Model history: In a period of almost 20 years, Porsche had worked itself up the motor sport ladder. From the early 1950s the Stuttgart based company slowly progressed through sportscar racing with increasingly sophisticated racers, and many class-victories in the process. After a brief spell in single-seater racing, their focus turned completely to sportscar racing with an overall win at Le Mans as the ultimate objective. This was achieved in 1970 with the 12-cylinder engined 917, which completely overshadowed the success of the 908/3 launched in that same year.
The 917 was specifically designed for high speed tracks like Le Mans, whereas the 908/3 was designed specifically for the twisty Targa Florio and Nürburgring tracks, where sharp handling was more important than raw power. Following Colin Chapman's principle of 'adding less weight' and using the lessons learned developing the 909 hill-climb racer, Porsche put the existing 908 on a diet. Usually chassis rigidity suffers from weight saving, but the aluminium-alloy spaceframe designed for the 908/3 Porsche found the perfect balance.
Another decisive factor in improving handling is the weight balance; a car turns in much easier if all the weight is centred around the car's centre of gravity. To achieve this, the air-cooled flat eight engine was mated to a five speed gearbox with the final drive and clutch at the rear. This allowed for the engine to be installed much further forward in the chassis. It also placed the driver almost between the front wheels with his feet sticking out beyond the wheel centre line.
The flat eight engine was carried over from the previous 908s. With its three litre displacement, the twin-spark engine explored the prototype regulations to the maximum, something Porsche often chose not to do with previous designs. Although it was far from being the most sophisticated 3-litre racing engine available, the 360 bhp delivered an incredible power to weight ratio; each horse having to propel a mere 1.56 kg. That power was transferred to the wheels through a five speed gearbox, bolted directly onto the rear of the engine.
To make the 908/3 as nimble as possible, the front and rear overhang were kept minimal. With the engine being cooled strictly by air, there was no need for a big radiator to interfere the airflow over the body. The result was a very simple and clean design. Continuously under development, the design gradually evolved, with the most obvious change the addition of fins on the corners of the rear bodywork ahead of the 1971 season. Although the body was all-enveloping, it weighed little over 12 kg, adding next to nothing to the overall weight.
In its debut year of 1970, the Porsche 908/3 scored victories in the two races it was designed for; the Targa Florio and the Nürburgring 1000 km races. Unfortunately these fine results were left in the dust, behind the racing headlines that Porsche finally won the 24 Hours of Le Mans race. In the next season the 908/3 faced stiff competition from Ferrari and Alfa Romeo. Their racers featured Formula 1 inspired four valve per cylinder engines, which were far more advanced than the Porsche's eight cylinder.
Porsche was clearly down on power, but the 908/3's exceptional low weight meant it could stay on pace with its heavier competitors. At the Targa Florio, the entered 908/3s suffered from bad luck, leaving an easy victory for one of the Alfa Romeo Tipo 33/3s. Porsche bounced back with a 1-2-3 finish on the Nürburgring after the more powerful Ferraris and Alfa Romeos had failed under pressure. Again the 917's results pushed the Porsche 908/3's victories into the margins of the history books. Following a rule change, Porsche withdrew from the World Championship at the end of the year.
The racing career of the 908/3 was far from over as several were sold to privateers and raced successfully for another decade! Some of the most successful of these were the examples raced by Reinhold Joest. He had at least one example equipped with a Turbocharged 2.1 litre 6 cylinder, producing over 200 bhp more than the original 8 cylinder unit. With minor reinforcements the lightweight chassis coped with the additional power surprisingly well. Porsche applied the lessons Joest learned with the Turbocharged 908/3 when developing the mechanically very similar 936, which would score three 24 Hours of Le Mans victories.
Like many Porsche racing car designs, the 908/3 did what it was designed for: win. Compared to the much more powerful, but ill-mannered 917, the 908/3 was a much completer package and a lot easier to drive. Long after its original challengers were retired from active racing, the 908/3 remained competitive, underlining the great design that the 908/3 is.
Porsche constructed 11 cars ahead of the 1970 season and a further two were built using a slightly lighter frame for 1971. Of the first batch quite a few were used for testing and development only. Most chassis have survived and are today regularly raced in historic events all over the world.
Chassis: 908/3 - 001
Used exclusively as as test and development car, this, the very first 908/3, was never raced in period. Following its duties on the test track, it was stored by Porsche until it was acquired from the factory by Dale Miller of Miller Historic Motorcars in the 1990s. He had the car restored to full running order and painted it in the colours sported by Gulf Racing's 1971 Targa Florio entry. Soon after the restoration was completed, Miller sold chassis 001 and it has since been extensively raced by its subsequent European owners.
