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  Porsche 908/03      

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Country of origin:Germany
Produced from:1970 - 1971
Numbers built:13
Internal name:908
Predecessor:Porsche 908/02 Spyder
Author:Wouter Melissen
Last updated:February 28, 2013
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Click here to download printer friendly versionIn 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.

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  Article Image gallery (161) Chassis (9) Specifications User Comments (1)