Porsche 911 2l Coupé GVB911D, owned and driven by Rob Russell at Oulton Park, Gold Cup, on 25 August 2013
Originally a showroom demonstrator, this 911 set the market buzzing, winning the UK’s inaugural rallycross and the British Saloon Car Championship in 1967 in the hands of Vic Elford.
Vic Elford was a man on a mission; he knew where he was going and what he needed to get him there. Fresh from two third place finishes in the Tour of Corsica in 1966 and the 1967 Monte Carlo Rally driving a 911, Elford was approached by the ITV network in 1967 to participate in the first televised rallycross event in Great Britain, to be held at Lydden Hill in Kent.
But, Elford’s encouraging results in the Corsica and Monte Carlo events in a 911 didn’t fit into Porsche’s motorsport plans, as Ferdinand Piëch had his eyes fixed on winning the World Sportscar Championships. The 911, however, had unexpectedly forced its way onto the scene as Vic recounted enthusiastically, “All the journalists and know-it-alls at the time saying the 911 is an undriveable car, it’s a monster, it oversteers and it will never win anything, because none of them knew how to drive it. I finished third in Corsica, and suddenly eyes were opened in Stuttgart.”
Porsche’s motorsport PR supremo, Huschke von Hanstein, could not ignore these successes and so he directed Elford to AFN Motors, Porsche’s UK agents. Elford picks up the story, “They said, well, we don’t have one, all we have got is our showroom demonstrator, we’ll lend you that. So I said okay, it’s better than nothing.” The AFN car, an early short wheelbase 911 2.0 Coupé and one of the first right hand drive cars produced, was still fitted with street tyres and was, in all respects, a standard street car.
Much to AFN’s horror, the 911 took a real hammering in the rallycross, and despite some very deliberate attempts by the works Escorts to bump the Porsche off the circuit, Elford was nevertheless victorious. “Well we can’t sell the damn thing now, what are we going to do?” was the response from the Aldingtons, the owners of AFN, on Monday morning when Elford returned their rather battered car to them. As a result of the car’s condition, it was decided to prepare the car for Elford to compete in the British Saloon Car Championship, as the publicity it would receive from such a prestigious race would stand the marque in good stead. Getting the 911 classified as a saloon car in the UK was also instrumental in the 911’s reclassification in European racing.
AFN despatched the rather second hand-looking 911 back to Zuffenhausen where it was stripped down and the standard engine was replaced with a 2.0-litre full race engine, turning the showroom demonstrator into a Group 5 racer. The 906 race engine, Type 901/20, used a magnesium alloy crank case, titanium crankshaft and rods, drilled aluminium cam drive sprockets and two triple choke 45 IDA Weber carburettors, and produced 225 bhp.
Affectionately known as ‘GVB’ (it was registered GVB 911D), the 911’s first post-factory competitive outing was the 1967 Race of Champions at Brands Hatch on 12 March where Elford picked up a second in class, finishing third overall. That year Elford scored two first place and four second place finishes in nine races, the first class wins coming at Silverstone in April and the next at Oulton Park in the September Gold Cup. Although the ’67 season ended with a DNF at Brands Hatch in October, Elford was crowned British Saloon Car Champion in Class C (1300 cc to 2000 cc) that year.
To be more competitive in ‘68, an endurance fuel tank was fitted, the rear wheel arches were flared to allow 8-inch Fuchs rims to be fitted and a pair of straight through ‘megaphone’ exhausts were also added. Elford scored two class wins in the early part of 1968 but his most notable achievement that year was his pole position in the Snetterton round of the European Touring Car Championships in April, but unfortunately a rocker failure caused his retirement from that race.
