Amongst all the long litany of pure-bred competition Porsches manufactured and campaigned at premier-level throughout the 1950s and ’60s into the 1970s, the lean, lightweight, handsome and sophisticated 3-litre flat-8 engined Typ 908 cars have special significance. They are the design that first elevated Porsche from being consistent class winners in FIA World Championship of Makes endurance racing to becoming consistent challengers almost everywhere for outright victory and top title honours.
The Porsche 908 was introduced in 1968 as the next step in the progression of 2-litre 906 and 910, and 2.2-litre flat-8 907 series of models designed under daring and far-sighted Technical Director Ferdinand Piech. The FIA introduced a 3-litre engine capacity limit for purebred Group 6 sports-prototype cars in the 1968 season, while allowing a 5-litre limit for initially 50-off Group 4 production run sports cars, soon reduced to 25.
Where the previous Porsche 907 Coupes used air-cooled 2.2-litre flat-8 engines developing around 270bhp, the replacement 908 Coupe model’s new air-cooled 3-litre flat-8 engine produced initially a claimed 350bhp at 8,400 rpm. Although these were relatively lightweight engines, being traditionally air-cooled and with only 2 valves per cylinder, they could not match the outright power output of contemporary 3-litre Formula 1 engines, but then they were also tuned and developed to survive a minimum six hours or 1,000kms endurance racing on some of the world’s toughest and roughest circuits, while requiring the reliability to survive 12 hours’ racing at Sebring or a full 24 hours at Daytona and, of course, Le Mans.
Initially Porsche’s 908s were configured as closed Coupes seeking maximum speed through low aerodynamic drag on fast circuits. A beautiful and effective long-tailed ‘Langheck’ Coupe version was also developed for ultra high-speed at Le Mans, Spa and Monza, but for 1969 the works concentrated upon an ultra-lightweight, stark and spartan open-cockpit Spyder version, handsomely styled, fast enough and extremely nimble – the Porsche 908.02. The weight saving from Coupe to Spyder could be as much as 100 kg — some 220 lbs — but racing fortunes into 1969 proved variable. All three open-cockpit works 908.02s failed in the early-season Daytona 24-Hours, while at the Sebring 12-Hours 908.02 problems opened the way for a Ford GT40 victory.
With the initially 4.5-litre flat-12 Porsche 917 introduced at that year’s Geneva Salon it seemed that 908-02s’ days were numbered, but in the white heat of racing development, the 3-litre sports-prototypes simply clicked. In the BOAC 1,000Kms race at Brands Hatch in England the works 908.02s finished 1-2-3 in defeating the new works Ferrari 312P V12. Further Porsche 908.02 victories followed in the Targa Florio, the Spa 1,000Kms and in the ADAC 1,000Kms at the Nurburgring where an overwhelming 1-2-3-4-5 flotilla finish by the Porsches demolished all opposition.
While the big 917 Coupe endured lengthy teething troubles, the open-cockpit 908.02s such as (in its original works team form) this fine example offered here, secured for Porsche the 1969 World Championship of Makes. At Le Mans the closest-yet finish to the 24-Hour Grand Prix d’Endurance had seen Gerard Larrousse in a 908 ‘Longtail’ Coupe narrowly beaten to the finish by Jacky Ickx’s Gulf-JW Ford GT40. The winning, or from Porsche point of view ‘losing’, margin between 908 Coupe and GT40 was barely 120 metres.
But in time for the Nurburgring 1,000Kms race that year, a new more aerodynamically-bodied version of the 908.02 Spyder had been introduced, known as the ‘Flunder’ or ‘Sole’ (as in species of flat fish). The new variant’s re-profiled body paneling, moulded in ultra-light and thin glassfibre, had a cleaner nose line with smaller central oil-cooler air intake, waisted sills, a higher waistline, flattened wheel-arch humps and more tightly-enclosing rigid cockpit surround leaving only the tiniest regulation opening for the driver and above the notional passenger-seat space. For Le Mans with its ultra-fast 3-mile-long Mulsanne Straight a further development emerged in a Longtail or ‘Spyder Langheck’ variant. This proved so effective that it was nearly as fast in practice as the works team’s three ‘Longtail’ Coupe cars. The star pairing of Jo Siffert/Brian Redman preferred this ‘Longtail Flounder’ for the 24-Hour race itself. To reduce this 908-02LH Spyder’s sensitivity to side winds, two prominent tail fins were added to the new extended rear body section.
But while Siffert/Redman were out of luck at le Mans that year, failing to finish, the ‘Longtail Spyder’ configuration would reappear there in 1970. And it reappeared in the form of the car now offered here, chassis ‘908.02-05′.
This particular Porsche 908.02 made its racing debut as an original-style open-cockpit works team Spyder, being allocated to the British driver pairing of Vic Elford and Richard Attwood for the Sebring 12-Hours classic in Florida on March 22, 1969. Running as car number ’30’ they finished seventh overall.
The car was then redeployed as the works team’s training stand-by at the Targa Florio in Sicily, being used by Vic Elford as his ‘T’ car. It was then held in reserve at the Zuffenhausen factory until the Osterreichring 1,000Kms on August 10, 1969. There we are advised that the car was loaned to the German Blau und Geld (BG) Racing Team to be co-driven by Hans-Dieter Dechent and Gerhard Koch. They failed to finish, but Dechent was building a strong relationship with enthusiastic sponsor Martini & Rossi — the aperitif manufacturer — and this would bear rich fruit in the coming season.
For 1970 in fact, Hans-Dieter Dechent was able to set-up the Martini International Racing Team with prominent brand livery on rebodied 908.02 ‘Flunder’-bodied Spyders, amongst which the team’s lead car would be chassis ’05’ now offered here.
Contemporary records indicate that ’05’ was shared by Gerhard Koch, Richard Attwood and Gerard Larrousse in the 1970 Sebring 12-Hours on March 21 that year running as car number ’46’ and finishing 7th (for the second consecutive year).