The Homologators – Porsche 911 GT1

7

Dale Vinten

Of all the cars in this series, the Porsche 911 GT1 , and even more so the later GT1-98, is perhaps the model that least resembles its namesake. It may be labelled as a 911 but it really isn’t one and that’s partly down to Porsche being a bit naughty and bending the rules somewhat. Instead of building a road car and then turning it into a track weapon for racing, as most manufacturers did, Porsche said sod it and went straight to building a race car, then cobbled together a handful of road going versions after the fact to satisfy the homologation regulations.

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The sneaky Germans got away with it though because at the time, the rules for GT racing, as well as those that wrote them, were in a period of flux and as such there was ample opportunity to circumvent, misinterpret and generally take the proverbial when it came to sticking to what loose guidelines there were. The resultant car though is nothing short of fantastisch!

If you look at the original GT1 head on and squint a bit there is a hint of 911 to be found and that’s because Porsche legend Norbert Singer, he of Le Mans winning 935 fame, took the front end of the 993 and stuck it to the rear of the 962, but that’s about the only bit he did use. Power came from a 3.2-litre, water-cooled flat-six with not one, but two KKK turbochargers that produced around 600bhp, and with a carbon fibre body the car weighed in at around 1,000kg which meant face melting performance, including a top speed of 205mph.

First used in anger by Thierry Boutsen at an invitational at Brands Hatch as part of the BPR Global GT Series in ’96, the GT1 wouldn’t make its official racing debut until the Le Mans 24 Hour the same year where it won its class and placed 2nd and 3rd overall and that should tell you all you need to know about the capabilities of this Porsche badged projectile.

So fast was it, in fact, that in ’97 the FIA – who had recently returned as the sanctioning body for GT racing – decreed that Porsche needed to install induction restrictors to the car in order to slow it down. Not only that but it made a point of tightening the homologation rules too, forcing the German firm to create the 25 road going versions necessary for eligibility on the track. The company still only made 20 though, because Porsche, but whatever the case, the 911 GT1 ‘Straßenversion‘ was born.

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Literally translating to ‘street version’ (oh how we love those efficient Germans) the road going model, now with 996 headlights as oppose to the 993 face of the two initial prototypes built (both of which still exist), was a toned down facsimile of the original race car.  And by toned down we mean softer suspension and an interior, and that’s about it. The car still developed a whopping 540bhp and 443lb ft of internal organ rearranging torque. With its slightly detuned engine, the Straßenversion’s top speed was now “only” 191mph, while its 0-60 time had been elongated to 3.7-ish seconds. Practically lethargic then…

Porsche would update the 911 GT1 race car twice, once in ’97 and once again, and more substantially, in ’98, with the Straßenversion following suit for the latter redesign. The ’97 car, dubbed the Evo, was ostensibly the same car but with minor aerodynamic improvements, as well as the new 996 front end as featured on the road car, but the ’98 version was an entirely new beast.

The GT1-98, as it was known (again, hats off to Porsche for calling a spade a spade), was redesigned in the hopes of being more competitive. Up to this point the original GT1 from ’96, as good as it was, was still being regularly pipped to the post by rivals Mercedes and McLaren and so Porsche, still with Singer heading the project, would make some big changes.

Switching from a steel tube monocoque frame to carbon fibre, Singer and his team rearranged the GT1’s guts in order to relocate the fuel tank closer to the engine. A new sequential gearbox and ECU were also added along with various suspension and aerodynamic amendments but it wasn’t enough to beat Mercedes who continued to dominate the 1998 FIA GT1 Series.

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Porsche was spared its blushes at Le Mans, however, when the 911 GT1-98 took both first and second place. Ironically this wasn’t down to performance. Instead it was the car’s reliability that saved its bacon with Mercedes, Toyota and BMW all retiring due to various technical issues. This accomplishment would mark Porsche’s 16th win at the 24 Hour, a record-breaking achievement and an honour that the company still holds to this day with 19 overall victories under its belt at the time of writing, more than any other manufacturer.

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As per the homologation regs, road-legal versions of the 911 GT1-98 were required but Porsche decided it was only going to build one, and then it promptly quit GT racing. Toys, pram, done. What remains is a supremely rare, stunningly beautiful and technically excellent sports car from one of the greatest to ever do it. Proven on arguably the biggest stage when it comes to international motorsport, the 911 GT1 will go down in the history books as not only one of the wildest and rarest cars from Porsche’s oeuvre, but as one of the most revered machines to ever grace tarmac.

Unfortunately you can’t buy the sole GT1-98 road car because Porsche kept it as a memento and it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to afford one of the 20 original GT-1s either, that’s even if one came to market, which it won’t. What you can do though is buy one of the hundreds of 911 models we currently have for sale right here on Car & Classic (almost 1,200 at current count), so have a browse and pick your fave. Much easier and indeed, far cheaper.

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