In 1969 the car was sold by AFN to Nick Faure and in an eleven race season, Faure scored five class podiums, including two firsts. The endurance fuel tank was removed to save weight and lighter Perspex side and rear windows were installed. Possibly one of the more interesting developments featured on the 911 was the relocation of the dry sump aluminium oil tank. In an effort to improve the car’s balance during the Nick Faure era, AFN mechanic, Chris Maltin, moved the oil tank from behind the right rear wheel to in front of it, which predated by some years a similar modification on production 911s. The car’s current owner, Rob Russell, explains, “It is the original tank, you can see where it has been cut and shut to fit in front of the wheel. As a result, the oil filler was relocated to inside the door pillar.”
Rule changes at the end of the ’69 season saw the 911 2.0 Coupé outclassed in Group 2 and so GVB moved to a new owner, Christian Favre (the famous Swiss watch making family), in January 1970. Little was seen of the car while under Favre’s ownership, but when it did resurface it was in a sorry state having suffered an engine fire, perhaps in rebellion at the car being repainted orange. Roger Connel, the car’s next owner, rescued the Porsche in August ’72 with the ambition of restoring and racing it, but again the car sat unattended in his garage until 1978 when work finally got underway. Unfortunately, when Connel eventually commenced racing, a problem with oil pressure loss once again caused significant engine damage, and so, disheartened, he decided to dispose of the car.
In 1982 Peter Russell was on the hunt for a suitable competition car with which to compete in stage rallies. A single visit to Roger Connel was sufficient to clinch the deal, and the 911 had a new owner. Rob Russell (Peter’s son) recalls, “As a marshal on the 1969 RAC Rally my dad helped push Björn Waldegård’s 911 into parc ferme, and he said to himself then, ‘I’ll have one of those’ but it wasn’t until 1982 that he had enough money to go looking properly.”
Peter Russell competed in many stage rallies in GVB over the next decade, being rewarded with class victories in the 1983 and 1985 Coronation Rally. By the early ‘90s, stage regulations dictated that a front roll cage with door bars had to be fitted along with a plumbed in fire extinguisher, full harness seat belts and fixed racing seats. However, the final historic rally that season saw a cam chain fail, the resultant engine failure marking the last road rally for GVB.
The original 906 engine was fitted with Webers which came with a pair of ‘bras’ to cover the trumpets for when the car was parked, but as Rob explains, “To get out and put those bras on every time you parked became a pain, so my father made up the air boxes which have been fitted ever since. The engine and carb balancing has been set up with those on, so I wouldn’t want to run it without them.”
During our discussion, Rob pointed out that while the 906 engine reportedly produced 220/225 bhp when it was fitted for Vic and then Nick Faure ‘back in the day’. However, the engine that’s now in the car isn’t full 906 spec, and produced 178 bhp when it was built. Compared with the standard roadgoing 1967 911 S (160 bhp) and the 1969 911 S (170 bhp), GVB 911D was still ahead of the game.
The car returned to competition in 2009, as Rob had his sights set on participating in the 2010 Brands Hatch Historic Superprix in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Grand Prix loop. He qualified fifth in class and was rewarded with a third in class in the race. A second in class at the 2010 Oulton Park Gold Cup and the ‘Motorsport At The Palace’ events followed.
[full_width]Some Oulton Park history
Oulton Park circuit is situated in mid-Cheshire near the town of Little Budworth, and is located in the grounds of what used to be Oulton Hall. The once stately country manor, built in 1715, was destroyed in 1926 by fire and in 1940 was bombed during the Second World War. In a twist of irony, General Patton, who commanded the Seventh United States Army, used the grounds of the Oulton Estate to prepare troops for the D-Day landings, which was the beginning of the end for Hitler.
