Porsche 908/01 LH Coupé
Premiere: April 7, 1968 Le Mans test day
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.
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.
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.
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.
Next month, the Spa 1000 km race was also won by a 908/01 LH.
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.
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!
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".
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, 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.
In the Porsche Museum collection
Article © James Herne / Stuttcars.com
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