Porsche 908/01 LH Coupé
Premiere: April 7, 1968 Le Mans test day
The first 908 appeared at the 1968 Le Mans test day on April 7. In 1968 the 908/01s were called simply 908s and from 1969, when the 908/02 came, the first generation was called 908/01. The 3-litre normally aspirated 8-cylinder 908 boxer engine developed 257-272 kW. The first version of the 908/01 shown was the LH (Langheck, German for “long tail”). The first competition it entered was the Monza 1000 km on April 25. The two entered cars had rear fins and no rear spoiler.
The Le Mans 24H race was planned for June 15 and 16, but had to be postponed due to French students' and workers' strikes that had started in May. The struggles reached into every corner of French life, so the Le Mans racing event was postponed three and half months to September 28-29. For the Le Mans the 908 LH’s now had rear spoilers instead of fins as seen before.
Despite the 908 LHs achieving pole position (Jo Siffert, 3:35.4, 225 kmh/139 mph) - the first pole position for Porsche at Le Mans - and the fastest race lap (Rolf Stommelen, 3:38.1, 222 kmh/138 mph), the cars suffered technical problems and 3 cars out of 4 were finally out. The only surviving car #33 Jochen Neerpasch/Rolf Stommelen managed to score third six laps behind the winner and a lap behind the second place 2.2-litre Porsche 907 LH (#66 Rico Steinemann/Dieter Spoerry).
The next race in the calendar was the Paris 1000 km held on October 13, 1968. The track consisted of a part of the Linas-Montlhery banked oval track, but mostly used the nearby roads. The first long-distance race victory (and even a one-two) for the longtail 908 came on this track. Hans Herrmann/Rolf Stommelen were victorious in the car #12 and Vic Elford/Rudi Lins in the #14 908 LH managed to score second.
For the 1969 season the car was given a new front among other modifications. The distinctive asymmetrical front of the 908/01-68 was gone and the air ducts were symmetrical for the 908/01-69. Porsche fielded five 908/01 LH’s for the Daytona 24H on February 1, 1969, but the outcome was a complete failure - the engines in all five cars broke down. A year before Porsche had wiped the podium with 1-2-3 victory for the 907 LH’s. Despite the fiasco at the Daytona in 1969, the Porsche 1-2-3 victories started to become natural and so was the case at the Monza 1000 km race in April 1969. The first two places went to 908/01 LH’s and third place to a 907. Next month the Spa 1000 km race was also won by a 908/01 LH. Only a second place Ferrari ruined the 1-2-3 victory for 908/01 LH’s.
Ferdinand Piëch engineered the 917s to be able to take overall victory at the 1969 Le Mans 24H and in the practise the 917 was the fastest. In total there were 16 Porsches (incl. 917s, 908s, 910s and 911s) entered by the factory and private teams. Porsche factory team manager was Rico Steinemann who had come 2nd (and won 3-litre class) in a 907 LH at the 1968 Le Mans 24H.
The race had a traditional Le Mans-style start where the drivers had to run across the race track, enter the cars, start the engines, fasten the seat belts and drive away. In reality fastening the seat belt was done during the first lap while driving at full throttle and sometimes the belts were left unfastened. At this race Jacky Ickx protested this start style by walking, not running, to his car. With the LM-style start there wasn't time to make sure the doors were safely closed and the introduction of the safety belts didn't work at all with this type of start. Fatality happened on the first lap of the 1969 race. John Woolfe crashed his privately entered 917 on the first lap and was thrown out of the car. The fuel tank from his car landed in front of the oncoming Ferrari 312P of Chris Amon and exploded in contact. Fortunately Amon survived. The race was stopped, but was then restarted after 2 hours.
The 3-litre 908s were not the favourites against the large engined cars and so the 35 minute pit stop of the #64 car due to the faulty wheel bearing didn't sound so dramatic as it would after the race. With less than four hours to the checkered flag, the 917 LH #12 is six laps in the lead, but loses the clutch and is out. The 917 LH #14 of Rolf Stommelen/Kurt Ahrens Jr. retired already earlier. After all the three 917s were out, the race had unbelievable culmination - the #64 908 team (Hans Herrmann/Gerard Larrousse) wanted to beat the #6 GT40 (Jacky Ickx/Jackie Oliver) and win the race!
Herrmann is hesitant to use Porsche's superior braking performance because a brake pad warning light is on. The #64 908 and #6 GT40 consistently swap the lead during the three last hours of the race. The tension was so high, that a Porsche mechanic even used force on a photographer at the pitlane. Team boss Rico Steinemann said "I will never forget this motor race, whether we gonna win or lose it".
The lead was exchanged at least 10 times, but Ickx took the victory - the man, who started from the last position as a protest. The Porsche boys lost only by around 50 meters - imagine losing 50 meters on a 4997880 meter distance! Ironically it turned out that the brake pad warning system was faulty and the brakes were okay. By the way, Ickx drove exactly the same car - chassis 1075 - that already won the 1968 Le Mans. Ickx's protest and the fatal accident with an unfastened driver finally put end to the traditional Le Mans start.
After the season, five '69 908 LHs (the five 1969 Daytona cars) received body conversions. They were reincarnated as 908 Flunder Spyders and sold to private teams.
The 5-litre prototype class was discontinued for 1972 season in Europe, rendering the 917s unusable, so many 3-litre Porsche 908s were still entered by private teams in 1972 Le Mans 24H. A 908/01 LH-68 of Siffert ATE Racing Team driven by Reinhold Joest/Michel Weber/Mario Casoni scored 3rd.
Article © James Herne / Stuttcars.com
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