In the early 1950s, the Oulton Park circuit was created by the Mid-Cheshire Car Club, making it unique amongst the new post-War circuits in that it was a true road circuit whilst most other circuits at the time were established on converted airfields. The circuit has changed little over the years, but it is characterised by some undulating sections, blind crests and several tight corners. Rumour has it that the naming of one corner, Knickerbrook Corner, came about when a couple of workers were removing tree stumps with dynamite. Following the first detonation, a couple in a state of some undress, was seen running from the scene from the cover of a bush. Closer investigation revealed a pair of lady’s knickers in the brook, and the name has stuck to this day.[/full_width]
Fast-forward to the weekend of 24/25 August 2013 for the running of the Oulton Park Gold Cup, and the 911 was once again rolled out to stretch its legs in the same race that Vic Elford had won in 1967, driving GVB 911D. Although Rob didn’t have the resources of AFN behind him, he was ably supported by Lee (an engineering work colleague) and Liz Russell, Rob’s mother. With a family as enthusiastic about racing as the Russells, Liz has had years of experience in knowing what hungry racing drivers and support crew (and the odd journalist) need, and that is plenty of tea and biscuits.
Practice and warm-up over the weekend went well enough and the car showed no signs of misbehaving. From a standing start, Rob got the #11 car away well, maintaining his position just behind the #80 1969 Porsche 911E of John Shaw, which was in turn behind the #65 Porsche GB works car driven by professional Richard Bott. It was a fairly safe bet, barring some unforeseen circumstances, that neither Shaw nor Russell was going to get past the works car, so Rob and his new friend, John Shaw, were set to have their own entertaining tussle around the Park.
Rob describes the approach to the downhill left at Cascades, “You turn in while the front is still weighted by the braking, and then get back on the throttle to carry plenty of speed into the Lakeside straight. This is the fastest part of the circuit, reaching 105 mph, and the only time fifth gear is used.” Watching GVB drift gently as it ran wide at Cascades and onto the straight brought back memories of those great battles in the 1960s.
As the laps were reeled off, the three Porsches circulated in formation, but around half distance the Russell car came around ahead of the Shaw car. Rob looked like he had the white car of Bott in his sights and he was gaining noticeably with each lap. This was thrilling stuff… but could he pull off the unthinkable? The apparent surge in speed though was the result of a combination of things, as the #80 Porsche was suffering with clutch trouble but Rob was himself struggling with his brakes.
Oulton Park is known as one of the most technical circuits in the UK, and so the brakes take a hammering on the circuit’s two chicanes, the hairpin and the tight right hander at Lodge. Rob Russell explains how the 911 handled this last corner, “You pass under Warwick Bridge touching 90 mph in 4th gear before getting hard on the brakes for the 2nd gear right hander at Lodge. This is tough in the 911 as the track drops away steeply and the weight of the engine works against you pushing the car wide as you accelerate down to the bottom of the dip and up over the roller coaster Deer Leap towards the start/finish line.”
The trio of 911s started the final lap in tight formation because Rob had been able to close the gap on the #65 works 911 as he had been braking later on each lap in order to preserve his brakes. But Richard Bott in the works Porsche managed to do just enough to keep himself ahead of the chasing pair of 911s as they sped off down towards Cascades for the last time.
The question was whether Rob’s car had enough left on the last lap to make a move on the lead Porsche, but alas it was not to be as the three cars appeared over Deer Leap two minutes later, in the same order. Richard Bott had done enough to keep the white 1965 Porsche ahead of the charging Rob Russell in the #11 ex-Vic Elford 911 and the #80 car of John Shaw…it made for spectacular watching. In reality Rob wasn’t going to get past the #65 car, as he also had to be mindful to keep the #80 car behind him, which he did, just!
Could one see shades of Vic Elford in the ’67 Polo red 911 forty-six years on? Perhaps not, but it was a nice thought anyway…
[full_width]A lap of Oulton Park in GVB 911D (by Rob Russell)
Over the start line accelerating hard revving the engine to 7200 rpm, before changing up to 4th gear. On a flying lap you cross the line at about 90 mph and roughly in the middle of the track, moving over to the very left before braking and dropping to 3rd to take the right at Old Hall. This is a full commitment bend, because you only really know you have gone in at the right speed once you drift to the curb on the exit; too fast and you’ll go over the curb which risks having to lift off the throttle to prevent touching the grass, not fast enough and you’ll have track to spare.
