Rennsport Homecoming

This special 964 RS left a lasting impression on two Porsche designers.

Rennsport Homecoming 1
September 15, 2016

Now and then we hear about another so-called barn find; a rare car unearthed after being hidden away and lost for years. But it’s even better when we come across the story of a classic that has been used regularly and enjoyed just as its maker intended. One such car is this Guards Red 1992 911 (964) Carrera RS whose original owner was Ursula Piëch, the wife of Ferdinand Piëch, renowned grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, and former Chairman of the VW Group supervisory board.

Its present owner is British-born Stephen Murkett, who has run Porsche’s Cayenne and Panamera projects for many years. By an amazing stroke of coincidence, Murkett rode as a passenger in this very car when it was in the hands of its second owner, his colleague Matthias Kulla, another Royal College of Art graduate, who has been the director of sports car design management at Style Porsche since 2014. We picked up the story from the two friends.

Matthias Kulla

“For a young designer at Porsche, the most important thing in life besides work is which Porsche he drives,” Kulla explains. “After various 944s I got into 964s, a coupe first then a Cabriolet. By this time I was hooked on these cars and wondered how the experience could ever be topped.” Then one day a young man walked into the design studio and said, “Hi, my name is Achim. How can I get a Porsche lease car as quickly as possible?” He was Achim Anscheidt, who went on to be the Design Director at Bugatti.

Kulla had a solution! “One of the first things you do when you arrive at Porsche is find out if there is a lease car available for you to use,” Kulla recalls. “The guy in charge looked at his stock list, but there was nothing particularly interesting around apart from what he described as a racing Porsche, a 964 RS with just 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles) on the clock.” Anscheidt did not like the idea of a racing Porsche, but Kulla did!

“‘It does not make sense for us to sell it now,’ the leasing guy told me,” recalls Kulla, “so I asked him if I could have it as my company lease car. I actually had a 964 Carrera 2 Cabriolet on order, and ended up doing a swap with the delighted Achim.”

Rennsport Homecoming 2

Then, Kulla found out that the previous custodian of the RS was Ursula Piëch. “I had been wondering about the unusual registration ‘S-UP 999.’ UP stood for Ursula Piëch,” says Kulla. “Other unique features of this particular car were rear seats and a normal 911 passenger seat finished in three shades of grey leather, just like the 959 Comfort. It also had a short-throw gearshift linkage, but with a very tall gear lever. While the gear ratios were very close, first was so tall it was good for 60 mph.”

When Kulla took delivery of the RS, however, it didn’t have the appearance of a low-mileage car. “It had traces of straw inside, and the underbody was scratched in places,” he recalls. “But I realized it would be the most exciting car I had ever owned. On the other hand my wife, who had been expecting the Carrera 2 Cabriolet, was very disappointed and practically cried over this. Yet we used it often, even for long trips where we covered up to 600 miles in a day. Then the comfortable passenger seat proved to be a most welcome feature.”

Although this 964 was posh inside, it very much lived up to the “RS” name. “In the early ’90s the autobahns were pretty empty compared to today, and it was possible to average 140 mph for long stretches,” says Kulla. “I was literally nudging top speed all the time whenever the traffic allowed, but you had to watch out for bumps as the rear tires would lose traction, and then the engine would be right on the rev limiter. On one particularly bad stretch of motorway we were lifted right out of our seats a dozen times and banged our heads against the roof. We had tears running down our cheeks because we were laughing all the time—at over 160 mph!”

Kulla’s desire to experience all that the car had to give naturally led him to compete. “The Porsche Club of America had a chapter in Germany with the U.S. Forces guys, and I took part in their autocrosses with the RS, which was a noticeable improvement over the 964 Cabriolet I had entered before. After that, I was only beaten once, by a guy in a Rubystone Red 964 RS.” Kulla then got the itch to run the RS at track days.

“We once spent a whole afternoon at the Nürburgring and did 12 consecutive laps, with me in the RS, and Stephen Murkett in his 928 GTS,” says Kulla. “My best time was 8 minutes 40 seconds on street tires, which was about 20 seconds a lap slower than Walter Röhrl. It was through these trips that Stephen got to know the car nearly 20 years before it became his.”

Kulla kept the RS for almost a year, during which the car covered 34,000 km (21,127 miles). “I had never driven a car so much before, and definitely never as hard,” he says with obvious passion in his voice. Normal life in the form of an apartment and child caught up with Kulla, and so eventually it was time to say goodbye to the RS. He returned the car to Zuffenhausen, and as he was on the Weissach-bound shuttle he saw the RS going the other way on a the back of a trailer. That was in February 1995.

Rennsport Homecoming 3

Stephen Murkett

Stephen Murkett joined Porsche as an exterior designer in 1983, straight from the Royal College of Art. His major projects were the 959, 964, and the 1989 Panamericana show car. He ran Porsche’s advanced design studio from 1990 to 1996, focusing on mid-engine concepts. During that time he also designed the RS, GT2 and Targa versions of the 993.

