Hidden in Plain Sight

One of the first 911 race cars is found in Spain and restored.

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August 9, 2018

To gain exposure for its newest model in the press, Porsche entered its 911 in the 1965 Monte Carlo Rally with employee Herbert Linge driving and his colleague Peter Falk serving as navigator. The only modifications from the road version of the car were Weber carburetors in place of the factory-fitted Solexes and a spotlight mounted on the center of the roof. The pair kicked off the competitive life of the rear-engined machine by finishing the grueling event in a credible fifth place.

But Porsche wanted victory in the Monte Carlo Rally, so for 1966 the company prepared four 911s that were all upgraded to the limit of what the European Rally Championship (ERC) Group 3 class rules allowed. As with the 1965 entry, the quartet of 911s was given Weber carbs. Uprated camshafts were also installed, which resulted in 140 horsepower from a 2.0-liter flat-six engine. Next, the Type 901 five-speed gearbox got shorter ratios for quicker acceleration.

Rounding out the modifications, the torque tubes were adjusted to a harder setting, bigger wheels were bolted in place, an exhaust with straight pipes was fitted, and a limited-slip differential was installed to produce better handling on the tight and twisty mountain roads of the Alps. An external temperature gauge was also mounted in the wooden trim near the driver’s left knee to help indicate if there was ice on the roads—although it wasn’t anywhere near accurate enough to be consistently relied upon.

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The cars were prepared for Porsche works racers Günther Klass and Rolf Wütherich, Robert Buchet and Robert Schlesser, Hans-Joachim Walter and Werner Lier, and Henri Perrier and Pierre de Pasquier. There was also a fifth 911 (chassis #178) that was intended for use as either a spare car or as a rental for a monied private driver.

In late 1965, Juan Fernandez, one of Spain’s best rally, hill climb, and touring car drivers, made his annual road trip from Barcelona to Stuttgart to have his 904 Carrera GTS serviced. He noticed a prototype of Porsche’s 906 in the workshop and ordered one right on the spot. The trouble, though, was that Porsche’s newest racing machine wouldn’t be ready for delivery for seven more months. Undeterred, Fernandez asked if there were any other cars for sale that he could run in the meantime. The only one available that met his needs was the fifth 911 being readied for the next Monte Carlo Rally. Company head Ferry Porsche agreed to sell the car to Fernandez on the condition that the Spaniard race it alongside the other four rally-prepared 911s. It was an offer Fernandez couldn’t refuse.

Despite having little experience racing on snow and ice, Fernandez did well in the rally, which was run from January 14th through the 20th, 1966. Entered as #54 and paired with co-driver Oliva Grifoll, Fernandez ran a clean race for the first four days. On the fifth day, however, the weather took a turn for the worse and high up in the mountains he ran into a stray animal hard enough to damage his Porsche’s steering. In the treacherous conditions, Fernandez and his navigator decided that continuing in a poorly handling car would be risking too much, so they retired from the race.

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The other four Porsches dominated the ERC Group 3 class by finishing 1-2-3-4 with the four factory cars. But while Porsche could celebrate, other manufacturers weren’t as fortunate. The 1966 Monte Carlo Rally is remembered for being one of the most controversial professional races ever as the top four finishers were disqualified for headlight bulb infringements. As such, the Citroën DS 21 of Pauli Toivonen and Ensio Mikkander were awarded the overall win.

Although he didn’t finish the rally, Fernandez still liked the new 911. He liked it so much that he kept it instead of trading it in when his 906 was delivered, and he went on to race it in 29 more events, scoring 17 wins. Fernandez kept the rally Porsche until 1967 when he sold it and the 906 to upgrade to a 908, which he raced from 1969-1973. His most notable result in the 908 was fifth overall at Le Mans while co-driving with Bernard Chenevière and Francisco Torredeme in 1973.

Fernandez’s Monte Carlo Rally 911 was sold to his friend Jorge Caton who added a little to the car’s competitive history, winning a few local Spanish rallies and hill climbs. After a few years of racing, Caton wanted some more power from his 911, so—as unbelievable as it may sound today—he fitted an engine from a 1967 911R (chassis #9). He later sold it to his friend Francisco Gutierrez.

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Gutierrez ran the 911 in three rallies but did not finish in any of them due to engine issues. Frustrated, he went back to Caton to see what could be done. As they were friends, Caton removed the R-spec powerplant and installed the original engine back in the car. Even so, Gutierrez would never race this car again, as he ended up selling it to a lawyer in 1975.

