Porsche’s Brief Interlude With Open Wheel Race Cars

As we near the beginning of the 2013 Formula 1 season, I was thinking about one of the major racing names that is not participating in Formula 1 – Porsche.  Not that Porsche has anything to prove when it comes to manufacturing performance cars, but except for one brief period, Porsche has stayed away from open wheel racing.  That one brief period when Porsche was involved in open wheel racing was in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

This open wheel period began with the development by Porsche of the Type 718 car or as it is better known, the RSK in 1957.  The picture below was in the 1993 book “Porsche Legends” by Randy Leffingwell.

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The Porsche 718 RSK

The Porsche 718 RSK was a further development of the Porsche 550A.  It had an improved suspension and revised steering.  The engine in the 718 RSK was the same 1500cc engine that was used in the 550A.  There were some modifications which resulted in about 142 horsepower in a car that weighed 1,285 pounds.  Jean Behra, in a private entry, finished second Overall in the 1957 Targa Florio in a RSK.

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Carel Godin de Beaufort In A Full-Bodied Type 718 RSK During The 1959 Grand Prix of Holland

A new Formula 2 for 1.5 litre engine cars was introduced in 1957.  But initially the rules did not prevent full bodies cars.  As a result, some of the early Formula 2 races that Porsche cars competed in the cars were Porsche 550As or RSKs.  The above photo from another Randy Leffingwell book “Porsche Sixty Years” shows Carel Godin de Beaufort in a privately entered Porsche RSK in a Formula 2 race.  The rulemakers saw the aerodynamic advantage of the full-bodied cars, so they changed the rules to require open wheel cars only.  Due to the central location of the steering box, the 718 RSK was easily converted to a single-seater specification.

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Porsche Type 718 Formula 2 Car

The Porsche open wheel Formula 2 cars debuted in April 1959.  The pictures above and below were taken at the Porsche museum in Stuttgart, Germany.

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Porsche 718 Formula 2 Car  Looked a Little Stubby Compared To Open Wheel Formula Cars

In December 1958 it was announced that for 1961 the regulations would limit the Formula 1 cars to a maximum engine size of 1500cc.  In other words the Formula 2 cars were going to be Formula 1 cars in 1961.  At this time, it was appearing that the 1000cc Formula Junior cars would, in effect, be the feeder series for Formula 1.

Another interesting aspect to Formuyla 2 in those days, was that the Formula 1 drivers would often be driving in Formula 2 races when there were no Formula 1 races going on.  Perhaps the most famous instances was at Hockenheim in 1968 when Formula 1 star, Jimmy Clark, was killed while participating in a Formula 2 race.

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1962 Type 804 Formula 1 Car

As the 1961 Formula 1 rules were based on 1500cc engines, Porsche developed the 1500cc Formula 2 car in order to be competitive in Formula 1 when the new rules came into being.

The engine that Porsche used for the Formula 1 car was a 1494cc flat eight-cylinder with 4 overhead camshafts.  The engine also had a vertical shaft that drove a horizontally mounted cooling fan.  Initially this engine produced only 120 horsepower.  With improvements they routinely saw 160 horsepower and they worked to get more power out of this engine.  Porsche thought that they needed 210 to 220 horsepower in order to win the Formula 1 championship.

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The 1494cc 8-cylinder Porsche Formula 1 Engine

The Porsche Formula 1 record with this car was quite modest.  At the Grand Prix level, Dan Gurney achieved a lone victory in the 1962 French Grand Prix.  Gurney won another non-championship Formula 1 race in Porsche’s hometown, Stuttgart, in front of 350,000 cheering Porsche fans.

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Dan Gurney Winning The 1962 French Grand Prix In a Porsche Formula 1 Car

Porsche took a hard look at their Formula 1 program and decided that their effort and money would be better spent in sports car racing and withdrew from open wheel racing.  Few, if anybody, could argue against the results of their decision.  Porsche has been tremendously successful in the field of sports car racing.

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1962 Porsche Type 804 Formula 1 Race Car

Today the Porsche Formula 2 and Formula 1 cars are on display in the Porsche museum in Stuttgart.  These cars were driven by some of the top drivers of the day including Dan Gurney and Jo Bonnier, but typical Porsche results were just not achievable.

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Porsche’s Open Wheel Formula 2 and Formula 1 Cars

Porsche’s interlude with open wheel racing was decidedly less successful than their very impressive sports car racing program.  However, it is interesting to think what would have happened if they had stayed with it.

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2 Responses to Porsche’s Brief Interlude With Open Wheel Race Cars

  1. Andrew S. says:

    Indy car racing of the late 1980’s into the early 1990’s?!?!? 😉 Don’t get me started about that little Italian Teo Fabi who had further modesty in his results for Porsche.

  2. Pingback: Open Wheel Sports Car | Sport Car World

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