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An Unforgettable Day with Porsche Legends

Trevor Ely in the Porsche RSR Carrera Turbo
Trevor Ely in the Porsche RSR Carrera Turbo

By Trevor Ely

After shoving an industrial-looking lever into what felt like it must have been first gear, I heard a familiar ‘back-talk’ from the small displacement flat six that surely provided a thrilling noise for the onlookers. As I entered a corner, I remembered that this clumsy-looking beast was a car that Zuffenhausen once claimed would be the way of the future for competitive 911s in sports car racing. It was dubbed the Porsche Carrera RSR Turbo, and the example owned by the late Matt Drendel that I was piloting was one of earliest, and most original, surviving examples of this amazing car.

Gracefully wearing the scars of extensive testing and development, “R9” (Research 9) is a rolling testament to the great Norbert Singer’s almost psychotic attention to detail on the subject of weight savings, as the translucent, fiberglass bodywork clearly revealed reveals. As we rounded a corner, Peter Gregg’s old Porsche 935/79 had already begun exiting in gusto, while in the capable hands of everybody’s favorite ambassador of the Stuttgart brand, Hurley Haywood.

Embracing my inner Walter Mitty, I made my way down the back straight (or taxi way!) and sailed down the expanse of battered concrete pavement that once served as a Marine air base in sunny, Southern California. As a lowly Porsche Carrera RS 3.0 owned by some comedian disappears from the tiny side mirrors of the Martini and Rossi-clad RSR Turbo, I’m finally able to exploit some of the car’s tremendous power. Now we’re moving!…Or so I thought. It was at this very moment that I was exposed to thrust. Thrust like I never knew existed. Thrust that you only ever read or dream about. Something that began as a blue and yellow spot in the side mirrors appeared and then quickly disappeared faster than my mind could register a thought of what exactly had just happened.

That onslaught of power was of course the product of a machine that’s inception began with a healthy cooperation between the Porsche racing department and a heroic individual that believed a race car only had enough power if it could “spin the wheels in all gears”. The beast that had nearly made me soil myself was none other than Mark Donohue’s Turbo Panzer, the Porsche 917/30 Can-Am Spyder.

1973 Porsche 917/30 Can-Am Spyder,
1973 Porsche 917/30 Can-Am Spyder (photo: Patrick McGinnis)

Jeff Zwart, the brainchild behind this assemblage of fantastic automobiles, was in charge of trying to perform the delicate balancing act of incorporating just the right amount of nostalgia into a cool, marketing package that Porsche could use in a television advertisement.

During the three days of filming, an ex-military helicopter pilot helped put a chopper right where the camera needed to be, and in some cases closer to the earth than some realized possible, but each day went without fault and was littered with memorable moments. The irony in this historic event, that could only be described as a Porsche enthusiast’s dream, is that it was all in the name of helping the viewing public remember that Porsche’s newest offering, the Panamera, was sewn from the same cloth as some of their most important cars from their storied past in motorsport.

Unfortunately, for Porsche, by the time you saw the finished commercial, the last thing you would ever be interested in was the oddly-shaped sedan that somehow traced its way through the “Family Tree”. Successful marketing, or a great excuse to get a bunch of great historic cars out together at a runway that’s large enough to land the space shuttle? Anybody’s guess, but regardless, an event I will not soon forget.

Making of the Porsche Family Tree Commercial – Photo Gallery

Making of the Porsche Family Tree Commercial – Video

[Source: Photos: Sports Car Digest; Patrick McGinnis]