Porsche 908/01 LH Coupé

Premiere: April 7, 1968 Le Mans test day

© James Herne

The 908 was the successor to the 907 and the first Porsche to be engineered to use the maximum allowed 3-litre engine size. Earlier, Porsche had competed in the 3-litre prototype class with up to 2.2-litre engines.

The first 908 appeared at the 1968 Le Mans test day in April. In 1968, the 908/01 was called simply 908 and from 1969, when the 908/02 came, the first generation became known as 908/01. The 3-litre 8-cylinder flat engine developed 257-272 kW - serious power from a normally aspirated engine! The first version of the 908/01 publicly shown was the LH (Langheck, German for “long tail”). The first competition it entered was the Monza 1000 km on April 25, 1968. The two entered cars had rear fins and no rear spoiler.

1968 April 25 Monza 1000 km, #5 Ludovico Scarfiotti/Gerhard Mitter. The first version of the 908/01 LH Coupé had fins instead of rear spoiler.© Silvano Franzi / Phõtos Gráphein

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 life in France, so the Le Mans racing event was postponed three and half months to September 28-29. For the Le Mans, the 908 LH now had rear spoiler instead of fins.

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1968 Le Mans, Porsche 908 LH #32
Before the 1968 Le Mans race © Porsche
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1968 September 28, Le Mans 24h start. As can be seen, the pole position green-nosed 908 of Jo Siffert/Hans Hermann is not as quick in the start as Porsche #33 (Jochen Neerpasch/Rolf Stommelen) and Porsche #32 (Gerhard Mitter/Vic Elford) © Porsche
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Nose lift during hard acceleration. By the end of the 24h race the #33 908/01 LH Coupé of Jochen Neerpasch/Rolf Stommelen would finish third.© Porsche

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 908 #33 of 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 here. Hans Herrmann/Rolf Stommelen were victorious in the car #12, followed by Vic Elford/Rudi Lins in #14.

1968 October 13, Paris 1000 km: winning 908/01 LH #12 of Hans Herrmann/Rolf Stommelen© unknown (please inform us if you know)
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1968 Paris 1000 km race was held on a 17 km/10.6 mile combined track
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1968 November 2, Essen Sports and Racing Car Show (1. Internationale Sport- und Rennwagen-Ausstellung Essen). Note the asymmetrical front openings, distinctive only to the 1968 version.© Stadt Essen

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 for the Daytona 24h on February 1, 1969, but the outcome was a complete failure - the engines in all cars broke down. A year before, Porsche 907 LH had wiped the podium with 1-2-3 victory. Despite the fiasco at the Daytona in 1969, the Porsche 1-2-3 victories started to become natural, like at the Monza 1000 km in April 1969. The first two places went to 908/01 LH and third place to a 907.

1969 April 25, Monza 1000 km winner 908/01 LH Coupé #4 Jo Siffert/Brian Redman, second place went to 908/01 LH Coupé #7 Hans Herrmann/Kurt Ahrens Jr. and third place to 907 K 2.2 #10 Gerhard Koch/Hans-Dieter Dechent. © unknown (please inform us if you know)

Next month, the Spa 1000 km race was also won by a 908/01 LH.

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1969 May 11, Spa 1000 km winner 908/01 LH Coupé #25 Jo Siffert/Brian Redman followed by the second place Ferrari 312P #8 Pedro Rodriguez/David Piper who ruined the Porsche 1-2-3 victory. Third place went to 908/01 LH Coupé #10 Vic Elford/Kurt Ahrens Jr. and fourth place to 908/01 LH Coupé #11 Hans Herrmann/Rolf Stommelen. As a side note it should be mentioned that Ferrari drivers Rodriguez and Piper became Porsche drivers.© Porsche

As wished by Ferdinand Piëch, Hans Mezger engineered the 12-cylinder 917 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 (908, 910, 911, 917) entered by the factory and private teams. Porsche factory team manager was Rico Steinemann who a year earlier had come 2nd (and won 3-litre class) in a 907 LH.

1969 June 14, Le Mans 24h start: #20 908 LH Flunder Spyder of Jo Siffert/Brian Redman (later retirement due to the gearbox), #12 917 of Vic Elford/Richard Attwood (they set the fastest lap during the race, but had to retire from the leading position because of the clutch failure), #23 908/01 LH of Udo Schütz/Gerhard Mitter (accident in the race), #64 908/01 LH of Hans Herrmann/Gérard Larrousse (finished 2nd), #22 908/01 LH of Rudi Lins/Willi Kauhsen (lost the gearbox)© Porsche
1969 Le Mans, Porsche 908 LH
The headlamps are covered with film to keep them clean until the night comes © Porsche

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. Jacky Ickx protested this starting style by walking, not running, to his car. With the LM-style start there was no time to make sure the doors were safely shut and the introduction of the safety belts didn't work at all with this type of start. Fatality happened on the first lap - John Woolfe crashed his privately entered 917 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 halted, but 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 #64 908 due to the faulty wheel bearing didn't sound so dramatic as it would after the race. With less than 4 hours to the checkered flag, the 917 LH #12 was six laps in the lead, but lost the clutch and was out. The 917 LH #14 of Rolf Stommelen/Kurt Ahrens Jr. had retired already earlier. After all the three 917 were out, the race had unbelievable culmination - the #64 908 (Hans Herrmann/Gerard Larrousse) now wanted to beat the #6 Ford GT40 (Jacky Ickx/Jackie Oliver). The 908 team wanted to win Le Mans!

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Fight for the victory has started...© Porsche

Herrmann was hesitant to use Porsche's superior braking performance because a brake pad warning light was on. The #64 Porsche 908 and the #6 Ford GT40 consistently swapped 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".

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Closing hours of the 1969 Le Mans 24h: will it be the 3.0-litre 908 or the 4.9-litre GT40 to take the victory? © Porsche

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.

1969 June 15, Le Mans 24h second place 908/01 LH (chassis number 908-031) #64 of Hans Herrmann and Gérard Larrousse© unknown (please inform us if you know)

After the season, all the 908 LH built for the 1969 season were rebuilt as 908 Flunder Spyders and sold to private teams, including the 1969 Le Mans fighter. Later, when they became collector's items, the 908-031 was converted back to 1969 Le Mans longtail coupé form and trim.

The 5-litre prototype class was discontinued for 1972 season in Europe, rendering the 917 unusable, so many 3-litre Porsche 908 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.

1972 June 10-11, Le Mans 24h third place 908/01 LH-68 #60 Reinhold Jöst/Michel Weber/Mario Casoni© unknown (please inform us if you know)

In the Porsche Museum collection

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908 LH at the Porsche Museum shows 1969 Le Mans livery, but the car is from 1968 as can be told by the nose openings. The chassis number of the 1969 Le Mans car was 908-031, but the museum car is probably 908-003. © James Herne
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Rear flaps individually actuated by left and right rear suspension© James Herne
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© James Herne
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The car in the Porsche Museum in Germany is not chassis 908-031 that wore #64 at the Le Mans in 1969. Chassis 908-031 is in Julio Palmaz's private collection in USA. The chassis 908-003 in Porsche Museum actually had rear fins as an early 1968 car. The rear spoiler here is added to make it look like a Le Mans car.© Margus Holland

Article © James Herne / Stuttcars.com


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