It’s now 50 years since Porsche turned to the 911 to perform the task that had found its purpose-built endurance racer wanting. When the 906 proved too fragile for a marathon run around the rough banking of the Autodromo di Monza, the factory called in the lightweight 911R.
The backstory behind this remarkable achievement is as memorable as the record attempt itself, and quintessentially Porsche in period. The 906, fresh from a dominant class win at Le Mans, had been trailered to Monza with a mighty spares package and a mountain of tyres. But when the bumps and potholes of the ancient banked circuit broke its lightweight suspension for the third time in an hour, the car was retired. A significant investment of time and effort looked lost, not to mention a substantial portion of Porsche’s pride.
But there was the faintest glimmer of hope. According to the rigid rules and regs governing such a record attempt, it could be restarted without penalty within 48 hours. A hurried long-distance phone call to Zuffenhausen followed, and the factory called an emergency meeting. The upshot was that the beleaguered team should load up the 906 and wait. Two 911Rs would be driven straight from Stuttgart to Monza, one to tackle the drive, the other to provide spares.
This was a bold decision; the ‘R’ was not far removed from stock. It was more powerful and dramatically lightened, but the fundamental design was identical to the 911 road cars being driven daily by customers all over the world.
The only concession to this challenge was a taller final gear to protect the transmission against such extraordinary speed and distance. So while one car was quickly being fettled, the other set off for Monza with mechanic Heinz Bäuerle at the wheel.
A few hours later Bäuerle called in from the Swiss border: the Swiss police wouldn’t allow the car into the country because its race-tuned engine and exhaust system exceeded national noise regulations. This was a serious problem, as the second car was almost ready and his had to be there well ahead of time to be dismantled for spares.
There was only one thing for it. Bäuerle would have to undertake a furious, all-night detour around Switzerland via Lyon, Grenoble, and Turin on the way down to Monza. It must have been quite a drive, against the clock, in the dark, through some of Europe’s greatest driving roads, in a street-legal racer. He would make it without further interaction with local law enforcement, however, and hand over the car to the waiting mechanics in the nick of time.
His early start had also spared the sister car the same fate. Development engineer Peter Falk and engine expert Paul Hensler left a few hours after Bäuerle and took an alternative route through Austria and over the Brenner Pass. By the time they arrived the other 911 R was already in bits.
The records that had been earmarked for the 906 tumbled with unlikely ease for the 911 R. Seventy-two and ninety-six hours, 15,000km, 10,000 miles. Ultimately it would drive flat out for four days, averaging a staggering 130mph over 20,000km, all of it through relentless rain and thick fog. It was a PR coup for Porsche and the fledgling 911, whose reputation as the definitive road-going racer was now set in stone.