The first Boxster concept (pre-showcar) came from Murkett’s fertile mind, as did the Boxster name. He then penned several off-road concept cars leading up to the Cayenne and went on to run the Cayenne and Panamera programs for many years. Preferring to work with and nurture young design talent, Murkett set up and runs the design trend research.

“Doing trend analysis for design, I came in one Monday morning in January 2012 and scanned the internet to see what was in the press about our brand. Buying an old 911 wasn’t anywhere on my agenda,” Murkett explains. “Then I stumbled across an article about the 964 RS on a British auto enthusiasts’ website. An enthusiastic story by a ‘Joe 911’ describing his 14 years of ownership caught my imagination. Apparently, he had bought one in Switzerland for a mere 20,000 Euros ($21,974 in current U.S. dollars) and kept it at the Manthey facility at the Nürburgring, regularly flying over to drive it there. The article finished with an explanation that his only real regret was not buying three of them at the time, seeing how much they had shot up in value.”

Not having the 964-generation RS in focus, Murkett was unaware of its current value. Flipping through the classifieds to investigate, he saw a 1992 RS advertised for a shocking £120,000 ($157,626 in current USD), and the penny dropped. Then he saw another one listed at £60,000 ($78,831 in current USD) and wondered why there was such a huge price discrepancy. The cheaper of the two UK-registered cars was a left-hand-drive 1992 built ‘lightweight’ that had covered 64,000 miles. It also had an unusual history, having apparently been ordered by a Porsche director who had specified a 959 passenger seat and a complete rear seat assembly—definitely not a normal lightweight feature.

“A flashback to riding in Matthias’s RS at the Nürburgring, and discussing why it had such an unusual seating combination came to mind, and it struck me that this might be the very same car!” says Murkett. “So I called the number on the advertisement and spoke to the owner, Martin Wright from Maidstone, Kent. I explained that I worked in Weissach and was curious to know if his red RS could be the very car that I had ridden in, and filmed, back in 1995.”

Rennsport Homecoming 4

Wright was upfront about the fact that he used the RS for track days, so it had not exactly been coddled. “I have owned it for 10 years. Back in the day, it was the best value track day car you could buy,” Murkett was told.

“I asked him about the history of the car, and he described a number of German documents that he could not read, and therefore did not know the significance of,” Murkett explains. “He then offered to have them scanned and emailed to me the next day. By now, you can imagine, the anticipation was rapidly building.”

Then, on a Tuesday evening, just as Murkett was about to shut down his computer and leave the office, Wright’s email arrived. “I opened the attachment, and there it was!” Murkett recalled. “I stared at the original German title document, or Fahrzeugbrief, and immediately recognized the registration number ‘S-UP 999.’ At the top of the document, hand-written in pencil was the immortal ‘ex-Piëch.’ I was lost for words.”

By then, Kulla had found a photo of the car from 1995 that showed the same 964 Carrera RS with the same registration. This was indeed Kulla’s old car, the original Ursula Piëch RS.

“What only a day before appeared to be a lot of money for an old car, was now looking like a bargain,” says Murkett. “At this point I realized that after 30 years with the company, driving every iteration of 911 as my lease hack, I was about to buy my first very own Porsche.”

The next day, however, Murkett got an unexpected phone call from Wright. “Thomas Schmitz of German Sportscars had contacted him, and it appeared that this 964 RS specialist dealer was very interested in buying the car,” recalls Murkett. “Thomas also had a personal interest in this car, as it had been the first RS he owned back in 1997, only selling it on to fund his new business venture as an RS specialist dealer. By now, I really wanted this car, and recognized the challenge I was facing.”

Rennsport Homecoming 5

Murkett’s spontaneous banter went along the lines of, “This car needs to return to its spiritual home!” As Schmitz apparently couldn’t make it before Saturday, Murkett instantly committed to being there on Friday. “I called a friend and Porsche enthusiast, Jeff Wright in the UK, who, sharing my eagerness to acquire the RS, offered to pick me up from the airport.”

The pair went to see the car, which was actually in better shape than Murkett had expected. It also drove well; RS stiff but straight and solid. The engine compartment showcased 20 years of proper use and a strong smell of oil. The signature magnesium wheels were also starting to reject the coat of black paint that had been applied at some point. Also, the interior had not been cleaned between track outings. It was clear that this car needed some TLC.

“In my own mind I had already decided to buy the Guards Red Rennsport Porsche,” says Murkett. “This was not just any ’90s Carrera RS, it was part of my own history! The 964 design was one of my first projects. When I arrived at Porsche in 1983, the hard bargaining but charismatic Tony Lapine ran the studio. Richard Soderberg was my direct boss, and after the 959 was finished (designer) Ben Dimson and I started work on the next 911 model, the 964. I have fond memories from those early days at Porsche.”

Friday morning came and went, but Murkett’s money transfer had still not arrived from Germany. Concurrently, the competing buyer had not made a firm commitment either. “I had planned to fly back to Stuttgart on Sunday, but heavy snow in the South of England meant the flight was canceled,” Murkett recalls. “So I decided to stay till the money arrived, which it did on Monday morning.”

