The relationship between Porsche and Le Mans runs deep and runs long, from the earliest days of the marque in fact. It has become a defining factor in Porsche’s race and road car development, a passion, a constant influence, you might even call it an addiction. The knowledge gleaned on the torturous 13.6 km of the Circuit de la Sarthe has been a formative and vital part of creating peerless performance cars since the middle of the last century.
And it began, like all the best love affairs, in Paris. It was 1950, the 356 less than two years old, and with Porsche having only just returned to Zuffenhausen from its makeshift post-war workshops in Gmünd. A chance encounter at the Paris Motor Show would set the firm on a course that would help turn a tiny boutique car company into a global phenomenon inside two decades.
This was the moment when Ferry Porsche met Charles Faroux, a Frenchman some 37 years his senior. Faroux was a former motoring journalist who had co-founded the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1923. He implored Ferry to enter the remarkable looking 356 into his now famous endurance race, and seeing an opportunity to raise the profile of his little-known product, the ambitious Austrian needed little encouragement.
By the summer of 1951, three 356 SLs using the lighter aluminium body of the early Gmünd cars and aerodynamically enhanced to cope with the extremes of the high-speed circuit, were sent to Le Mans. Two cars failed to make the starting grid, but the last, driven by local experts Auguste Veuillet and Edmond Mouche, finished 20th overall and first in class. The opening chapter of Porsche’s Le Mans saga had been written, and the marque would not miss another race.
To celebrate 70 years of Porsche and an incredible 67 years of continuous competition at la Sarthe, Automobile Club L’Ouest and the Porsche Museum have joined forces to create a special exhibition dedicated to Porsche’s 19 overall wins there. ‘Porsche at Le Mans’ is open now and runs until the middle of January 2019 at the 24 Hours of Le Mans Museum. This unique and historic space will offer visitors the chance to explore the whole history of the world’s greatest endurance race in the carefully curated company of a truly eye-popping selection of the Porsche racers that have won it.
Cars on display will include that crucially important ‘#46’ 356 SL, alongside the 718 RSK that brought Porsche its first ever podium in 1958. Ticking off the rapid evolution of Porsche’s lightweight, low drag philosophy, the show also takes in the 904 Carrera GTS and 906 Carrera 6 before arriving at the milestone 917 KH, the very car that put Porsche atop the podium for the first time in 1970.
Also there you will find the tiny but indefatigable 907 and one of the many 911s that battled valiantly alongside it in 1971 in the wake of the fearsomely fast 917 Langheck. Evocations of the famous 911 Carrera RSR Turbo 2.1 and 935 also make an appearance, as does the all-conquering 936/81, driven to a demonstrative victory by the Jacky Ickx/Derek Bell dream team in 1981. That year also witnessed the historic transaxle outing, and the 924 GTP Le Mans driven by Jürgen Barth and Walter Röhrl provides another angle on that fascinating transitional period in Porsche’s racing evolution.
Moving into the modern era, the museum has also been lent a 962 Dauer Le Mans GT and the factory’s famous 911 GT1 that put Porsche firmly back on top in 1998. Completing the line-up will be a 2013 911 RSR, the Manthey car driven to class victory by Marc Lieb, Romain Dumas and Richard Lietz, alongside the 2016 919 Hybrid that took the second of Porsche’s outright wins in that remarkable LMP1 hat-trick.
‘Porsche at Le Mans’ creates a unique opportunity to see so many historically significant Porsche race cars in one place, and for that place to be the home of endurance racing promises to make it all the more special. For more information on times, dates and getting there, visit www.lemans-musee24h.com