rubber – and doing quite well actually!”

Classic & Sports Car – Saving the best for last: Porsche 911 3.0 RSR

Just as Faure was honing his skills on track, so too Porsche engineers were perfecting the 911 for competition.

Having proved its capability, the 911S was soon joined by the 911R, a lightweight racing version featuring glassfibre wings, Plexiglas windows, aluminium doors and a stripped-out interior, though only 24 were made – some 476 shy of the homologation requirement for GT-class racing.

It wasn’t until 1973 that an opportunity once again presented itself for a bespoke racing 911, in the wake of new regulations that effectively banished the halo 917 from competition following its domination of both the World Sportscar Championship and Can-Am.

The new car was named for the firm’s historic success in the Carrera Panamericana, and was designed with the sole purpose of taking on the more powerful Ferrari Daytona and De Tomaso Pantera.

Classic & Sports Car – Saving the best for last: Porsche 911 3.0 RSR

A crash course in weight saving meant several panels were replaced with thinner steel alternatives, and the addition of slimmer glass made by Glaverbel.

Fatter arches accommodated 15x7in rear wheels on a wider track and the bumpers were made of fibre-reinforced polyester, while a distinctive duck-tail ‘Burzel’ spoiler was added to the rear that, working in conjunction with the deeper lipped front spoiler, significantly reduced the aerodynamic lift that had been a problem with earlier models.

Most important, however, were changes made beneath the bodywork to the powerplant, where Biral liners were dispensed with in favour of a Nikasil coating that allowed the bore to be taken to 90mm.

Capacity went from 2341 to 2687cc, adding 20bhp to the 190 of the 2.4-litre ‘S’.

Classic & Sports Car – Saving the best for last: Porsche 911 3.0 RSR
Classic & Sports Car – Saving the best for last: Porsche 911 3.0 RSR
Classic & Sports Car – Saving the best for last: Porsche 911 3.0 RSR

The Carrera RS 2.7 made its debut in 1973, bringing with it a gilt-edged opportunity for Faure to continue racing: “I thought my career had come to an end because I couldn’t afford anything, then AFN rang me to say it was buying two RS Lightweights, and would I like to come and drive one… Who was going to say no to that?!

“The idea was to make sure that there was always a car ready to race most weekends if there happened to be a problem with one of them, but they were so reliable that the ‘back-up’ car was sold on halfway through the season.”

Faure quickly found his feet in the RS. Always driven with flair, RGO 2L stormed to victory in the 1973 STP Production Championship having taken top honours in no fewer than 16 races.

As well as its on-track results, the RS 2.7 had proved something of a surprise sales success for Porsche, which had reckoned on shifting little more than the 500 examples required for homologation – even going so far as to issue them as company cars for executives.

The response, however, was overwhelming and all order slots had been accounted for a month after the close of the 1972 Paris Auto Salon. In the end, 1580 were sold, many to serious racers.

Classic & Sports Car – Saving the best for last: Porsche 911 3.0 RSR
Classic & Sports Car – Saving the best for last: Porsche 911 3.0 RSR
Classic & Sports Car – Saving the best for last: Porsche 911 3.0 RSR

In an effort to capitalise on the competition clientele, 55 chassis were taken from the production line and turned into 2.8 RSRs – hardcore works-inspired machines targeted squarely at privateers.

As well as ventilated and drilled discs from the 917, plus 9in front and 11in rear wheels and a bigger front air dam, the RSR featured a further bore increase to 92mm, taking capacity to 2806cc, plus Mahle pistons and 906 Carrera 6 camshafts.

The evolution continued with the advent of the 3.0 RS in 1974, a true homologation special that required just 100 examples to qualify in Group 3 for Production GT Cars.

Though externally similar to the 2.8 RSR, the new machine was even more focused, taking the best elements of previous iterations and addressing many of the flaws.

Classic & Sports Car – Saving the best for last: Porsche 911 3.0 RSR

Fully bored out to 2994cc, the highly tuned 911 produced 230bhp at 6200rpm in road trim, while its predecessor’s habit of throwing its flywheel was cured and the problem of its weak magnesium crankcase was addressed, albeit at the expense of an extra 10kg.

Few racers got on with the 3.0 RS quite as well as Faure, who blew away the competition in the ’74 season – success that didn’t go unnoticed.