Cash and bankers check in hand, Murkett was having a coffee with Martin Wright, who openly recalled having paid little more than a third of the £60,000 he was now asking, a decade before. Their bargaining session was in full swing when the phone rang. It was Thomas Schmitz. “But I was there on the spot, and pulled out another £2,000 ($2,628 USD),” says Murkett. “We shook hands at £58,000 ($76,203 USD), and were both happy.”

With a thick carpet of snow still on the ground outside, Martin Wright took his two visitors to his garage and showed them the original seats, an extra set of wheels, and other original parts that had been removed when the car was turned into a track-day machine. All these bits were loaded into Jeff Wright’s Cayenne and they set off, Murkett having agreed to collect the RS the following day.

Rennsport Homecoming 6

“I couldn’t drive the RS back to Germany with snow on the roads, and in any case, it was shod with well-worn Kumho 888 track-day rubber,” Murkett explains. “Instead, we set off for Porsche Cars Great Britain (PCGB) in Reading who had kindly agreed to look after the car until the weather improved.”

There Murkett was received by Andy Keywood and John Titcombe, Carrera GT and RS specialists respectively, and both 964 era veterans. “Leaving the RS surrounded by Carrera GTs comforted me, and when I flew back to Stuttgart I knew the car was in good hands,” says Murkett.

After the car was given a thorough inspection by Keywood and Titcombe, the 964’s condition was summed up in an email to Murkett. While the tub was straight, the bodywork showed signs of a repair and newer paint. In addition, the 3.6-liter flat-six engine had been partially rebuilt at some point, and several head bolts were split. This was not an uncommon issue on older flat-six engines but needed to be dealt with.

“I had originally planned to have the engine rebuilt in Germany, but the guys at PCGB had won my faith, so I asked Andy if he would be interested in rebuilding it for me,” says Murkett. “He said he would be delighted, so we tabled a list of original parts that would be required as I wanted to renew every last nut and bolt while staying true to the original factory specification. At that point, it hit home that while the week before I had not even contemplated buying a car, here I was writing a second big check in the space of a few days!”

On further investigation, Murkett discovered the history surrounding the engine work. This involved the first UK owner of the car, a London cab driver named Johnny English, who was also a track-day enthusiast.

“I chased him down and called him on his mobile,” says Murkett. “I could hear the diesel engine of his taxi rattling away in the background, and while driving down Pall Mall in London, Johnny related his story of the RS, which he had owned for five years.”

Rennsport Homecoming 7

It transpired that he had taken it to a Supercar Test Day at Goodwood, where a trusted friend took it out for a lap or two, and it came back sounding like a bag of nails. His friend had clearly missed a gear and buzzed the engine. “Under the gentleman’s rule, ‘You bend it, you mend it,’ he had to have it fixed, which explained the engine issue,” said Murkett.

Murkett applauded the taxi driver’s honesty, and Johnny opened up further, admitting to having had a prang at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium the following year, where he lost control at the top of Eau Rouge, and kissed the barriers, denting the front left and rear right corners. “That explained the 12-year-old paint,” Murkett muses.

In the meantime, Keywood and Titcombe had painstakingly rebuilt the engine using the original parts that Murkett had sourced from the factory. Aware of the history of the car, they went to great lengths to get every detail just right. The drivetrain went in and out of the car five times in the pursuit of perfection.

By now it was May, nearly four months after Murkett had bought the car. Winter was a distant memory, and the RS emerged from its slumber with a fresh engine. It would soon be time to begin the journey back to its spiritual home. To ensure that everything was perfect before he drove it home, Murkett came over to the UK and performed a 450-mile shakedown drive. The oil was changed, and Titcombe cast a final look over the RS.

By July, the car was running perfectly, and once it was cleaned, it looked young and eager again. Murkett decided he would really enjoy the drive back to Stuttgart in his ‘new’ RS, and drove it down to Goodwood for the Festival of Speed, and then over to the Le Mans Classic in France the week after.

“The car was magnificent, and ran exactly the way it should,” says Murkett. “I met up with Johnny English at Le Mans, and he gave me the paperwork, invoices and photos of the car from its time with him. We took more photos, and laughed and chatted about the car for which we shared a common enthusiasm. Then I set off for Stuttgart.”

Regular trips to the Alps, Hockenheim, and the Solitude Revival followed. “Lapping the Weissach test track to the sound of the Cup exhaust was another highlight!” says Murkett.

When I photographed the RS in May 2016, it had been back in Stuttgart for almost four years. Surrounded by other air-cooled Porsches, this paradigm of lightweight 911s looked totally at home. Most important of all, it is still driven regularly, both on the road and on the track, just as Porsche originally intended.

Also from Issue 241

  • The 2017 718 Cayman
  • 1969 911S
  • 1963 356B Sunroof Outlaw
  • Market Update: 996 & 997
  • Porsche Wins Le Mans 2016
  • Dan Gurney & Porsche
  • Driving a 1984 953 rally car
  • Origin of the 924
  • Porsche 911 Exhaust Systems
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