EMKA Racing was a British outfit founded in 1979 by amateur racer Steve O’Rourke. O’Rourke had made a name for himself in the British club racing circuit, but wanted to turn pro. A successful run at the 1979 24 Hours of Le Mans in his Ferrari 512 BB resulted in an amazing 12th place.
Meanwhile his daytime job as the manager of psychedelic rock legends Pink Floyd started to get less demanding, allowing him to focus more on his racing. He then formed EMKA Racing, an offshoot of his music production company. O’Rourke had based the name on the first names of his two daughters EMma and KAtheryne. Under this name he managed 7th at Silverstone and 23rd at Le Mans.
For 1981 O’Rourke purchased a BMW M1, and signed Derek Bell (GB) as his co-driver. The renewed team scored 2nd at Silverstone. At Le Mans that year he failed to finish despite support from co-drivers David Hobbs (GB) and future F1 team owner Eddie Jordan (IRL). The 1982 season saw Derek Bell move to Porsche’s works 956 program, being replaced by Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason, but the pair met with little success.
By 1983 EMKA’s successes had attracted the attention of British luxury brand Aston Martin. Aston Martin was keen to re-enter the sportscar racing scene, and saw an ideal partner in EMKA. A deal between the two firms was struck for EMKA to develop a new Group C sportscar chassis which would be powered by a development of Aston Martin’s 5.3L V8. The recognition by such a respected manufacturer and the prospect of running with the big boys enthused the EMKA outfit. Their biggest rivals would be the Nimrod team, which had struck a similar deal with Aston Martin.
As EMKA had no real prior experience with building sportscars themselves they called in the assistance of Michael Cane Racing. The finished product consisted of an aluminium monocoque chassis clad in a fiberglass body designed by Len Bailey.
Another big feature was the implementation of ground-effect venturi tunnels under the car, a technology borrowed from F1 which would become commonplace in Group C. Inverted wing shapes in the floor of the car accelerated the air under it and created a low pressure area, sucking the car to the ground. The biggest bonus of such a system was maximum downforce with minimum drag, negating the need for big wings and allowing for higher top speeds.
Engine wizards Tickford then focused on converting the standard 375 horsepower 5.3L V8 into a more powerful racing special. The DOHC unit eventually churned out a thundering 570 horsepower at 7000 rpm. Coupled to the posh brute was a Hewland VG 5-speed manual transmission. Race ready the car weighed just 890 kg (1960 lbs). These figures combined meant the C83 could reach a hefty 350 kph (217 mph) down the long Mulsanne Straight.
O’Rourke assembled a new driver squad to pilot his new machine. Former F1-driver Tiff Needell and touring car ace Jeff Allam were drafted in to put the C83 through its paces. The car’s debut at the 1000KM of Silverstone proved promising as it qualified in 17th, just behind the onslaught from Porsche and Lancia. Arch rivals Nimrod were also just ahead in 15th. The good hopes raised in qualifying were however sadly in vain. After 17 laps the car suffered incurable suspension failure and dropped out.
Next on the calendar for EMKA was the 1983 24 Hours of Le Mans, only the second to be run under Group C regulations. Jeff Allam moved to join Mazda’s ambitious rotary sportscar program and was replaced by sportscar ace Nick Faure (GB) for the event. In the much bigger field at Le Mans the C83 disappointed slightly, coming in 25th on the grid. In addition to the legion of Porsche’s and the factory Lancia’s, main rivals Nimrod were some ten places ahead in 15th.
Race day again provided a setback for the ambitious team. After a few hours of relatively trouble free running the car again developed a suspension issue as it did at Silverstone. Luckily the damage was not immediately fatal this time around, and the car was brought in. After a very costly 2 hour repair it was back out again to make up for much lost time.
Meanwhile the grueling event had started taking its toll on the immense field of cars at Le Mans. With several competitors dropping out, the C83 was able to make up a considerable amount of positions. By race end the car was running in 17th, 8 places up from its starting position.
The similarly Aston Martin-powered rivals at Nimrod had already dropped out on lap 218 with a spectacular engine failure caused by a broken connecting rod. This meant EMKA was the first and only British team to finish the 1983 event. The achievement earned them the prestigious Motor Trophy.
The EMKA C83 was the result of a very unlikely alliance. It came from a rock band manager turned professional race team owner and driver, who teamed up with a distinguished manufacturer of the finest and most British luxury sporting automobiles. Despite the relative successes scored by the C83, talk of new fuel restrictions meant it would never run again.
As a result Steve O’Rourke opted to skip the 1984 season altogether. Eventually though these new regulations failed to materialize. Relieved the changes had been avoided, EMKA would return for the 1985 season with the new C84.