Chassis: 908/3 - 002
One of the development prototypes, this chassis was extensively used for testing in 1970 and 1971. It was also driven by legendary journalist and racing car driver Paul Frere, while working on his book about Porsche prototypes. Liveried in Martini colours, it may have also been used by Helmut Marko and Gijs van Lennep during the 1971 Nürburgring 1000 km, where they finished third behind two sister cars. Chassis 002 was eventually acquired from the factory in 1998 and prepared for historic racing.
Chassis: 908/3 - 003
One of the first batch of prototypes built early in 1970, chassis 003 served as a T-car at that year's Targa Florio. It was driven in practice only by Hans Herrmann and Vic Elford. Partnered by Richard Attwood, Herrmann was back behind the wheel of this 908/3 later in the month for the Nürburgring 1000 km. They finished second behind a sister car. Not raced again in period, chassis 003 has since been restored and prepared for this historic racing.
Chassis: 908/3 - 004
Originally constructed for flex-testing, this development prototype chassis was not raced in period. In 1976 it was sold to Kremer Racing along with a considerable pile of spares. Serving as a back-up car, chassis 004 again did not turn a wheel in anger. During the 1990s, it was acquired by Dale Miller of Miller Historic Motorcars, who had the car restored by Jerry Woods, who was once chief mechanic for the Kremer team. Finished in evocative Gulf colours, chassis 004 was finally completed in 2005 and delivered to a new custodian. Having competed in several historic events, the current owner has now consigned the 908/3 to RM Auctions for their Amelia Island sale. The pre-sale estimate is $1.4 - 1.7 million.
Chassis: 908/3 - 007
This 908/3 was allocated to Vic Elford for the 1970 Targa Florio where the versatile Englishman qualified second only to crash out during the race. Repaired and updated to the latest specification, it was possibly next used for the 1971 Nürburgring 1000 km where Gijs van Lennep and Helmut Marko finished third behind two other 908/3s. In private hands, it was used well into the second half of the decade. Now in American hands, chassis 007 was restored to its 1970 Targa Florio specification in the late 1990s. It has since been campaigned by subsequent owners on both sides of the Atlantic.
Chassis: 908/3 - 008
Easily the most successful of all 908/3s built, chassis 008 was driven to each of the type's three major victories in 1970 and 1971. In its debut season and wearing Gulf colours, Jo Siffert and Brian Redman used it to win the Targa Florio. Later in the month it was entered by the Porsche Salzburg squad for Vic Elford and Kurt Ahrens, who won at the Nürburgring. Now in Martini livery, it won again at the 'Ring in the hands of Vic Elford and Gérard Larrousse. The car's career was far from over as it was campaigned by Reinhold Joest for another dozen years, powered by a turbocharged engine from 1975 and winning a minor race as late as 1982. Now restored to its 1970 Targa Florio specification, this very important Porsche is now part of the formidable Jerry Seinfeld collection.
Chassis: 908/3 - 009
The ninth 908/3 built, this example was one of the four examples entered in the 1970 Targa Florio. Sporting Gulf colours, it was driven by Leo Kinnunen and Pedro Rodriguez. Starting fifth, the talented pairing finished the race in second place behind their team-mates. Chassis 009 was not raced again and is believed to be the most original of all 908/3s in existence. Still owned by Porsche, it is on permanent display in their fabulous museum and also regularly demonstrated at events like the Goodwood Festival of Speed.
Chassis: 908/3 - 012
The first of two 908/3s for the 1971 season, chassis 012 was only used that year in the Nürburgring 1000 km. Entered for Derek Bell and Jo Siffert, it retired from the race early after the new lightweight frame failed. Fully repaired, it was later sold to Reinhold Joest, who raced it with a six cylinder turbocharged engine from 1975 onwards. In more recent years, it was fully restored to its original specification. From many years, it was part of the Jackie Setton collection and today it is one of the stars of the equally impressive ROFGO Collection.
Chassis: 908/3 - 013
Chassis 013 was the final example produced and like the other new-for-1971 908/3, it was only raced by the works teams at the Nürburgring. Pedro Rodriguez and Jo Siffert nurtured the Gulf-liveried home to second. Soon after it was later sold to a privateer, and campaigned for many more years. In 1975, it was fitted with a turbocharged, flat-six engine. Sadly, its final competitive outing was at the 1981 Nürburgring 1000 km where Herbert Müller crashed it fatally. The 908/3 was eventually rebuilt and restored to its original colours and configuration.