Porsche 908 Spyder

The Triumph of Prototypes

The Porsche 908 Spyder was launched in 1969, following on from the previous year's Coupé, to compete on the more agile tracks of International Championship for Manufacturers.

When Porsche launched its new 908 in July 1967, the Stuttgart-based company already had an excellent track record in the GT and Prototype classes under 2 litres since the early 1960s. The International Sports Commission's new regulations for the 1969 championship, which limited the displacement to 3,000 cm3 , led to the withdrawal of well-known brands such as Ford and Ferrari, giving Porsche a formidable chance to win in this new Group 6.

Thanks to the rear central positioning of the V8 flat engine and transmission, the weight balance of this car is remarkable.  © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo ©   Archives & Collections Dominique Pascal

Once again, the engineers from Zuffenhausen will live up to their ability to 'make something new out of something old', a habit that has often led to success. In this case, the previous 907 chassis could be easily adapted, while the internal architectural features of its 2.2-litre flat 8-cylinder engine made it possible to upgrade it to 3 litres without any difficulty. 

In the winter of 1967, the new 908, then still in coupé version, took part in its first trial run on the Hockenheim circuit, and in April 1968, this car took part in the preliminary tests for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, before taking part in its first race at the 1,000 km of Monza, where it finished 19th. However, success was only a matter of time: at the 1,000 km of Nürburgring and then at the 500 km of Zeltweg.

The 908 Spyders were developed almost exclusively for competing in the Targa Florio and had this special blue livery with the orange arrow. © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo © Archives & Collections Dominique Pascal

The Spyder as reinforcement    

Despite its two successful victories at the end of the 1968 season, the 908 had a number of mechanical flaws resulting from its early years, in particular vibrations damaging the exhausts and the electrical circuits. For the 1969 season, in support of the 908 coupé and the new 917, Ferdinand Piëch, the new director of the Competition Department, decided to develop a 908 Spyder, more suitable for slower and more winding circuits than the closed body version. With the CSI regulations eliminating the minimum height of the windscreen, the 908 Spyder's bodywork was lowered by 21 cm and shortened by 84 cm, allowing for a better weight distribution and offering the driver a more precise driving experience. The modified car is considered an example of lightweight and minimalist construction. This is partly due to the plastic body reinforced with polyurethane foam, which weighs barely more than 12 kg in the latest models. For more than a decade, this exceptionally reliable, high-performance and low-maintenance car enjoyed a successful career. Although from 1971 onwards this path was gradually abandoned by the Porsche Factory Team, which developed the monstrous 917, some twenty 908 Spyders were sold to private teams, which, thanks to their great versatility, continued to prove their worth on circuits around the world and in various disciplines such as CanAm and hill-climbing.

Through the opening in the cockpit, you can see the chassis structure, wrapped in a plastic bodywork. © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés.  Crédits photo ©  Archives & Collections Dominique Pascal

A proven chassis 

From June 1969, a 908-2 version was developed alongside the original Spyder model. This was a modest development, mainly involving the bodywork, now more enveloping and better shaped, improving its top speed. At the Sebring 12 hour race in 1970, the 908-2 driven by Steve McQueen and Peter Revson finished 2nd and at the Le Mans 24 hour race, a long body 908-2 driven by Rudi Lins and Helmut Marko finished 3rd overall. In 1970, a 908-3 version was also released, specially developed to compete at the Targa Florio and the Nürburgring, both of which it won gloriously. This model, designed by engineer Manfred Bantle, was based on the 1968 Spyder 909 Hill Climber and was distinguished externally by its tail fin. At the 1980 24 Hours of Le Mans, a final version of the 908/80 with a 2.1-litre turbo charged 6-cylinder engine, entered by Martini Racing and driven by Jacky Ickx and Reinhold Joest, finished second. The 908 and 908-2 Spyder had a tubular aluminium chassis, while the 908-3 version had magnesium and titanium components to reduce weight.

Above the engine, between the two cylinder banks, the injection lines and cooling air turbine are visible. © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo ©  Archives & Collections Dominique Pascal

Eight-cylinder flat engine

The design of the 8-cylinder Boxer type 908 engine started in July 1967 and the first cars produced developed 335 bhp. From the outset, the engine was optimized in terms of weight, with an aluminium block and cylinder heads and a magnesium crankcase. In addition, the connecting rods were made of titanium. The use of these special materials resulted in a weight reduction of 17.8 kg, including accessories. The cooling is ensured by a classic air turbine driven by a belt. Strong vibrations are observed on the first blocks, to the point that Porsche mechanics call this engine the "shaker". This led to the modification of the crankshaft, which was considered to be the cause of the problem. The first 908s were equipped with a 6-speed gearbox which had the major disadvantage of weighing more than 25 kg, so that it was soon replaced by a 5-speed gearbox with a self-locking differential.

Technical data

Porsche 908-03 Spyder (1970)

• Engine: Type 908, 8 cylinder flat, central longitudinal - rear

• Displacement: 2,997 cm3

• Bore x stroke: 85 mm x 66 mm

• Power: 370 hp at 8,400 rpm

• Power supply: Bosch mechanical injection

• Ignition: Bosch electronics

• Distribution: 2 overhead camshafts per bench, 2 valves per cylinder

• Transmission: Type 910,  rear wheels, 5 gears + M.A.

• Tyres: 11" x 13" (front), 14" x 13" (rear)

• Brakes: ventilated discs (front and rear)

• Length: 354 cm

• Width: 195 cm

• Height: 68 cm

• Wheelbase: 230 cm

• Front track: 154.2 cm

• Rear track: 156.4 cm

• Weight (unladen): 545 kg

• Maximum speed: 275 km/h

Five great victories

Avec sa version S, la Porsche 911 quitte le statut de coupé Grand Tourisme pour s’inscrire sur le terrain de la compétition. Évoquer les succès de cette voiture en course mériterait un livre sans fin à lui tout seul, tant elle s’est imposée régulièrement dans le monde entier et dans la plupart des disciplines. Parmi les principales victoires de ses débuts, citons le Rallye de Monte-Carlo de 1968 à 1970, puis en 1978, le Tour Auto de 1969 ou un peu plus tard le Tour de Corse de 1980. Elle a également marqué de son empreinte, en catégorie GT, les plus prestigieux circuits internationaux : 24 Heures du Mans (1968 et 1969),  24 Heures de Spa (1967 à 1969), 1 000 Km du Nürburgring (1967 à 1972), mais aussi de grandes épreuves telles que la Targa Florio (1967 à 1969, puis 1971 et 1972)…

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