Reuniting Porsche's rallying royalty
Forty years after Walter Röhrl rallied a 924 Carrera GTS, Porsche has secretly restored his unique and celebrated car.
On 15 May, 1981, Walter Röhrl and co-driver Christian Geistdörfer rolled off the start ramp at the International ADAC Metz Rally in a heavily modified gold and black 924, marking the start of the first and only rally season in which Röhrl competed for Porsche. Technical problems in the first round saw them finish second, but the pair returned with a bang, winning four of the remaining six events including the Serengeti Safari Rally.
The newly formed Porsche team had not expected to be so competitive and just finishing was the primary objective at the beginning of the season. “But the car was fast right from the start,” Röhrl remembers. “At the beginning we had around 250 PS, later also more – but the strengths of the 924 were its handling and traction, not the power. And everything kept working. That is typical for Porsche.”
The basis for this remarkable rally winner was the ‘Type 931’ 924 Turbo, which evolved in 1980 into the ‘Type 937’ Carrera GT, a car homologated for Group 4 competition. The later ‘Type 939’ or Carrera GTS arrived shortly afterwards, the Clubsport evolution making a dizzying 275PS from its turbocharged 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine. The 924 Carrera GTS was the most expensive car in the model range in 1981 and the most expensive production Porsche of all time up to that point. Unsurprisingly, the production run was small: between February and April 50 left-hand-drive 924 Carrera GTS cars were built, all painted in Guards Red. Including prototypes, a total of just 59 cars were produced.
Röhrl’s 924 Carrera GTS Rally was built on 12 December 1980, the fifth of the nine prototypes. Its engine was also a test unit, but nevertheless survived a complete rally season and reveals an impressive 10,371km on the clock today.
The car was built in Weissach in just two months under the leadership of Roland Kussmaul, test driver, engineer and a rally driver himself. Special features included rear-axle links laminated in glass-fibre for protection against stone damage, thick metal plates on the underbody to protect the oil pan and gearbox and the fuel distributor from the 928 which ensured supply at high engine speeds. A dry sump was located at the rear and was filled through an opening next to the luggage compartment lock.
Röhrl and Geistdörfer moved to Opel in 1982 and the 924 Carrera GTS had its last competitive outing at the Boucles de Spa Rally in February of the same year with Jacky Ickx. On 27 August, the 924 GTS was handed over to the museum where the later blue Gitanes livery worn in Belgium was replaced with the original gold and black paintwork of the cognac producer Monnet. Everything else went untouched.
The focus of the restoration was ensuring complete originality and preserving the car’s patina, even down to the slightly sun-faded red harnesses. Apart from wearing parts, a number of chassis components and the fuel supply system, existing components were all overhauled, rebuilt and installed again – from the original 911 Turbo brake callipers through to the charge-air cooler with hand-welded housing.
An endoscopic examination of the engine and KKK 26 turbocharger found no faults, while the gearbox was dismantled and checked for safety reasons but also showed hardly any signs of wear. The Porsche Museum workshop had a new race clutch in stock to complete the drivetrain and Pirelli also found a set of period correct 255/55 R15 tyres.
“The biggest problem in recommissioning the car,” says Kuno Werner, head of the Museum workshop, “was not the technology, but keeping it secret.” The plan was that the GTS should turn up at the former World Rally Champion’s front door on his 74th birthday. “But Walter Röhrl knows so many people here that it was difficult to keep the project quiet.”
Nevertheless, the secret project was completed successfully and at the beginning of March, the Museum team and Roland Kussmaul surprised Röhrl with the famous ‘Monnet’ Porsche on his birthday.
“It was a huge surprise for me,” says a delighted Walter Röhrl. “I stepped out of the car 40 years ago and haven’t sat in it again since. So I was astonished when Roland showed up all of a sudden in the car that opened the door to Porsche for me. That is why I feel a particularly close bond to it. For me, it’s a journey back in time. I immediately feel 40 years younger.”