Then you accelerate hard along the Avenue and into the slight right of Dentons, taken flat out in 4th at about 80 mph but as soon as you’re through Dentons, the track drops away and it’s on the brakes, down to 3rd for the tricky, but awesome downhill left of Cascades. You turn in while the front is still weighted by the braking and the tail just comes into play, meaning you dial the lock back off while getting hard on the throttle and just guide the car with almost straight steering past the late apex – at the end of the darker red piece of curb on the left – and out towards the exit curbing on the right, carrying plenty of speed into the Lakeside straight. This is the fastest part of the circuit reaching about 105 mph and the only time 5th gear is troubled. Almost as soon as you’re into 5th you have to lift off and its back to 4th for Island Bend, this left is a heart stopper, with very little camber the car tends to squirm and slide a bit, pushing you wider than you might like as you go through. You can take a wide line if you’re brave and you intend to make a pass under braking into the Shell Oil Hairpin, but that makes the squirm more pronounced and the heart stop for longer!
Then it’s hard on the brakes for the Hairpin right, down to 2nd and about 40 mph, the steep banking makes the turn in really crisp, which means you can get back on the throttle amazingly early, almost before you have finished turning in, certainly before the apex. Then enjoy the ride using the banking to hold the car on line. As the banking begins to flatten out it takes a satisfying dab of opposite lock to keep it on line. Continue the acceleration towards the Foulstons Chicane, a left-right-left, but to be quick it’s taken more like a tight flick right. You are straightening out the first left by using the width of the track under braking, then take the right in 2nd gear making sure to turn while the front tyres are still heavily weighted to prevent any unwanted understeer, then you simply ride out the last left that opens onto Hill Top Straight. Over the hill there is a brief chance to check gauges, and marvel at the crowd as you come back into the main spectator area.
Judge the breaking point using the distance markers for the Knickerbrook Chicane, a lovely open right-left-right that suits the 911 perfectly. Turn into the right, bumping over a bit of the curb while on the brakes and still slowing for the tighter, 30 mph left, then simply wait for the mass of the engine to pendulum the car through the left, a little opposite lock on the exit to prevent it going too far and then turn in early, before you can see the apex for the right, again letting the engine weight do its thing. The apex appears almost magically in front of you and it’s time to open the taps for the run up Clay Hill.
Over the top of the hill you reach about 85 mph in 4th before having to brake and drop down into 3rd for the right hander of Druids, this is a tricky one to get right, the two lengths of curbing on the right suggests it has a double apex, but if you miss the first curb by about a car width (taking care not to leave the door open for a competitor) and apex late, at the second curb, it turns into a long single radius bend that can be taken with full commitment at about 60 mph in a very satisfying slight drift.
Then it is away down the undulating straight and under the bridge up to about 90 mph in 4th gear before getting hard on the brakes again for the 2nd gear Lodge corner. This is a tough one in the 911 as it drops away steeply after the apex and the weight of the engine works against you, pushing the car wide as you accelerate down towards bottom of the dip. You continue accelerating hard up over the roller coaster of Deer Leap, back onto the start/finish straight and away for another lap.[/full_width]
To say that GVB 911D was just another Porsche 911 modified for the occasional race outing in period, is to really not understand the important role this car played in the development of Porsche’s wider motorsport heritage. It was certainly the first 911 to compete in the UK, and one of the earliest in the world. But, were it not for Vic Elford’s belief in the 911 as a race and rally car, it might have taken Porsche several more years before they fully exploited the model’s immense potential.
Fortunately, Peter Russell (Rob’s father) had the foresight to pursue this car and to acquire it for his own use, and now the baton has been passed to Rob to carry. It will soon be Rob’s duty to pass that baton on in his family! But I have Vic Elford to thank for mentioning this car to me during an interview we did back in 2013 at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, on the occasion of the 911’s Golden Anniversary celebration (1963-2013). GVB 911D is still active in Historic racing today, and long may it continue to do so!
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