“A friend of mine, Richard Bond, was great friends with Jean Blaton who raced under the name ‘Beurlys’ and campaigned a 3.0 RSR at Le Mans,” he recalls.

“He said Jean had seen my career in racing in the RS – I’d won 18 races in the year in that particular car – and asked that I come and drive at Brands Hatch. He was quite impressed, so the following winter he rang me up and asked if I would like to come and race at Le Mans, and could I find £1000 sponsorship.”

Classic & Sports Car – Saving the best for last: Porsche 911 3.0 RSR

Struggling to come up with the money after the loss of his financial backer Fisons, Faure eventually got lucky after a chance encounter in a London bar.

“I got talking to a guy who happened to be the president of Harley-Davidson, a blonde-haired all-American college kid called Clayton Day Junior, and he loved the idea. So he put up the £1000 and I did some sketches for him.

“We chose the design together; I met him in a pub and we worked it out. We agreed on the helmet design, and then the final livery for the car. I gave the car the number 69 as a joke – just imagine my astonishment when I got to Le Mans and found that the [race organiser] ACO had allocated the number to us!”

Faure joined the unlikely team at La Sarthe in the hot summer of 1975, to share the 24-hour epic with fellow debutant John Cooper and Le Mans veteran Blaton.

Classic & Sports Car – Saving the best for last: Porsche 911 3.0 RSR

Compared to the experience and backing of teams such as Georg Loos’ Gelo Racing, which fielded a three-car 911 entry, the solo effort of Beurlys was poised to be something of a David and Goliath story – but in the RSR they had one hell of a slingshot.

Like its 2.8-litre predecessor, the RSR began life as its equivalent RS model. Fifty-four chassis were pulled from the production line, such as it was, to be uprated for top-level racing.

The competitions department then bored an extra plug hole in the cylinder heads to receive the same twin-ignition system that graced the 2.8 RSR; timing remained the same but valve lift was increased and the fuel pump beefed-up.

The butterfly throttles, good for 308bhp, were changed for slide throttles that achieved 330bhp at 8000rpm, fully 100bhp more than the 3.0 RS.

A straight-through twin-pipe exhaust from the 2.8 RSR was fitted, too, while the geometry was gently tweaked, with raised stub axles lowering the front of the car by 18mm.

Classic & Sports Car – Saving the best for last: Porsche 911 3.0 RSR

Incredibly, the bodywork got wider still, with an extra 2in added to each wing to help accommodate massive 14in rear wheels shod with racing slicks, plus an even larger rear spoiler overhanging the bumper.

The 917’s braking system was carried over, with the addition of endurance calipers and pads lifted directly from the Le Mans prototypes.

Ever the Porsche fanatic, Blaton was an early adopter of the new model and received his car – finished in the trademark yellow of Ecurie Francorchamps – ahead of the 1974 season, where it ran well at Le Mans before a gearbox problem forced the car’s retirement.

It was this car, chassis 9072 and the 26th of 54 factory examples, that Faure, Blaton and Cooper had to ready for its second outing at La Sarthe.

Classic & Sports Car – Saving the best for last: Porsche 911 3.0 RSR

With the big race just days away, Faure set about transforming the RSR with the stars-and-stripes Harley-Davidson livery that he and Day had settled on back in England.

“Blaton rented the Shell garage at Arnage, with a workshop at the back,” says Faure, “so we used that as a little studio. We didn’t bother painting the interior. We just wanted the outside to be white, so you can still see it’s yellow inside.

“I then chose the colours and bought my aerosols: Guards Red and a Renault Blue. I brought the cans with me from England and cut out stars to use as stencils on the roof.

“The rest I did by hand including the stripes, which were done using masking tape with an outline in black tape to give it a bit of strength. When they came to pick up the car in the morning they were delighted.”

Classic & Sports Car – Saving the best for last: Porsche 911 3.0 RSR

As well as being new to Le Mans, Faure was a novice when it came to night racing and his first experience of driving in those conditions in anger came during qualifying.

“It was so easy – everyone is going in the same direction, so all you had to look at was red lights. You just dipped your mirror if they had their full lights on; you’re aware of the cars that are coming up really fast because the lights close quite quickly.

“I’ll always remember Vic Elford saying to me, ‘If it’s foggy in the morning, and you come to the rise just before the kink and you’re going flat-out, don’t slow down. Just count one, two, and turn as soon as you go over the rise and you’ll find the apex.’ It worked; don’t lift.”

