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Porsche's Greatest Race Cars: An Insider's Guide

Porsche's Greatest Race Cars

When it comes to race cars, few manufacturers have a history as rich and storied as Porsche. In professional motorsports, no other brand can rival the German manufacturer regarding technical innovation or success. From the very beginning, Porsche has been a standout company in the racing industry thanks to its willingness to tackle challenging and treacherous courses with never-before-seen innovations.


To understand just how unique Porsche is in the world of automotive racing, consider that almost no other car manufacturers have managed to excel at both on- and off-road races. Even so, Porsche has managed to lead in both categories. 


The History of Porsche Motorsports


Porsche is a German manufacturer founded in 1931 by Ferdinand Porsche, an Austrian engineer who had previously worked for Mercedes-Benz. In his early years, Porsche worked in Vienna designing steam-powered cars. After moving to Germany and working for Daimler, Porsche was asked by the government to create a vehicle for the common masses.

Porsche's design for the Volkswagen was a considerable success, particularly in America, where it was imported by the thousands to meet the growing demand.

This sudden rush of business allowed Porsche to open his own company and move into manufacturing sports cars. The company expanded greatly during the Second World War when it produced many military vehicles, notably the iconic Porsche Tank. Porsche continued to make road and race cars, extending into the SUV market and other vehicles after that. 


Porsches in the World Rally Championship (WRC)


The Porsche 911 made its WRC debut in the 1970s, driven by the late Timo Makinen. Makinen was a Finnish driver who had made his name in Formula 1 and the Targa Florio rally. Makinen won the WRC in 1971 and '72, driving a Porsche 911 S, a model later modified for use on the street.

This was followed by a string of Porsche 911 SC championships, with Hannu Mikkola taking first place in the '79 and '80 seasons. 911 SCs would also win in '86 and '87, completing a five-year streak of 911 wins in a row. The 911 was then replaced by the 959 in the WRC, but its high price made it challenging to use in the series.


Porsches at Le Mans


Porsche has won the Le Mans race 16 times, more than any other brand in history. The first time Porsche won the prestigious French auto race was in 1970 when Hans Herrmann and Kurt Ahlssen piloted a 917K victory. The 917 would win again in '71, driven by Jo Siffert and Brian Redman. It would then go on to win in '72 and '73, making it the only car model to win three consecutive Le Mans races.

The Porsche 956 was the first turbocharged car to have won the Le Mans in '84, followed by its successor, the 962, which won in '85 and '86. The 919 Hybrid would then take home the trophy in '14 and '15 as a hybrid car, completing Porsche's sweep of Le Mans' victories with a hybrid vehicle.


Porsches in the Formula 1 World


In the World of Formula 1 racing, Porsche has a long and successful history. The company entered the F1 World Championship in 1950 with a car designed by the legendary W. (Ferdinand) Porsche. Porsche's Formula 1 car raced once, finishing sixth in the Swiss Grand Prix. The company next entered the F1 World Championship in 1982 with a car designed by Norbert Singer.

The Porsche team was unfortunate to enter the competition late and, therefore, the last to receive the newest turbocharged engines. This put Porsche at a distinct disadvantage, and the team struggled with poor results all season long. Due to the poor effects, Porsche withdrew from F1 after only one year.


Our top 3 picks for the Best Porsche race cars


Porsche 550 Spyder 

The lightweight yet robust flat frame of steel tubing and a streamlined and attractive monocoque body defined the mid-engine Roadster. In 1953, the 550 Spyder won its inaugural race at the Nürburgring. The lightweight Spyder was a fantastic advantage on the road and the track in the 1950s, especially in the "country of opportunity." It won its class at the Carrera Panamericana in Mexico in 1954.

The mid-engine sports car was eventually outfitted with a space frame and given the A designation for even more power and driving enjoyment. It evolved into an outright racing car. The BMW 550 A Spyder made its racing debut in the 1000-kilometer Nürburgring race. The greatest victory occurred in Italy, where Umberto Maglioli beat the Ferraris and Maseratis to the finish line at the Sicilian Targa Florio in 1956. That was the first of 11 triumphs for Porsche in what was undoubtedly the most challenging race of its time.


Porsche 718 

The 718, the successor to the 550 Spyder, was one of Porsche's most successful race vehicles in its early years. The compact and light 718 continued the 550 Spyder's "giant killer" reputation with its flat-four engine. Unlike the 718's heavy and powerful v12 Ferraris, the Porsche was light, nimble, and extremely stiff, allowing it to quickly gain its share.

The automobile was known as the RSK and came in various configurations to compete in several motorsports series. The RS60, with 160hp and upgraded suspension, is renowned for winning the 12 Hours of Sebring and the Targa Florio. The RS61 was essentially an improved RS60. The W-RS increased the engine size to 2 liters and switched from a 4-cylinder to a larger flat-8, increasing power to 240 horsepower. While the W-RS finished eighth at Le Mans, it won the European Hill Climb Championship. In 1961, three 718 cars entered Formula One (before Porsche switched to the 904 for F1 duties).


Porsche 904 

The 904 is possibly the most visually appealing Porsche race car ever produced. It launched a development program that would finally culminate in the 917. The extremely lightweight 904, weighing only 655kg, could accelerate to 60mph in less than six seconds and top out at 160mph thanks to its low drag coefficient of 0.34.

Originally supposed to be powered by a flat-six from the future 911, delays in development resulted in an upgraded version of the all-too-familiar 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine. While the engine remained challenging to build and assemble, it had proven itself throughout Porsche's successful racing record.

The 904's adaptability was what made it so unique. It won the infamous Targa Florio overall and many class triumphs in endurance racing, notably at Le Mans. However, its second-place performance in the snow-covered 1965 Monte Carlo Rally highlighted the scope of its abilities.



The history of Porsche is one of success and failure, triumph and tragedy, and evolution and tradition. The company has pushed the boundaries of racing technology, producing some of the most unique and innovative cars that the World has ever seen. And, with every new release, Porsche stays true to its roots while bringing something new and exciting to the table. Continue reading our blog porschemotorcar.com for more updates on Porsche cars. 

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