Words: Chris Ralph
Porsche’s 911 is probably the world’s best-known sports car. So why were they classified as a Touring Car between 1968 and 70?
Racing regulations have always been scrutinised for grey areas of interpretation, and it was Porsche that took the ‘four seats’ wording to the Federation Internationale d’Automobile (FIA). They had to admit that, even though only the smallest humans could fit in the vestigial rear seats of the 911, the tiny sports car did, by definition, qualify as a touring car.
With the FIA setting the standard, CAMS in Australia had to follow suit, but they dug their toes in when the smart Alan Hamilton, son of Australian Porsche importer Norman, offered up the sharpest Porsche he could find, a 911TR with Perspex windows and lightweight panels.
‘Not so fast, young man!’ said CAMS. A special-order TR with standard panels and glass windows would have to do - and do it did. Third in the 1968 Australian Touring Car Championship, Hamilton achieved a “sort of” win in ‘69. He scored the most points that year, but with the rule to drop one’s worst round, it was a technical second - by one point - to Ian ‘Pete’ Geoghegan in the Mustang.
Meanwhile, Victoria’s Jim McKeown, best known for four years of stirring Lotus Cortina drives in what was first the Neptune, then Shell Racing Team, was looking for a fresh car for 1970. Shell allowed him a budget of $10,000 - a huge sum in those days.
Having been to Kar Kraft in the US when he and Allan Moffat raced their Cortinas at Daytona, Jim quickly plonked down an order for a Boss 302 Mustang. But, with time ticking away before the start of the ’70 season, word came from the sponsors that Jim was above his pecking order. As Jim said, the senior drivers “didn’t want the lad having a V8!”
Jim had battled Alan Hamilton in the Porsche, so asked him to order a 911 from the factory. Alas, it could not be shipped in time. ‘But,’ said Alan, ‘see that Irish Green 911S on the floor? We can air freight all the parts out from Germany and turn that into your race car right here.’
Stripped and in Shell Racing colours by the time those parts arrived, the Porsche would be on the grid for the first round at Calder in late March, 1970.
There, Jim came up against a similarly equipped foe from Sydney – the renowned Mini driver Brian Foley.
The red Chesterfield Filter Racing 911S and Jim’s Shell yellow 911S were inseparable at Calder; Foley and McKeown second and third behind Moffat. At Bathurst, it was McKeown-Foley fourth and fifth, followed by a retirement for Jim at Sandown and Mallala, then an outright win for at Warwick Farm, where Brian was caught up in an accident that sidelined him for the year. Jim won again in the last round at a wet Symmons Plains, taking second in the Championship behind Shell team-mate Norm Beechey.
For 1971, Foley switched to the Chesterfield Alfa Romeo GT Am, so Jim’s was the sole 911S left running, finishing fourth in the ATCC that year behind the Camaro of Bob Jane and the Mustangs of Moffat and Geoghegan.
As the horsepower disparity widened and the regulations ruse was up, 911s would no longer be accepted as touring cars after ‘71.
In 1972, 911s found a new home in ‘Sports Racing - Closed,’ better known as Sports Sedans and would feature strongly in what was the golden era for the category. Hamilton, McKeown and Foley were back battling each other again in 2.4-litre cars, with New South Welshman Bill Brown for company.
For 1975, Jim built a monster mid-engined 2.1-litre 911 Turbo with 908 suspension and weighing a mere 670kg… but we digress.
Johnson goes German
Cut to Historic Touring in 2000 when former Cortina and Mustang driver Mark Johnson wanted something a bit different and possibly more reliable to race - choosing a Porsche 911.
A semi-finished Group N car from Queensland seemed a bargain. But on trucking it down to Victoria, Mark found an illegal cage was only the beginning of his woes.
Starting again from scratch, he called on the expertise of a well-known HTCAV member – none other than Jim McKeown - for it was his yellow ‘Number 3’ car that Mark’s build would replicate.
Of course, Jim was only too happy to help. When the car was finished and ready for its shakedown at Calder, Jim was there to help with setup, too. “I’ll just do a couple of slow laps,” he offered. And then he did a few more, getting quicker with every tour before returning to the pits with a huge grin on his face. “It’s just like my old car,” he said, “Felt exactly the same - I even kept looking in the mirror for Foley!”
Mark said Jim then did “a few more laps to make sure,” and when getting out said: “I think you need a millimetre or so toe-in on the rear right…” Mark took it back for an alignment and found his mentor’s racing bum had judged it just right – 1.2mm toe-in was exactly what was needed!
Jim continued to follow the car’s fortunes, even driving it in spirited ‘parade laps’ with his old mates at a Muscle Car Masters meeting at Sydney Motorsport Park a decade or so ago.
The Bowe Effect
Mark’s strategy had worked - he had a reliable car that would be raced regularly over the following two decades, across several states and often against other 911 drivers.
“Because they were fully developed for competition, they’re pretty bullet-proof,” Mark said. “I saw Jim’s dyno sheets from May, 1970: 230 HP at 7,500 rpm – about the same as today. But the power gap to the V8s has grown. Back in the day, only the best of them was making more than 500 HP. Now, most are approaching 600.”
Mark double-entered his Porsche at the Phillip Island Classic two years in a row – he driving in the Under 3 litres class, while John Bowe drove in Over 3 Litres. It was a great boost to Mark's driving skills, getting tips from JB and watching with pride as the ATCC and TCM champ took it to the big cars. “The Porsche can rocket off the line if you get it right and John led the main race for over a lap until, as he said, he ‘ran out of cubic centimetres’,” Mark explained. “The new power gap was clearly on display.”
The Group S sports car category now appears to be a better home for the 911, but Mark has set his N-spec car aside and runs another in Group S, as the regulations differ in several areas.
“Jim’s car’ is race ready and waiting and I will run it occasionally when the right meeting comes up. I wouldn’t change it. It’s a faithful replica of the car that Jim ran for those two magic years – and isn’t that what Group N racing is all about?”