It might not have been a golden year for Le Mans, 1975, with stringent new fuel-economy rules keeping away the likes of Ferrari and Alfa Romeo, but it was certainly a purple patch for Porsche.

More than half of the grid was filled with 911s, including several privateers fielding RSs and RSRs as well as a number of big-money teams such as Kremer and Jägermeister.

Classic & Sports Car – Saving the best for last: Porsche 911 3.0 RSR

By the time the chequer fell on Sunday afternoon it was Jacky Ickx and Derek Bell in their Gulf-Mirage GR8 who led the pack, followed by the Ligier of Jean-Louis Lafosse and Guy Chasseuil, the sister GR8 and the Joest Porsche 908/3.

Showing their pace and reliability, the following seven places were locked out by RSRs and RSs, with the Gelo car leading the class ahead of the Beurlys RSR, which was brought home in the final hours second in class and sixth overall – a full 22 laps ahead of the closest privateer.

“I drove the car for the last stint, between midday and 4pm, just one minute short of my allowance,” remembers Faure.

“The RSR just ran and ran and we were in the pits for only 20 minutes in the 24 hours, almost a record. We didn’t even change tyres!”

Classic & Sports Car – Saving the best for last: Porsche 911 3.0 RSR

“In those days the concrete pit balconies were directly above the track and the pitlane. You were very aware that everyone was looking straight down on you – you felt like a matador in the bullring.

“After the race everyone crowded on to the circuit, the whole team and the Harley boys with their ’bikes. Everybody was thrilled – they never expected to finish like that.”

At the season’s close, Blaton offered the car to Faure for £3600 but, not having the funds, it was sold to a syndicate and made its way to South America.

The 911 appeared in Ecuador, where it stayed for four years before being repatriated to Germany and going into a private collection for 25 years.

The Porsche was restored in around 2006 by marque specialist Manfred Freisinger to the exact specification in which it contested Le Mans, including the yellow interior.

It remains one of the most original of its type.

Classic & Sports Car – Saving the best for last: Porsche 911 3.0 RSR

Squeezing into the competition bucket seat, you get some sense of what it might have been like back in 1975, and of the RSR’s strange mix of the exotic and familiar.

But any comfort that you may draw from the many similarities it has with more approachable 911 road cars evaporates the instant the 3-litre flat-six clears its throat.

The Type 911/75’s high-lift camshafts offer a lumpy idle that reverberates around the bare cabin; as with most racers it’s happiest on the move.

The Fichtel & Sachs single-plate clutch and ‘9156’ gearbox shared with the 2.8 RSR make a wonderful combination, with a light pedal and smooth action that will feel familiar to anyone who’s driven a 911 of similar vintage.

Classic & Sports Car – Saving the best for last: Porsche 911 3.0 RSR

At low speeds it’s a car that even your grandmother could drive, but begin to explore the envelope of performance and it’s clear the RSR is a very different animal.

Plant the throttle in any gear and the acceleration arrives with the immediacy of a lump-hammer hitting a plate-glass window. It’s seriously quick, with a brutal kick that pins your head to the upright seat.

You very soon appreciate the need for the centrally mounted tachometer, rotated by 90º to afford a necessary at-a-glance view of the 10,000rpm business end.

The RSR is blistering in a straight line, as your strained neck muscles can testify, but it’s in the bends that the car truly excels: the low centre of gravity, wide track and those enormous tyres give you a fresh understanding of mechanical grip.

You could say it corners as if it’s on rails, but the old cliché doesn’t do justice to just how fleet of foot it feels, how alive and responsive the steering remains even under extreme load.

Classic & Sports Car – Saving the best for last: Porsche 911 3.0 RSR

“I think it’s probably one of the best driver’s road/race cars,” reckons Faure. “It certainly develops the greatest feel of any car I’ve driven and it responds to you as if it’s a glove; you wear it.

“The car is basically doing what it wants to do, and you only guide it.”

“It brings back the most fantastic memories,” continues Faure, “not just of the car but being with such a congenial team and being able to enjoy the atmosphere of Le Mans, which is really the most special race in the world.

“I think it would be the ambition of any racing driver to drive at Le Mans. To be reacquainted with the car now is just a dream.”

Images: Olgun Kordal

Thanks to DK Engineering


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