The new owner decommissioned the Monte Carlo Rally veteran into a road car. The roll cage and racing livery were removed, and fashionable wider flares and silver paint were added. For the next 20 years, the car would function as a standard road-going sports car, seemingly losing its racing pedigree and history…

Lost & Found

Carlos Beltran is a long-time Porsche fan who owns and operates Nou Onze Racing in downtown Barcelona. His workshops are full of beautiful Porsches, mostly his, and automotive memorabilia and paraphernalia. It’s no stretch to say that he’s one of the go-to guys for information on classic cars raced and rallied in Spain. That being the case, one day Juan Fernandez’s biographer stopped by the shop to ask Beltran to keep a lookout for the missing Monte Carlo 911, #178. He knew it was supposedly still in Spain, but it hadn’t been seen in about 40 years.

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A few months later Beltran wanted to take one his cars out for a run, but a 911 was blocking it. It had been owned by one of Beltran’s long-time friends and had been regularly raced in regularity (a.k.a. time-speed-distance, or TSD) rallies. Beltran serviced it for about ten years until it was sold the year before. Although ownership of the Porsche had changed, it sat unused in Beltran’s shop because the new owner had yet to stop by to pick it up.

Since his mechanics had gone home for the day, Beltran put a battery in the obstructing automobile himself. As he finished up, he caught a glance of the 911’s chassis number and lept with surprise. Rubbing the back of his head where he’d whacked it on the underside of the hood, he looked at the number again. 178. The car’s logbook was in his other building 20 miles away, so he drove there far too fast and, with shaking hands, found the papers. Number 178! Surely it couldn’t be possible. Could it?

Beltran raced back to his shop to double check the 911. Looking closer he saw that the car used to be white and—to his delight—had an outside temperature gauge in the dashboard. He’d been working on one of the first factory-prepared Porsche 911 race cars for over a decade, and he hadn’t even known it! It had been sitting in his shop as Juan Fernandez’s biographer had asked

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him about finding the believed-to-be-long-lost racer. There was one snag, however.

The car’s new owner, the one who had yet to drop by the shop, was a wealthy businessman who is known for making harsh deals on properties and big boats. The next morning Beltran phoned him to ask if he’d be interested in selling the car. But the no-nonsense man wasn’t interested. So Beltran offered to find him another 911 he may want even more in exchange for #178. The man said he’d be open to trading his car for a 1967 911 Targa to which Beltran agreed.

“For a week I was just in shock,” Beltran explains. “I just couldn’t stop staring at the car thinking about what an impossible story it was.” But once the deal was done, he contacted Juan Fernandez, Jorge Caton, and Francisco Gutierrez’s son and collected all the period photos, race history, and paperwork he could. He then began restoring the 911. For a car of such historical significance, a full nut-and-bolt rebuild was the only serious option, of course.

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The original fenders were long gone, but Caton still had the original wheels and exhaust at his house. Beltran intended to race the car, but with something close to 100,000 km (62,137 miles) on it he needed to renew a few suspension joints and bushing first. Even so, he went to great lengths to keep every original component he could. There were a few patches of corrosion on the bodyshell that needed to be repaired, but no major bodywork was required. And with so many companies offering the correct parts, 911s aren’t exactly the hardest cars to restore.

Back in Action

The restoration of #178 was finished in time to enter the 2016 Monte Carlo Classic—basically the same event it had competed in 50 years before. For his co-driver, Beltran chose his friend, multiple-time Spanish rally champion, third-place 1977 Monte Carlo Rally finisher and 1980 ERC champion Antonio Zanini. On the twisting Alpine mountain roads the car performed flawlessly. But neither Beltran or Zanini had done a regularity event before, so they struggled to get the hang of working out

the times and distances with nothing but a road book, the odometer, and an old stopwatch.

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The event was five days of pure driving pleasure high on mountain roads. Although there was no snow to make the route more challenging, they loved every minute. Getting to drive the legendary Col de Turini stage at night in an ex-works Porsche was an extraordinary experience. Plain white with just the lights on the front, it’s not the most outstanding looking Porsche in the world, but it has to have one of the best histories of any 911 ever!

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Also from Issue 258

  • 2018 911 GT3 Touring
  • The Ruf CTR 2017
  • Fuhrmann’s Four-Cam
  • 2018 911 Carrera T vs. 718 Cayman GTS
  • Show-Winning 1969 912
  • A Nicely Preserved 1986 928S
  • First Drive: Mission E Sport Turismo
  • Porsche Wheel Technology
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